State of Emergency
In 23 years with Goldman Sachs, in serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany, and now in his role as New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy WG83 has built a career on finance, leadership, and public service. He’s needed all of those skills and more to guide his state through a coronavirus pandemic and cut New Jersey’s rate of transmission to among the lowest in the nation as of late August. Earlier that month, Governor Murphy answered questions about weighing public heath vs. economic health, lessons learned on Wall Street, and staying positive during a historically difficult time. — Richard Rys
Wharton Magazine: How have you balanced concerns about health vs. the economy?
Governor Phil Murphy: Our entire response has been guided by one principle: Public health creates economic health. While we are in a severe economic crisis, we are first and foremost in a public health crisis. My top priority has been and will continue to be saving lives and doing what is best for the health and safety of all those who call New Jersey home. But even while I recognize that reality, we must also remember the New Jerseyans who are affected by the economic ravages of the pandemic, particularly the record number of unemployed residents and our small-business community. We will continue to work with our federal partners to extend federal help for the unemployed and secure every dollar of COVID-19 relief possible for small-business owners who are struggling. We are also constantly assessing the health data to determine the dates for our restart and recovery. Once we can crack the back of the public health crisis, only then can we look at opening more sectors of our economy.
Have you found that any challenges you faced during your career with Goldman Sachs are applicable to what you’re dealing with now?
I was often called in to clean things up when I worked in the private sector, but this pandemic has been crisis management on a level I could never have imagined before. Working in global finance is a completely different animal than working in state government. While there is a lot to manage and think about in both worlds, learning to work with a team and delegate where appropriate is one of the most valuable things my private career afforded me and something that I have been able to call upon time and time again in my life since. Before I entered my elected position, I had the opportunity to serve as ambassador to Germany. I think that experience also taught me a lot about how to work with people at all ends of the political spectrum — something that could not be more relevant to the work I am doing today.
You’ve also spent significant time working in Asia. Are there any cues you’ve taken from the way other countries are combating COVID-19?
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work closely with leaders from around the world. The virus has been a stark reminder of how critical leadership is in times of crisis. Countries like South Korea, New Zealand, and Germany that took an aggressive and early stance on mitigation have seen real success in terms of flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections and keeping rates of spread low. In New Jersey, we have tried to take what’s worked elsewhere and mold it to fit our state, and so far, we have been one of the most successful among American states in our efforts to keep the virus from once again approaching peak levels. We have also been working closely with our regional partners on a multi-state approach that we believe has been critical in containing the spread of COVID-19.
From a leadership and crisis management perspective, what’s one lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic?
The importance of being open and transparent with the public cannot be understated. Without regular updates and without the information people need to stay informed, I don’t think the nine million people who live in our state would be able to confidently trust in the leadership of this administration and the decisions we have made. People recognize that we have put science, and saving lives, before politics.
What challenges do you foresee heading into the winter and 2021?
I pray that New Jersey, along with the rest of the country and the world, beats this virus as quickly as possible and that we are in a better place by the fall. I am concerned, however, about the potential spikes that seem to inevitably follow indoor activities when the proper safety precautions are not taken. As soon as colder weather rolls around, outside gatherings and activities become difficult, and that is when we have to focus all our efforts on containing the spread of the virus indoors. We must remain vigilant.
Any advice for maintaining a sense of optimism and a positive outlook during these difficult times?
We all need to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I say it all the time, but if we keep social distancing, masking, and being responsible, we will continue to make progress against this pandemic.
Leading a Health-Care Revolution
Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Stephen Klasko WG96 faced two decisions he never imagined he’d need to make: whether to allow visitation for family members of terminally ill patients, and how much to spend on PPE for front-line health-care workers. As the CEO of Jefferson Health since 2013, Klasko has overseen the system’s expansion from three to 14 hospitals in the Philadelphia region — in addition to a just-announced $762 million Specialty Care building opening in Center City in 2024 — while serving as president of Thomas Jefferson University and overseeing its merger with Philadelphia University. He’s also a passionate advocate for radical change in the health-care industry. So Klasko followed his gut instead of bottom lines. “We made decisions around our values: Put people first, be bold, and think different,” he says. End-of-life visitation was approved, and even as the price of a single gown leaped from pennies to more than $10, Jefferson stuck to its “one case, one gown” rule. An outpouring of thanks from patients’ family members and medical staff followed. “What hit me,” Klasko says, “is how those decisions affected lives.”
