Inside Entrepreneurship: Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy on perseverance and perspective

By Betsy Lundgren, UW School of Business

Kevin-Conroy-UWBizIf optimism is contagious, as Kevin Conroy says, then the Wisconsin MBA students who recently heard him speak are certainly infected.

“As a leader, you have to understand that the words you use and your attitude affects other people,” Conroy notes. “Optimism is something that is infectious. It can lead organizations.”

Conroy, who serves as chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president of Madison-based biotech company Exact Sciences, recently shared his insights on leadership and entrepreneurship as part of the Wisconsin School of Business’s M. Keith Weikel Speaker Series.

He shared the ups and downs of guiding a company through a product launch in the challenging medical field, weaving in lessons about culture, values, and priorities along the way.

A company on a mission

Exact Sciences has a bold mission: to eradicate colorectal cancer by partnering with healthcare providers, payers, patients, and advocacy groups. This mission might sound out of reach to some. But Conroy’s confidence, positivity, and sheer will to succeed make it easy to envision the day when colorectal cancer will no longer impact 130,000 Americans each year as it does today.

The company has developed an easy, noninvasive screening tool called Cologuard that detects early stage colorectal cancer, potentially increasing survival. It’s a more patient-friendly alternative to the colonoscopy, which many people avoid due to its inconvenience, discomfort, and potential complications.

“The rational way to win the war against cancer is through screening—to detect the disease at its earliest, most curable stages—and by developing drugs that work on early stage cancers,” Conroy said.

It’s a big goal, but Conroy is not one to shy away from a challenge, and he urged students to act likewise as they continue their careers.

“Find a big problem that you can really roll up your sleeves and try to solve. The bigger and more difficult the better, because usually if it’s a hard problem to solve, it can benefit a lot of people.”

Making a positive impact on people clearly drives Conroy, as he spoke about the importance of corporate culture and employee engagement in delivering company results. Read more …

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