Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Carving out a new business unit for M&Ms candy isn’t a common backstory for a biotech exec. But Terry Coelho says her 20 years of financial, global and direct-to-consumer experience with Mars provided her with a unique perspective that she was able to capitalize on as she transitioned to the healthcare space.
After two decades in the confectionery business, Coelho was ready for a new purpose and to be part of an organization that was bringing meaningful medicines to the market. She joined the Novartis family of companies as head of business planning, analysis and supply chain finance at Sandoz, which gave her the opportunity to see the full scale of operations. A short time later, she made the shift to Novartis Oncology, where she ultimately headed up global oncology development finance.
“It was really important for me to have had that opportunity to see end-to-end the R&D pipeline — from developing drugs to leading the global oncology development finance efforts to commercializing them,” she says. “I’ve been able to step into new situations pretty quickly and get the lay of the land and draw upon my different experiences and bring the right people on board to make whatever impact is needed to be made.”
Today, as executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief business development officer at CinCor Pharma, Coelho is capitalizing on her long and winding road through pharma to guide the biotech to its next plateau. In fact, she says finance is the nerve center of the organization.
“Finance touches every arm of the organization, whether it’s supply chain, buying materials, getting materials, selling and marketing, providing analysis, understanding the business on the R&D side — so in the end all of the pieces need to come together from the budget to conveying the strategy of the organization.” she says. “There’s nowhere else in the organization that one team has visibility into all the different functions.”
This visibility and her vast experience working for public companies gave Coelho the confidence to take CinCor public just about six months ago — a gutsy move given current market conditions.
“There were a lot of pieces that came together and we made a very bold decision to do the IPO the first week of January, so prior to the annual JPMorgan investor conference,” she says. “It was a risky decision, but I really think it turned [out] to be the best decision for the company. CinCor was able to raise about $200 million. And it turned out to be one of the more successful IPOs over the past couple of years. While I may have played a very critical role in leading the IPO, it took the full CinCor team support to drive this successful outcome.”
Coelho and her team are now intently focused on moving CinCor’s primary asset, baxdrostat, an aldosterone synthase inhibitor, through clinical trials for the treatment of patients with resistant and uncontrolled hypertension.
“We have a really robust market opportunity … this is a very significant unmet need not just in the U.S., but globally,” she says.
In today’s Woman of the Week podcast, Coelho shares how taking a risk early on in her career ultimately led to the C-suite, how she is widening the path for other women and how being a bridge-builder opens doors.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive. In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-in-chief Emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Terry Coelho, executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief business development officer, CinCor Pharmaceuticals.
Taren: Terry, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Terry: Thank you so much for having me, Taren. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Taren: Well Terry, I’ve been through your résumé and it’s quite impressive. And currently, right now, you are wearing a number of hats at CinCor. Can you please share how you manage all of your responsibilities?
Terry: Yeah. So the most important to begin with is surrounding myself with a great team who can support me. We’re small. We’re still in kind of a start-up mode. So it’s really supporting myself with both a strong internal team and strong external resources. On top of that, I’ll be honest, I think having been in a number of different roles and building organizations and driving change, but also being a mother, I think multitasking and juggling both home and work my whole career has allowed me to be able to take on the varied responsibilities that I currently have. I think the other thing, if you go a step further and if you’re working with all those different resources, is really making sure to communicate clearly and effectively. It’s important for people to understand what expectations are upfront so that they can really help.
Taren: Excellent. You noted that you juggle – you learned so much of your multitasking from being a mom as well as a working mother. Often, we talk about, can women have it all. Is that something that you think is possible? You have grown kids now and you managed a very successful career. How did you do that?
Terry: Well, I have to give credit to my husband along the way. He’s a civil engineer, but early on in our lives together we made a choice and he decided to stay mostly at home with the kids and helping to do that which enabled me to be able to take on roles that often involve a lot of travel and certainly a lot of hours. But I think as much as he has done and he’s been tremendous and a great supporter, as a working mother, I think a lot of us would find that we do wear two hats. I was often the organizer of activities or things the kids were doing or school things. And he was, I would call the executor. He might be the one driving them around to a dozen different places. So I think, can you have it all? I’m very proud of my children. I have four children and as you said, they’re mostly grown up. They’re all very successful in the different avenues that they’ve pursued. And I’m pretty pleased with the paths I’ve taken along the way on my career. So I think it is possible but if I had to say, is there anything that I end up sacrificing, it’s kind of family and work and then, kind of myself, and staying in shape as much as I’d like and doing some of those things. But I’ve enjoyed the balance of both family and work. I think both have made me who I am.
