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Real estate giant JLL beefs up life science focus with hiring of MassBio chief Bob Coughlin

The trade-group CEO follows former Life Sciences Center chief Travis McCready into the firm

MassBio chief executive Bob Coughlin (center) chatted with Mayor Martin J. Walsh in this 2014 photo.
MassBio chief executive Bob Coughlin (center) chatted with Mayor Martin J. Walsh in this 2014 photo.Wendy Maeda

Bob Coughlin and Travis McCready worked together for more than four years as the two most prominent promoters of the state’s life sciences industry, while leading separate organizations.

Now, they’ll be together again but this time it’s under the same roof. Coughlin will be leaving the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council at the end of January to join commercial real estate giant JLL’s Boston office. There, he’ll work alongside McCready, the former head of the quasi-public Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

It is, they like to joke, akin to getting the band back together.

Recruiting Coughlin, 51, and McCready, 50, within a matter of months of each other speaks to the emphasis that Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle is placing on the life sciences sector, and on Greater Boston’s role in that sector.

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“No one has the depth of understanding, the relationships, and the passion for patient experience, no one has that like Bob Coughlin,” said McCready, the head of the state’s life sciences center from late 2015 until January of this year. “Bob coming on board is a tectonic shift in how not only JLL will be viewed, but how we as an industry will be viewed, and our ability to partner with [life sciences] companies to bring to life their therapies, their devices, their opportunities.”

JLL plans to announce Coughlin’s new role as managing director in its life sciences practice on Wednesday. McCready joined JLL in September to oversee the company’s life sciences industry practice on a national level. Both of them will be based at JLL’s office in the Financial District.

Coughlin surprised many in Boston’s business community by announcing his pending departure from MassBio on Monday morning after more than 13 years as its chief executive. He also stirred up a bit of intrigue: In that MassBio announcement, Coughlin didn’t disclose his next job.

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“MassBio is in great shape right now, with an amazing team in place,” Coughlin said. “This isn’t a decision that happened overnight.”

Coughlin said shifting into real estate is a natural extension of his work at MassBio. During his tenure at the trade group, the Boston area’s biotech prowess has grown substantially. The region solidified its position as the industry’s global hub, with a never-ending parade of small startups and biopharma giants trying to squeeze into the existing labs in Cambridge, Boston, Waltham, and outlying suburbs.

“We’ve gone from the golden age of science to the platinum age of science,” Coughlin said. “To continue this trajectory, we need infrastructure to keep up with the pace of innovation.”

Development of life-sciences labs and offices has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the demand still outstrips the supply, particularly in the sector’s epicenter, Kendall Square in Cambridge.

“There’s a massive backlog of need for space that we’re trying to work with communities, developers, and funders to solve for,” McCready said. “There’s not enough, and we need it now.”

For Coughlin, helping the industry thrive is also personal: His 18-year-old son, Bobby, has cystic fibrosis. He can now attend UMass Boston, thanks to Trikafta, the treatment developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston.

In his new role, Coughlin plans on helping advise companies about where to expand, and how to expand, so their executives can focus on the task of developing new medicines. “You can’t expect life sciences companies to be experts on site selection,” Coughlin said.

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The top life sciences markets in the United States after Boston are San Francisco and San Diego, but there are a number of smaller markets that McCready and Coughlin will be active in as well.

At MassBio, the search for Coughlin’s replacement is still taking shape. The board will eventually hire a headhunting firm to find a new CEO. Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, MassBio’s chief operating officer, was promoted to president and COO on Monday to lead MassBio’s operations in the interim. She’ll continue in that role as president and COO once a new CEO is selected. The new leader will oversee a 25-person staff and a $12 million budget.

No decisions have been made yet about compensation for the new CEO position. In 2018, it was one of the most well-paid trade-group gigs in the state. IRS filings show Coughlin earned a $586,435 salary that year, along with a $245,255 bonus and $311,000 in retirement and other deferred compensation.

For his part, Coughlin said he’s looking forward to starting the next chapter of his career — alongside McCready.

“We truly enjoyed recruiting companies to Massachusetts together,” Coughlin said. “To join a firm that is committed to building a best-in-class life sciences practice, why wouldn’t I be interested in that?”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.