Kevin T. Conroy, the chairman and CEO of Exact Sciences, said entrepreneurial companies serve as the leading engines of job creation and economic development, and have helped to fuel Michigan’s rebound from the depths of recession. Speaking on Wednesday morning at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, he cited findings from a Kauffman Foundation report that show all net job creation comes from start-ups. “Start-ups create more jobs than all other companies,” Conroy stated. “What you do as entrepreneurs makes a difference, because that’s where jobs come from. You are part of the solution.”
Growing up in Flint, Michigan, which has suffered from job loss and economic decline during past downturns in the automotive industry, Conroy pointed to the human impact of plant closings and unemployment. “At one point, 700,000 people in Michigan were out of work,” he remarked. “It’s an inspiration to see, at the policy level, how this state has made the decision to support entrepreneurial businesses. Now, Michigan is the best in the Midwest, as far as job creation.” The ongoing challenge facing the state, he added, is to “make sure we get the rewards of innovation and start new companies. To do that, we need to support entrepreneurs.”
During his remarks, Conroy reflected on the entrepreneurial success of another Flint native, Billy Durant, the founder of General Motors and the father of the U.S. automotive industry. “He was a phenomenal salesman,” Conroy said. “That’s a trait all entrepreneurs need.” Durant also possessed great instincts and vision, worked hard, showed perseverance and maintained a high standard of loyalty and integrity in his dealings with investors and employees.
Conroy recounted the highlights of his C-suite experiences at Third Wave Technologies, where he served as president and CEO from 2005 to 2008, and, more recently, at Exact Sciences, where he was named president and CEO in 2009 and board chairman in 2014. In both cases, he turned struggling companies into successful ones by focusing resources and people on a few core objectives. Under Conroy’s leadership, Third Wave rebounded from its slump and was acquired by Hologic in 2008. Today, Exact Sciences is developing a noninvasive colon cancer screening that could help eradicate colorectal cancer. In the U.S., 80 million individuals are eligible for the screening, and the market potential is an estimated two billion dollars.
In parting, Conroy shared some lessons-learned and words of advice:
- Work hard to create value, not an exit
- Attract, motivate and retain great people
- Innovate and look for, or build, a product that sells itself
- Keep it simple
- Under-promise and over-deliver