ICONIQ Growth Welcomes Alex Gorsky as our new general partner

Our new General Partner Alex Gorsky in conversation with Divesh Makan.

Alex Gorsky, ICONIQ Growth General Partner

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Common wisdom holds that the business world is built on vertical markets—industries that serve a particular customer. Historically, technology has been one of those verticals. When we created ICONIQ a dozen years ago, we took a different view. We noticed that technology was rapidly becoming a horizontal that cut across every sector, transforming every industry and, in turn, our daily lives. Through that lens, we identified the importance of cloud computing, data and analytics, and the digital infrastructure that is the foundation of today’s AI explosion. In the same way, a confluence of emerging technologies has been upending health care, from the digitization of medical records to gene therapies. It was a slow and steady evolution until the unexpected happened. COVID-19 disrupted every facet of our society while putting our health care systems front and center, warts and all. Fortunately, science saved the day—and countless lives. It was during that unprecedented time that I came to know Alex Gorsky who was then the Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. Today, we’re honored to announce that Alex has joined ICONIQ Growth as a general partner.

I met Alex during the COVID-19 lockdown. During that tumultuous time, we connected by occasional calls to exchange perspectives on a world in upheaval, and to support one another however we could. A dear friend and mentor introduced me to Alex, knowing I’d appreciate not only his views on the pandemic but his leadership style, humility, and insatiable curiosity. Alex has spent his career at the forefront of health care innovation. He joined J&J as a sales representative in 1988, grew up at the company, and, during his nine-year tenure as CEO, more than tripled J&J’s share price. Alex currently sits on the boards of Apple, IBM, JP Morgan, and the Travis Manion Foundation, and serves on the Business Council and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Board of Advisors.

Through the pandemic, our relationship deepened and Alex became a trusted advisor to ICONIQ Growth, helping us evaluate several healthcare technology investments. Now we are so pleased to welcome Alex and his wife Pat to the ICONIQ family.

I recently spoke with Alex about his journey, people-centric leadership, and how a new breed of health care technologies could improve the lives of everyone, now and into the future.

You’ve been on an incredible journey and I continue to learn so much from you, not just about leadership but also humanity. As you're embarking on a new chapter in your career, what is the common thread that ties together everything you do?

Gorsky: There have been few times in history other than today when the importance of health has been more central to who we are as society. Coming out of COVID-19, everybody realized that if we don't have strong healthcare systems, we won’t have national security, economic security, or societal security. Then you combine that with the significant technology revolution that we're seeing right now—from cloud connectivity to edge computing to AI, we’ve never seen more transformation taking place simultaneously. When I think about bringing those two worlds together—health care and technology—in ways that will help patients and our entire health care system—there is little to me that could be more interesting or have more impact on the world.

You’ve embraced the idea of becoming a corporate athlete to achieve peak performance in business. Based on what you’ve learned, how should leaders and founders navigate a kind of relentless dedication to work?

For a long time, the badge of courage in a start-up or leading a business is how high you can go and how fast. We can all appreciate that creating something new is a tremendous amount of work. The time, effort, energy and, frankly, the sacrifices that people have to make, are just extraordinary. Given that, it’s incumbent upon any leader to also take care of themselves. Yes, being a business leader is about achieving great results, but the only way you're going to be able to do that in a meaningful and sustainable way is if, at the same time, you're finding a way to keep yourself healthy. That’s how you do your best. It’s not just by avoiding harm to yourself but taking yourself to the next level. What we find over time is that so much of what can negatively impact us—physically or even emotionally—has to do with things that are likely under our control such as what we eat, the way we sleep, how we recover. Making relatively minor changes in our daily rituals can have a massive impact over the long term on who we are and how we perform as a leader, particularly in a world that's so demanding. It needs to be part of your plan just like your goals, objectives, and your scorecard for your business. You don’t need to be a triathlete, but there are little things we can do to find a better balance. Spending some time to really think and act on this is essential for leaders.

Drawing on your J&J experience and time on some very impressive boards, what is the most important leadership lesson you learned about building generational companies?

