Learned Leadership



I’ve heard it said that leaders are born and I’ve heard it said that leadership is learned. It’s probably a little of both.

But whether it comes from your genetic make up or your environment, I owe whatever leadership qualities I have to my Dad.

Great leaders lead by example and here are a few things he’s showed me.

Listen and Learn

Leadership starts with conversations.  If you listen to the other person, and really hear what they are telling you – you can learn something about them and about yourself.  The more you know about each other – the more you can accomplish together. I’ve listened as he talks with people many times.  And he really talks WITH them.  Never at them. He listens to what they have to say and shares his ideas.

Embrace Challenges Calmly

Challenge your thinking and challenge yourself.  Be open to new ideas while staying true to your principles.  No life is always easy.  And I’m sure raising five kids who were six years apart in age was not always a piece of cake.  (I can not imagine a house with FIVE teenagers.  I have all I can handle with two.) But what ever challenges he faced, my Dad kept his cool and did what had to be done. And he still does to this day.

Live their principles

Talking about something is easy.  Doing something about it can be an entirely different story.  True leaders don’t just talk about something.  They get involved and take action.

My Dad does not stay on the sidelines.  Even though he is retired, he’s busier than ever.  Whether it is creating a neighborhood park, getting a road repaired, volunteering at church, or helping a neighbor, he walks his talk.

Sing Out

Dad’s not afraid to raise his voice and say what needs to be said,  He shares with his children and grandchildren the stories of the past and talks with them about the events of our day.  By his example he has taught us to be aware, be informed, and express our opinions… even when we don’t agree with him.  🙂

Don’t have to be famous to be effective.

My Dad didn’t have to be the President of the United States, the Chairman of the Board (OK, GM might have done better of he was) or a celebrity to make a lasting impact as a leader. He just needed to be who he is, do what he believes is right, and set a great example for his children.


Thanks for stopping by…Stay Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker


STEM Education: Delicious Results

Young Mason Partak, with help from his Mom, Kathy, are using technology in the form of GoFundMe to outfit the kitchen of his elementary school so that kids can learn to cook and students can have hot meals  to  fuel their brains and bodies.  What a great example of STEM education in action. Continue reading

Innovators: Thank a Teacher Today

As innovators, we make progress every day to develop new  technologies and services that will support and sustain life, feed the world, and fuel it.  We develop new apps to connect, to inform and to diagnose.  We’ve build a world beyond what our grandparents or parents ever imagined. What we do matters.  More importantly, this next generation will give life to new innovations, some we can only yet imagine.Continue reading

Picking Winners and Losers

This week, I received an opinion piece via email from a nonprofit institute that claims to “stand on principle, not politics”. 

They were  using the example of Suntech, a solar company that has received business incentives here in Arizona as a prime example of why we should not use government funds to support or invest in specific companies or industries.  The piece ended with the conclusion that  Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin’s bill, H.B. 2646, that would  establish a  fund in which the state “invests” directly in chosen companies was a bad idea.  The writer’s argument against the bill was based on business relocation incentives Arizona  provided to Suntech since that company failed or as the New York Time’s Keith Bradsher proclaimed:  “…was the Icarus of the solar power industry. And, on Wednesday, it fell to earth.”

OK, That Makes Sense… Or Does  It?

The writer’s premise was pretty simple.  Since Arizona invested in a specific company in an emerging technology sector and that company failed, future state investments in specific emerging technology companies should be discouraged.  Government should not pick winners and losers.  Instead, simplify government, create a more business friendly environment, and treat everyone equally so that there is a level playing field and let free market investment forces come into play.  

That sounds really good.  However, there are two problems with that argument. The first is that savvy investors NEVER base or judge an investment portfolio based on a single investment.  Sound portfolios are made up of a cross section of investments with the understanding that some may succeed and others may not.  That is the whole reason we diversify. Second, when you put certain industries side-by-side and look at their risk profiles, the field is not level to start with. Some emerging technologies would never see the light of day simply due to the perception that other less risky investments are a safer bet for investors.

Many emerging technologies, or yet to be discovered future innovations, will not progress purely on free market investment.  Railroads, telecommunications, semiconductors, the internet, and different forms of energy have all benefited from government investments and subsidies in their early years and some still do today.    The basic tenant of that public sector investment is that the future innovation or product meets an unmet need and supports the greater good making it worth forward looking public investment to help move the technology along to the point where the risk profile is acceptable to private sector investors.

Without government investments in basic research, we would not be the nation to first step foot  on the moon, the U.S. would not have become a world leader in semiconductor technology, nor would we have mapped the human genome.  Without further subsidies and support, they rarely move from concept to real world applications.

Innovation does not just happen.  It follows a path from discovery to development to delivery. 

State and federal investments combined with philanthropic support of the discovery phase build and maintain research infrastructure and support new discovery through specific programs.   This work occurs in public institutions like our universities as well as in nonprofit and for- profit businesses of all sizes.

