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MRIGlobal selects life sciences veteran as new CEO


Kansas City is a hotspot for biosciences, and MRIGlobal’s next CEO is eager to be a part of the action. Read the complete story in the Kansas City Business Journal.

The $110 million applied scientific research institute announced Thursday it named Ian Colrain as its new CEO beginning July 1. Colrain will succeed Thomas Sack, who has led MRIGlobal since 2013 and will retire after more than 40 years with the nonprofit.

Colrain spent more than 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area working for a similar nonprofit, SRI International, as the president of SRI Biosciences. He led strategic planning, business development and research operations for a team of more than 250 people with a $75 million budget. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he thought he’d stay with SRI forever when he was approached to consider the position at MRIGlobal.

“I was aware of MRIGlobal,” Colrain said. “They were a sometime competitor and there had been a couple of attempts to do some collaborative work.”

He was interested in MRIGlobal’s mission of looking at health, security and sustainability, all things he said he is passionate about. He’s also ready to tap into Kansas City’s talent pool.

“The potential for growth is immense given the general development of the sort of biotech and biosciences and biologics ecosystem that’s happening in Kansas City and the region,” Colrain said. “This is one of the hottest areas in the country at the moment for growth in terms of biosciences.”

Bringing lessons learned
At SRI, he turned competitors into collaborators, and he plans to bring that philosophy to MRIGlobal. He sees the potential for MRIGlobal to help startups or companies moving into the area with infrastructure.

“By doing so, we develop a core or cadre of collaborators who can join us in supporting our government, customers and doing commercial work,” he said. “When I look at the people who are both the leadership and the scientists, they’re just phenomenally talented people, and it will be a privilege to work with them.”

The past five years at MRIGlobal have been the most successful in the organization’s 78-year history, MRIGlobal Board Chairman David Oliver said. The nonprofit has a strategic plan to grow substantially by 2030.

With a plan in place, MRIGlobal is doing everything right, Colrain said. It has had year-over-year growth and increases in profitability, which means it’s executing the plan.

Getting started

Colrain plans to hit the ground running and soak up everything he can from the people at MRIGlobal. His experience in nonprofits and universities before that is relevant, but it won’t get him all the answers.

“I know it from the outside, but I need to get in and learn,” Colrain said.

At SRI, he developed a diverse staff with a high proportion of women in senior leadership roles. He wants to bring more diversity, equity and inclusion to the Kansas City organization.

“I have a wife and two daughters,” he said. “I am a passionate feminist.”

He’s also interested in how technology will affect the future of work, which was jumpstarted by the pandemic. With a campus renovation on the horizon, Colrain said he plans to be mindful of the future of offices and how they serve the workforce.

MRIGlobal will be ripe to recruit talent from across the country, Colrain said. The cost of living in Kansas City alone will be a draw.

“I can assure you that as soon as anybody from California sees what sort of house you can buy for the sort of money you have to pay, it should be a relatively easy sell to come here,” he said.

The organization has a long history and a wonderful culture, he said.

“I think I’m the seventh CEO in the 80-year history,” he said. “I’m holding this in trust for the next person who will support and look after the institute.”

Colrain embraces servant leadership, and after spending 12 years in the Australian Army Reserve, he said he knows how to lead effectively.

“It’s not telling people what to do. It’s making them want to follow you,” he said.