Alnylam’s hiring chief wants employees who are ‘ready for risk’

Chief human resources officer Karen Anderson thinks of herself as Alnylam’s culture builder.
Chief human resources officer Karen Anderson thinks of herself as Alnylam’s culture builder.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. is growing so fast that Karen Anderson, its chief human resources officer, is scouring the biopharma world for great hires.

But many are a stone's throw from her office. Alnylam hosted a job fair last month aimed at employees of Biogen Inc., the biotech giant just down the street in Kendall Square, after Biogen said it would cut 400 jobs in Massachusetts.

"We're hoping to hire at least 20 to 30 folks out of that group," said Anderson, a 48-year-old British native and industry veteran who thinks of herself as Alnylam's culture builder.

Finding qualified employees is only one part of it, she said. The more important part is finding employees who will thrive in an entrepreneurial environment and help Alnylam transition from a research organization to a full-scale commercial company. (Its therapies for rare diseases are expected to start hitting the market in about two years.)

"I can find 200 people," Anderson said. "The question is, 'Can I find 200 people who believe in the same philosophy as we do?' This is an organization that has a certain intensity. No question is a dumb question in this environment. People will interrupt each other without apology. . . . I don't want the same people that Pfizer wants. I need people who are ready for a risk."


Anderson, who previously worked at both Pfizer Inc. and Biogen, said Alnylam has boosted its payroll to 335, including about 280 in Kendall Square, from 155 employees when she was hired in September 2014. She projects the company will have 550 employees by the end of next year and about 1,800 by 2020, when it could have several approved drugs.

To forge a more interdisciplinary culture, Anderson handpicked 14 employees from different departments to form a Talent Board to advise her on everything from hiring to the best way to recognize employees. (Members of the research staff told her they work in teams and singling out individual scientists for recognition struck them as too "big corporate.")


Anderson, an Alnylam senior vice president, also instituted a "recharge week" where the company is closed between Christmas and New Year's. The message to employees, she said, is: "We want you to reconnect with your family, recharge your brain, because 2016 is another year."

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