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In this episode of the OIS Podcast, Tracy Valorie tells host Ehsan Sadri, MD, that one of the most important things in business relationships is building trust. She explains that you can’t always make everybody happy in a business situation, but if you come at it from a strong place of trust you can make something exciting happen.
Valorie knew in seventh grade that she wanted to explore science, and her interest led her into several roles at Pfizer Labs, and eventually to the position of SVP and general manager of US ophthalmology Rx and surgical at Bausch + Lomb. She now serves as a consultant to small ophthalmology start-ups, with an eye toward leapfrog technologies.
In addition to discussing her experiences with large companies and start-ups, Valorie outlines how she moved through her career and gives tips on how others can outline their own path. That includes not being afraid of taking the next step.
Click “play” to hear this fascinating talk!
Ehsan: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m Ehsan Sadri, a Board-Certified ophthalmologist here in Newport Beach, California, we’re actually getting some rain, which is really odd for Southern Cal, and also principal and GPA of visionary ventures. I’m absolutely delighted to bring my friend and colleague, as our guest of OIS Podcast in ophthalmology. Many of you know Tracy Valorie. Tracy is just an unbelievable open-minded leader in ophthalmology, she was senior basic VP, and general manager of ophthalmology at B+L for many, many years. That’s how her eyes really started to work together. And before that, she was in marketing. And she’s just an unbelievable background. And in the last few years, she’s, you know, kind of now taking on roles as board seats and as consultancies. And it just absolutely, for me an honor to have her join us today and kind of talk about her background and just not just kind of, you know, your advice for younger associates, like we just talked about, that are just kind of getting started? Or what would be kind of cool for me to be in that role in 5, 10, 15 years? And what does that look like? How do I get there? And so part of this is also as you know, mentoring, so Tracy is just absolutely like to to be on how are you?
Tracy: I’m great. Ehsan, thanks to you. And I thank Craig for inviting me to do this. It’s great to see you. And it’s great to still be part of the ophthalmology community. I know it’s we’ve all been sort of virtual for the last year. So it’s been hard to see each other so this is really exciting to get to spend some time with you and do this. So thanks for the invitation. So a little bit about my background. Sure. Um, you know, I think I was always good in science, I was always that kid that was curious about something. And, I remember my seventh grade science teacher was the one who really kind of pushed me towards exploring sort of more of that in school. And so I would take some extracurricular activities, all around different kinds of science, not just obviously biology or chemistry, but anything that school had to offer. And so, or, you know, little summer classes, I would take them. And I think I always knew I was going to be in healthcare. I just wasn’t sure how. For a long time, I was planning to go to medical school and I went to the University of Connecticut. I’m a molecular biologist by background and but after I graduated, I wanted to take a little break before jumping into a Postgraduate School, and I took a job actually the labs at Pfizer, so I’m a bench scientist, the Pfizer laboratories in Groton, Connecticut, right out of school. I’m a Connecticut girl, I went to University of Connecticut, stayed in Connecticut, here in Groton, Connecticut, where Pfizer’s labs were and did that for a couple years and decided that I really liked the industry. But I didn’t really want to stay so tied to the lab, I wanted to get a little closer to the end user of what we were doing. And so I moved into clinical and so I did clinical research for a couple years. And I did a small stint in regulatory, and then new product planning and all those exciting things that you know, you do early on to start moving new products and new ideas forward. And it was a really a great learning for me to be able to do so many things, you know, under one roof at Pfizer, and then I moved to New York into the commercial organization in 2000. And worked first and anti-infective infectious disease and pediatrics for a few years before moving over to ophthalmology in 2006. And I had responsibility then for the global ophthalmology organization. So Xalatan for all you glaucoma folks that would come x us at the time, the International rights to mathogen. And we had a really nice team and abroad portfolio in development in ophthalmology. So we had a really well-organized research, medical and commercial organization that was global. And you know, one of the best parts of that time for me was the interaction with the global organization and the relationships that we all had. So the head of the European group, the head of Asia, that of Latin America, head of US, and then myself had a global, we all had a really strong working relationship. And I think that really helped me learn a little bit more of the skills around not just like what ophthalmology markets look like in different parts of the world, but really how to get some work done internationally and get work done with disparate groups. And, you know, we talked about like, Well, what do you need to learn as you kind of move along? And regardless of where you are you kind of have to figure out how am I going to get things done when so many was other people’s priorities might be different than mine. And so it’s a really good way to learn how to build those relationships and build trust. You know, I think about when I went to business school people say what was your favorite class? Well, I will say it was not statistics. As much as I love it, it was not my favorite class actually was taught by a labor attorney. And he taught, he did a lot of negotiations between a lot of the large unions and organizations around the country. And one of the things he taught us was that building trust in business is probably the most important thing you can do. And so that whole