Taren: That’s fantastic and it does take a team to be able to manage all of that. Just having to manage all those activities is a full-time job I would imagine. Which holds in good stead because of all the different responsibility you have at CinCor, so that’s great training. At some point, you had said that the CFO — Chief Financial Officer — role is the nerve center of any organization. Can you tell me about that?
Terry: Yeah, absolutely. So look, I think finance touches every arm of the organization, whether it’s supply chain, it’s buying materials, it’s getting materials, it’s on the selling and marketing, it’s providing analysis, it’s understanding that part of the business on the R&D side. So in the end, all of the pieces come together, right? Whether it’s in a budget or in conveying the strategy of the organization. When you’re a company, even more so a public company, where the company’s results lie is going to come back to finance. And so, there’s that kind of more pragmatic piece, but there’s also, I think the – or maybe what goes with that, is the importance of finance in understanding. There’s nowhere else in the organization that one part of the team, I mean, the company’s team, really had visibility to all the different functions. Supply chain may work very closely with sales in certain areas or in marketing. R&D is working closely with development. And all the areas certainly touch each other but I think finance brings it all together.
Taren: And in that vein, there’s certainly a need to be able to build bridges across all those different organizational areas. What are some of the keys that you’ve learned to be successful in your role?
Terry: Yeah. Look, being the bridge is really – it’s almost a phrase that I’ve coined I think along the way. But I really do believe in it and I’ve seen it in action over and over again. It epitomizes the meaning of being a strategic finance business partner. It’s about bringing value to the organization and your business partners, and how do you go about doing that. I think it takes a lot of forms. But the people I’ve worked with and that I’ve coached and led over the years, I really encourage them to get involved with the business, ask questions, understand the challenges their business partners are facing and try to help address them or bring ideas and suggestions. If you’re in a selling organization, go out in the field with the sales rep. If you’re in a manufacturing organization, walk the floor in a manufacturing plant and on and on. And really ask questions and understand and learn.
I think that allows you to build trust and earn that seat at the table. Look, it does take being proactive. You shouldn’t wait to be asked. I think you’ve got to demonstrate that interest and be curious. And I think that will make you a stronger business partner. Not just in the role you might be in today, but actually, as you move in to other roles, that experience even if not directly applicable is applicable – you’ll be able to draw upon it, I guess as you progress through your career. I feel that something that has certainly been a part of my career and I’ve seen it as I’ve coached people as I said, play out as well in a number of different situations.
Taren: Great. One of your other roles too is chief business development officer or business development. How does that piece of the puzzle fit in to everything?
Terry: Yeah. I mean, chief business development officer, that’s a very strategic role. It’s looking at where the organization is heading in the future and what are the different external relationships that we need to build. Whether it’s to help with commercializing our product or potentially bringing new products into our pipeline and into the organization for development, or maybe partnering for different support areas. I think it fits very nicely with the CFO role because you build upon that already what we talked about, the visibility you have across the organization and being able to effectively engage with the external partners to make sure that you’re finding the right partners for your organization that fit culturally and strategically.
Taren: It makes a lot of sense. Hand in hand they work together there. Just about six months ago, I understand CinCor went public on Nasdaq. What was that experience like?
Terry: Yeah. So it was pretty intense. I had just joined the company a couple of months before, so certainly, on my personal side, I was getting up to speed on the business. But I do think that my experience as a public company CFO previously definitely prepared me to help lead the organization through the process. There were a lot of pieces to come together and we made a very bold decision to do the IPO the first week of January, so prior to the annual JPMorgan investor conference. The reason I wanted to do that is that in the past, there would often be a heavy volume of IPOs after JPMorgan and you’re competing for investor interest if you wait until then. So we wanted to avoid that.
It was a risky decision but I really think it turned to be the best decision for the company. CinCor was able to raise about $200 million. It’s turned out to be one of the more successful IPOs over the past couple of years. And look, while I may have played a very critical role in leading that, it took the full CinCor team support to drive this successful outcome. And even the external resources that we worked with whether it was legal or banking or others that really stepped up to support CinCor.