Klasko sees the coronavirus as “the iPhone moment” for his industry — an opportunity for a revolution in health like the digital one two decades ago. “The conventional wisdom is, the pandemic changed everything in health care,” he says. “I think all it did was accelerate the recognition that the United States health-care system needs an extreme makeover.” He details his transformational strategy in a new book, UnHealthcare: A Manifesto for Health Assurance, that he co-wrote with Hemant Taneja, managing director of the San Francisco-based venture capital firm General Catalyst and one of Forbes’s “Top Tech Investors of 2020.” Technology is at the heart of Klasko’s plan to make health care more data-driven and consumer-focused, starting with creative partnerships like the one he’s forming with General Catalyst. “Silicon Valley folks will be sitting on my cabinet — not selling products to me, but saying: What’s your biggest problem coming out of the pandemic, and how can we use AI and technology to solve that?”
Klasko is motivated by looking 10 years ahead and figuring out how to prepare for the future today. That thinking is both essential and simpler than it seems, he argues. “Health care is not that complicated,” he insists, pointing to telehealth as an example: Virtual appointments were declining this summer in part because insurers paid doctors five times less for them than for in-person visits. “Think about how other industries have gone from scaled to unscaled,” he adds. “Imagine if banks said that if you do a $1,000 mobile deposit, we’ll keep $200, but if you come to the bank, you can deposit it all. I think there’s going to be a trillion-dollar transformation of health care, and we at Jefferson can be in the middle of that if we’re willing to be flexible, like Target and Walmart.”
To achieve what Klasko calls “health care with no address,” digital access is essential, and both the pandemic and the racial justice movement have exposed a socioeconomic gap, especially in Philadelphia. “We have one of the biggest life-expectancy disparities of any city in the country — 21 years’ difference by zip code five miles west or east of the Rocky statue,” he says. “In five years, I want to get an A for helping Jefferson become all that it can be and for making Philadelphia healthier across all its communities.” Along with implementing numerous external initiatives designed to change that, Klasko looked inward, structuring his executive team so the head of diversity and the head of innovation are his direct reports. “They’re on the same level as the person who runs our 14 hospitals and the person who runs our two campuses,” he notes. “It forces the other people in my cabinet to say, ‘I need to listen to this.’”
Along with acceleration of the health-care disruption he’s been agitating for, Klasko has found another positive outcome of the pandemic — his Wharton network, particularly his friendship with a study-group buddy, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky WG96. “He’d call me and say, ‘What’s really happening on the ground?,’ and I could tell him without an agenda,” Klasko says. “Similarly, we could have discussions about the pharma industry without betraying either of our trade secrets. To talk once a week under a cone of silence was something that never could have happened without that Wharton connection.” — R.R.
The Race For a Vaccine
Last new year’s day, Joseph Kim GEN94 WG96 GR98 was watching college football bowl games when his phone lit up with notifications about a strange pneumonia-like disease in China. Just two weeks later, Kim’s company, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, had downloaded the DNA sequence for COVID-19 and was working on a vaccine. By early April, Kim’s team had trial sites open at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and in Kansas City. “In less than six months, we went from nothing to a vaccine that has undergone human testing, early stages,” Kim says. As of September, his company was preparing to enter trial phases two and three with upwards of 10,000 volunteer subjects, as well as launching trials in China and South Korea: “This is a truly remarkable timeline and such a rapid and urgent response,” Kim says. “It has taken a lot of energy and dedication from all of our team members.”