concept of being authentic and open and building trust is really the best way to get things done. Because, as you know, you can’t always make everybody happy. But if you come at it from a strong place of trust, you really, really can make something exciting happen. And so I was really proud to be part of that team at Pfizer, and then I left there in 2011, and then join Bausch + Lomb. And it was exciting to stay in ophthalmology after leaving Pfizer and working in a company that was only dedicated to eye care. So a little bit different than a bigger company that has a lot of broad therapeutic areas to think about Bausch + Lomb was just thinking about ophthalmology. And so that was exciting. And so I got to participate there, as you know, for quite a few years, both on the pharmaceutical side of the business, as well as the device side of the business, the surgical team. And similarly build a really strong team work with some really amazing people got to work with folks inside the company, and then outside the company that I consider really close friends today. And then I just took the opportunity after seven years there to think about what was important to me. And I thought, Gosh, I kind of miss my R&D routes a little bit. And it was a good point in time to move away from an operational role, the day-to-day operational role. And so I chose at that time to leave and start a consulting business. And I’ve been working with some small startup companies, all in ophthalmology, and I’ve joined a few board seats since then. And it’s been exciting because, you know, as you know, treating patients every day, we have so many great technologies, but we still have so much to do. And there’s still so many problems we haven’t solved yet. And the innovation cycle is really, really exciting. And getting to see what all of these people with great ideas have. If I can be helpful in any way to bring them forward, based on the experiences I’ve had I am I’m all in and I’m 100% ready to do it. So that’s just a little bit of the, from there to here. Maybe five minutes, though?
Ehsan: Well, no, that’s a great overview. And I think there’s so much there, we can dissect down. You know, I think that one of the things that I admire very about you is that you’re very a great listener, as a leader of you know, I’ve spent some time reading about leadership. And I think I remember just interacting with you, when we were at B+L. You just, you just have that what are some skills do you think that are pretty critical now to help you navigate through your career? And number two? It’s a loaded question. Tell me right now give us some specifics. What do you what projects are you working on? As far as the board and all that stuff? What sort of what? What kind of piques your interest in getting involved, is this glaucoma, dry eyes? Tell us a little about that.
Tracy: You know, I think everyone evolves differently. But there are some things that I think everyone agrees are important. And it does take a long time to learn listening skills, because listening and hearing are two different things, right. And so you can spend a lot of time listening, but you really have to hear what someone is saying. And we’re all working in such a fast-paced environment, that a lot of times you just want to jump to the end. And you know, that’s something that I had to learn over time, and really try and focus on doing that. And it’s not easy. And you know, I think if you talk to people who work with me earlier in my career, it wasn’t I got better at it. It was never, I wasn’t always great at it. But I feel like I got better at it. And I think it’s still something that we all work to get better at. Because it really does take a lot of effort to listen. I also think it’s important for people to really understand that the good idea can come from just about anywhere, and that it’s important to not be so stuck on an idea that you can’t pivot if the pivot is necessary. And so we know we had quite a few of those experiences where, you know, I would make a decision based on information we had. And then someone from the field would call and say, Gosh, I don’t think this is going to be the best thing. And we would I would try to understand why and I can recall a situation where we made the change within a few hours of you know, myself and the rest of leadership team understanding. You know, maybe that wasn’t the best decision because strategy without execution is useless. And so when you think about a good idea, it can be like the best idea ever. And I think we’ve all gone through this, if it can’t, actually doesn’t have legs, you have problems. And so it’s good to listen, going back to the concept of listening skills, to really listen and hear what’s happening. And then the other thing is to really, you know, be confident and taking ownership of what happens, because as a leader, at the end of the day, you know, you have to be the one to take that responsibility. And I think that that confidence that you can build actually helps a team, you know, be confident and doing what they’re doing and feel like they’ve got a good cover, if you will. So I think there’s just a few things. So things I’ve been doing, I’m working with them to companies, in the Shifamed, there’s two Shifamed companies, they’re out nearby, you and California, they’re both in the medical device space. When I would say in the cataract side, one of the glaucoma side very exciting, kind of new innovations in those spaces. I’m sitting on a few boards and drug delivery, and one in a retina device. So it’s been exciting to sort of move myself through different therapeutic areas, so retina, glaucoma, cataract, because I do think that there’s things that are still exciting to do there. But you know, any, the way I’ve sort of positioned, what I’d like to do is when I hear something that has a real opportunity to be maybe a leapfrog technology or to change the way we do things. That kind of gets me excited, instead of doing kind of the same thing over and over again, because I think there’s so many good ideas, just need to figure out a way forward. Those things get me excited to work on. But it doesn’t really matter which therapeutic area to be honest with you. But I would say the sight saving therapeutic areas are the ones that are most exciting to me.
