A career in biotech brought success. Then the birds came calling

Missing his firm's scrappy startup days, a top executive leaves biotech behind for no real job, no pay, and the chance to spend his days watching birds from Alaska to…

The island was about as far from biotech as he could get. He’d watched the Alaskan mainland receding beneath him, giving way to the Aleutians with their volcanoes spewing little plumes of dust. After landing on Adak, he’d boarded a boat and spent 56 hours heading west through the Bering Sea, from one sparsely inhabited rock to another. His destination was Attu. Sometimes called the westernmost point in the western hemisphere, it’s so far west that the nearest landmass is the Russian Far East.

For Neil Hayward, the days of travel and nights of seasickness were worth it, because of the birds. They were what field guides call vagrants or accidentals: species that turn up far outside their normal range, unexpected emissaries from another part of the world. Among birders, Attu is famous for them. Records show everything from rustic bunting to Eurasian hobby, white-throated needletail to long-toed stint. “They’ve been blown off course,” Hayward explained. “They’re either lost or they’ve been carried by a storm.”

It seemed like a fair description of Hayward himself. A few years before, he’d been a director and board chair at , a British company selling antibodies and proteins and other ingredients for biomedical labs. He’d opened offices in Tokyo and San Francisco. He’d managed a team in the as “particularly good for those who haven’t seen whiskered auklet yet.”

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