Kim founded a pharmaceutical company 20 years ago this December with David Weiner, a Penn professor who is now the executive vice president of the Wistar Institute, with the goal of developing DNA medicine. That company later merged with Inovio, with Kim as its CEO. Unlike most of the coronavirus vaccines currently in the works, which use proteins or small amounts of the virus itself, Inovio deploys the virus’s own genes to create an immune response. What makes DNA therapy even more unique is the delivery system. A genetic vaccine needs help to transmit its molecules into the cellular membrane — help that a simple needle injection can’t provide. So Inovio uses proprietary technology that sends an imperceptible electrical pulse to deliver the vaccine directly into the body’s cells. Of course, this approach means not only scaling a potential vaccine to meet the needs of a global population, but also manufacturing and attaining FDA approval of Inovio’s “Cellectra” device. (Picture a patient-friendly glue gun.) Testing, scaling, raising capital — Kim admits it’s a steep challenge, even with funding that includes $5 million from the Gates Foundation and a $71 million grant from the Department of Defense. “There are no shortcuts here,” he says. “We still have a lot to do, but I think we’re in a great position to execute.”
With vaccine efforts under intense scrutiny from all directions — by regulators, government officials, the scientific community, investors, and the media — Inovio hasn’t escaped criticism, chiefly that no one has yet successfully brought a DNA vaccine of any kind to market. Kim counters with the fact that Inovio’s promising HPV vaccine is already in phase three, and while he’s aiming for something of a medical moonshot with a coronavirus vaccine, innovation requires iteration. “New technologies take time, and then you wonder how you can live without them, like Zoom or iPhones,” he says. “This is an opportunity to apply new technologies to bring out better vaccines. It’s just a matter of us executing and making sure that we have safe and effective vaccines.”
Obstacles and detractors aside, Kim’s belief in the future of DNA medicine and faith in his team keep him inspired in these otherwise daunting days. “It’s a global effort, and we’re just thankful and happy to be part of this early response to the pandemic,” he says. “Hopefully, we can be part of the solution to a return to some sort of normalcy.” [At press time in late September, the FDA paused Inovio’s COVID-19 vaccine trials; among the agency’s concerns were the Cellectra device. The earliest the trials can resume with FDA approval is November.] — R.R.
Lessons From Crises Past
Victor Petenkemani G08 WG08 is no stranger to uncertainty. After the untimely death of his father, the native of Cameroon found his way as an immigrant in both France and the United States — and later navigated the 2008 financial crisis as a new Wharton graduate. “I would define myself as being very resilient, and if I have to look back to see where the resilience comes from, I think the diversity of experiences and challenges that I faced started very early,” he says.
Although Petenkemani isn’t a drug manufacturer, a policy maker, or a PPE supplier, he has provided assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic in another way: by sharing his perspectives with job-seeking MBA students whose prospects have been impacted by the virus. The graduate of the Lauder Institute and associate dean of the Mercy College School of Business in New York offered his insights in April at a virtual event titled, “Graduating in Challenging Times: Advice From L08 Alumni.” Organized by Kim Conroy, Lauder’s global career adviser, the event also featured Lucia Marquez G08 WG08, finance manager at Google; Rebecca Poolman G08 WG08, general manager of strategic accounts at Quotient Technology; and Benjamin Meyer C01 WG08 G12, executive director at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.
Speaking to more than 40 students, the alumni told of finding jobs during the downturn, pivoting after losing them, and another crisis some of them endured — entering the workforce as young graduates after 9/11. Conroy arranged the event, along with another featuring an ’09 alumni panel, to show students the resilience of Lauder alumni and their own potential to shape their careers in trying times, as well as to provide opportunities to forge new connections. “Having a network during times of crisis is critical,” she says.
The message from Petenkemani to students was one of focus and reflection on the things that matter most to them: “I encourage students to think about entrepreneurship and to take this time to think about what they really care about, what they really want to do.”
Throughout his own education and career, Petenkemani has heeded that advice, ultimately concentrating on initiatives that strengthen the ties between Africa and the U.S. In difficult periods like the present, that focus has helped push him toward his next steps, an outlook he conveyed during the event. “You need a plan, but your plan is not always going to work out exactly the way you want it to,” he says. “But your long-term goal — that’s going to help build resilience.” — Braden Kelner
In many of the hardest-hit areas across the U.S., the early days of the coronavirus pandemic were characterized by overwhelmed hospitals and desperate scrambles for essential health-care equipment. “It was a frenzy at the time,” says Christine Harada G03 WG03, whose connections as a Lauder Institute graduate, federal chief sustainability officer for the Obama administration, and an investment professional were vital to helping the nation’s most populous county during this period.
