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Suffolk’s Inside Leadership Series: John Brooks

John Brooks, CEO of the Joslin Diabetes Center, talked about his career path to become a healthcare leader during the first Suffolk University Inside Leadership Series on September 29th.

Suffolk Professor, Larry Stybel, moderated the discussion.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Brooks graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a B.B.A. and M.S in Business. He began his career in public accounting at Arthur Anderson. Working within a small business group, he collaborated with many entrepreneurs and ventured capitalists.

This experience fostered his entrepreneurial mindset to begin in 1995 a venture capital firm with three partners. They combined to raise $84 million for their first fund.

Brooks’ personal and professional life took a different turn when his three-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Living in Boulder, CO, at the time, he moved his family back to the Boston area, after the founding of his company Prism Venture Partners. He started going to Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, MA for his son’s treatment, where he and his wife became involved organized fundraising, volunteered, and joined the Chair Committee before being appointed CEO of Joslin Diabetes Center in 2011.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot regulate levels of glucose in the blood. High glucose level may result in many symptoms including increased thirst, hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, and blurry vision. We distinguish two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The American Association of Diabetes says, “Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed among children and young adults”, 5% of diabetics have type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin, whereas type 2 diabetes is concerned with insulin resistance (the body does not use insulin properly) at first and lack of insulin later. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is generally caused by lifestyle factors such as urbanization, lack of physical activity, obesity, and stress.

Although diabetes is (currently) a chronic disease without a known cure, there are some ways diabetics can manage the disease to avoid its pernicious effects. An appropriate diet, exercise, and use of specific medications (insulin for type 1 diabetes, oral medications and/or insulin for type 2 diabetes) help diabetics to lead “a normal life.” Diabetes has quickly spread out since the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is generally more common in developed countries, especially type 2 diabetes, because of their lifestyles. According to the World Health Organization, 347 million people had diabetes worldwide in 2013.

At the end of Brooks’ presentation, some students had the opportunity to ask him questions.

Senior Suffolk University student, Emma Bates, regretted the fact that he did not directly answer the questions asked by students, and that Brooks repeated himself several times. Indeed, Brooks insisted on a couple of things. He stated that “you cannot have a strong mission without a strong margin,” encouraging everyone to learn everything about the business we currently work for or dream to be in the future.

Brooks told the audience some anecdotes. He came up with an innovative portable insulin pump, later commercialized by Insulet Corporation, while on an airplane with with a former Pfizer colleague.

Professor Stybel then reinforced: “The most exciting and innovative ideas will not come from the office. [In unusual settings] the mind becomes more creative.”

Brooks said there has been a lot of innovation in the healthcare industry in recent years. This trend will likely go on as cellphones and apps control users’ blood sugar levels. For instance, Google has partnered with pharmaceutical company Novartis to develop insulin-monitoring contact lenses. While this process is not operational yet, it brings some hope for millions of diabetics.

For John Brooks, his presentation gives a vivid example of a bright entrepreneur and family man who has started his own businesses to treat his child’s disease. Brooks’ cross-disciplined interests for accounting, life sciences, technology, and health shaped his career show that he is a brilliant leader infused with passion.

John Brooks’ conversation with Larry Stybel is available on podcast:

The Inside Leadership Series has the following upcoming events:

Wednesday, Oct. 15, 4:00 p.m.- 5:30 p.m – Modern Theatre: Mo Cowan, former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 4:00 p.m.- 5:30 p.m. — 73 Tremont St. Amenities Room: Catherine DAmato, CEO of a nonprofit that feeds 545,000 hungry people each year and serves on the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Wednesday, Nov. 5, 4:00 p.m.- 5:30 p.m – 73 Tremont St. 9th Floor Conference Center: William Boyce, a Founder of Highland Capital Partners and Board member at Skill Soft, Inc.

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