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Timothy B. Brown: “Get comfortable with making decisions in the absence of definitive data”

“Get comfortable with making decisions in the absence of definitive data” — The world now moves too quickly to allow waiting until you are 100% sure of something to move forward. Over my career I’ve observed that there are there is a spectrum of management styles with what I call “Business Engineers” at one end and “Business […]

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“Get comfortable with making decisions in the absence of definitive data” — The world now moves too quickly to allow waiting until you are 100% sure of something to move forward. Over my career I’ve observed that there are there is a spectrum of management styles with what I call “Business Engineers” at one end and “Business Artists” on the other. Business Engineers will test and prove everything before making a decision. Business Artists act on instinct. Good Business Engineers thrive at large companies which can afford to be slow to move but definitive when they do. In the startup world, you don’t have the time or money to follow that path. Instead, you have to make the best decision you can as quickly as possible while minimizing the cost of being wrong.


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 Timothy B. Brown.

Tim is a 25+ year veteran of the global healthcare, consumer goods and pediatric nutrition industries. After serving as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and then earning his MBA at Cornell University, he joined Procter & Gamble in Marketing and spent the next seventeen years in positions of increasing responsibility culminating in an appointment as General Manager of the North American Personal Healthcare business. In that role, he was responsible for leading well-known household brands such as Prilosec OTC, NyQuil and DayQuil, Vicks, Pepto-Bismol, Metamucil, ThermaCare, and led the launch of the adult probiotic, Align. Tim then moved to Mead Johnson Nutrition as SVP & GM of the North American business unit, and later moved to Singapore where he held a similar role leading the South/Southeast Asia business unit and Asia Regional office. Tim joined Evolve BioSystems in 2016 as COO and in 2017 he was appointed CEO.


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?

I grew up in New Hampshire and attended Cornell University via a Navy ROTC scholarship, which meant I entered active duty in the Navy as an officer following graduation. I spent a couple of years on a destroyer, and then a two-year stint on exchange with the UK’s Royal Navy before returning to Cornell for my MBA. I then joined Procter & Gamble in Marketing and spent seventeen years in positions of increasing responsibility culminating an appointment to General Manager of the North American Personal Healthcare business.

In that role, I was responsible for leading well-known household brands such as Prilosec OTC, NyQuil and DayQuil, Vicks, Pepto-Bismol, Metamucil, ThermaCare, PuR water filters, and I also led the final development and launch of the adult probiotic, Align.

In 2009, I moved to Mead Johnson Nutrition as SVP & GM of the North American business unit, and later moved to Singapore where I held a similar role leading the South/Southeast Asia business unit and Asia Regional office. In 2016 I joined Evolve BioSystems as COO and in 2017 I was appointed to CEO.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that happened to me was the discovery of Evolve and the science behind it. I had been in the infant nutrition business for many years as the head of the Enfamil business in the United States and so I felt I had a solid understanding of the field. When I met the Evolve Founders and learned about the profound impact of the gut microbiome on infant health and immune system development, I was stunned. Further, I learned that a microbe crucial to the infant microbiome has been lost due the unintended consequences of antibiotic use and C-section delivery. I had been in the process of moving from Chicago to Boston at the time — instead, my wife and I reversed course and moved to California.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I grew up in a church-going family which instilled the importance of treating others well and working hard to leave a positive mark on the world. In high school my family hosted an exchange student from Spain, and I travelled as an exchange student to Australia, so that taught me to respect different ways of thinking and doing things. My first job after college was as a Naval Officer and that strongly influenced my leadership style. While people often think of the military as authoritarian, it is servant leadership and teamwork that allows a ship to operate safely and effectively in the middle of the ocean.

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”?

As the CEO of Evolve Biosystems, one of the leading microbiome companies launched out of the University of California Davis, financed by investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, J&J Development Corporation and most recently Cargill and Manna Tree, I can leverage deep expertise of the healthcare industry to launch new, innovative products with a mission to improve the health trajectory of all newborn infants worldwide.

Evolve BioSystems is the manufacturer of the groundbreaking infant probiotic, Evivo®, the only probiotic to contain the superior strain of activated B. infantis EVC001, which has now been clinically proven to resolve Newborn Gut Deficiency (NGD) — a hidden problem impacting more than 90% of babies born in the US today. Evivo provides a crucially important bacteria which baby needs which in turn suppresses potentially harmful bacteria, like E. coli and Klebsiella. The presence of these bacteria in the infant gut has been linked to short-term conditions like colic and diaper rash, and long-term conditions like allergies, eczema and even Type 1 Diabetes.

How do you think this will change the world?

The Evolve R&D team, along with world-renowned research collaborators, has done incredible research and published in top medical journals such as Pediatric Research, Frontiers in Nutrition, and BMC-Pediatrics, showing the crucial role B. infantis plays in infant health and development within the first six months of life. Additionally, they have shown that when this bacterium is missing, resulting in Newborn Gut Deficiency, it can be safely and effectively restored.

