INterview with Two Trees Consulting President and CEO Ginger Graham

By: Steve Wednesday October 31, 2012 0 comments Tags: Ginger Graham, Two Trees Consulting


Ginger Graham
Ginger L. Graham, president and CEO of Two Trees Consulting in Boulder, is a public speaker and health care consultant as well as a faculty member at the Harvard Business School. She is the former president and Chief Executive Officer of Amylin Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company based in San Diego focused on diabetes and obesity.

During her tenure at Amylin, the company launched two first-in-class medicines for people with diabetes, was listed on the Nasdaq 100 and was rated as one of the Top 10 places in the industry for scientists to work.

Prior to her time at Amylin, Ginger was Group Chairman, Office of the President for Guidant Corporation, a major cardiovascular medical device manufacturer based in Indianapolis. During her tenure at Guidant, the company launched the world's leading stent platform, was listed in the Fortune 500, was recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the Best Companies to Work For in America, and was included in Industry Week Magazine's 100 Best Managed Companies in the World.

Q: The RockHealth report published this summer reported that although women compose 73 percent of medical and healthcare managers, only 4 percent of healthcare CEOs were women and, of those who had received more than $2 million in venture funding, none were CEOs. Why are women absent from these key positions?

In July 2012, Forbes named 20 women in their list of CEO's of America's largest companies: a record 4 percent. Over half of them were named in the last year. The emergence of women as CEOs of companies both large and small is continuing, although more slowly than many of us would like to see. Healthcare is no different. Volumes have been written as to the barriers for women aspiring to the highest ranks of leadership. My own personal experience in developing leaders, promoting men and women into leadership positions and having the opportunity to lead various organizations has led me to believe that important leadership traits and behaviors can be learned -- and that women are incredibly effective in leadership roles.

I looked for individuals who had a clear vision for the business, knew how to recruit and develop talent, understood both the sales process and the innovation cycle and were willing to make decisions and take risks. I encourage young managers to seek operational roles, constantly improve their communication and management skills and work horizontally in the organization to learn the entire business. Build a network of advisors and mentors and constantly seek and act on feedback. I give the same feedback to women and men - it takes a huge personal investment to reach executive levels of leadership - and I believe those opportunities are available to those who actively seek them and work to improve their skills and expertise.

Data on women entrepreneurs is not as robust. We have more to learn in this area. In a study done by the Diana Project, a multi-year, multi-university study of women business owners and business growth opportunities, data highlighted that women entrepreneurs historically have received a disproportionately low share of available venture capital, as little as 4 to 9 percent. Carl J. Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, has called it the "capital gap." Many believe the low number of women in venture capital directly affects the lack of funding of women entrepreneurs. Less than 10 percent of high-level venture capitalists are women.

I've always believed that talent is too precious an asset to waste.  Women drive the majority of the healthcare decisions in this country and the healthcare purchases. According to that same report, women led 28 percent of all U.S. businesses in 2002, employing more than 10 million people. Women contribute meaningfully to the economy, even without the same level of representation in large or VC-funded companies. Women are entering business, law and medical schools at a higher rate than men. Women represent a tremendous asset to this country and to the healthcare industry - and I'm convinced they will continue to play an increasing role in the leadership of the industry.

Q: How do you view the aggregation of startups into industry clusters? What are the potential pitfalls and the potential advantages?

I have long been a student of Michael Porter's work regarding innovation clusters and industry competitiveness. I've also lived in Boston, Silicon Valley and San Diego - all three are leading innovation clusters for healthcare. These experiences have left me with a strong appreciation for the value of having the "right ingredients" available to build businesses. You need money - venture capital or other forms of funding. Money attracts talent. A high-risk venture can't grow without talent. You need experts in all aspects of building a healthcare business, from research scientists and clinicians to product development and marketing and sales. Being in a geographic area where all the resources are available to you - and the challenges of your business are your key priorities, not challenges of lack of access to resources -- can be a big help.

One powerful example for me was the challenge of building a fully commercial organization in a San Diego biotech company.  Recruiting talent to launch two first-in-class medicines was very challenging as San Diego has very few commercial entities and limited talent - especially senior level talent - in the area.  Recruiting very senior commercial people to move to San Diego was difficult because, if the company was not successful, very few options existed for those individuals in other organizations.  We needed every kind of expertise: customer service, shipping, logistics, product packaging, regulatory, forecasting, market research, product marketing, sales, sales force management and more. We recruited great people, but many of them had never done what we needed to do - at the level we needed to do it. If the company had existed in a geography where more of the needed talent was already present - and they knew that they could take the risk to join us -- we would certainly have made fewer mistakes and potentially increased our success.

Q: Do you believe the focus on STEM education for girls will change the dynamic of innovation in life sciences?

Clearly, we must once again focus this country's resources on the education of our children. The U.S. has led in innovation in many fields - healthcare is a shining example. Education in the STEM fields is required for us to continue to produce innovations that have a positive impact on health and longevity.

Encouraging all kids to pursue their interest in science and technology - to find ways to make it engaging and fun and interactive and encouraging girls very early in their development to reach for these fields as well -- is critical.

Harvard University is one of the organizations involved in the Diana Project and Myra Hart, their representative, has said that most currently sought-after VC candidates have backgrounds in engineering, physics and biotechnology. These are fields where science education is required and could be one of the areas where educating our girls can have a positive impact on their ability to live their dreams someday by founding their own companies and tackling important global challenges.

Q: You've been at the nexus of the fight against obesity and diabetes in our country. Do the answers lie in drug development or in physiological science?

The emergence of the global twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity requires effort in every conceivable direction. Today, two out of three adults in this country are overweight or obese. One out of five  children over age six is obese. Even one out of eight two-to-five-year-olds is obese. Obesity is increasing at alarming rates and with it comes increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and other chronic conditions. It is clear something fundamental is changing - why are two-year-olds obese? We need more research into both nutrition and exercise. We need to tackle it as a social imperative and bring all our resources to bear. Clearly, we need to fund more research in diabetes and obesity so we can help those who are already living with these challenges. At the same time, we cannot imagine that a magic drug will solve this problem nor can we imagine that simply telling people to eat less and exercise more will solve this problem. We need to tackle it from every angle -- with education, architecture, nutrition, research, prevention, treatments and more.

Q: What advice would you give young female life science entrepreneurs about navigating the male-dominated bioscience investment world?

I have been fortunate to have many great mentors in my career - and they've all been men. I had the benefit of great coaching, honest feedback, good role models and interesting opportunities.  Be a student of good leadership and management without regard to gender. Build your competence - in your technical field and also in managerial and communication skills. Deliver results.  Build your network based on true relationships and always give back. Go where you can grow and then take the risk when given the opportunity.


About the Author: Steve