University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 160: Leading and Growing a Global Biopharmaceutical Company with Ginger Graham

February 02, 2022  |  By Matt Waller

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This week continues our special mini series where Matt sits down with the four Arkansas Business Hall of Fame inductees, continuing with Ginger Graham. Ginger is the founder and owner of Ginger and Baker and former president and chief executive officer of Amylin Pharmaceuticals. She shares her career path from sales rep to strategic planning to executive leadership including leadership lessons for current and future CEOs. She now serves as a consultant for business executives and operates a bakery/cafe/steakhouse in Colorado. Learn more about the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame or nominate someone for the next class of inductees!

Episode Transcript

Ginger Graham  0:00  
Growth is a real challenge. It's so much easier unfortunately to downsize or to constrain it's much more challenging to grow.

Matt Waller  0:11  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores the education, business and the lives of people we meet every day. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College and welcome to the Be Epic Podcast. Today I have with me, Ginger Graham, former president and CEO of Amylin Pharmaceuticals. She is also an entrepreneur and the news that I want to share with you is Ginger is being inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in February, and it's well deserved. We're very proud of what she's accomplished. And you grew up in Springdale on a farm, is that right?

Ginger Graham  1:02  
Yes, my parents were family farmers. My dad was a mailman at the Springdale post office. My mom kept books for a local Ford Motor Company for a while and then babysat children and eventually started her own business selling cakes and doing specialties for weddings and other things.

Matt Waller  1:22  
And you were the you're the former Miss Arkansas Rodeo, so you must enjoy horses.

Ginger Graham  1:31  
It was a big part of my growing up, we had cattle on the farm, and eventually became a poultry operation. But we always had horses, my parents raised horses, we started out on Shetland ponies as a kid. And so 4H and play days and rodeos, Junior Rodeo high school rodeo was really a big part of my growing up. You know that whole scene of being competitive, and at the same time, learning to take care of your source of competition, your animal, and perfect your skill. And as Miss Rodeo Arkansas, I was able to travel the whole state represent the state of Arkansas and the sport of rodeo, which was a great thrill for me to be out in the public and representing something that I think is very good for kids to grow up attached to animals and learning to take care of them.

Matt Waller  2:22  
I want to come back to you're growing up and your development but I want to skip up to one thing for right now. And that is you were the president and CEO of Amylin, Pharmaceuticals, that's a big job. I'd love to hear about Amylin pharmaceuticals, and then your path to becoming president and CEO.

Ginger Graham  2:50  
Amylin Pharmaceuticals was a very inspirational idea as a company, there's a human hormone in your body that is a partner to insulin, and it's called amylin. And there was a unique discovery that understood that the partnership of the two hormones is really what manages your metabolism, your hunger signals, and your body's production of insulin. And if you are diabetic, you may need insulin to stay alive. But amylin also helps your body manage your insulin utilization and can help you have a better better quality of life if you have insulin dependent diabetes. So a group of people who were primarily either people suffering from type one diabetes, or a group of people who were passionate about type one diabetes because they either were living with the condition themselves, or family members were gathered around an early entrepreneur to start a company called Amylin pharmaceuticals. And Amylin spent 18 years developing what eventually became a product called symlin. The first FDA approved product for people with type one diabetes, and also ended up launching one of the major new categories for people with type two diabetes. It was called Byetta, which is a glucagon like peptide, one product that really helped people with type two. So Amylin was focused for its entire life on people living with diabetes, and how to increase the quality of their life and control over their diabetes. So they could live longer and live healthier.

Matt Waller  4:28  
So being CEO of Amylin, and President, biopharmaceutical companies are complicated in a number of ways. One, there's lots of regulatory issues. Two, you're dealing with people's lives. You know, it's not like you're the CEO of a company that's making something that doesn't, you know, have a dramatic impact on people's lives. And then there's a lot of science behind it. A lot of R&D, what prepared you to lead a biopharmaceutical company? How did you develop yourself to be prepared for something like that?

Ginger Graham  5:12  
Running a company, I think requires a number of skills. Certainly having chosen healthcare as my primary field of endeavor. It was important to have an understanding of science, scientific and technical information. And I was very lucky. I'm a University of Arkansas graduate from the School of Agriculture at the time, and I had a technical underpinning and a pre vet education that allowed me to understand basic tenets. But a biopharmaceutical company goes so far beyond the science and medicine, clearly use outside experts, scientific advisory boards, you gather world clinicians together, you have regulators who review your data, there are standard processes and all of those mechanisms, aid a leader and managing scientific evidence through a process. But for me so much about running a pharmaceutical company was really about learning, as myself as a leader, how to clearly articulate a passionate future that made a difference for people and in healthcare. And in medicine, it's easier to do that, because you can truly say, you are saving lives, you're improving the quality of life, you're sustaining life for people. So working in healthcare, to me is a passion and a mission. And for many people in the industry, they feel that way. But as a, an individual who on my career step was a sales rep, worked in marketing, ran sales forces, did market research for a big pharmaceutical company, global strategic planning, ran a smaller device company that was wholly owned by a big company, took it public, and then was on the board of this biopharmaceutical company, when they asked me to step in the role as CEO, it was trying to bring all of my experiences in the commercial world, leading organizations, and leading launches of technically oriented products that I was coming to apply that to help Amylin after 16 years of research, launch a first in class medicine.

