Jim Harkness

Chief Operations Officer


+ Operations
+ Strategy development
+ Client engagement
+ Profit and loss management
+ People development

What are your responsibilities at Envigo?

I lead all of Envigo’s operations and services areas within our business. It encompasses a number of things from ensuring we have the right level of welfare for our animals, to the daily deliveries, production, and in some cases procurement of models.

I work with my team to ensure alignment on our objectives and deliverables and they are then completed within all regulatory guidelines. I also work with the commercial team to help ensure we’re engaging our clients, that we understand their needs in order to find potential solutions to help them achieve their R&D objectives. Finally, working on how to best engage our staff so that we are working together to achieve our operational and financial targets.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I always laugh how things play out. I pursued probably the worst degree you could ever get with a major in physical education, and a minor in history from Indiana State University. I just wanted to coach basketball as a career choice. There weren’t a lot of teaching jobs in the area that needed my degree combination when I graduated. I ended up finding a job in Houston, Texas. After a few years, I met my wife who is from Indiana and I to move back to Indianapolis. I got a job teaching near a town called Rockville in the western part of the state. It was quite a long commute and I was ready for something different. Every day on my commute, I drove past this place called Corning SciCor (now Covance Central Labs) and I thought they must make glass for the science industry. I responded to an opening they had in the local newspaper and ended up getting an entry-level management job. That’s how it all started.

I think this industry suits me because it’s fast paced. Every day is different and full of new challenges. Most importantly, it’s a job you really feel like you’re making a difference when it comes to new drugs. We’re not making widgets, we’re actually helping make products that really help make a difference. Whether helping people with new cures or living better lives, it’s something I personally can really connect.

How would you describe your management style?

I’ve really been blessed to have some great mentors throughout my career. Mentors who not only gave me feedback, but put me in positions to gain experience, challenge me to think more broadly, make connections, and take roles across the business. They were very adamant about not just growing up within a specific function in the business as it often leads to limiting breadth of experience and siloed thinking. In my career, I spent time in operations, client-facing parts of the organization, preclinical, late-stage, the commercial arena, client engagement, and internationally. I've been blessed to be exposed to a myriad of different experiences which I think helps you be more well-rounded.

I’m a manager who tries to provide similar types of opportunities for my staff. I try to challenge them to think broader. I think you just get that through experience and being challenged. I love my teams and support them, but I also hold them to a high standard — and accountability along with it. I think if we're going to achieve great things as a company we have to be challenged, stretched and sometimes taken out of our comfort zone to really be able to achieve not only what we can do as individuals, but what we can do together as a team.

What are some of the key attributes of being successful in your role?

Creating an environment where people feel trusted and supported. I always try to share with the teams that we've really got to focus on driving good business performance. When we do, it allows us to invest and do all the things we want to do.

I would like our clients to view us as a client-centric organization — helping with their needs and finding ways to meet their research objectives. The way I always come at things is putting myself in other people’s shoes. Trying to think of how to find outcomes that put people in a better place — whether it’s their work objectives, personal objectives, or career objectives. It’s not what’s best for me. It’s figuring out how we can make this a better work environment and improve client relationships.

What are the best parts of your job?

I love the people. I’m on the road a decent amount. Sometimes travelling around to see everyone is the hardest part (Sunday evening packing, 3a starts to get to the airport, being away from family), but at the end of a week after getting around and meeting the teams, it’s always energizing. You can just see their commitment and passion. It’s not to say everyone is always smiley and cheerful, but you always get a sense that people really care about what they do. That’s the part I enjoy the most.

Which career achievements make you proud?

The success I've been afforded and the growth in the organization. I look back and say it's more the experiences along the way. I remember pretty early in my career, we were in a very poor business situation, and we were looking for anything we could to take cost out of the business. I, along with my team, brought forth a well-done proposal after a lot of research. One very influential person in the organization was adamant that what we proposed was not a good thing to do. The president challenged the feedback noting it was one of the best, well-thought-out, data driven proposals he’d seen. He said it was a calculated risk, but one worth taking and moved it forward. It was one of several initiatives that helped turnaround the business from losing money to an very successful turnaround story. He later shared that he was impressed and I should never be afraid to be bold, stick my neck out there a little bit, and take some risks. It was one of those experiences that that help shape how your career and how you approach various opportunities. It ended up being a nice thing to look back on — a good experience.

What goals have you set for yourself and the company?

I think there are a lot of things we need to do to drive the business performance and position ourselves as the clear leader in this space. A leader from a client’s perception as far as being client-centric and really being able to bring something to the table that they view as valued and worthy of a premium. I think we’re started down that path and it’s fantastic, but we have to continue to work in that direction. So, achieving that client centricity is the primary goal. I also want to really getting after some of the infrastructure improvements we need to make across the business, and drive stronger financial performance would be the three areas where I’d really like to see us succeed. On a personal level, it’s less where I’m at from a career standpoint to making sure I’m having an impact on the business in a positive way.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of Envigo?

Many colleagues that know me will can tell you I love to cycle. When not traveling, I try to ride as much as possible. I kind of lucked out when we moved to Pennsylvania. It’s a great place for it with a huge cycling community, lots of hills, and beautiful countryside. It’s just my way to get away from the daily work stress and clear your mind. A little exercise is the side benefit as it keeps me from just sitting around and putting on weight.

Please contact us if you have a question for Jim or would like to learn more about our operations and business development.