Los Angeles County — home to more than 10 million residents, including Harada — was dangerously close to running out of masks and other protective equipment in early April. County official Minh Le, a former Obama administration colleague, reached out to Harada with a question: Did she, then president of impact-investing firm i(x) Investments, know of any high-net-worth individuals who could provide planes to retrieve masks from China?
Harada tapped her network and found a lead through her participation on the Alfred Lee Loomis Innovation Council, a nonpartisan forum for American technology leaders and policy makers in Washington, D.C. Harada contacted fellow council member and Boeing executive Landon Loomis and within two days had secured the planes needed to fly to China, as well as funding from individuals and foundations for the flights.
But another piece of the puzzle wasn’t coming together: While the county had planes thanks to Harada, it couldn’t secure the personal protective equipment it needed from China. “That’s about when Michael [Owh, L.A. County’s general manager for purchasing and contract services] and I were laugh-crying, thinking, ‘What kind of a world do we live in where we can’t find masks or respirators, but we can find airplanes?’” says Harada, who turned to her Lauder network next for guidance.
R. Mark Mechem C91 WG03 G06 connected Harada with a business associate in China who provided her with important background as she worked to identify potential deals. “There are a lot of ill-meaning opportunists who come out, especially in times of crisis,” Harada says. “A lot of my efforts were around vetting who’s legitimate, who’s not, and who actually has real equipment.”
Harada, alongside Owh and Le, eventually identified Chinese automaker BYD as a newly approved mask provider. Thanks in part to Harada’s work, the company sold roughly 250,000 masks to L.A. County to help stem the area’s equipment crunch. Of her efforts, Harada says, “I was happy to do anything I could to help.” — B.K.
Best Foot Forward
While mid-march saw corporations scrambling to find creative ways to combat the onset of a global pandemic, Joe Ammon WG19 continued to lead his company, Clove, according to its original intent — to serve the unmet needs of health-care workers and celebrate the profession. “There isn’t a better time for our business,” Ammon says. “We’re doing everything that we did before, just doing it even harder.”
Clove, a startup providing footwear specially designed for health-care workers, debuted in late 2019 after Ammon watched his wife, Tamara, work long, exhausting shifts as a nurse. “In every consumer, I see my wife,” he says. Clove promotes its sneakers as the first of their kind, providing comfort designed to last hours on end, a fluid-resistant shell that’s easily cleaned with hospital wipes, and a refusal to compromise on style.
While trying to get his new business off the ground, Ammon recognized that he was already in the perfect position to help his customers. On March 18, he and his team surprised the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital COVID-19 task force with dozens of new shoes. To his surprise, video of the gesture went viral, resulting in messages of gratitude and personal stories from across the country. “Our little thing that we thought was the least we could do turned into something that gave hope,” Ammon says. “Seeing the power of what one gesture could do was amazing.”
As of July, the company had donated more than $75,000 worth of shoes and compression socks to hospitals across the country, among other efforts. Ammon also created the Clove Collective, a group of 14 health-care influencers who earn commissions on each sale; Clove then donates matching amounts to charity. The company also partnered with the National Black Nurses Association to sponsor student rates for the NBNA’s virtual conference. “The idea is to do more than talk about selling products,” Ammon says. “We’re almost using that as the Trojan horse to have a broader conversation in the community.”
As Clove approaches its one-year mark, Ammon is enthusiastic about what’s to come. The company’s newest colorway, the All-Black Option, sold out in less than a week of its release in mid- July, and Ammon is excited by more opportunities to give back to the community he serves. “A lot of people think of philanthropic efforts and business as diametrically opposed, and I never thought of it that way,” he says. “We’re just scratching the surface.” — Alana Kelly
Published as “Answering the Call” in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Wharton Magazine.