Greg McKee started his career as an investment banker and moved on to a series of executive jobs in biotechnology, before returning to banking.
Now he’s charting yet a new path, having been named last month as CEO of Connect, the San Diego nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs and innovation.
Founded in 1985 by the late Bill Otterson, Connect is also charting a new course following the tragic loss of its former CEO, Duane Roth, who was killed in a bicycling accident.
McKee, 51, said the new job suits his curiosity and penchant for seeking ways to use technology to improve situations.
“I’ve always been interested in how do you pioneer, how do you commercialize basic technologies in a way that they have significant impact on people,” McKee said.
Most recently, McKee was co-founder and president for the past two years of Bio Link Global, a company that takes approved drugs in this country and commercializes them in foreign nations. During that time, he was also a managing director for STS Capital Partners, an investment banking firm providing advisory services to small- and middle-market private businesses, mostly outside the United States.
Before that, McKee was president and CEO of Akela Pharma Inc. and its predecessor company, Nventa Biopharmaceuticals, for about six years. Both companies were involved in developing therapeutic drugs for viral infections and cancer.
Over nearly 20 years, McKee has worked in a variety of positions in biotech and drug development, including diagnostics, medical devices, small molecule manufacturing and drug development, and biologic drug development.
He made a dramatic shift in his career after spending several years in investment banking and wondering what was really happening with the companies he had helped to secure financing, and what were they doing to grow.
“As a banker, you’re outside of all that. You see things from a purely financial perspective,” McKee said.
So after five years in banking, including stints at Mizuho/Yasuda Trust and at Union Bank of Switzerland, and earning a MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Boston for a job with Genzyme Corp., where he started his career in biotech and drug development.
Far East Immersion
Early on, Mckee became fascinated with Japan. About the time he was graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in economics, Japan was challenging the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy. Japanese cars were beginning to dominate the market, as were electronic and household goods made by companies such as Sony Corp. and Panasonic Corp., while investors from the island nation were buying large chunks of Los Angeles, New York and other cities’ real estate.
McKee enrolled in an immersion class in Japanese and made a concerted effort to learn to speak and read the language, which he accomplished during his seven years living there. He’s also lived for two years in Singapore.
Perhaps the most important experience McKee said he had while in Japan was serving as foreign affairs adviser to Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Nakayama, who was the equivalent of the U.S. secretary of state.
Besides doing many mundane tasks such as managing Nakayama’s schedule and translating for his wife, McKee met regularly with visiting ambassadors and other foreign officials “because I was the only Westerner in his office, and they were always curious to understand the lay of the land.”
Capital Connections Sought
Tyler Orion, who was Connect’s interim CEO after Roth died, said McKee was selected for the position from about 60 applicants. After narrowing the field to seven finalists, the search committee interviewed each and came to a swift unanimous decision.
“We definitely wanted someone who was an entrepreneur, who had raised considerable capital and someone who understood the dynamics of this community,” Orion said. “And we thought he’d have fresh eyes to look at Connect.”
McKee broached the topic himself when he asked the search committee members, “Is Connect still relevant?”
After more than a month in the job, he says unreservedly that it is. While we live in an uber-connected world, the process of starting companies and finding investors is still quite complex, and many constituencies involved in those processes don’t talk to each other as much as they could, McKee said.
That’s where Connect comes in and can make a real difference, he said.
“Innovation doesn’t happen without the interaction of people.”
No. of employees: 20
Year founded: 1985
Education: MBA, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, 1996; bachelor’s degree, economics, University of Washington, 1986
Birthplace: Fairbanks, Alaska
Residence: La Jolla
Family: Wife, Kiril; daughter, Jordan
Pursuits: Open-water swimming, mountain climbing