Five Questions For … Erik Halvorsen of TMC’s Innovation Institute
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a work in progress.
X: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned about managing people?
EH: I think a lot of managers approach the way they communicate to their team in a “one-size-fits-all” approach. I have always put a lot of value on building very diverse teams—culturally, ethnically, gender, age, and experience. Diversity, in my experience, drives creativity and innovation on teams. But it also means that you will have a range of personalities and different ways that people optimally communicate and learn. As a manager, I have always tried to tailor how I communicate and interact with each member of my team to their preferred style rather than my own. I think it allows me to better connect with each of them and to get the most from them.
X: Tell me about your early influences.
EH: I was extremely fortunate to have amazing male role models while growing up. My grandfathers were both World War II veterans—blue-collar family men, with no college educations, who knew what a hard day’s work was and took pride in it. My father is a Vietnam veteran from the Navy who took the technical training he received in the military and got a job with a defense contractor after the war. He would work to support his family during the day and then go to school at night to get his college degree to better himself. Nothing was given to these guys: they worked hard and earned everything they ever received. I would like to think that I am making them proud by demonstrating their same work ethic in my professional life, and trying daily to be the best father, husband, and person that I can be.
X: As entrepreneur, where have you seen failure?
EH: Much of my career has been engaged with healthcare related startups and innovators. I was directly involved in starting and running five companies—two in therapeutics, one in clinical genomics, one in digital health, and one in robotics—where I helped write the business plan, raise the money, and served in either a board member or operational role. All of these companies have been successful and are still around today, including one that went through an IPO a few years ago.
When the companies faltered or hit a stumbling block, it was most often due to a disconnect in the vision, culture, or goals between the founding team and the operating team. In challenging times—and all startups experience challenges—these differences become magnified and tiny cracks turn into fissures pretty quickly. Now, I will not start, invest in, or join a company unless that unified foundation is there.
X: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
EH: I wanted to be a doctor-astronaut-professional baseball player. In high school, I realized I wasn’t a good enough baseball player. In college, I realized I was too tall to be an astronaut. In medical school, I realized I didn’t want to be “that kind of doctor,” so instead I earned a PhD in neuropharmacology. When I realized I didn’t want to be in a lab all the time, I discovered this entire field of translational medicine and commercialization of healthcare innovation. Now that I am running the TMC Innovation Institute, I am finally where I want to be. And I can still look up at the stars, watch the Red Sox, and dream.