“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” One of the absolute blessings of being involved with Life Science Cares is that I get to meet and interact with some of the smartest, most creative people in the world. While that is overwhelmingly a good thing, there are times when I listened too much to new and creative ways to do things, which resulted in not moving as fast as I could have in helping people. Our team is constantly looking for ways to improve, but we also realize that people need us to be there for them right now, and sometimes we are better off if we get started, learn and make adjustments, rather than spending too much time planning to ensure everything is perfect.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Perez.
Rob is one of the few leaders of color in the life science industry, is an Operating Partner at General Atlantic, a global growth equity firm, as well as the Founder and Chairman of Life Science Cares, a collective organization that connects the life science industry with nonprofits to create meaningful change in communities impacted by poverty. For more information, visit: www.lifesciencecares.org.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thirty years ago, I stumbled into the life science industry through a newspaper advertisement for a sales position at a biopharma company. As a recent college graduate of a state university that educates kids from lower socioeconomic families, I didn’t know much about the industry let alone have connections to help land that job. Fortunately for me, the company was looking for a representative who was willing to cover some of the most challenging areas of Southern California, like South Central and East LA, Chinatown and Compton, areas in which many experienced representatives did not want to work. I worked my way up through the BioPharma sector, advancing to the position of Vice President of Biogen’s CNS Business Unit, and becoming one of the leaders of Cubist Pharmaceuticals as President and ultimately, CEO. Now, as an Operating Partner at General Atlantic, I provide strategic support and advice to the firm’s investment team and portfolio companies with a focus on the biotech and life sciences sectors.
In 2016, I created Life Science Cares as a platform for members of the life science industry to give back, while also giving nonprofits the funds and human capital necessary to grow and innovate. This combination of connecting multi-year grants and human capital (such as volunteers, strategic support, in- kind donations, etc.) to nonprofits that need both is the core value the organization brings as it works to decrease the ever-widening economic gap in communities. Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the organization has since expanded nationally into Philadelphia, and most recently into the West Coast, with new affiliates in San Francisco and San Diego launching this January.
Life Science Cares is the only collective organization that connects the thriving life science industry with nonprofits fighting poverty to create meaningful community change. The idea is to harness human and financial resources from companies and industry leaders and commit them to organizations that improve education, workforce development and economic sustainability for individuals and families living in poverty in targeted cities nationwide. We harness the collective talent of an industry that is used to solving incredibly challenging problems, and provide a vehicle for that talent to care actively and use the power of science to impact poverty
My work has really come full circle as fostering diversity and helping under-resourced populations is at the core of what I do every day.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One Sunday, I was sitting in church and was struck by the sermon from my favorite priest, about how we are all called to change the world. From time to time, I write a blog about stuff that matters to me, and for whatever reason, the topic struck me as worthy of writing on the subject.
A few days later, I had an early morning board meeting for Life Science Cares. It had been a long week already, early mornings and late nights, and not much sleep in between. The morning was extraordinarily cold (even for Boston), and to say I was not in the best frame of mind to start my day would be a monumental understatement.
As I got in my Uber to take me to the meeting, I was doing my absolute best to have no human interaction with the driver, as all I wanted to do was try and grab a minute or two of sleep on the ride to the meeting. Just as I was about to put on my enormous noise-cancelling headphones, the universal sign for “I do not want to talk”, I regrettably noticed the gentlemanly older driver looking at me in the rear view mirror, and beginning to speak. UGH! Not wanting to be rude, I kept the headphones off and listened to his words…
“You look tired. I know it’s early. But sometimes you have to get up early to change the world”
BOOM!!! Suffice it to say, that evening I wrote a blog with a few thoughts on how we can all help to change the world. (For those who have an interest, you can find it here.)
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I strongly believe in the power of authenticity and difference. As a mixed-race man (Creole) guy who identifies as African American, with a Hispanic surname, who can pass for anything from Caucasian to Cuban, trust me I know difference! Not only am I rarely in a group that is racially similar, I also have the very unique perspective of blending into and experiencing groups who don’t know there is a minority in their midst.
I suspect my racial difference played a major role in why I believe so strongly in the power of diversity in the workplace. Not because it is morally the right thing to do, but because the value of different perspectives provides the essential building blocks for greatness. No outsized success ever comes from following the crowd or thinking like everyone else. I see “same” as the first giant step on the road to average, and I have a hard time understanding why anyone would be comfortable with that.
It is our authentic difference that makes us amazing, and too often our corporate processes and systems enable and maintain the status quo, limiting the tremendous value that diversity can provide.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Historically, the public’s perception of the life science industry has been focused on the healthcare advancements driven by some of the country’s brightest minds and most prosperous biotech and medical device companies. Our organization has engaged those minds and companies in solving social issues by using philanthropy and the power of their creativity and knack for solving the world’s hardest problems to make change. Now more than ever, nonprofits and companies need to work together to help tackle racial and socioeconomic divides, all exacerbated by the pandemic. That’s where Life Science Cares steps in.