Our most recent breakthrough in the Evolve research is the U.S. Microbiome Survey, recently published in Scientific Reports. The research found that more than 90 percent of infants in the U.S. are missing the critical bacteria, Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis (B. infantis), which is widely documented as a key component of the infant gut microbiome, increasing risk to early infant health and development. The study is the largest to date to benchmark the widespread levels of NGD.

Evolve is also announcing a partnership with the GPPAD research consortium to undertake a landmark Type 1 Diabetes Prevention Study. This large, international, multi-year SINT1A study (Supplementation with B.infantis for Mitigation of Type 1 Diabetes Autoimmunity), will start April of this year, and will look at whether restoring the infant gut microbiome can impact Type 1 Diabetes which affects 1.6 million Americans.

The study, among the largest Type 1 Diabetes studies to date which has more than 30 million dollars funded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable trust, aims to show that the daily administration of activated B. infantis EVC001 through the first year of life to children genetically predisposed to Type 1 Diabetes prevents the development of beta-cell autoantibodies in the blood. Beta-cell autoantibodies, which are produced by the immune system, attack and destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, thus leading to Type 1 Diabetes onset.

The recent groundbreaking research our team has been doing will be used to help us further establish our revolutionary probiotic, Evivo®, which is comprised of activated B. infantis EVC001, proven to resolve infant gut dysbiosis, or Newborn Gut Deficiency, and continue our quest to address this widespread health crisis in newborns.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Ironically, we are currently experiencing this “Law of Unintended Consequences” already insofar as the widespread use of antibiotics and C-section births resulted in knocking B. infantis out of our population. Further, we believe that the pandemic of autoimmune and allergic conditions which our children face today has been the result. One might say that we have all been the unwitting participants of a global microbiome remodeling experiment, and the results have not been that great. Further, we have closely studied the effect of feeding B. infantis EVC001 to infants and the results are excellent. At this point, our product has been fed safely several millions of times.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Our founders at UC Davis were intrigued by the discovery that Human milk oligosaccharides, one of the most abundant components of breastmilk — in fact they represent 15% of the nutrients in breastmilk — cannot be digested or metabolized by the baby. This led them to the hypothesis that HMOs are present to feed the gut bacteria and further that there is one species uniquely adapted to consume and utilize them to protect the baby.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Sufficient research is complete and published to now justify feeding it to all infants and not just those born by C-section. We now need to build awareness that just because a baby appears to be healthy and growing, there is a very high likelihood that it is missing B. infantis in its gut microbiome and has instead very abundant pathogens. This means that without intervention, autoimmune or allergic conditions later in life may be more likely to occur. Additional research which we are performing now will further build the dossier of evidence justifying intervention.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

“Accept that you can’t get everything done” — Through childhood and college and even in the Navy, I could always tackle all of the work that was assigned or expected. As I joined P&G, and particularly as my scope of responsibility broadened, I felt permanently swamped and frustrated. Fortunately, I finally got to the point that it was clear that I just had to let things go. Doing so was a huge relief.

“It’s all about the people” — When you grow up seeing everything around you generally working, you come to the conclusion that everything is simply automatic. However, once you are part of the ecosystem, you realize that people are behind everything — every idea, every solution, every action. The next thing you realize is that there are passionate and talented people who really make things happen and these are the folks you want to work with and have on your team.

“When it comes to innovation, the experts might be the last to get it.” — Our society idolizes experts and pays much attention to what they say and do. Unfortunately, their expertise is based on the existing body of knowledge and they may or may not be able to think outside that box. When confronted with a brand-new idea, not only is it difficult to divorce themselves from what they know, accepting a new thought actually threatens their status. Most great innovators were scorned and derided by the experts, until they persevered and proved themselves.

“Too many businesses focus on where the ball is rather than where the ball is going to be” — Smart and accomplished business leaders have often gotten to where they are by managing processes and making good and safe choices. That breeds a conservatism that struggles with anticipating change and getting out in front of it. I often think about how the executives at Smith-Corona thought about making the best typewriter up to the day that no one used them anymore.

“Get comfortable with making decisions in the absence of definitive data” — The world now moves too quickly to allow waiting until you are 100% sure of something to move forward. Over my career I’ve observed that there are there is a spectrum of management styles with what I call “Business Engineers” at one end and “Business Artists” on the other. Business Engineers will test and prove everything before making a decision. Business Artists act on instinct. Good Business Engineers thrive at large companies which can afford to be slow to move but definitive when they do. In the startup world, you don’t have the time or money to follow that path. Instead, you have to make the best decision you as can quickly as possible while minimizing the cost of being wrong.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

My service in the military taught me the importance of being Mission Driven. This creates the purpose and passion for achieving something and is crucial to getting one through the inevitable challenges and difficult times. At P&G I learned that you must know your product or specialty area better than anyone else. That knowledge allowed you to sell each and all of its benefits with passion and defend against any challenge with knowledge. It also allows you to see its flaws and understand how to manage and correct them.

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 🙂

I would tell them that Evolve BioSystems presents an unparalleled opportunity to be part of making a profound improvement to global public health while also benefiting from a tipping-point type of startup. When parents understand how a relatively small intervention may have a huge impact on the lifetime health trajectory of their infant, they will reach for our product. Evivo will become one of the most important household brands of the next generation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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