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San Diego
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Executive Profile: Timothy J. Wollaeger

Timothy Wollaeger, 61, managing director for the top-tiered venture capital firm Sanderling in San Diego, prides himself on two things: His medals from local ocean swim competitions and having a sense of humor.

His competitive nature translates to his work.

Wollaeger, a 30-year veteran of the health care industry, spent the first eight years of his career at health care giant Baxter International Inc., then “hit a bumpy road,” dabbling in selling real estate and consulting until he was recruited in 1983 to Hybritech Inc., San Diego’s biotechnology pioneering company, as its chief financial officer.

When Eli Lilly & Co. bought Hybritech in 1986, Wollaeger had to reinvent himself.

He became the founding general partner of Biovest, a San Diego-based venture capital firm, which birthed such successful local medical device companies as Pyxis (now Cardinal Health) and Biosite Inc.

In 1994, he started Kingsbury Capital Partners, a San Diego-based venture capital firm, which brought out Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Digirad Corp.

He’s been head of the local Sanderling office since 2002 and is currently “looking for ideas” to close a sixth fund of $400 million.


Name: Timothy J. Wollaeger.

Title: Managing director for Sanderling, a venture capital firm based in San Mateo.

Education: Bachelor of arts in economics from Yale in 1966; M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1971. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy for three years.

Residence: La Jolla.

Age: 61.

Birthplace: Milwaukee.

Family: Wife, Cindy; children, John, Wendy and Mike.


Essential business philosophy: Work with good people and stick to it.

Best way to keep a competitive edge: Remember that you are only as good as your last deal.

Guiding principles: No substitute for hard work. I’ve started a bunch of companies that I’ve trusted in when no one else has — if you stick with it, it works.

Yardstick of success: Don’t judge a person by his money, but by the success of his children.

Goals yet to be achieved: Swim in the 100th La Jolla Rough Water Swim (I’ve completed numbers 50-74) now that my health is in good order.


Best business decision: Leaving Mexico City in 1980 to come to San Diego to become a part of the original wave of the biotechnology industry.

Worst business decision: Distributing Aurora Biosciences stock at $16 a share. Three months later it was at $120.

Toughest business decision: Shutting down a company called FluidSense in 2000 despite an FDA-approved product with orders waiting. Most of the investors fled to be part of the dot-com boom (now bust).

Biggest missed opportunity: In 1986, on a business trip to Minneapolis, I met a woman who had a test pair of Rollerblades.

I should have marketed them and brought them to California.

Word that describes you: Tenacity.


What you like best about your job: To see people I’ve hired succeed. In 1984, a young lady walked into my office from a small school in Nebraska. I hired her as a clerk. Last year, Susan Nowakowski was named CEO of AMN (American Mobile Nurses) Healthcare.

What you like least about your job: Having to deal with venture capitalists who focus on the deal rather than building companies.

Pet peeves: Lack of cell phone etiquette.

Most important lesson learned: When in doubt, do what’s right.

Person most interested in meeting: Arnold Schwarzenegger , I am trying to get him to come to the opening of Biosite’s (a local biotechnology firm) new headquarters in September.

Most-respected competitor: Anyone who builds better companies than me.

Three greatest passions: Family, staying healthy, mentoring young adults who do not always have the financial advantage to succeed.

First choice for a new career: After-dinner speaker on the topic of opportunities in the market economy or stand-up comedian.


Favorite quote: It’s the destination, not the journey that makes you strong.

Most influential book: “Investment Biker” by Jim Rogers (why some countries succeed and others do not). I recommended it as an adjunct business professor at Yale for a class I taught called “How to start a high tech company” (from 1996 through 2003). I also taught at UCSD for four years (from 1987 through 1991).

Favorite status symbol: My rough water swim medals. I finished third in the 1-mile Coronado Rough Water Swim in 2004.

Favorite movie: “Hard Day’s Night.”

Favorite restaurant: Zenbu, La Jolla.

Favorite place for business meetings: My office.

Favorite automobile: Mazda Miata.


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