Matt Waller  7:24  
So Ginger, you know, earlier in your so I see how your education and some of your experiences really helped prepare you for these kinds of things. When you were you also served on the boards of Clovis Oncology, is that right?

Ginger Graham  7:46  
Yes, Clovis is a company dedicated to oncology treatment, so helping people with very difficult and hard to manage cancers.

Matt Waller  7:58  
And you've been serving there since 2013 and your chair of the board now, correct?

Ginger Graham  8:05  

Matt Waller  8:07  
So I know you're also you were on the board of directors of Genomic Health, Inc. So, you know, a lot of students listening to this may not understand the difference between what you were doing as a president and CEO and what you're doing as from a governance perspective, you know, on a board, would you mind talking to that a little bit.

Ginger Graham  8:33  
It's a great topic and a really important distinction, I think, for executives and executive teams and companies and board members to understand their respective roles. So as a CEO, you literally are in charge of building your team, which means attracting the right talent that compliment you and the rest of your team, not people who just think like you, or have familiar backgrounds to you, but people who will challenge you can lead themselves, are talent magnets are critical thinkers and decision makers. So the CEO must build this team, chart out a strategy, really garner the resources and build the capabilities in an organization. So it's a hands on directive and decision making role that really tries to pull together the best team it possibly can and deploy them in an aligned way with commitment and passion to do something important. As a board member, you're more detached from the daily operations. Your primary responsibilities are of course, firing and observing and helping coach the CEO so that the CEO is effective in their role. You're also very responsible and you're also responsible for the very hard topics of shareholder value creation, governance, oversight of culture, ensuring the integrity and the transparency of the organization in its ethical reporting in all means, and a strategy that is sustainable, and has the chance to build value in return for the shareholders. So the board member will only come in infrequently, maybe once a quarter for smaller companies maybe more often. And listen to the executive team talk about how they are attracting talent, building strategy, commanding the resources, deploying resources effectively, and producing activities that will create value for the shareholder. But the board is to listen to that advise, to challenge when appropriate, and from a governance perspective to make sure that the executive team is protecting the assets, the reputation and the future value of the business.

Matt Waller  10:49  
So when you were serving as president and CEO of Amylin, you grew it from a small company of 300 people to 3,000 in four years, and you raised almost $2 billion in equity. This is quite a feat. And scaling is so challenging in terms of finding the right people, putting the right systems in place, and processes etc. How did you, that must have been a real challenge that kind of scaling, how did you lead through that?

Ginger Graham  11:35  
Growth is a real challenge. It's so much easier, unfortunately, to downsize or to constrain it's much more challenging to grow. Because when you're growing, you actually aren't in control of the variables, and you certainly aren't in control of the speed in which you need to grow and be capable. So as a CEO in the biotech industry, with a small organization of about 300 people planning to launch to first in class medicines for diabetes, very close together in time, it was our job to build every capability that a commercial business has and to do it in less than two years. The so that meant adding a sales force, adding customer service distributions and logistics, manufacturing capabilities and partnerships, global promotion, advertising and sales. To do all of that, you must attract great talent, but you also want that talent to know the mission, to be responsible for the safety of human health and to do it in a way that keeps aligning the company toward a common goal. So for me, the priority and growth is sharing the vision, setting standards and expectations of behavior, and focusing on the individuals in the organization who can lead and pull everything together. It's always about people. It's primarily about people every day, and their ability to be competent, and have confidence in their own capabilities, and to inspire that in the teams around them. Of course, building a culture in growth is really hard, because every day, there'll be another new person, who are you? What do you do? Where do I fit with you? How do I make my decision now when you have part of what I did yesterday, so it's really about being present on the floor, walking the halls, communicating and turning around everyday to people and saying, when they say to you, turning around every day, when people say to you, well, I don't know anybody anymore, or it's not like it used to be. What you say to them is, isn't that great? It's not like it used to be we're getting closer to launching a life saving medicine. And if you don't know people, go introduce yourself. They're the new ones. They need you to show them what the culture of Amylin is all about. So it's reminding people that they are still in charge of their destiny. They're not a victim of some unknown circumstance. We all want it to grow, because it meant we were getting closer to bringing a very important medicine to people who needed it. But embracing change, changes loss. Loss has to be grieved. And I believe the leader has deleted organization through the drivers of growth, what's good about them and what's not, committing to stay connected to what we want to preserve and what matters to the organization and keeping the purpose and the passion at the very front every day of everything you do. So people don't forget why we're working so hard, why we're willing to change why we're doing the things in the right way is because it really really matters.

