Our own Daniel Hennelly got to speak to Rich Pascoe, CEO of Apricus Bio and veteran, about his transition to the civilian sector.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

Transitioning from the military into the civilian sector is one of the toughest challenges facing Veterans. It’s been eighteen months since I last wore the uniform. After a very odd journey, I’m extremely fortunate to be in a place where I can help those that are in the same position that I was only a few months ago.

After being inspired by a colleague of mine, Haley Fountain and her series of articles Inspiring Business Women, I found a way to reach out to the community of people that I care about the most: Veterans. While there may not be many Veterans in the Life Science industry, I believe it to be an industry where they can not only find a career, but thrive in one.

Each month I‘ll publish an interview with different Veterans from different companies all over the United States who have had tremendous military careers as well as careers in the Life Science industry. This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with U.S. Army Veteran Rich Pascoe, CEO of Apricus Bio and Board Member of Biocom, the Life Science Association of California.

Rich served on active duty as a Commissioned Officer with the U.S. Army 24th Infantry Division, which included one combat tour in Iraq and time in the North Carolina National Guard. He’s also a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point where he received a B.S. degree in Leadership.

What inspired you to attend the US Military Academy at West Point?

I come from a family that has served in the military for many generations (my fifth great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War). So as a young kid growing up, the military was embedded in our family DNA. When looking at my education options after high school, I focused solely on the Military Academies: West Point, The Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy. I primarily wanted to be an Officer in the Army, so when West Point gave me the opportunity to become a member of the class of 1986, I wholeheartedly accepted.

What was your MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) in the Army?

I was a 13A, Field Artillery Officer. I held a variety of roles on active duty as well as in the National Guard and Reserve. I served in peacetime and in combat in Iraq. I commanded a Battery of 155mm Howitzer and I was a Fire Support Officer at the Company, Battalion, and Brigade levels. But it was Field Artillery that I really found fascinating. Artillery is known as ‘the king of battle’, given its immense fire power and ability to shape the battlefield. I loved it because it meant I could interact with other branches: Armor, Infantry, Engineers and Aviation to name a few. Working with these different units and on different missions provided me with a fulfilling military experience.

What was the toughest aspect of transitioning out of the Army?

The biggest challenge was not having the network and resources that are available today to facilitate the transition. I served during the Desert Shield/Desert Storm era, so I went from stepping off an airplane in April 1991 after serving in Saudi Arabia and Iraq for ten months, to being unemployed. At the time, I didn’t have a network to tap into to understand what opportunities were available or how to best put myself into a position to get a job.

How and why did you get into the Life Science industry?

For me it was about finding an innovation-driven industry with high potential.  I wanted to be in some sort of sales and marketing role, which would give me the best opportunity to understand the business from the ground up and from the customer’s point of view.

So, I started out with a company that sold components to the semi-conductor industry; I enjoyed that immensely. About a year into that role, I started doing some networking in North Carolina, where I was living with people in the biotech and medical device space. It was through those relationships that I was able to secure a job with a company that was starting a new venture in the U.S. selling medical devices, and they needed sales reps. Because it was such a young, rapidly-growing organization, within about a year and a half I was given the opportunity to manage a team of sales reps. From there, my career has been focused on commercial leadership, sales, marketing, and business development.

As I’ve grown in responsibility from Manager to Director, Vice President, and now twice over the Chief Executive Officer, I still consider myself to be, at my foundation, a commercial business person, not so much a scientist although I have responsibility for overseeing those functions. My strengths are in leadership, business acumen, and deal making, while managing others in key roles outside of those areas in the ‘hard sciences’.

What do you enjoy most about working in this industry?

This is one of the unique mission-driven industries where you can continue to serve other people through your everyday efforts. Service has always been a part of what drives me and what I’m passionate about, whether that’s serving in the military or serving patients who have specific medical needs. Our shared corporate goal is to bring new products to market that help them.

And what’s the most frustrating part?

