August 21, 2014

5 Minutes with a Leader – Robert Wright: Chief Editor, “Life Science Leader” Magazine

You just never know who you will sit next to on a plane. Rob Wright Life Science Leader Interview - Leadership Tips

After a hectic boarding of a flight, a pleasant fellow sat down in the seat next to me. We started to chat and laugh and continued to do so the entire flight. In fact, we haven’t stopped chatting and laughing since – although now it’s via emails and phone calls.

While his sense of humor is sharp, so is his ability to be part of a team of experts in the editing and writing of one of the foremost magazines in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. With a focus on management level decision makers, Life Science Leader provides best practice editorial content with actionable information, from pre-clinical drug discovery, development up to commercialization.

In addition to being “captain of the team,” Wright personally interviews leaders and writes about them, as well as other issues pertaining to his audience, and he’s an in-demand moderator and speaker at biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry conferences.

If that weren’t enough to keep one busy, Wright is a husband, the father of two great kids, and a nice guy who carves out time to play golf with his son, listen to his daughter play the bass guitar at jazz festivals, and play the Sunday night game of Canasta with the family.

Is there something wrong here? How can one person do all of that? The answer is that it takes discipline, knowledge, insight, integrity and compassion. Aren’t those some of the qualities of a leader? They are – and Wright has them all.

What makes a leader like Wright tick? Let’s take a quick look “behind the scenes” and discover Wright’s thoughts on leadership, as well as what inspires him and empowers him to be a leader.

Question 1: Did you choose your work or did it choose you?

It chose me. Prior to being a chief editor, I spent nearly 17 years in the pharmaceutical industry. During a merger, I, along with many others, was laid off. Not being a formally trained journalist, I had no intention of becoming a chief editor when I began my job search. But as luck would have it, I stumbled into the opportunity I currently enjoy. Though many give me credit for being courageous in moving into an entirely new career, the person who truly demonstrated courage was our VP of publishing, Jon Howland, who hired me for this position, despite my lack of experience. It would have been much easier for Jon to have hired a proven commodity. Yet, like me, he took the path less traveled and that has made all the difference.

Question 2: What excites you about your job? Do you have a typical day or is it always something different?

It is rare to have anything I would describe as being a “typical day.” That, in and of itself, makes the job exciting. However, what excites me most about my career is getting to interact with people of high integrity striving to make a difference in the world.

Question 3: As a leader, what is the biggest challenge you face and how do you deal with it?

The biggest challenge for me is the demand for my time. In my role as Chief Editor, I have the good fortune to be invited to many very worthwhile events. Unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day. Even if I wanted to, I could not possibly attend them all. And if I tried, I would most certainly be a failure in my role as a husband and father. Thus, I have learned the importance of saying, “No,” which is much harder and time consuming than it sounds.

Question 4: At times, you have to make hard decisions. What do you take into consideration when making those decisions and what aids you in the process?

James Strock, author of Serve To Lead, taught me the importance of servant leadership which espouses that a boss works for his employees, not the other way around. At Life Science Leader, we strive to always work for our readers. No readers, no magazine. Many people often come to us with an idea for an article, or an article already drafted they wish to have published. Sometimes these articles are not a fit, because the quality is below our standards. Other times, it is because the topic is not a fit for our editorial style or direction. Imagine having to communicate to a NY Times bestselling author, or perhaps an executive from a company that spends thousands of dollars in advertising, that their article is “not good enough.” When faced with such a challenge, I always consider the question, “How does this article serve the reader?” When it comes to our editorial, we practice servant-based readership. No matter what business you are in or leadership position you hold, remember for whom you are working.

Question 5: What traits do you look for in a team member or an employee?

Warren Buffett once said that when looking for people to hire, seek these three qualities — integrity, intelligence, and energy. I posed the same question to my boss, Jon Howland, and he replied, “Character, fight and ambition.” One of my co-workers, Perry Rearick, a former Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces, who is intimately involved in hiring at Life Science Leader, would tell you, “Trust, honesty, and integrity.” All seem to be pretty good advice. But even more important than hiring people who possess these characteristics is how you lead them, once they are part of your team. Seek to create an environment where you can build employee self-efficacy, which influences the tasks employees choose to learn and the goals they set for themselves.

Question 6: You have interviewed many leaders. Have you noticed similar qualities in some of those leaders? If so, what are they?

High-character seems to be a common trait among the executives I have the privilege of engaging in discussions. After all, they are researching, developing, and manufacturing therapies to improve the health and well being of people. A skill common among these executives is the ability to boil down complex subjects into simplistic language.

Finally, I have found many executives to be very gracious with their time, something which is their most precious resource.

Question 7: Your job keeps you busy – interviewing, gathering content, writing, editing, speaking traveling – how do you carve out time for your family or your hobbies? Is there a time management system (or secret) you follow?

Time management is a critical skill. To me, time management is not a secret. The key is not to do for others who can do for themselves. Many people are poor at time management because they don’t delegate effectively. If you hire top talent, give them the tools, get out of the way; yet be available, when they need guidance. Be sure to make good use of the circular file and the delete key. In other words, handle paper once.

Question 8: On a personal note, what or who inspires you? How do you motivate yourself?

My father (David), my daughter (Abby), my son (Zane), and my wife (Bev) all inspire me. As for how I motivate myself, I don’t know if I really have any tricks. I believe I am wired to be highly motivated. But one thing I believe, which I think I first heard uttered by college football coaching legend, Lou Holtz, is the difference between a goal and a dream is goals are written down. If you want to be self-motivated, try writing down your goals. Then, put them up where you, as well as others, can see them. In so doing, you will have more than just yourself holding you accountable.

Question 9: What are you reading? Do you have a favorite business book?

Over vacation to Bethany Beach, DE, I took the time to read Dan Brown’s Deception Point. I marveled at the amount of research he must have conducted to be able to write so expertly about the scientific subjects and technological gadgets described in the story.

Favorite business books – there are many. But you can’t go wrong by reading The Science of Success by Charles Koch or Serve to Lead by James Strock. Commit to reading just one developmental book a month and you will be a better person.

Question 10: What is your top tip for being an effective leader?

Lead by example. If you are a leader, and you’re communicating to your team the importance of life/work balance, then don’t be seen in the office consistently working late. For example, my boss usually leaves the office at 5 PM. I think this behavior is very important, as it communicates to the team that it is okay to leave. Ever work for a boss who expects you to stay late just because they do, despite your work being done? To be sure, there have been occasions when my boss has had to work late, or come in on the weekends. But this should be the anomaly, not the rule.

Don’t send work related emails in the evening or on the weekend to your team. Such acts can not only ruin a weekend, but destroy morale. Either draft the email, but don’t send it or find software that prevents email from being sent until Monday morning. This is one of those little things that can make a big difference and a great way to lead by example.

Thank you, Rob, for sharing your insights on leadership. To view Life Science Leader magazine online, go to For Rob’s blog, please visit .

©2014Bob Garner. All Rights Reserved. You may use this article, but you must include my byline and my resource box.