The development phase is where traditionally private investment enters the process.  But development itself can have many phases and risk levels. Some of the industries that have the greatest potential to satisfy unmet needs, like biotechnology and alternative energy, have equally high risk profiles in the early development stages where angels and VC’s fear to tread.  They also, over time can have the greatest payoffs in both societal benefit and economic benefit to the country or state that supports them once they reach the delivery stage and begin to scale.  Great examples of successes include Ventana Medical Systems, Inc., a member of the Roche group that was born here and grew here (today the facility in Oro Valley is home to thousands of employees) and up-and-coming med tech companies like Ulthera in Mesa.

Developing an investment fund, using public dollars or state funded investment incentives, is not the same thing as offering relocation incentives to an outside company  to get them to locate here.  Properly managed investment funds have a criteria to evaluate both risk and reward and, by definition,  diversify their investments to buffer the aggregate risk.  The goal of an investment fund is to build companies that can scale and create jobs.  And when they do, they yield a much higher return on investment than when we “hold onto our wallets” which gets about the same ROI as putting the money under your mattress.

Investors are called to pick winners and losers every day and if the state of Arizona is to continue to  invest in our future, they will have to too.


Looking for the Leaders Who Will Shape our Future

Over the last week, meeting after meeting focused on innovation,  technology, and future directions for growth.  Times of change call for connected and coordinated leadership.  Where will we find ours?

Leadership Way

Last Monday, the week started off with a conference in Tucson where we began with a discussion about Research Universities and the Future of America.  The room was filled with leaders from Arizona’s universities, high tech industry, and government who were there to discuss and to brainstorm new initiatives based on 10 calls for action identified by the National Research Council.

Tuesday, sandwiched between meetings with local CEO’s, brought the opportunity for another leadership meeting where 20 technology and business leaders had an opportunity to meet with with Mary Miller, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance, United States Department of the Treasury and learn what was happening at the Treasury and to ask questions about key impact items ranging from the econ0my to the potential for both the Sequester and th4e Continuing Resolution in March.

Wednesday, stakeholders from across the biotech and health care industries met to work on SB1438 – Arizona’s Biosimilar Bill – while AZBio shared a presentation  with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy and Military on Arizona’s Bioscience Industry:  Where we are.  Where we’re going and what it will take to get there.

Thursday AZBio celebrated Rare Disease Day online and  at the State Capital sharing both information and support for patients and their families.  It also marked the beginning of two days in San Diego where we came  together with leaders from state bioscience associations, patient advocacy groups, and industry partners.  Presentations and  discussions enabled us to share ideas and create partnerships where we can work together to move personalized medicine forward faster and get life saving innovations to the patient community.

No Way Out

One theme ran consistently through all of these meetings.  There is no way out of the economic challenges we face if we work within our silos.  Success will come by working together, leveraging relationships, and combining resources to get the job done.

Innovation Highway

Arizona’s health care and bioscience industries are key growth vehicles that  move the state forward along the innovation highway with sustainable economic growth and life saving and life sustaining innovations as the destination.

Like all vehicles, we must consistently add fuel to keep our engines running and make sure that all of our vehicles are properly maintained.  This will require us to provide the support for the infrastructure that past investments have created:  our medical schools, research institutes, and university research programs.  As the same time, research without growth capital to support the commercialization engine will cause our vehicle to stall.  Creating new capital coalitions and infrastructures are our highest priorities and our greatest growth opportunities is Arizona is to compete at the top levels of our industry.

Growth Path

So, as we move along the growth path, who will shape Arizona’s Bioindustry Future?  The answer is: we all have and we all will.  Our opportunity simply accelerates when we come together – Academia, Government, Industry, Investors, and Patient Advocates with a  shared goal and a shared commitment to move things forward…faster. 

A Few Key Maxims

Marie Gleason CarmichaelMarie G. Carmichael was a pretty wise lady. She lived to see 100 Christmases and 17 Presidents. She loved politics too. I wonder what she would say if she heard the news today?

It’s hard to find a space in the media today that is not filled with incumbents, candidates and presumptive candidates sharing their message with “the people.”

Perhaps, like many of us, you are tired of it all; the repetition, the name calling, the bickering and worse. I know I am.

There are a couple of things you can do.

Option #1 – Turn it off.

Turn off the TV and the radio, advise the newspaper you are on vacation so please suspend delivery until election day, and avoid opening email, accessing Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or any other form of social media.

Option #2 – If you think Option #1 is a bit too extreme.

Each time you hear a politician, newscaster, or other pundit continue to behave in a way that creates dissension instead of creating solutions, send them the gift of these words that my Grandma shared with me:

“Have your facts in your head before opening your mouth. ”

“Don’t complain about a problem, without offering its solution.”

“Pointing fingers does not solve anything, you have a brain and two good hands, use them to fix it.”

“Always remember, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Perhaps if our current and hopeful politicians hear this a few million times, they will get the message.

We can only hope.

Otherwise we may just have to go back to seriously considering Option #1.