Pittsburgh Technical Council

Meet the New Boss: Jim Jordan Takes Over as New CEO of PLSG

Meet the New Boss: Jim Jordan Takes Over as New CEO of PLSG

Article Published: March 31, 2017

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When Jim Jordan was earning a bachelor’s in accounting, he joined his college’s cooperative education program, working for Raytheon when it was developing  the Patriot Missile. At a young age, Jordan was exposed to high-tech, complex business processes and worked with brilliant minds. In his mid 20s, Jordan realized that although his excitement about cutting-edge technology hadn’t diminished, he wanted to do something that helped people. 

Jordan looked into the health care industry and subsequently joined C.R. Bard, a medical device manufacturer. The company manufactured the first angioplasty catheter. “This was exciting, trail-blazing and, most importantly to me, saved lives,” said Jordan. “My life sciences and health care career continued to focus on innovation with companies such as Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson and McKesson. Along my journey, I did a couple of start-ups and enjoyed the challenge.”

In 2005, a recruiter Jordan worked with at J&J was recruiting for the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG) and told him about the Executive-in-Residence program. 

“I was very familiar with Pittsburgh because our region’s hospitals and physicians are involved in all the nation’s cutting-edge clinical trials. After one meeting with the PLSG, I was committed. I knew the region, its renowned hospitals, many of its physicians and the excellence of our universities,” said Jordan. “In 2006, I became the PLSG’s Chief Investment Officer and in December 2016 its President and CEO.”

TEQ wanted to learn more about Jordan and how he plans to build on the success of his predecessor, John Manzetti. Here’s what he had to say:

TEQ: The PLSG has been instrumental in helping SWPA grow life sciences companies. Tell us about PLSG and its key accomplishments over the years.

Jim Jordan: The PLSG has worked with 458 companies since its founding in 2002. We work with 20 to 30 new companies a year. Of course, we don’t invest in all companies: we’ve made 209 investments —on average 14 investments per year—which ironically is exactly what we did in 2016. What pleases me the most is in the early 2000s we were mostly a medical device region. Today, we have biotechnology, diagnostic, pharmaceutical and health care IT companies in the mix. 

TEQ: So now you are in the driver’s seat to build on this great work. What would you hope to accomplish?

JJ: Each regional economic development leader has had to align their hopes with the realities of the economic climate in which they were leading. The 2008 recession paused the incredible startup momentum here. Universities, which are our sources of innovation, saw their budgets shrink, the state’s incubator funding to bridge university ideas to capital markets declined and investors who fund our companies to completion moved into less-risky investments. Of course, as is our Pittsburgh way, strong leaders respond to their market’s condition. 

So, as far as what I hope to accomplish, I certainly have new ideas, but I think job one is integrating with the great ideas that already exist. We need to make connections into the new university programs. We need to complement Innovation Works, building upon their learnings to make an AlphaLab-type program specific to the highly-regulated life science market. We need to build upon John Manzetti’s success and continue to raise future early-stage funds. 

It’s important to note that innovation is not just from the universities; it’s also from local entrepreneurs. In addition to funding, these entrepreneurs need information, and the PLSG is creating programs to provide this hard-to-get information to these entrepreneurs.

TEQ: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

JJ: Incubator funding is always a challenge, and it is unlikely that the state is going to provide more. Having said that, collaboration and integration can provide a lot more regional productivity with the resources we do have. Also, why do we feel constrained to only raising capital within the region? Being specialists in life sciences and health care IT, others are willing to pay for that value. And what will we do with this outside money? We will put it right back to work in our region.

TEQ: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about Pittsburgh’s business/tech landscape to make it easier for life sciences companies to grow, what would you wave upon?

JJ: I would create more anchor (large) companies to feed our industry and support life sciences infrastructure. Companies like Mylan, Bayer, Respironics and Medrad bring talent and tens-of-millions of dollars into our industry’s infrastructure. An example of this can be seen right now with what Uber and Google have contributed to our region.

Given magic, think of Dorothy’s ruby slippers: neither she nor anyone else in Oz knew their real power. I’ve lived here for 12 years; I married a Pittsburgh native and this is my home, but being from outside the region I still see the power of our region’s ruby slippers. One small example: if we made western PA a state, we’d be 12th nationally in receiving NIH funding. With 50 states, that seems like winning to me.

TEQ: Best business advice that you’ve ever received?

JJ: Definitely to solicit differing opinions and then listen to them. I am far from perfect on this one, and I try to improve every day. In my first senior product management role, I presented a major initiative to our board of directors, got it approved and was ready to execute it. An experienced salesperson suggested I review the program with the sales managers first, and I was not having it. That evening, she arranged to have me sit with a large group of salespeople at dinner, then came over and suggested I tell them all about my new program. Being in the middle of the booth there was no escape, and the result was an ego-whipping that I will never forget. But I amended the program, and certain failure was turned into success due to her generosity.

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