Stephen Tang quits UC Science Center for OraSure's CEO job

Stephen S. Tang, PhD, MBA, headed the University City Science Center through its rapid growth in 2008-18, and then was named CEO of OraSure in Bethlehem, Pa.

Stephen S. Tang, who served as president and CEO of the University City Science Center — and headed the West Philly office-and-lab landlord and tech-firm support group as it built high-rises and business incubators over the last decade — is quitting to serve as CEO of OraSure Technologies, the Bethlehem-based maker of saliva-testing equipment, where he was named board chair last fall.

“It was an extremely difficult decision to leave,” said Tang, a father of college-age children who recently remarried. Tang was paid $689,000 in 2016; his predecessor at the publicly traded OraSure received $1.54 million in cash, bonus, and stock that year, according to financial reports. The Science Center board is hunting for a replacement. Curtis M. Hess, the center’s senior vice president for real estate, will start as interim CEO on Feb. 1.

Tang, who headed the life-sciences group at the medical-instruments maker Olympus America Inc. and was CEO at the battery-maker Millennium Cell Inc. before heading the center, joined the OraSure board in 2011 and built “strong relationships” with managers and fellow directors, according to Charles Patrick, who heads OraSure’s governance committee. Tang will give up the chairman’s role when he becomes CEO.

Tang replaces OraSure CEO Douglas A. Michels, who joined OraSure in 2003. Chief financial officer Ronald H. Spair is also on his way out, the company said. “The retirements were completely personal decisions on their part,” Tang told me.

“I was really pleased to be considered and ultimately hired as the next CEO,” he added. “They now have a market capitalization of over $1 billion, and the fact they have $200 million on the balance sheet means they can look at sizable acquisitions.”

OraSure shares were down modestly in trading after the CEO and CFO departures were disclosed Thursday morning. The stock closed Thursday at $19.25, up 1.1 percent and more than double the level of a year ago, but below its recent high of $22.50 in September. Sales totaled $165 million last year.

A graduate of Concord High School in Wilmington and the College of William & Mary in Virginia, Tang holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and a Wharton MBA.

He was well aware of the tension between the center’s practical role as landlord in one of the city’s highest-demand office markets and its stated mission to develop and preserve lab space for small medical and tech businesses, persuading them to stay in town instead of moving to the suburbs or out of state. Tang worked to expand both roles.

As CEO, Tang “led a strategic plan designed to transform the science center from a traditional real estate-focused research park to an innovation powerhouse.” The shift returned the group, founded in 1963, to its initial mission “supporting commercialization” and cooperation among engineering, research, and medical institutions, said center chairman Craig R. Carnaroli, a top executive at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Tang’s watch, the center grew by a net 10 acres, to cover a total of 27 acres on the blocks west of Drexel University and north of Penn, including the site of the former University City High School.

In partnership with developer Wexford Science & Technology, the center added 735,000 square feet of office, lab, and its first apartment space, in new buildings at 3601, 3711, and 3737 Market Sts., and is building a fourth tower at 3675 Market, where, the center says, Cambridge Innovation Center of Boston “has been recruited as an anchor tenant.”

The center also credited Tang’s administration with setting up Quorum, which organizes programs for technologists and investors, and backing the Port Business Incubator, which helped Avid Radiopharmaceuticals and other small companies stay in West Philly.

The center markets its campus as uCity Square and is trying to lure more companies to grow in or relocate to Philadelphia.

While the neighboring Penn campus was the home of ENIAC, the first modern computer, the city has in the past generally failed to persuade major tech companies to remain close to the colleges; over time, software, medical-device, and drug-development firms have relocated to the suburban U.S. 202 corridor west of the city.

“We are far better off today than we were 10 years ago,” Tang said, of Philadelphia’s attractions as a tech business center. “We are still below scale, but we are fast approaching” parity with other tech centers. He said institutions were working more closely to attract investors and build support for technologists.

“Philadelphia is awfully hard on itself. But we are better than we were,” he added. “My successor will take it to the next level,” boosting efforts to make the city more of a place where scientists, physicians, and technicians continue doing business after college and collaborate with the teaching hospitals that are the city’s largest private employers.

(This story has been corrected to show the University City Science Center was founded in 1963. Earlier versions gave a wrong year.)