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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Rob Perez of Life Sciences Care Is Helping To Change Our World

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” One of the absolute blessings of being involved with LSC is that I get to meet and interact with some of the smartest, most creative people in the world. While that is overwhelmingly a good thing, there are times when I listened too much to new and creative ways to do things, which resulted in not moving as fast as I could have in helping people. Our team is constantly looking for ways to improve, but we also realize that people need us to be there for them right now, and sometimes we are better off if we get started, learn and make adjustments, rather than spending too much time planning to ensure everything is perfect.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Perez.

Rob Perez is a biopharmaceutical operating executive with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. He is currently serving as an Operating Partner at General Atlantic, a global growth equity firm, providing strategic support and advice to the firm’s life sciences investment team and portfolio companies. Rob is also a member of the Board of Directors at Vir Bio, PathAI, Immunocore, Third Harmonic Bio, and PANTHERx.

Rob is the Founder and Chairman of Life Science Cares, an organization that provides human and financial capital from the life sciences industry to the best non-profits working to alleviate the impact of poverty in the US. Life Science Cares now operates in Boston, San Diego, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, and New York city.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thirty-five years ago, I stumbled into the life science industry through newspaper advertisement for a sales position at a biopharma company. After spending five years working full time while simultaneously taking classes to get my business degree from Cal State Los Angeles, I was looking for a sales job that would pay the bills and begin my career. I knew nothing about the biopharma industry but lucked into a position as a sales rep for a large pharma company who was willing to take a chance on me, mostly because I was willing to work a territory that encompassed the most dangerous communities of the LA area.

I worked my way up through the biopharma sector, advancing to the position of Vice President of Biogen’s CNS Business Unit, and becoming one of the leaders of Cubist Pharmaceuticals as President and ultimately, CEO. Now, as an Operating Partner at General Atlantic, I work with our investment team and portfolio companies with a focus on the biotech and life sciences sectors.

In 2016, following Cubist’s acquisition by Merck, I founded Life Science Cares (LSC) as a platform for colleagues from the life sciences industry to express their compassion for members of the community who are impacted by poverty. By aggregating human and financial resources from our industry, we work with the best nonprofit partners in targeted local geographies to help enhance their impact on the community in three areas:

access to basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, health care, etc.)

access to education

access to economic opportunity

This combination of connecting multi-year grants and human capital (such as volunteers, strategic support, in-kind donations, etc.) to nonprofits that need both is the core value the organization brings as it works to decrease the ever-widening economic gap in communities. Headquartered in Cambridge, MA, the organization has since expanded nationally into Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego and most recently New York City.

LSC is the only collective organization that connects the thriving life science industry with nonprofits fighting poverty to create meaningful community change. We harness the collective talent of an industry that is used to solving incredibly challenging problems and provide a vehicle for that talent to care actively and use the industry’s natural resource of intelligence, innovation and creativity to make a meaningful impact on poverty.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

One Sunday, I was sitting in church and was struck by the sermon from my favorite priest, about how we are all called to change the world. From time to time, I write a blog about stuff that matters to me, and for whatever reason, the topic struck me as worthy of writing.

A few days later, I had an early morning board meeting for LSC. It had been a long week already, early mornings and late nights, and not much sleep in between. The morning was extraordinarily cold (even for Boston), and to say I was not in the best frame of mind to start my day would be a monumental understatement.

As I got in my Uber to go to the meeting, I was doing my absolute best to have no human interaction with the driver, as all I wanted to do was try and grab a minute or two of sleep on the ride to the meeting. Just as I was about to put on my enormous noise-cancelling headphones, the universal sign for “I do not want to talk”, I regrettably noticed the gentlemanly older driver looking at me in the rear view mirror and beginning to speak. UGH! Not wanting to be rude, I kept the headphones off and listened to his words. “You look tired. I know it’s early. But sometimes, you have to get up early to change the world.”

BOOM!!! Suffice it to say, that evening I wrote a blog with a few thoughts on how we can all help to change the world. (For those who have an interest, you can find it here:

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m sort of a “growth mindset” zealot, so I couldn’t agree more with this question. I make several mistakes a day, so there is an abundance of opportunities for me to learn!

I don’t know if this was the funniest mistake, but one of the most meaningful was during the early days of LSC, when I was just beginning to garner support for the organization. I was asking many friends and colleagues to join me in building this idea, but I was terrible at asking people, especially friends, for financial support.