Taren: That’s great. And you know, we have to touch on this whole biotech financing arena because it’s been so mercurial over the last 18, 24 months. What do you see happening in this sector? Do you see that there’s still going to be money available or are we headed into even tighter areas of financing?
Terry: Yeah. I mean, I don’t have a ...
Taren: You don’t have a crystal ball?
Terry: A crystal ball, exactly. I don’t have a crystal ball, wish I did. But what I hear, there’s still money out there to be invested. I think in recent weeks, we’ve been hearing and I hear mostly from banks with investors. I think they’re being more selective in terms of where they’re investing but they certainly have funds available to invest and they want to choose the right areas to invest in. I can’t predict what else is going to happen. I don’t think at this moment anybody can, given as you said, the turmoil over the last 6 to 18 months really.
Taren: Fair enough. I just thought I’d check in what you were hearing. So when you were talking to the investors, what was the pitch you were giving them? What’s your two-minute little elevator speech for CinCor?
Terry: Yeah. Look, CinCor is a very special company, I think. We like to talk about having a pipeline of the products. So at the moment, we have a single asset but we have four key things that we really focus on. One is that we have – it’s a very differentiated asset. We have a really robust market opportunity that we’re treating patients with resistant and uncontrolled hypertension. And this is a very significant unmet need not just in the US but globally. And we have multiple near-term catalysts. And what that means is that our data – we have two of our studies – two of our phase 2 studies expected to read out in the second half of this year, two in 2023, and I think investors like that compared to maybe some of the pre-clinical types of companies that you may have to wait a very long time.
But very importantly, baxdrostat, which is our primary asset, is a highly selective oral small molecule, what’s called an aldosterone synthase inhibitor. And the preliminary blinded data that we have seen is very, very encouraging, as is the safety profile. You really need to have both pieces of those. And then on top of that, we do talk about having I think a topnotch management team across the board. We have respected experts on our scientific advisory board and we were supported through our series B and to the IPO with really top tier healthcare investors.
Taren: Fantastic. Well, that’s exciting. And congratulations. It is a significant unmet need and it’s exciting to hear that you’re moving a potential candidate through to market. You mentioned earlier that you had previously been a CFO of another publicly traded company. I believe you also worked for Mars, correct?
Terry: That’s correct.
Taren: What drew you to the field of healthcare?
Terry: Yeah. So I spent about 20 years with Mars. I then moved over to Novartis for about eight years and then I went over to another company. And then, since then, I’ve been public company. CFO for a few companies. Look, what really is important to me I think is being part of bringing therapies to patients in need and making a difference. I’ll talk about when I first went to Novartis from Mars. Very shortly, after I joined, I had the opportunity to move over into oncology and my father had passed away just less than a year before and it just felt very meaningful to me. Even if I give the example with my last company, BioDelivery Sciences, where there was – we basically were commercializing a product for chronic pain which is also a very significant unmet need with a safer Schedule III opioid versus the ones that we’ve all heard about unfortunately that have been addictive and caused many undesirable effects.
But look, even here at CinCor, addressing hypertension is a huge unmet need. And while there’s a lot of therapies available, there’s still a large portion of the population that are not reaching their blood pressure goals. Look, that number for just what’s called resistant hypertension is over 10 million patients. Could be up to 15 million patients in the US. If you look at the uncontrolled, it can reach 40, 50 million. So I think when I select, I think where I am and what I do, it’s important to be doing something meaningful and all of these areas that I just touched on are certainly areas that have a significant unmet need.
Taren: Excellent. And so, your time at Novartis, was there anything that stands out for you there that helped shape the rest of your career? It was the first healthcare company you had gone to, correct, after Mars?
Terry: It was, it was. And I guess, what I would say is, I had the opportunity seven of the eight years that I was at Novartis. I was, as I said, on the oncology side and three of those years were on the commercial side. And then, four years I was leading global oncology development finance. And I also spent a year at Sandoz. So I think what was really important for me was having that opportunity to see end-to-end the R&D pipeline if you like. So from developing drugs and leading the global oncology development finance efforts to commercializing them, it's very different to commercialize in healthcare than it is let’s say in consumer goods where I’ve been previously, all the way through to generics which is after drugs lose their patent, you have to deal with it. So I think it really gave me great experience to see end-to-end how R&D really works and what you need to understand because it is different to other areas whether it be consumer goods or manufacturing and so on. Pure manufacturing companies.