Life Science Cares is a nonprofit organization that connects the time, talent, and treasure that lies within life science companies with nonprofits that are working to address poverty and its effects, like food and housing insecurity, education gaps, and lack of access to opportunity.
With affiliates in Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco/Bay Area, we provide multi-year grants and human capital from within life science, biotech and medtech companies to help nonprofits create and execute solutions to their biggest challenges. What’s unique about our model is that we are not just a grant making organization that supports our non- profit partners financially. In addition to financial support, we get deeply engaged with our partners to understand how we can help them do their critical work bigger, better and faster, which enables us to solve real problems that could not be accomplished with dollars alone.
At once, we energize volunteers who make connections that help the nonprofits reach more people and raise more money while providing access to jobs within the life science industry for people of color and of varying educational and economic backgrounds. Life Science Cares is a turnkey Corporate Social Responsibility program for the life science industry and a model through which other professional industries can leverage their time, talent and treasure to tackle society’s greatest social issues.
How do you think this will change the world?
Life Science Cares has been an industry leader in giving back to the community during the coronavirus pandemic and a champion for racial and social equity. At a time when everyone wants to do “something”, to make the world a better place, we are providing meaningful, actionable and easily accessible ways for companies and individuals to contribute to their neighbors in this time of great need.
In the past few months, for example, Life Science Cares has seen an influx in requests from companies looking to help individuals and families facing challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a desire to get involved in working to solve racism and socioeconomic inequities. Through a steady stream of volunteer engagements, and targeted fundraising efforts, Life Science Cares was able to channel that energy into something meaningful.
As part of a multi-faceted COVID-19 relief effort, we rallied hundreds of biopharma executives and employees to raise an additional 1.8 million dollars, which was donated to 33 nonprofits providing food, shelter and healthcare. We partnered with local hospitals to recruit individuals with clinical and medical training and those who could help in non-clinical settings on the frontlines. We also created virtual volunteer opportunities for individuals and families, ranging from mentoring STEM students and rising college graduates, to collecting food and clothing donations, to assembling activity kits from home that were distributed to pediatric patients at major hospitals across the United States and Canada
Since its founding in 2016, the Life Science Cares network has distributed more than 4.5 million dollars in grants and 12,000 volunteer hours to human service organizations in Greater Boston and Philadelphia. As we grow in San Francisco and San Diego and expand into new cities nationwide, we will partner with companies and nonprofits working to serve diverse populations while working to create new opportunities for people of all backgrounds to enter our industry.
If more industries can come together to pool their manpower, money and resources to solve social issues, we will have a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.
This past year has been challenging as the coronavirus continues to fuel poverty, racial and socioeconomic divides. We have had to pivot many of our volunteer efforts from in-person to virtual programs and create different fundraising opportunities for our nonprofit partners as many rely on revenue generated through special events to fund programs and services.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the power of people and community. We realize that not every company has the bandwidth to create connections with nonprofit organizations and manage internal volunteer programs, which is why I created Life Science Cares. Luckily, our industry is resilient and relies heavily on collaboration for the greater good.
As other industries work to create similar organizations, I recommend putting competition aside and leaning into what resources your peers have to offer that complement or enhance your organization’s unique offerings in order to best serve nonprofits in your region. In addition, choose a mission of focus that is authentic to your industry in which employers and employees naturally have the passion, resources and skills to help partners serve those in need.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
After my company was acquired, I was looking for a way to give back to a greater degree. I spent several months meeting with leaders in the philanthropic community of Boston, seeking their guidance. While I received a lot of good advice, it was remarkable to me how many of them asked me, candidly, why the life science community was not participating more in giving back to help the city, especially since our industry is rightfully perceived as being a leader in the commonwealth. I was taken aback by their question, because I knew there were significant efforts being made by the large companies in our industry. I also knew that most of the industry is made up of small companies that are not yet profitable, and whose philanthropic efforts are primarily focused on the patients impacted by the diseases they were studying.
The idea for Life Science Cares came out of those discussions. I thought that creating a way for the talented and caring individuals and companies of our industry to collectively give back could make a real difference in our community, while also providing many of the companies with a valuable tool to engage their employees…kind of an outsourced Corporate Social Responsibility department. I knew that if we could create something that tapped into the significant well of empathy that exists within our industry, we could create a flywheel effect where the nonprofits and the people they serve benefit from the resources of our industry, and the industry benefits from having an engaged workforce that appreciates their company’s effort to be involved in the relevant issues facing our community today.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
There are a few key ingredients in the Life Science Cares model of collective impact — committed leadership at the industry, city and company level, the creativity to identify all of the resources necessary to meet needs (time, talent, treasure) and the willingness to build partnerships with and learn from community-based organizations. A unique element of our model is that the leaders of the industry pay for the administrative costs of the organization personally, so that every dollar we bring in from companies or individuals goes 100 percent to our nonprofit partners fighting poverty. Poverty is a complex challenge, and it will take the creativity, commitment and expertise of many individuals working together to make systemic change.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” One of the absolute blessings of being involved with Life Science Cares is that I get to meet and interact with some of the smartest, most creative people in the world. While that is overwhelmingly a good thing, there are times when I listened too much to new and creative ways to do things, which resulted in not moving as fast as I could have in helping people. Our team is constantly looking for ways to improve, but we also realize that people need us to be there for them right now, and sometimes we are better off if we get started, learn and make adjustments, rather than spending too much time planning to ensure everything is perfect.