Deval Patrick, former Governor of Massachusetts, and one of the first to agree to join LSC as a member of our Board of Advisors, tells a story that I love about his good friend Barack Obama. When Deval was campaigning for governor, his first attempt at running for public office, President Obama asked him how he was doing and how he liked it. Deval responded that he loved it, especially the chance to interact with people from all walks of life, across the Commonwealth. “The only thing I don’t like, is asking people for money”, Deval told his friend. President Obama’s heartfelt response was…”Get over it!…It’s part of the job”.

During one of our first fundraising events, a friend of mine who is a prominent leader in the industry and in the philanthropic community, pulled me aside and said (with love) “You are really bad at this!” He essentially gave me the same advice that President Obama candidly said to Governor Patrick. It was nice whack to the side of the head that I needed to learn how to fundraise if I wanted this idea to grow and thrive. I’m still growing as a fundraiser, but I realize that asking people for money helps fuel the important mission of our organization. Fortunately, we now have more people in the organization who are professionals at raising money, so we can continue to grow our vision and help even more people.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I am extremely proud of the impact LSC is making for people in need within the cities we work. People who are attracted to working in this industry do so because they want to solve complex problems and improve human health. This model has tapped into that wiring by providing an efficient vehicle for giving back — in order to positively impact those who are struggling with poverty. I feel really good about the financial impact we have made by granting >$10M dollars to our nonprofit partners thus far, but I am even more pleased about the way this model has engaged leaders and employees from across the industry to use their talent, time and creativity to help our nonprofit partners to expand and enhance their impact.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of the programs that we have developed to help fill a critical need in our industry is called Project Onramp, a paid summer internship program for under-resourced and underrepresented college students. For many talented students who are working their way through school, this industry is either completely unknown or frustratingly inaccessible. Onramp provides them with a valuable experience working in a life science company, while also demonstrating to the company that talent exists in places where they don’t normally look. Last summer, we had more than 250 bright young people get their first chance to work in a life science company, and we will scale the program to reach >1,000 students per summer by 2028, thanks to a significant grant from an anonymous donor in Boston, combined with contributions from a number of life science companies and capital markets firms. Through the expansion of Onramp, we hope to make a meaningful difference in the diversity of our workforce, by adding a significant source for new talent.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

One of the dreams I have for LSC is to see this model, or a version thereof, adopted across industries, so that we can exponentially expand the amount of people we can help. There is no question that government plays a role in providing help and resources for those in need, but the private sector can and should be an important weapon in the war on poverty. I would love to see different industries competing with each other to see how their collective effort, both human and financial, can be deployed to improve the lives of those who are struggling in their communities. It would be incredible if there was an “Entertainment Industry Cares” in LA and NYC, and a “Technology Industry Cares” in Silicon Valley, Austin and Atlanta, and so on. I know there are many individual companies, and even some collective granting initiatives that exist within industries, but the power of this model is in uniting an industry to use its resources and unique talents to care actively, and to engage its workforce to come together to help those who are not participating in the incredible wealth creation that has benefited so many of us.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Wow…that’s a question worthy of an entire article on its own! For the sake of brevity, to me leadership means authentically empowering others to achieve something meaningful, to which you have collectively committed your time and energy.

Leadership can be demonstrated by the person at the top of the hierarchy, as well as those who contribute their individual talent, as long as their work positively impacts the overall performance of the group.

Great leaders are extremely confident people. They don’t need external validation or adulation because deep down they know they are REALLY good. This enables a willingness to learn from their mistakes without defensiveness, to hire people better than they are, to make tough calls on people who are negatively impacting the performance of the team, and to elevate others to receive credit and rewards so that the team is delivering on its objectives.

In essence, leadership is self-less. It’s about others, and the impact you have on them, and how that focus can help to make the whole better than the sum of its parts.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” One of the absolute blessings of being involved with LSC is that I get to meet and interact with some of the smartest, most creative people in the world. While that is overwhelmingly a good thing, there are times when I listened too much to new and creative ways to do things, which resulted in not moving as fast as I could have in helping people. Our team is constantly looking for ways to improve, but we also realize that people need us to be there for them right now, and sometimes we are better off if we get started, learn and make adjustments, rather than spending too much time planning to ensure everything is perfect.

