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Bob Ingram: On Challenge and Opportunity

Bob Ingram Photo courtesy of Hatteras Venture Partners

Bob Ingram is one of those rare people who can spin a roomful of people in circles with words. No script, no teleprompter. Just his own words.

He did it again this week as he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Triangle Business Journal. And appropriately enough, the room he was spinning was the classy ballroom at the Umstead Hotel in Cary.

The former Midwestern pharmaceutical sales rep “carried the bag” all the way to the office of CEO and chairman of GlaxoWellcome, and co-led its integration into today’s GSK – the world’s second largest pharmaceutical company.

But everyone knows he means it when he pins the importance of his legacy on things beyond the wealth and power that accompany his career achievements.

To honor Jeanie,  his wife of 51 years, he confessed that his career meant the family had to move 19 times, “but I was never home on moving day.”

He also likes to tell the story of a time when he was at the GlaxoWellcome helm. The company was awaiting FDA approval of a new cancer drug, Zofran. Ingram was surprised to be summoned to Washington, D.C., where the Surgeon General asked him to bypass protocol and provide the drug to a young girl with terminal cancer.

He’s telling the story now, of course, because he took the extraordinary measures to provide the drug and the girl survived. But he says it becomes even more powerful to him each year as that cancer survivor, now a healthy adult, calls to thank him.

Ingram now plays in a different drug sandbox, as a general partner in Durham’s Hatteras Venture Partners. But that sandbox is also his soapbox, from which he shouts for more venture capitalists to wake up to North Carolina’s vibrant life science entrepreneurial base. North Carolina has more than 600 life science companies statewide, more than 60,000 people working in those labs and factories and offices, the third-largest cluster behind only California and Massachusetts. But we only have Hatteras and a handful of other venture capital investment firms operating within the state.

That drives Ingram crazy. Which is saying something from a guy who’s crazy about driving (he owns one of the world’s largest collections of Porsches, most of which are displayed in his private museum in downtown Durham).

Ingram was in his element at the awards ceremony, where leaders of 20 hot Triangle life science companies also received trophies.

Those of you in start-ups, putting it all on the line, taking huge risks to develop meaningful new therapeutics and diagnostics and processes and devices – you are the future, Ingram told them.

And then in his special room-spinning style of connecting, he brought it home.

"We like our grandchildren better than our children,” he quipped, with a straight-faced wink to Jeanie at a nearby dining table. (Chuckles around the room). “And, by the way, they like us better than they like our children. (Laughter). We often say it's because we have a common enemy. (Big laughter).

“But all kidding aside, I want my grandchildren not to have to worry about putting me in a nursing home because I have Alzheimer's."

His challenge to the award-winning life science entrepreneurs spinning in the room was to persevere, despite the perils and risks, and help create a healthier future for us all.

That's putting a pretty good spin on it.

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