2. “Not everything that is useful can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is useful’: The people in the life science industry are used to data and precision. This has been extraordinarily beneficial in helping us guide our decision-making and our priorities. However, when it comes to measuring impact of philanthropy and human capital on those in need, getting precise metrics is not straight forward. For example, how does one measure the impact of an hour of time that an aspiring young college student from the inner city spends with a PhD from our industry, where the result is a total mind shift about what is possible for her career, and a new desire to work in the greatest industry in the world? We continue to work to improve our metrics and to measure as best we can our impact, but I am now convinced that we need to focus first on what we know will be impactful, even if we have not figured out yet how to accurately measure it.
3. “Act as if the people you are trying to serve are watching you every minute.” As with any complex task, there are times when you can be distracted by things that really don’t matter. Be it things that affect you personally, relationships that can be difficult, or just your ability to stay focused, it can be a constant challenge to stay on task. One of the tools we use to try and focus on what matters is to imagine that one of the people we serve is in the room watching us work at every moment. If the person was here, what would he or she say about what you are doing right this moment. The person really doesn’t care about my ego, or my conflict aversion, he or she cares about being fed, or finding a place to sleep. Thinking about the person you are serving really focuses the mind, and ensures you are prioritizing the right things to be able to deliver on our promise.
4. “Good is the new cool.” People have an extraordinary attraction to helping others. I knew there was a deep well of empathy within our community, but I didn’t realize that so many people, especially young people, are drawn to give back. Young employees are demanding that their companies care about the world, beyond just their pursuit of shareholder return. Companies that choose to ignore caring actively in order to only focus on their corporate missions do so at their own peril. It’s almost as if there is a new form of peer pressure that involves what one is doing to give back to serve others. This is a tremendous sign for our nation, and one to which Life Science Cares fits perfectly.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for money One of our advisors is Deval Patrick, former Governor of Mass., tells a story that I love about his good friend Barack Obama. When Deval was campaigning for governor, his first attempt at being in public office, President Obama asked him how he was doing and how he liked it. Deval responded that he loved it, especially the chance to interact and hear from so many people from all walks of life, across the Commonwealth. “The only thing I don’t like, is asking people for money”, Deval told his friend. President Obama’s response was….”Get over it!”. When Life Science Cares started, I was terrible at asking people for money. During one of our first fundraising events, a friend of mine pulled me aside and essentially said the same thing to me that President Obama candidly said to Governor Patrick. I’m still not great at it, but I realize that asking people for money solves the greater good and helps us to help many people in need. Fortunately, we now have more people involved in the organization who are experts at this, so we can continue to grow our vision and help even more people.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I’m kind of a zealot about the benefits of a growth mindset. If you ask anyone who has worked with me, or my kids, they would probably lament how often they have to hear from me about why having a growth mindset is the key to differential success. In essence, a growth mindset is one that assumes we are a work in process, and that all feedback and experience, positive and negative, is beneficial for helping us to improve and grow. The learning and growth in the journey becomes almost as important as the outcome itself. Having a growth mindset takes a lot of confidence, since you have to be able to conclude that you are inherently so good, exposing your mistakes and shortcomings won’t impact the core of who you are. Indeed, it is in those shortcomings where the most learning and growth can be found. People with fixed mindsets only want you to see their success. Their inherent insecurity prevents themselves or others from seeing their imperfections, thereby limiting the opportunities for growth.
When I hire people to work with me, the number one criteria I look for is the presence of a growth mindset. I work great with people who love to learn, and are always looking for ways to improve themselves or the business, without fear of looking bad or admitting a mistake. People who like to argue why average results should be viewed as excellent, and are an obstacle to growth, are a challenge for me, and ones who don’t usually last in my organization.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
We have a lot of the leading VC’s in the life sciences space that are involved in Life Science Cares, but we can certainly use more! VC’s have a keen sense of investment risk and return. My pitch would be for them to think similarly about how they invest in humanity and improving the world. That could be by the companies they start and support, or it could be through getting involved in organizations like Life Science Cares. We have a turnkey, proven model that helps people to care actively about impacting poverty, so we invite all VC’s, and everyone directly or remotely associated with our industry, to join us in donating their time, talent and/or treasure to ending poverty in the cities we serve.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Find Life Science Cares on social media: Facebook (@LifeScienceCares); Twitter( @robperez32 (@LS_Cares, @LS_CaresPhilly, @LS_CaresSD, @LS_CaresBayArea) and LinkedIn (Life Science Cares Boston, Life Science Cares Philadelphia, Life Science Cares San Diego, Life Science Cares Bay Area). For more information, visit: www.lifesciencecares.org.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.