“Not everything that is useful can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is useful.” The people in the life science industry are used to data and precision. This has been extraordinarily beneficial in helping us guide our decision-making and our priorities.

However, when it comes to measuring impact of philanthropy and human capital on those in need, getting precise metrics is not straight-forward. For example, how does one measure the impact of an hour that an aspiring young college student from the inner city spends with a PhD from our industry — where the result is a total mind shift about what is possible for her career, and a new desire to work in the greatest industry in the world? We continue to work to improve our metrics and to measure our impact as best we can, but I am now convinced that we need to focus first on what we know will be impactful, even if we have not figured out yet how to accurately measure it.

“Act as if the people you are trying to serve are watching you every minute.” As with any complex task, there are times when you can be distracted by things that really don’t matter. Be it things that affect you personally, relationships that can be difficult, or just your ability to stay focused, it can be a constant challenge to stay on task. One of the tools we use to try and focus is to imagine that one of the people we serve is in the room watching us work at every moment. If the person was here, what would he or she say about what you are doing right this moment? The person really doesn’t care about my ego, or my conflict aversion, he or she cares about being fed, or finding a place to sleep. Thinking about the person you are serving really focuses the mind, and ensures you are prioritizing the right things to be able to deliver on our promise.

“Good is the new cool.” People have an extraordinary attraction to helping others. I knew there was a deep well of empathy within our community, but I didn’t realize that so many people, especially young people, are so drawn to give back. Young employees are demanding that their companies care about the world, beyond just their pursuit of shareholder return. Companies that choose to ignore caring actively in order to only focus on corporate profits do so at their own peril. It’s almost as if there is a new form of peer pressure that involves what one is doing to give back to serve others. This is a tremendous sign for our nation, and one to which LSC fits perfectly.

“It’s all about the people.” I get way too much credit for everything LSC has become. In reality, this organization has been built by so many amazing people who have given their time, talent and treasure to make this idea come to life. People like Sarah MacDonald, who is the President of LSC Boston, and who has been absolutely instrumental in not only growing the Boston affiliate, but also in guiding our national expansion. Also, all of our fantastic local Executive Directors and their staffs, as well as the numerous life science leaders who have joined our Boards and who have been critical to the growth of this effort in their local communities. Without these folks, LSC does not exist, and I couldn’t be more blessed that they chose to make LSC a part of their career and/or philanthropic mission.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast recently and one of the comments he made really stuck with me. He said that there were three levels of human compassion. The first level is kindness. If you think about it, kindness can be defined simply as the suspension of indifference. It doesn’t take a lot for a person to be kind, just a recognition that someone else is in need, and the willingness to do something about it. The next level is generosity, which can be defined as giving from your surplus. Being generous doesn’t hurt, but it does require the transfer of something that is yours to someone who has less. The most significant level of compassion is sacrifice, which can be defined as giving from one’s scarcity.

My hope is that LSC will help to inspire people to be more compassionate. We want to be a vehicle for companies and individuals to express their kindness and generosity, and to allow them — in an easy and efficient way — to help their local community to be a better place to live for everyone, not just the privileged.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it’s producing.”

I think this quote is highly relevant to the work we are doing. Virtually everyone I know would like there to be less poverty, more workplace diversity, and more kindness and caring in the world. Despite that widespread desire, the problems of inequality, and the gap between the privileged and those who are under-resourced continues to grow. The reason we continue to see these results is because the systems and processes that are in place are producing these results, whether you believe that was their intent or not. We can want things to change with all our heart, but unless there is a real effort to break the current process, or add a competing one, hoping for change is little more than a dream. Our motto at LSC is to “care actively”, which speaks to this phenomenon. Our goal is to work with our nonprofit partners to find ways to bring about real change, and a new process that will produce a different result.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’m a big fan of people who have taken seemingly simple ideas and implemented them to change the world. For example, I’m a huge fan of Chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen. A simple idea of providing meals to those in need following a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has become a worldwide juggernaut for good, providing over 195 million meals for those impacted by natural disasters and other crises.

I’d love to learn how he scaled his simple idea and grew that organization to be what it has become. I couldn’t think of a better person to share a meal with, not only because of the insight Jose could provide, but also because the food and wine would likely be REALLY good!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on Twitter @robperez32, LinkedIn , where you can read my blog/articles, the most recent of which is this one on the Cost of Difference

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Rob Perez of Life Sciences Care Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.