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NECI CEO, Jenn Azar, featured in Endpoints News Q&A

February 1, 2022

Q&A: NECI's newest CEO talks passion, disruption and not fearing change

Josh Sullivan
Associate Editor

Engineer. Massachusetts bar-style pizza devotee. CEO. That last one is the latest title for Jenn Azar, who was named the successor to Tom Ramundo as the CEO at Mansfield, MA-based manufacturing service provider NECI at the start of the year.
NECI works with companies across a range of industries in the northeast to improve their industrial automation and digital transformation. Most famously, the company worked with Moderna to establish digital tools that helped accelerate the authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine, which has gone into the arms of millions of people around the globe.
Azar joined the company in 2002 as a sales engineer, but always loved biotech, and has used that passion to help with emerging biotech modalities, such as cell and gene therapy and mRNA. That focus has helped grow NECI’s life sciences business.
What would you tell the 2002 version of Jenn if you could go back in time, when you were starting at NECI?
Let me see, where can I start? I started my career as an electrical engineer, and I was always fascinated with biology, it was just like my thing, but … and I’m going to date myself … there was no biomedical engineering. So the Bostonian that I am, I took a job at an industrial manufacturing company. It was a good journey there, but I would say I was never really passionate while I was there.
Then I went to (NECI) and I really found my fit. So my advice would be find the place you fit. At NECI, it was very entrepreneurial, very technology driven, they were doing a lot in an industry that had my heart, so I was totally passionate I think. Great things happen with passion, so the advice I would have given myself is that I should have had the courage a little bit earlier to chase my passion. I waited almost 10 years at the other company, and I spent 10 years not truly fulfilled. I’d say the other thing, and I’m not sure I realized it as much in 2002, is that people matter. They will always forgive what you say or you do, but they never really forget about how you make them feel, and I think, sometimes in business, we forget about how powerful that is.
What has the past year taught you about yourself, within your company and in the world?
I’m a continuous learner. I’m passionate about what’s happening in Cambridge. I feel like it’s the leading indicator of something big that’s going to happen in the world. I would say that what I did learn this past year is that you can never start early enough. We were really well positioned to help with this Covid vaccine … but we identified really early on that digital was important, and we started on that digital journey, thinking, “What is this going to mean for manufacturing?”
We were passionate about all the “what-ifs” and “what-cans.” If you crawled the streets of Cambridge in 2014, there were a bunch of new startup kind of things — mRNA, cell and gene therapy, CAR-T — that nobody really knew what they were. But we were fascinated by it and we were early adopters of that. But what I’ve learned in the past year is that you can’t start early enough. You can’t just look at what’s in front of you today, but you have to look at tomorrow, and look for the ways that you can get disrupted. You can’t look at change as a threat.
What’s next for NECI?
In manufacturing today, we definitely see two extremes: mature manufacturing customers, and they’re looking at how to digitize to be more effective and have less humans involved, and repurpose those humans to do higher level things.
We see that class of a customer, then we have this new class, I call them digital first, the Rubius, the Modernas, the Elevates. They all have a vision of these drug platforms that are digital, and (we really want to) be able to help them take advantage of cloud and AI in their manufacturing that gives them a better competitive advantage going forward. Over time, I think that’s going to be disrupted even further, where we’re going to have smart devices and software platforms. The world’s changing, and helping customers find their way down that journey is really what we’re all about.
Jenn Azar, CEO of NECI
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