Thursday, November 14, 2013
As a Rider University undergraduate, Michael Riener '87 worked full time at Prudential Insurance while taking night classes at the University. He maintained this schedule for four years before finally graduating with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and information technology.
Today, as president of RCH Solutions, Riener helps support several of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world. He oversees RCH’s strategic direction, focusing on business development, sales and marketing.
Specializing in the life sciences, the company supports pharmaceutical, chemical and biotech companies on the forefront of research and development by providing computing and data storage solutions, as well as managed services.
The kinds of companies RCH engages — Johnson & Johnson, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline — often produce massive amounts of data as their work becomes more complicated and ambitious. And while sequencing genomes and developing drugs holds great promise, it also creates specific problems. How do companies store all that information? How do they integrate cutting-edge technology with existing computer systems?
“In research discovery, these people are pushing the boundaries,” Riener says. “We help them glue all the pieces together on the computing side. Keeping up with the technology and the science is harder than anything I can imagine.”
This is especially challenging as he searches for solutions while also managing a growing business. Since Riener became managing partner of RCH in 2006, the company has experienced significant growth.
The company opened an office in Belgium this year after watching industries related to the life sciences go global. Once based primarily in the United States and Western Europe, such research and entrepreneurship has taken on a worldwide presence. Riener says the industries are swelling in China, Australia and India — a boon to RCH because it can often work remotely to serve a growing industry hungry for its services.
RCH’s home office is in Wayne, Pa., and it also has an office in Boston.
Of all its challenges, Riener says finding talented people to hire is the biggest. "We're in a market niche and people with expertise are becoming harder and harder to find," he says. "It's becoming more complicated and there's no substitute for experience."
The company employs a relatively small staff, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in expertise. “Our level of expertise is incomparable,” Riener says. “We compete on that.”
He looks to hire people who can thrive in a non-linear, unstructured environment — the exact opposite, he says, of what students are prepared for. He hires mathematicians, engineers and those in other fields who can solve abstract problems through creative thinking.
“Our employees are highly diverse and highly educated,” Riener says. “Every one of them is both energetic and self-starting. They have to be, because the field’s not static — it's dynamic.”
Riener’s entrance into the field, which has seen growth during a down economy, was not preordained. Originally from Holland, Pa., he chose Rider for its convenient location and reputation for quality.
“I knew I wanted to be in the computer business and wanted a solid business degree,” he says. “Rider had a terrific program.”
After graduating in 1987, Riener worked for several companies related to computing and software — Xerox in Fort Washington, Pa., and Computer Associates in Princeton, to name a couple. Wanting to work for a smaller company, he followed the advice of family and friends and altered his direction, joining RCH in 1994.
“I kind of fell into it,” the Malvern, Pa., resident says. “I happened to be tossed into that area and quickly learned it was an exciting and happening place to be.”
For Riener, part of the excitement comes with the industry’s immense challenges. Consider what it takes to bring a new drug to market. The required investment can reach a billion dollars, he says, and the probability of success is slim.
“I find great satisfaction helping people produce something that can save lives and advance drug discovery, ” he says.
Acting as a liaison between scientists and the IT department, RCH can claim to play an integral role in that process.
“I'm given a lot of autonomy,” Riener says of his experience leading the company. “It's exciting to make strategic decisions, but it certainly keeps me up at night.”