For Oliver Richards (Ph.D. ’09, MBA ’11), the last several months has meant less time on the road visiting clients in his role as Senior Vice President of The Beacon Group. Like many of us, he’s quickly traded in-person meetings for video calls to continue building relationships and conduct business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beacon is a growth strategy consulting firm in Portland, Maine that focuses on providing actionable growth strategies and tactics for near- and long-term projects.
While many industries were severely impacted almost overnight, Oliver and his team are looking for opportunities for their clients in these changing times. There are challenges to working from home including childcare, but Oliver says it’s also opened his eyes to new possibilities and allowed him to question how companies operate moving forward. The world is undeniably changed, and Oliver says this does create opportunities across industries to help shape what the “new normal” will look like. In healthcare adoption of telehealth has been swift and is likely here to stay, but it also raises new questions like: Where will care happen? Will diagnostics and triage happen in our homes? Oliver sees the permanent impacts on the healthcare industry as well as the willingness of people to accept that change is happening. In a whitepaper published in June, Oliver shared the expected and surprising impacts of the pandemic on the U.S. healthcare landscape.
“Despite the problems the pandemic causes, it provides opportunities for companies to disrupt their own market,” says Oliver. For students looking to start their own venture, Oliver says that while it might be challenging to get access to capital, there is tremendous opportunity if you look to the fundamentals of how you identify an opportunity. “Look at solving needs, what doesn’t work well with current processes? We need innovation and problem solving more than ever.”
Oliver started his post-undergraduate career in drug development for a pharma company. Looking to develop further as an employee, Oliver went to UW to get his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology. He enjoyed the thought process and strategy involved in his program but found that he didn’t enjoy the trial and error aspects of the work. He felt his work in drug development could make impacts on human heath, but that he was far removed from bringing drugs to market and helping people. During his Ph.D. program, Oliver attended the Morgridge Entrepreneurial Bootcamp (MEB), a one-week technology entrepreneurship training for STEM majors, to get an introduction to business and entrepreneurial thinking. After participating in MEB, Oliver committed to getting his MBA at UW after finishing the Ph.D. program.
Through his MBA training, Oliver said the SMILES (Strategic Management in the Life and Engineering Sciences) program taught him important frameworks and tools that he continues to use in his work with Beacon. The program helped him understand how to build a business cases for new to the world products that create entirely new markets. Dealing with ambiguous projects like forecasting for new markets, Oliver looks back to market creation frameworks he learned in business school. In addition, Oliver said the program helped him understand the importance of organization and operational planning. “Recognizing when you need to formalize teams and processes allows growing companies to implement systems to keep things running smoothly rather than dealing with each issue on an ad hoc basis.”
Making the switch from science to business was a little risky but Oliver says it was the right move for him. To jumpstart growth in your career, Oliver says, “Don’t be afraid to try something different, try something that you may be hesitant about and continue to refine what excites and interest you.” Don’t be overly focused on opportunities at big brand name companies, he adds, “I feel like if you end up at smaller companies that you maybe haven’t heard of, you can take on responsibilities faster and have the ability to do things differently and really make an impact.” Oliver adds, you pick up so many things by talking to people in different roles and industries, just by ask people about their work or for help and advice.
We look forward to seeing what’s next for Oliver and Beacon as they continue to provide more strategies and thought leadership to navigate changes to business and industries.