Taren: Sure. And that was an exciting time to be at Novartis within their oncology department. A lot of good things happened then.
Terry: It was.
Taren: You’ve had a very successful career as we’ve just touched on. How are you using your experiences to inspire others? And then, we’ll talk about how you’re widening the path for women specifically?
Terry: Yeah. Look, I guess, I try to inspire others by being a role model if you like. I try to lead by example. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. As I think about people over the years, one the things I’m most proud of over my many, many years of career are seeing individuals grow professionally and personally, but professionally. If I go all the way back to my Mars days, I started Mars confectionary business from scratch as president and general manager very early in my career. It was literally from scratch. Manufacturing, commercialization, everything. The team that I built, by the time I left, we had over 200 employees, I think. Many of those people I’m still in touch with, and I’ll give an example.
Just last week, one of them is facing a career change and reached out to have a call to get some advice. I think it’s being available to people, being approachable, being thoughtful, listening. And you can’t tell people what to do but you can help them think through what they’re facing and how to get there. I think those are some of the areas where I really try to hopefully be an inspiration to individuals.
Taren: That’s fantastic. And there is really a nuance there but it’s about having that network and building a strong network. What are some of the keys that you have found that have worked for you in terms of in building that network – and not networking like handing out a business card but truly those relationships that are lasting and you’ve got several of them.
Terry: Yeah. No, I do have many. Yeah, I’m a big believer in having a network and all. I’ll take a step back for a moment and I will say that one of the things being a working mother that I’ll admit earlier in my career, I was very focused on just trying to get that balance between working and doing a really great job and also, being there for my family and being available. And I probably didn’t network nearly as much as I could have and as I ultimately ended up doing. But I think it’s not unlike being the bridge in some ways. It’s really proactively reaching out to people, staying in touch. LinkedIn has been a tremendous tool for all of us, right? To keep in touch with people over many, many years. Not just putting the little thumbs-up like sign, but actually putting in the messenger and asking how people are doing. So I think I really align a little bit with my thoughts around being a bridge is staying connected with people and offering to be a resource to them and help them think through things as I said before.
Taren: Fantastic. It takes work. I mean, it just doesn’t happen and you have to nurture that network as well. And so, like you said, it’s not just hitting the like button but engaging them in conversation and that takes time. You have to carve the time out.
Terry: Yeah. And I would say one more thing. What I’ve tried to do once I was able to maybe free up a little bit more time from the family side is, really lead organizations internally or bring people together. So at Novartis, I actually was a co-leader for the executive women’s networking group which was a huge organization of hundreds of people in Novartis. And I loved doing that because it took me beyond the people I dealt with day-to-day in my work to people across Novartis, beyond oncology. And even outside of Novartis, we did some things with other pharma companies as well. And I get involved with the university. I’m in an advisory board for one of the universities. So I get to get different perspectives and I think that’s so helpful. You don’t want to stay too insular. Even if something may not seem directly applicable, I think you can learn from it.
Taren: I agree. I think every experience provides you with a different perspective that you can bring to your day-to-day job. It’s just opening up that lens a little bit more, right? You noted that you were part of that Novartis Internal Women’s Group. How are you widening the path now for the next generation of women leaders at CinCor?
Terry: Yeah. So I think interestingly, at my last company, there were a couple of women who I worked with. One worked for me and another was another colleague in the organization. That company ended up being sold, so when there were opportunities within CinCor, in some cases for larger roles, I recommended them. They obviously had to go through a full process but I’m really pleased to say they both actually have taken on roles at CinCor and it’s wonderful to see them continuing to grow. And I think they really appreciate the confidence that I had that they could take on something more.
Taren: That’s fantastic. That’s more than just being a mentor. That’s actually being a sponsor and throwing your weight against the recommendations which is so critical for women to achieve those next level positions, so kudos to you.
Taren: As you move through your career, what are some of the best leadership advice you’ve ever received. And then, I’m going to ask you, what’s the key piece of leadership advice you provide to others?
Terry: Okay, yeah. So I want to say the best piece of advice I received was early in my career before I took that job to go down to Brazil with Mars. The opportunity kind of presented itself and I remember talking to the overall Mars CFO about the opportunity. And look, at that time in my career, I had only managed a couple of people. I didn’t know how to sell things or manufacture things or lead a full organization. But I remember the advice which sticks to me over and over again which was, take the decision which I would regret the most not having taken. I know that you have to think about the words there with the negative and the positive. But it’s really thinking through, and I guess, I had been a little bit of a risk taker in some of the roles I’ve taken on.
