Science and music balance the busy world of CEO Harry Hixson


Harry F. Hixson Jr., Ph.D., is Chairman of the Board of Sequenom Inc. He has served as the company’s CEO since October 2009. He recently served on the board of directors of BrainCells, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company focused on central nervous system drug development, where he was CEO from July 2004 until September 2005.

Hixson served as CEO of Elitra Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company focused on anti-infective drug development, from February 1998 until May 2003. He served as president and COO of Amgen Inc., and as a member of its board of directors from 1988 to 1991.

Prior to Amgen, he held various management positions with Abbott Laboratories, including vice president, diagnostic products business group, and vice president, research and development, in the Diagnostics Division. He is also a director of Arena Pharmaceuticals, Inc. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Biochemistry (1970) from Purdue University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago (1978). He also received an Honorary Doctor of Science from Purdue University in 1999.

What brought you to La Jolla?

I came to San Diego for a NROTC Midshipman cruise the summer of 1960. I was so impressed that I said I wanted to come back here to live. While I was at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, I visited La Jolla on weekends and finally bought a small condo. When I left Amgen in 1991, I decided to move to La Jolla and buy a home here in the Shores.

What might you improve in town?

I would invite U C San Diego to be a better neighbor and citizen. As the La Jolla Light pointed out when UCSD constructed a building in the Shores that is at least 10 feet higher than originally presented to the local community, this is not what one expects from a good citizen.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by the piano music of Chopin and Mozart. I am amazed that a person could sit down at a piano and write such music starting with only a blank sheet of paper. I don’t play well, but when I play some of their music, I immediately recognize their genius.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom would you invite?

I would invite four Nobel prize-winning physicists from the early 20th century who solved problems in quantum physics and four from the modern era to hear their discussion of why there is so much more mass in the universe than we can explain with our current theories.

What are you reading?

Over the holidays I read “The Admirals” by Walter Borneman, “The Generals” by Thomas Ricks, and “Masters at War: Patton, Montgomery and Rommel” by Terry Brighton. I like reading military history and leadership. I am currently reading Tony La Russa’s “One Last Strike,” about the 2011 World Series Champion Cardinals. It is a great book on leadership and management.

What is it that you most dislike?

Those who do not appreciate the quality of San Diego’s performing arts organizations as exemplified by music as presented by the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Symphony, and theater as presented by San Diego’s Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. We do not need to go to New York for great music and theater.

What is your most-prized possession?

Things are not important to me and you cannot possess your friends. However music is precious to me, and my family’s Steinway piano helps my children and me bring music into our home. What wonderful craftsmanship by Steinway and such a beautiful sound!

What do you do for fun?

I like to travel with my family. We have been to Egypt, China, Turkey, England, France and Japan in the last four years. We were in Tokyo during the 9.0 Earthquake and that was frightening. We were in Egypt a few months before the revolution. Some of our friends think we are an early-warning system for undesirable world events and book travel in opposite directions. We plan to go to Africa on Safari soon.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

My motto is a combination of two that I learned in the Cub Scouts and Boys Scouts: Be Prepared (Boy Scouts) and Do Your Best (Cub Scouts)

What would be your dream vacation?

Two weeks on Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman Island with my wife, children and grandchildren.