Admiral William H. McRaven and BIO CEO John F. Crowley talk hope in biotech

“Biotechnology, that’s a great, big word that just means hope.” 

That’s what Christopher Reeve said years ago at a BIO International Convention. Little did he know that sitting in the audience listening was John F. Crowley, attending his first such convention as a young CEO trying to save the lives of his children

On Day 3 of the 2024 BIO International Convention, Crowley is not only the new CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), but he also saved the lives of his children. And he wants to continue the conversation around the hope the biotech industry provides to the 7 billion people across the world—especially as the industry sits on the cusp of profound innovation and lightspeed movement forward. 

Crowley sat down with William H. McRaven, retired U.S. Navy four-star Admiral, Navy Seal, and the former chancellor of the University of Texas System. Admiral McRaven’s long and distinguished military career saw him command special operations forces at every level and deal with every conceivable leadership challenge, including combat operations that spanned the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Phillips, and the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. McRaven was also commander of the Joint Special Operations Command and remains a leading advisor on national security. He also led Crowley during his time in the Navy.

The power of integrity and hope

Sitting together on the main stage, the duo discussed a variety of topics on leadership, geopolitics, and the importance of biotech in national security.

“I don’t care whether you’re leading a Burger King, Starbucks, or running a biotech company,” McRaven began, “it really does start, as trite as it sounds, with integrity.”

McRaven noted that leaders lacking integrity are doomed to building a house of cards that will fall at one point or another. “It’s a result of leaders that fail to do three things: to make sure that all their decisions and all their actions were moral, legal, and ethical,” he said. 

And McRaven understands the importance of integrity in biotech, having been a patient as a result of both a parachuting accident, as well as a Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) diagnosis. 

After being told his career was essentially over after his CLL diagnosis, McRaven and his wife decided, instead of giving up hope, they were going to talk to the best CLL expert in the world. It was then that he found himself in the office of a boisterous Aussie, Michael Keating, who, after hugging the normally stoic admiral, said, “You’re gonna be just fine.”

“It was the power of hope,” McRaven said. “But it was also the power of biotechnology. It was the power of medicine.” 

It was also a testament to how persistent the biotech industry is when working to reach its goals. A diagnosis of CLL would have been an undeniable death sentence just a few decades earlier. But today, Admiral McRaven is able to sit with Crowley to discuss the future of biotech, just as Crowley is able to sit with his own children and discuss their future careers and lives. 

“When did you decide to stop for your kids, John?” the Admiral pointed out to Crowley during their conversation.  

“We persisted,” Crowley responded simply. 

“And I think the work you are all doing is incredibly noble and incredibly honorable,” responded McRaven. “And when you believe in it you don’t ever stop.”

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