I look back and think, do I want to – even when I left Mars to go to Novartis, I remember challenging myself to think, do I want to jump ahead 20 years in my head and look back on my career and say, Mars has been tremendous. I had amazing opportunities that most people would only dream of and be comfortable through the rest of it or did I want to challenge myself and see if I could succeed in other industries and in other roles. And I’m very pleased I’ve taken the decisions I’ve taken. I wouldn’t be here speaking to you today if I hadn’t. So I think that that was really important advice for me.
I think in terms of the other question around, what do I provide to others, I certainly do share that message if they’re in the situation of contemplating a career move or a new role or whatever it is. But I think it’s about making time and taking time to know the people on your team. Try to understand people’s perspectives, what motivates them and not just professionally but personally. I think it’s important to have empathy. Every individual is so unique and there’s not one single approach that will work well with all of your team members in every situation. You’ve got to recognize that you’ve got to adapt your approach to support those differences. And ultimately, that’s actually going to benefit not just your team but the organization. I really try to encourage people to think outside of themselves and to listen and get other perspectives, and think outside of their own boxes to engage with others around the organization. Not sit in a silo, right?
Taren: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s great advice. Terry, you noted that you’d worked in Brazil. How important is global experience to moving up to the C-suite?
Terry: I think it depends a lot for different organizations. In a large multinational, of course it’s going to be much more important. For me, I think what it brings to the table is just again, that ability to recognize and actual experience of having seen that there’s different perspectives. There’s different points of view. There’s different ways of doing things. I think it just helps you grow and be more open to different ideas. And ultimately, I think that can help the company move forward strategically and tactically.
Taren: Excellent. I ask this question for every one of our WoW podcasts. So what is your wow moment that either changed the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you?
Terry: Yeah. So I already touched on it actually but I have to say it was the opportunity to start up the Brazil business for Mars at such an early point in my career. As I’ve mentioned, I had very little experience at that time. I had to learn everything, right? I mean, to lead it I had to talk to government officials to get incentives. I had to figure out vendors to supply things, launch a new brand and come up with advertising. And of course, most important of all was to build a really strong organization that could start this business up and move it. I think for me, it was such a defining moment because first of all, I showed myself that I could – I was a great learner and could execute on it. But also, it really showed that importance again that I touched on at the beginning about surrounding yourself with great teams and really focusing on motivating them. There was no way I could do all that by myself. I needed to have the right people in place.
But I will say – and part of the reason to your question about why it’s left a lasting impression, I think every role since then that I’ve been attracted to or tapped on for had been roles about either building things, building organizations, building new businesses or leading major transformation or change initiatives. I’ve been able to step into new situations pretty quickly and get the lay of the land and draw upon my different experiences and again bring the right people on board to make whatever impact is needed to be made.
Taren: Sure. I mean, I love that example. It had to require a lot of guts to be able to – you know what, I’m going to raise my hand and I’m going to do this. I’m going to move to a different country and start a business where there isn’t one and I’m going to learn it as I go. You’re talking about somebody who didn’t wait to check off six of the eight boxes to say that you are qualified for a job. So where did you get that internal confidence to say, you’ve got this. Is it part of your personality or did you just say, I got this?
Terry: I think it’s maybe a bit of both. I think it’s probably a bit of my personality. When I was in college, I actually moved myself to Brazil for a year. I did my junior year study abroad but there was no set program. I actually had to define the program myself and get it pre-approved by my university and spent a full year down there. I think it comes back a little bit to that advice, so that taking the decision I would regret the most not having taken. I also have to admit I was probably not even fully aware of everything I would need to learn very quickly in all honesty. And I think being humble enough to recognize that. But I think it’s probably a combination of all of those elements.
Taren: That’s terrific. Sometimes it’s better that you don’t know what you don’t know when you go to do it because if you did, you might not do it.
Terry: That’s true. That’s true, yeah.
Taren: Well, it has been great to speak with you, Terry. Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into what a bridge builder needs to do when you are the CFO and you are truly a builder and a transformer, so thank you so much for spending some time with us.
Terry: Thank you so much, Taren. I appreciate it.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.