Number one is having a maniacal focus on innovating, constantly looking for a better way to do things, and never being satisfied. Making that a part of your company—part of its genome—is a critical ingredient for success. By the way, it’s not only innovating just on your products, people, and processes, but also the way you govern yourself. The other aspect is about bringing aboard a diverse group of people who are committed to the organization for the long term, not as a job but as a career. It’s people who don’t just have a financial or strategic pull to the company but rather an emotional pull. That’s part of the culture that you breed. Much of the time, culture trumps strategy and resources to make organizations sustainable and successful over very long periods of time.

During COVID, heads of state were calling you for updates and, in some cases, demanding a vaccine. How did you deal with that pressure as a leader when the whole world was watching, suffering, and counting on you?

Clearly, it was a challenge. But I was blessed that it came in the autumn of my career after having decades to prepare. One of the most important things was for me to bring the entire organization along as part of something that was bigger than anybody or everyone could have ever expected. From the beginning, this was a global issue and needed a global solution. We knew we had to accelerate, rethink everything, and do whatever was within our power to advance a solution in a much shorter timeline than we ever thought possible. We were working globally, 24/7, across the world to meet the timelines we had set for ourselves. But there were also moments when we’d Zoom just to check in and see how everyone is doing. Because while our team was working like that, they were also teaching their kids at home, taking care of parents, and sometimes sick with COVID themselves. What I found is occasionally opening up a little bit about what we were all facing personally, let alone professionally, was very important so we could support one another. We're all human beings; we all share that common humanity.

From AI to CRISPR, we’re on the verge of a fundamental and profound transformation in how we will think about and manage our own health. You’ve described it to me as “Artisanal Health Care.” What does that mean?

We are truly at a unique time in health care, science, and technology and innovation where we're able to much better understand, characterize, and even digitize chemistry, biology, and physics in a manner that we couldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago. It’s only when we can express some of those dynamics and mechanisms in a quantitative way that we're truly able to understand many fundamental functions and processes. That’s what we're seeing take place right now across health care. So whether it’s looking at somebody's medical health history for patterns or identifying certain aberrations in the genome, we can do that in a much more specific and individual manner than we ever were before. For example, we’re already finding that cancer is likely a much more heterogeneous disease than we thought. The same could be said for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. That gives us the opportunity to thread a needle when diagnosing and treating a patient rather than using a shotgun approach. The promise is that it will dramatically improve efficacy while also limiting side effects. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done but I'm also more hopeful than ever about the potential of AI to identify and diagnoses diseases and come up with therapeutics that are much more targeted to the individual patient.

Given those breakthroughs and others you’re seeing, what trends and themes are you most excited to invest behind over the next few years?

I’m interested in how we apply some of those new tools to drug discovery and development. Historically in biopharma, we would basically look for a needle in a haystack—a specific chemical or protein that would act at a particular site the body. Now, with an increased understanding of the site and how to approach it, we can dramatically improve our ability to test the efficacy and safety of new drugs and increase the probability of success in bringing them to patients, faster. Meanwhile, in surgery, we can use advanced imaging, AI, and robots intraoperatively to make us much more accurate and less invasive. From there, new sensing tools help us make sure we’ve accomplished what we set out to do with surgery in the first place, leading to an overall better outcome. I’m also encouraged by ways technology— telehealth, robotics, or AI—can democratize the provision of care to remote locations and traditionally underserved populations that just didn't have access to some of the best medical centers. There are very few places in health care that won’t be touched in fundamental ways by this technology. Last but certainly not least, we’re getting much better at catching signs of disease early. I’m very excited to think about how we can prevent disease from happening in the first place. What are the biomarkers of the disease? What are the tools we can use to detect them? And what are the interventions to interrupt some of these disease processes much earlier and therefore improve the outcome for the patient?

We’re so thrilled you’re part of ICONIQ Growth. Why did you decide to join us?

As I mentioned, I think the nexus of healthcare and technology is an incredibly important and exciting area. And I've been fortunate to be associated with some of the very best healthcare companies in the world. To pair that up with ICONIQ Growth’s experience in technology and the community surrounding us is a pretty remarkable opportunity!