Ehsan: What is it about the startup world? Do you think that’s attractive versus the larger corporate strategic ecosystem?
Tracy: They’re both exciting in different ways. Like I said, my times and you know, in both Pfizer and Bausch and Lomb, you really learn how to work in a large ecosystem. And you can see a lot of different things, at same time you work on your thing. We’re in the startup world, you work on everything, right. And so you really get the up to your elbows, roll up your sleeves, really exciting team kind of effort. At an early at an earlier stage, different than sort of the roll up your sleeves, kind of everybody moving a project forward in a larger organization, just because you have more layers, and it’s a little bit more complex, the simplicity of a startup, really lets you see a lot of things. And so it’s exciting to see those types of projects and the challenges and how they work through some of those challenges. The true collaboration, you know, at the bench side is really is really interesting. Which, you know, is different than the way I would say some of the strategics, you know, operate today. And both have their pros and cons, I would say for sure. I think it’s hard sometimes to replicate the entrepreneurial spirit all the way through a very large organization. But at the same time, you see success of it. And I think you see success of it right now with the rollout of these vaccines for COVID. Because if ever there was a roll up your sleeves, get it done. You know, don’t let you know any kind of bureaucracy get in your way. This was really it. So that’s a testament to how things really can get done. So it’s definitely possible.
Ehsan: Right now of all the things you’re working on which ones your which one excites you the most. And what’s next what’s next for Tracy next year or two?
Tracy: Well, you know, it’s hard to pick one, because they’re, they’re all different. And they all are all looking to solve a unique problem. You know, I obviously have a passion for glaucoma. I think everybody knows that. And so when I see devices coming forward that you know, might actually look different than some things that we’ve seen before, or the opportunity for sustained delivery to be realized in a different way. For patients that that’s very exciting. Because then I think that’s the beginning of the next step. Right? Once we once we get a couple of these out the door, then you know you we iterate on that and that’s when the we start push stop pushing the boulder up the hill and start riding the sled down the hill a little bit more, right? So we need some of that to happen. And you know, I would say the on the cataract side the world of accommodation. I think it’s something when I talk to doctors everybody wants and would love to see and if we could solve for that. Wouldn’t that just be exciting and I know watching the OIS on presbyopia. Yeah, I think I got a lot of that still is resonating around the community that people are really excited about something to solve for that. So it’s hard to pick something. Um, you know, on the retina side, you know, doing anything for NCH patients would be, you know, in my mind a miracle having, you know, had grandfather that, you know, suffered from neovascular AMD before we had VEGF. So, we’ve seen it firsthand in my family. So anything that helps the N stage patients, that’s what we’re doing over at Samsara Vision, that’s exciting as well. So it’s hard to pick one. But I think there’s enough innovation in this space. And I think that there’s exciting technology looking to solve problems that we haven’t quite solved yet. And that’s what makes things exciting. And we’re seeing new companies emerge all the time, both, you know, mid-size, as well as some of the larger companies start to, you know, reinvigorate their own pipelines. That’s exciting to see, we’re seeing a lot of, you know, movement in the venture world. So a lot of IPOs this year in ophthalmology, I suspect we’ll see a few more. So I think it’s an exciting time for all of us to be in ophthalmology.
Ehsan: Absolutely, I think the other thing I was gonna say to you is like, when you’re looking at companies in ophthalmology, do you feel like how do you this innovation cycle continue to be enhanced? Meaning, you know, in the past, there was a lot of strategics, or people that would purchase or sort of, you know, if you will, that little companies would exit to? Do you feel like that’s kind of now been a little more challenging? And if so, what are some things that you think will happen in order for the little small, mid-sized companies to be able to capitalize and, and be able to commercialize?
