In this first edition of Slone Partners’ new interview series on life sciences executive and workplace diversity, we’re delighted to present an exclusive interview with Travis McCready. As the former CEO of Massachusetts Life Sciences Center – which has deployed $700 million in investments and workforce programs – Travis sat at the intersection of the state’s thriving life sciences industry, interacting with startups and multinationals and the brilliant people who make progress happen. Yale educated, his remarkable professional journey includes milestones of being a corporate attorney, Director of Community Affairs for Harvard University, Chief of Staff and VP of Programs of Boston Foundation, CFO and COO of Boston Convention Center Authority, and serving on boards of various non-profits. Additionally, Travis serves as Academic Institute Advisory Board Member at Atrius Health.
Today, Travis is dedicating his time and management to the State of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 emergency response team, collaborating with the life sciences community and healthcare professionals on the front lines of this unprecedented pandemic.
Slone Partners’ Diversity Interview Series seeks to add rich insight into life sciences executives who are shaping modern workforces and workplaces.
Slone Partners: Your presence, passion and activism have presided over many diversity success stories, including your own. Tell us about your professional journey and the positive impact you’ve had on others around you.
Travis McCready: I guess it is fair to say that my professional journey has been equal parts restlessness, constant reinvention and curiosity, always guided by a desire to lead at the intersection of the private, non-profit and government sectors. My career has taken me from teaching public school in the Bronx to leading a healthcare start-up in the world’s most fecund life sciences ecosystem. There were also stops along the way in higher education administration, convention centers, and philanthropy, to name a few. Others can be the judge of whether my efforts over the past 25+ years have had a positive impact, but I have always tried to lead with integrity, a focus on community, and the understanding that the private sector and public interest need not be mutually distinct.
Slone Partners: As the former CEO of Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which has deployed $700 million in investments, grants and workforce programs, how did you address diversity inside that organization and encourage trickle-down workforce diversity in the organizations in which MLSC invested?
Travis McCready: At the MLSC, we adopted what I would describe as a ‘take your medicine, it’s good for you’ approach to our diversity collaborations. In addition, we approached it from both bottom up and top down, ensuring that diversity was introduced at every critical juncture of the life sciences ecosystem. In practice, that translated into K-12 education programs targeting girls, underrepresented minorities and under-resourced districts; college internship programs for underrepresented minorities; early-stage funding programs for women entrepreneurs and companies growing in recovering urban districts; and even the creation of a new translational research paradigm – women’s health – to accelerate development of therapies for conditions disproportionately impacting women.
Slone Partners: Do you believe it’s essential that the makeup of life sciences company Boards of Directors and C-Suites reflect the races, genders, ages, identities and ethnicities of the communities, healthcare systems, and patients they ultimately serve? Is that important for the betterment of the business as well as morally and ethically?
Travis McCready: In a word, yes. Now more than ever, B2C businesses like life sciences companies want to be regarded as mirrors that reflect their customer base and the communities they serve. It is hard to find a biopharma company today without some “patient first” credo or emphasis on being part of the patient’s life. I say bring that truth into the boardroom and C-suite, where patients’ identities can and should be reflected. It is past time companies understood and took personal responsibility for inclusion at the highest levels as a matter of business imperative, not just moral imperative.
Slone Partners: The Boston Globe recently published an Op Ed story here about worker shortages throughout Massachusetts and calls to action to ensure a future talent pipeline. The piece suggested that education systems needed to “significantly deepen career awareness of life sciences careers at all levels of education, including outreach to teachers and guidance counselors at the K-12 level, providing schools with career information and industry speakers.” Is the life sciences industry in Boston properly engaged with the next generations of life sciences leaders? Where could it improve?
Travis McCready: We have one of the best K-12 STEM education systems in the US, and I applaud our government, civic and education leaders for keeping STEM at the forefront of education public policy conversations. That said, we could always stand to improve. Schools are disproportionately resourced, teachers are disproportionately resourced and networked, and career/science trajectory awareness disproportionately favors those already in the system. If only all our children had a chance to see what I have seen and the educators could meet and connect with the extraordinary leaders we have in our life sciences community. Our students are passionate, curious, sharp, and hard-working; and just like every scientist I have met on their science journey, they are eager to change the world. It is our responsibility to make sure they get connected into the industry to realize that passion.
Slone Partners: You earned your JD from University of Iowa and your BA from Yale, yet a decade later you became Director of Community Affairs at Harvard. That school recently prevailed in a lawsuit that accused the university of discriminating against Asian students and race-conscious admissions practices. On appeal, the case could head to the Supreme Court. Wearing your lawyer hat and having resided in the Ivy Leagues, what are your thoughts regarding affirmative action in college admissions?
Travis McCready: I put my lawyer hat in cold storage. I would point, however, to a fairly recent Boston Globe report analyzing admissions and matriculation data at some of the largest and highest profile colleges and universities in Boston. The data showed that the admissions and matriculation percentages for some races and ethnicities have not moved since I was in college.
Slone Partners: The life sciences industry is challenged by scarcity of talent, from executive management to entry-level positions. How does the industry create and nurture diverse workforces specifically in a tight labor environment, and what other issues might be getting in the way?
Travis McCready: I would disagree with the characterization of scarcity – I think the supply is a bit more textured. In my experience, life sciences companies too often fall prey to pedigree-itis – wanting every position at every level to be occupied by an individual that matches their ideal educational, scientific or operational pedigree. Companies would almost rather leave positions vacant than sacrifice their pedigree. For example, I once had a company share with me they were huge on diversity, so long as the candidate was a former Genzyme employee, degreed from an Ivy league school, possessing over 10 years industry experience. They lamented how few diverse candidates there were in Boston for this mid-level manufacturing operations position. Industry must honestly and candidly tackle issues of inclusivity before they can execute with diversity.
Slone Partners: Is there one particular company or organization in the U.S. that’s hitting a home run on diversity – from top to bottom, from CSR to community engagement, from internal communications to external marketing? You look at them and think, “They really get it.”
Travis McCready: No particular company comes to mind, but I respect the work and effort that some companies and institutions are making. What perks my ears is individual commitment coming from leadership and I am proud to see a number of CEOs here in the Greater Boston area putting their money where their mouths are.
Slone Partners: What makes you personally happy?
Travis McCready: I am a cheap date. A long run or hike through the woods, just me and my dog, suits me just fine – the more remote the better.