GROWTH AND VALUES New OraSure leader looks to build revenue, reach, all for greater good

PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN Stephen Tang at OraSure headquarters in South Bethlehem: ‘Have the right people in the right jobs, working toward common goals.’

Stephen Tang eagerly jumped into his new role at OraSure Technologies Inc.

With a passion for the life sciences industry, a desire to guide others toward success and a goal to lead the multimillion dollar Bethlehem medical device and supply company to high levels of profitability, Tang became president and CEO on April 1. He also wants to build upon the company’s reputation as a strong supporter of the local community and economy.

“I wanted an opportunity to grow a company both organically and through acquisition,” Tang, 57, told Lehigh Valley Business in an exclusive interview.

Previously, he was president and CEO of University City Science City, a nonprofit in Philadelphia, since 2008. He led the urban research park and business incubator owned by more than 30 universities, health networks and medical schools in Greater Philadelphia.

He replaces Douglas A. Michels, who retired as president and CEO on March 31. Since 2011, Tang played a pivotal role in guiding OraSure as a member of its board of directors and was chairman of the board since November 2017 until becoming president and CEO.

OraSure, which had $167 million in revenue last year, develops, manufactures and distributes oral fluid diagnostic and collection devices and other technologies designed to detect or diagnose critical medical conditions.

Its products, which include everything from self-tests for infectious diseases to cryosurgical medical devices, give people the ability to know more about themselves and their health and have the potential to curb the spread of life-threatening diseases.

The company has two buildings at its corporate headquarters in South Bethlehem as well as a manufacturing and quality assurance site on Eaton Avenue in Bethlehem. Soon, it will have third local site – occupying 70,000 square feet of a new warehouse off Route 33 on Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township. And it also owns DNA Genotek Inc. in Ottawa, which provides products for biological sample collection, stabilization and preparation.

“It’s my job as a leader to foster an environment where people want to come to work,” said Tang, who directs 377 employees in Bethlehem and 133 in Ottawa. “I think it starts with the values.”

Before joining University City Science City, Tang served in senior management and business development positions with several firms in the life sciences industry. He has a Master of Science degree and doctorate in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and a Master of Business Administration from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, among other educational credentials.

Tang lives in Bala Cynwyd with his wife, Jill Chernekoff. He used to live in the Lehigh Valley, where he raised three children.

In his interview, Tang talked about his vision for the company, leadership goals and fresh initiatives at OraSure.

Lehigh Valley Business: What made you want to become CEO of OraSure? What are some of your goals for the company?

Tang: I’ve wanted this job since 2004. Unbeknownst to me, I was up against Doug Michels. I was happy for him.

Back then, the company was just launching its oral diagnostic products. It’s an interesting portfolio, very high growth.

I wanted an opportunity to grow a company both organically and through acquisition. We have a very sound balance sheet – $180 million in cash – which suggests we can grow beyond the growth in the base business.

The board of OraSure knew Doug Michels was going to retire. The board asked me [if I wanted to become CEO] and I agreed to be a candidate. I was obviously very supportive of the direction of the company.

I was very familiar with many of the key executives. I’m familiar enough to the company. I got to watch emerging technologies in life sciences [in his career at University City].

We are viewed very favorably right now on Wall Street. Hopefully, we will begin to explore some emerging markets in global public health. We will determine more of that through a strategy review.

LVB: What is your guiding philosophy in business?

Tang: Belong. Lead. Elevate others. It’s the basis of working together for a greater good. The bigger picture is we are there to contribute to greater global health and advanced biomedical research.

I think we all have to have a sense of connectedness to work together. Don’t go it alone. Bring people with you to elevate others.

LVB: What challenges do you see facing the medical supply industry?

Tang: In the U.S., it’s the cost of developing products and getting them approved for use, and, once approved, the cost has gone up and regulatory hurdles are higher.

Also, creating products for the worldwide market. [As an example, the OraQuick HIV test]. In countries in Africa, there’s a stigma in getting tested. We have to find ways of getting them this product.

We’ve teamed with the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation [to bring this test to them]. Our goal is to get this product into the hands of people it can help who would have no way of knowing they are at risk of HIV.

You have to make the product robust enough to withstand heat and cold. We have to have performance and quality standards.

On the molecular side, we’ve been a very strong enabler of human genomics. That whole information area is booming. That market [saliva collection devices for DNA testing] has been booming. We’ve been managing that growth.

We have all sorts of interesting, fun challenges.

LVB: How do you effectively lead a company with many employees?

Tang: Hopefully, with a lot of thought and care.

A lot of it is communication and alignment of interest. I think it’s my job as a leader to foster an environment where people want to come to work.

I think it starts with the values. As always, it starts with the hiring process, making sure you have the right people in the right jobs, working toward common goals.

LVB: Do you see OraSure making more acquisitions in the future?

Tang: We just brought aboard a director of business development. We have been in the business of making acquisitions and we will certainly continue to do that.

LVB: Is the company looking to expand or open new locations in Bethlehem or elsewhere?

Tang: We are going to open a new warehouse in the second quarter. Once we move into the new warehouse, we have space to expand into. The idea is we would have dedicated storage space.

LVB: What do you like about the Lehigh Valley?

Tang: It is the best of all worlds. Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton, they are all college towns. The quality of life is great; I raised all three of my kids here.

LVB: Any new products or initiatives that you can discuss?

Tang: Gut microbiome sample collection. This is where there’s personalized medicine. Making sure what you eat, what medications you take are linked to your genetic profile.

We have been benefited by the wave in human genomics. Those are all encouraging market development signs.

[A blog posted on DNA Genotek’s website explains that the community of bacteria co-habiting with their human host share a symbiotic relationship, one that can have a significant effect on health. This is a complex relationship where the abundance and diversity of the gut microbiome can affect various aspects of human physiology, metabolism, immune response, and psychology.]

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