Tracy: Right. Because the goal is getting these products into patients, right? That’s the goal. So when is the best way to do that, and we do seem to have a slowing or a slower exit cycle for some of into some of the larger strategics. Now, I think that that might change in time, I think all of them are going through their own growing pains at the moment and are going through their own new evolutions. And so I do see a lot of, you know, excitement about how those pipelines can keep being reinvigorated, but at the same time, you know, companies have to do what’s right for their businesses. And so if there’s a small company that needs to either merge with another small company, or go on their own, and try and commercialize, and that’s what’s going to happen. So I think it’s going to be a mix of all of that going forward. And then maybe some of the midsize companies will be able to do different size acquisitions they weren’t able to do historically. So I think it’s going to be a mix. I think the point is that there’s a lot of good technology to be had, it’s just going to have to be put in the right hands to make it viable for patients. So and I think everybody appreciates that there’s more than one way to get these things done. And so that is what’s exciting. What are some things that really, would you say pearls and pitfalls in your career that are pivotal in your success? What would you recommend? Well, I would say relative to the ophthalmology, like everything we talked about, there’s still so much to do, and there’s so much excitement, and there’s so much research and innovation going on and there’s people who know how to move programs forward, that is a great space to be in for sure. 100% ophthalmology is a great space to work in. Just in terms of, you know, if I had to talk to my 18-year-old self again, what would I say to her? You know, I think it’s trust yourself to know, when it’s time to take that next step. Don’t be afraid to take that next step. If you don’t find you’re getting what you want in one place, it’s okay to go find it in another place. Because that’s just how life is right? We all move around and we all find our next great spot means doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great time before that. But sometimes you just have to move on to find your next great spot. So trusting in that is really important. Don’t be afraid to take that step. And I think those that’s really the most important thing, find a good mentor or two you know, the networking is really important. I mean, I really was when I look back. I had some really great people just to talk to about advice on going to school or advice on the next career step or I wanted to try something, you know, could I find someone in the organization that would support me in doing that was a little bit outside the box and, you know, give me an opportunity to start somewhere. So I think it’s don’t search out a good mentor, don’t be afraid to ask for anything and trust your gut a lot of the time, right? And then be a little bit patient, but you know, not too patient. That’s everybody’s own metric stick they’ve got to work on right. So and that’s why, you know, I love being part of OWL also, because that organization is just a great way for folks to network and to see good leadership in action and learn from so many good people. And you know, ophthalmology really is ripe with great leaders. And I think when you find an organization like OWL that’s done a lot of work to foster the connections amongst people, you really can see, you know, a great crop of new leaders coming through. And so I’m really proud to have been part of that, and still part of that as an advisor. So it’s fun to be part of that still.
Ehsan: Yeah, I mean, going back to what you were saying, with regards to being scared, I always, you know, it’s remarkable, because in your career, you know, you have a really good role and the money is good. And you’re, you know, you have assistance, and you’ve got like people that how you can just kind of shoot an email, things get done. But you’re right, there’s this voice inside our minds in our heart, probably, that if you’re not inspired or fulfilled, or if you want more, and you’re not able to achieve it in the environment you’re in. And it’s, it takes courage, right? To be able to say, you know what, this is good. But there’s greatness on beyond what these walls hold. Right. And, you know, I think it’s always a challenge.
Tracy: Right? You won’t ever know that. Yeah, I’m not saying you know, throw the bathwater, but I’m saying if you really think about it, and you know, try.
Ehsan: Yeah, especially, you know, when medicine we’re taught, de-risk, de-risk, de-risk, and that’s what physicians are so conservative, because you’re taught not to injure anybody not to do anything that’s, you know, on necessary. And, or if you have all the variables in men in business, as you know, there’s so many decisions you have to make, based on, you know, poor variables, or less than perfect variables. And this has just been great. I mean, you and I are friends, you and I can talk for another hour and a half. You try to keep these minutes, so people you know, kind of on their commute to work and listen, I’m sure I’m gonna get a lot of text messages, emails that are going to inspire a lot of people. I just want to say thank you for spending time with us today. And we’d love to have you back next year to see how what you’re up to. So congratulations on everything you’re doing.
Tracy: Thanks for I still plan to be here. So thanks for inviting me. It’s always good to catch up with you. It’s great to see you glad you’re doing so well. And thanks again.
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