I walked down the hall on the sixth floor of the Medical Science Building at NYU Medical Center holding a cup of coffee in one hand, the other comfortably resting in my lab coat pocket. There was a spring to my step. The week before I had defended my Ph.D. thesis and that long period of self-doubt, also known as graduate school, had come to an end.
My stroll brought me to the tissue culture lab where I was planning to engage in a series of meaningless exchanges with colleagues. But no one was pipetting that day. Even that unmistakable odor of bacterial colonies thriving at 37°C was not evident in the room, almost as if no one had opened the incubator door for a long time.
As I turned left into the adjoining lab, it all became clear. All lab members were standing around having an animated conversation. One of them was pointing excitedly to the cork-board on the wall. But it was not a picture of a pet, a newborn, or a lab alumnus scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro. Instead, the source of excitement was a clipping from that day’s New York Times—October 15, 1980.
I listened carefully trying to decode the essence of the conversation. I heard words like genetic engineering, stocks (I thought viral stocks), and millions of dollars (self-explanatory). The message wasn’t clear to me at first, but later on I realized they were talking about the initial public offering (IPO) of Genentech. The details eluded me but the excitement of the scientists did not.
Right then and there the proverbial lightbulb flashed. This had to be a big idea, a unique marriage of business and science. I, too, was looking for something to do that could take me beyond laboratory science. Without much thought, I decided I would become the one who was going to explain science to business people and business to scientists. Whether or not I had the credentials or the knowledge was a separate issue. I knew that I had to do it and what I didn’t know I was going to learn.