Matt Waller  14:49  
So Ginger, today you run a consulting company, Two Trees Consulting, where you advise new CEOs and I'd love to know how did you decide to get into that business, and what are you doing currently?

Ginger Graham  15:04  
I've had the great pleasure of working with a tremendous number of extraordinarily talented and committed people in my career, and many of them have gone on to have opportunities to run organizations. So from all of my different opportunities at Lilly and Guidant and Amylin, and even teaching at Harvard, I have young people coming back to me saying, Could you give me some advice? I have a challenge that I don't know what to do now. Or can you help me with this problem. And I just very much remember when I became a first time CEO, I was in my late 30s, was very overwhelming and intimidating. And thankfully, someone had the confidence in me to make me a young CEO. And so for me, I was compelled to start helping a bunch of young talented people think about how do they build their own leadership? What are the key issues as a first time CEO, which I believe primarily revolve around building the right team, defining an effective strategy, learning how to manage your board and work with your board and work for your board in a way as appear. And then building capabilities in your organization, because new companies have to build lots of capabilities to be successful. So as the CEO, you have to see what's coming and build it before you need it. And so I jumped into helping young people and eventually opened a consulting business to do that. And it's very rewarding. And I spend most of my time helping them try to figure out how to be the positive leader they want to be.

Matt Waller  16:39  
And you now have, you're also you're a busy person from being on boards, running your consulting business. And you also own a bakery/lunch/cafe/steakhouse called Ginger and Baker. When did you start that? And how do you manage to fit it into your busy life?

Ginger Graham  17:04  
Well, Ginger and Baker is really a manifestation of a dream I've had for decades, I've always wanted to open a pie shop. It seems like an old fashioned idea. But pie to me represents a number of things. One, I grew up cooking, my parents fed everyone, they helped anyone in need, if there was ever a move, or a sickness or a new baby, or something to celebrate, or a grievance, my mom would show up with food. And this idea of locally sourced, handmade, shareable food that represents community is a powerful symbol. And I think that's what pie represents. I always had this idea of opening a pie shop, that would be a place where people could come have something that's nostalgic and reminiscent of someone special in their life, we all have a pie story, and also meet other people and sit around and have coffee together, have a little teaching kitchen like my mom had, where people could take lessons. And this old building in Fort Collins was for sale it's just historic grain mill. And it turned out to be a giant project because it needed a lot more help. And ended up needing new building infrastructure adjacent. So now we have a food hub and a gathering place for Northern Colorado, a place where you can have fun, learn something, have a great meal, meet your neighbors, and enjoy the history of the community, but also build community by being together.

Matt Waller  18:36  
Well, Ginger, in closing, I would love to hear any advice you have for students.

Ginger Graham  18:47  
So many young people approached me and asked, you know, did I how did I know what I wanted to do? And it's always really easy for me to say I didn't, I had no idea. I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. But I worked for one when I was in college and decided that wasn't for me. So then it was really what can I do, what excites me. And I learned a few things along the way. I think it's very important early to pick your boss not your job. Because when you're young, you don't yet know what you want to do, and you don't yet know what you're best at. And so if you work for a boss who challenges you who encouraged you, who helps you grow, then you will gain confidence and you will learn things and you'll be able to fly off on your career. If you work for a boss early, who doesn't pay attention or doesn't help or leaves you hanging out, you might think it's you and your whole view of your capabilities would be diminished. So my number one piece of advice is pick your boss not your job. And then it's impossible to know now what your job will be in five years or 10 or 20 or 30. And young people today should look forward to working in 20 or 30 different jobs. So then the question is can you learn? Are you always a student? How are you willing to learn? Do you put yourself out there to make a difference? Can you bring your passion and be uniquely you? Because that's your best self. And all of us have to deal with uncertainty and the unknown. So go for it with the gusto and know that no matter what happens as long as you gave it your best, and you were committed to learning along the way that you will have a great life.

Matt Waller  20:28  
Well, thank you for that advice for students, Ginger, and congratulations once again your terrific career and, and being inducted in February into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. It's quite an honor and well deserved.

Ginger Graham  20:45  
Thank you. It is truly an honor for me and I'm really looking forward to meeting the other inductees and being part of the ceremony.

Matt Waller  20:51  
On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching. be epic. B E E P I C

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

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Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

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We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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