This is a theme that’s often discussed, but it’s my least favorite part of the industry: trying to negotiate a way through the regulatory landscape when getting products onto the market. Also, it’s challenging to navigate the complex financial regulation and oversight that has been imposed on our industry. Let me quickly add that in many cases these regulatory requirements are appropriate, but they do create quite a challenge for smaller companies -- companies that are trying to build a foundation and to grow. I think it’s unreasonable, in some cases, to layer the same level of responsibility and mandate on companies that are only just emerging, versus those that are more mature and have greater capacity and resources. For all of us who reside in this start-up, entrepreneurial space it’s quite a chore to be successful in what you’re doing given the vast quantity of regulations.

What opportunity do you see for Veterans in the industry?

When you look at the Life Science industry, much like the military, you have a broad spectrum of “MOS’s”. When I served in the Artillery, we had the ability to interface and cross over with other branches of service, other teams, and groups. And it’s very similar in the Life Science space. You don’t have to be a scientist or a doctor to be successful in our industry. While our foundation is rooted in science, discovery and research, there are countless opportunities in finance, manufacturing and logistics (just to name a few).

There are so many different ways that one can serve our ranks in a non-science capacity. I’m a perfect example of someone who had a non-transferable skill-set, coming out of the Army as an Artillery Officer, and was able to get into a Sales and Marketing role and develop a career pathway.

What do you see as the biggest advantage of being a veteran both in the industry and as an employer (skill set, mentality etc.)?

Often, this is the one thing that is lost on employers. I believe many veterans bring to the table the skills that can’t be taught in the civilian world. The leadership, discipline, and loyalty to the organization, the ability to work in adverse conditions, and working as a team, all those skills that companies literally spend millions of dollars to teach. You can teach someone to operate a piece of equipment, you can teach someone how to run a clinical program, and you can teach someone a specific supply chain algorithm, but it takes many years to develop these type of soft skills that veterans bring to the table.

What do you see as the biggest disadvantage of being a veteran (skill set, mentality etc.)?

I had a conversation today with a couple of vets about this very question. We all agreed that the biggest problem is public perception. A perception that vets have physical and mental issues, drug abuse problems, and engage in criminal behavior. People often view veterans as rigid, having to be told what to do, and too authoritative.

But of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has served knows that military experience is nothing like that. At every level of leadership you’re expected to be a self-starter, to think creatively, to work as a team. I think it’s important to talk about the positive attributes that military experience brings to an organization.

What advice do you have for Veterans looking to get into Life Science?

Two very specific things:
  1. Find a mentor, someone you trust, either someone you served with or someone like me who is active in the community, reaching out to veterans and who wants to support their transition. My experience was that it was through these relationships that I was able to find my path. There are a thousand groups and organizations trying to help veterans, but there is no substitute for that personal relationship with one or two people in your life whom you trust.
  2. Be open minded about the type of role that you transition into. That first job won’t be your last, but it will open doors for you as you establish yourself further. I had lunch with a career Marine Pilot the other day, and he told me that his first civilian job was in an industry that wasn’t exactly what he really dreamed about when he transitioned from the Marines, but he took it because he saw opportunities to branch out and move up within the ranks. It important not just to think about the short-term.

What are some of the things you’re doing in San Diego to help Veterans more?

It doesn’t take much convincing to get people excited about supporting veterans in San Diego. The question is, how do we really do that? Waving a flag at a parade is great, but if we’re going to truly integrate our vets into our industry, we must educate both sides, veterans and companies, on how they can seek and create opportunities.

One way we do that is through the Life Science advocacy group in California called Biocom.  Biocom has roughly 1000 member companies, across many areas of the Life Science industry. Biocom’s 501-(c)(3), the Biocom Institute, launched a Veterans Initiative. Within this initiative, we have a mentoring program that connects veterans who work for a Biocom member company, with veterans who are trying to get into the Life Science arena. At a higher level, we also coordinate events to help educate veterans on our industry. For example, this fall we will bring local veterans together over two-days to educate them on our industry and what sort of opportunities are available. We can then leverage that event, and the networking that results, into various hiring opportunities for veterans who have a desire to join one of our member companies that have job opportunities available. If you're interested in finding out more, you can visit the BIOCOM website

Do you know a Veteran who needs assistance with transitioning? Or would you like to bring more Veterans into your organization? I’d love to talk to you! Shoot me an email at [email protected]