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After Mega-Deal, Pharma Lawyer Takes Year-Long Global Journey

Dec. 12, 2019, 10:46 AM

The kids had left the house. The dog was dead. And biopharma general counsel Keith Klein was ready for a change.

So in February 2018, Klein and his wife set out on a year-long, five-continent global adventure that cost roughly $350,000 and included stops in Patagonia, Paris, Sri Lanka, and Bali.

Klein is now readjusting to the in-house life as general counsel and corporate secretary at Arcutis, Inc. a privately held biopharmaceutical company based in Westlake Village, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles.

Klein told Bloomberg Law that the year-long adventure helped him recharge his batteries after three decades of legal practice. “I needed a re-start after working continuously for so long,” he said. “It was time to stop going to the office every day and do something exciting. And we both love to travel.”

The impetus for the trip was the $2.1 billion sale in 2015 of Klein’s former employer, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals Inc., known for developing a first-of-its-kind double chin treatment, to drug giant Allergan plc. Klein, who served as Kythera’s general counsel, then took a part-time gig as general counsel of Unity Biotechnology Inc., a Brisbane, Calif.-based company led by Kythera’s former CEO.

Klein left Unity by mid-2017, about a year before the anti-aging drug developer raised $85 million in an initial public offering. At the time, Klein’s eldest daughter was graduating college and preparing to teach English in Santiago, Chile. Klein’s youngest daughter was attending New York University and getting ready to spend a semester abroad in Florence, Italy.

Visiting them both was a priority, Klein said, but also provided the template for a longer sojourn abroad. Armed with the proceeds from his exit at Kythera, as well as the sale of their house in Westlake Village, Klein and his wife, Shawn, set out on their global trek.

Charting a Course

The couple spent about a month in the Caribbean, visiting Turks and Caicos, St. Bart’s, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Barbados. Next was South America, where they traveled to Colombia, Chile, and Peru, visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu. Klein spent five weeks in Chile, enjoying its wine country and Patagonia, which he called a personal highlight of the trip.

A flight to Florence followed, and Klein and his wife spent the next six months hopscotching throughout Europe. Italy, Spain, France, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Belgium were first on the agenda. Then there was a six-week tour of Eastern Europe that hit Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria.

The couple then checked off Dubai, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives from their itinerary as they prepared for the final leg of their expedition in Asia. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China came first.

Both Klein kids then joined their parents so they could travel together to Thailand and Japan, the latter of special significance to Klein because his mother is Japanese. Bali, an island in Indonesia, was their last stop abroad before the family returned to a second home they own in Mexico.

After a few weeks relaxing south of the border, it was back to real life in Los Angeles.

Making Memories

Klein estimated the total cost of the trip at somewhere between $300,000 to $350,000, which he could afford thanks to his “fortunate exit at Kythera” that didn’t have the couple living abroad on $1 a day.

“We tried to keep a budget by staying in places that would cost less than $300 a night—or about $9,000 a month,” Klein said. “We weren’t really roughing it.”

Klein and Shawn mostly stayed in Airbnbs—homes with laundry machines were cause for celebration—and Klein documented their travels on a website their daughters set up for them at

Paris and Tokyo were the two top cities Klein visited, he said. For nature, Patagonia was unparalleled, with the Maldives being “the greatest beach destination ever, just spectacular,” said Klein, adding that Cambodia’s Angkor Wat was a spiritual highlight.

“You can get tunnel vision sitting in an office year after year,” Klein said. “It was really mind-opening and regenerating to see how people live in other parts of the world, in many places not that different from where we are and others more so.”

Throughout the trip, Klein said he wasn’t soliciting offers for a new job, although he admitted to checking email every now and then. Klein was confident his pharmaceutical sector connections would provide him with opportunities once he was ready again for office life.

Sure enough, after buying a new house earlier this year in Manhattan Beach, Calif., Arcutis, a clinical-stage drug company with a C-suite stocked by Kythera alums, came calling. The timing was right for Klein to go back to work when Arcutis hired him in November.

“One of the things I realized on this trip is when I was working, I was always trying to solve for forever,” Klein said. “This trip helped me stop doing that and live in the moment.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; Alexis Kramer at