As Senior Vice President for Business Development at Precision for Medicine, Jesus ‘Jay’ Lezcano plays an important role helping pharmaceutical and life sciences clients innovate, develop, and commercialize the next generation of medical products. A respected clinical research veteran with a focus on strategic initiatives in the laboratory and biospecimen arena, Lezcano has more than 20 years of experience in business development and sales at various organizations of all sizes – from startups to multibillion dollar enterprises.
Lezcano is a Las Vegas native, a child of immigrants, and learned English as a second language. He earned two bachelor’s degrees at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and has strong interests in the environment, health, human rights, science and technology, and social services. We spoke with him recently to learn more about his career path and the challenges he has faced as a Latino man working in the life sciences.
Slone Partners DEI: What were the primary motivations that inspired you to pursue a career in the life sciences?
Jay Lezcano: At an early age I really wanted to be a physician. I loved science and biology in high school but when I was confronted with organic chemistry in college, I faced the reality that medical school just wasn’t in the cards for me. I changed my major and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA), but my first job out of college was working for a group of cardiologists. That was more than 30 years ago, and I have been on the business development side of healthcare ever since.
Slone Partners DEI: Did you experience a particular ‘a-ha moment’ (or two) early in your career that had a significant impact on your subsequent career development? How did those moments shape your professional trajectory?
Jay Lezcano: I think my a-ha moment was in the late 1990’s when I attended my first clinical research conference called DIA. I had previously worked at different hospitals, a medical device company, and even a payor, but leaving that conference I immediately knew that I wanted a career in clinical research. I left a pretty good job, an apartment on the beach (and amazing weather) in Southern California and moved to San Francisco to work at a startup CRO and have never looked back.
Slone Partners DEI: Has your identity as a BIPOC person presented any challenges that impacted your career path in any way, and if so, how did you overcome those?
Jay Lezcano: That is an interesting question for me. My parents were both immigrants from Cuba and English was a second language for me growing up. Latino culture and afro-Cuban culture are part of my family and my life. However, I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada which, at the time, had very few people of color. I was one of a handful of Latinos in an elementary school made up of lower middle-class students with very few minorities. I could and often did pass as “white” except every year on the first day of school because my first name was Jesus. I still recall dreading roll call by my new teacher, the mispronouncing of “Jesus,” and then all the giggles and comments from the other children. I quickly adopted the nickname Jay which was given to me by a very religious (and well meaning) neighbor who believed giving a child the name Jesus was blasphemous. I noticed a difference in people’s reactions when they learned my real name. They would say things like “gosh, you don’t look like a Mexican.” Whether it was at a traffic stop or applying for a job, people treat you different when they think you are a white American male vs being a just off the boat Latino.
When I graduated college and began looking for a job, I quickly learned it was wise to continue using the name Jay to avoid any discrimination while they were sifting through resumes and deciding who to interview. The strategy worked, I (mostly) avoided suffering workplace discrimination, especially during the hiring process. However, I also feel like a missed out on growing up as an “out and proud” Latino male and often wonder what that would have been like. As a country and an industry there is still a lot of progress to be made on the subject of equality, but it is interesting that recent employers have gone out their way to use my real name whenever possible to show they are committed to diversity in senior management.
Slone Partners DEI: What is your advice to other young BIPOC people who are thinking about pursuing a career in business development/life sciences?
Jay Lezcano: My advice is: Go for it! It is very rewarding, and the life science industry has become very diverse. A person’s success in business development is very seldom subjective. My bosses were much less likely to judge my name or appearance when I was hitting and exceeding sales targets.
Slone Partners DEI: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing organizations as they think about fostering greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace?
Jay Lezcano: I think it comes down to finding the right diverse talent. The pharma industry’s executive suite has been a white male country club for many years even though they still want people of color as customers. But things are definitely changing for the better. I did not have a science degree or go to a fancy university but was given a chance several times along my career path and my employers and investors were rewarded by my productivity.
Slone Partners DEI: What are the things you make time for in your personal life that bring you the most joy?
Jay Lezcano: I recently started a non-profit which is sports oriented and helps under privileged kids in San Francisco participate in things like club basketball. It will also provide mentorship opportunities in school and help prep them for college.
Slone Partners DEI: And finally, what’s your favorite cup of coffee?
Jay Lezcano:: Wow, I don’t drink coffee very often it makes me jittery. On special occasions I drink a Cafe Mocha at Starbucks.