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Roger Halualani’s Lasting Impact

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Roger Halualani MBA 91 recently made a multi-year, $25,000 gift to support the Integrated Management Projects and Articulation and Critical Thinking (IMPACT) curriculum for MBA students.

A founding partner at the leading healthcare consulting firm, Epiphany Partners, Halualani assumes the GSM Alumni Association presidency on July 1. He shares what motivated his gift, reflections and highlights of his successful career—and his priorities for building the School’s alumni community.

How will the Halualani Fund for Curricular Innovation benefit new generations of UC Davis MBA students?

I support the IMPACT curriculum because the most valuable experience I had during my MBA program was the MGT 240 project. It allowed me to see how my areas of specialization complement and contrast with all the other areas in a strategic plan. It is important to understand that any weakness in a planning process due to assumptions, lack of knowledge and so forth can negatively impact the strength and applicability of the recommendations.Without my 240 experience, I would not be as strong a consultant, and I believe I would have less ability to identify areas of need and insights for my clients.

The Halualani Fund provides a foundation for the continuing development and improvement of the UC Davis MBA curriculum. I hope that this and other endowments will afford the School the necessary financial resources to continuously improve and enhance students’ learning opportunities.”

You’ve served on the GSM Alumni Board for several years and will become president on July 1. What are your priorities for building the alumni network and support for the School?

I believe it is important and imperative that alumni be involved with the School. It’s almost a cliché, but strengthening the MBA program improves the value of our degrees. More importantly, alumni involvement should be broadened to incorporate many different aspects of interaction.

Fundraising is critical to the long-term success of the School. As the state has divested support for the entire University of California system, the trickle-down impact is that a shrinking percentage of our budget is state funded and long-term budget planning has become one of the School’s biggest challenges.

Dean Currall’s strategic plan calls for gradually reducing our dependence on volatile state funding to establish long-term, financial sustainability. For the School to further support our students’ graduate education, this can only occur when our endowments—both the Working Professional and the Full-Time MBA Program—are able to fill any gaps left by budgetary gamesmanship.

Volunteering is another great way for alumni to participate and engage with the School—and build our alumni community. This can be everything for attending networking events to being involved in mock interviews, informational interviews, internships, hiring fairs and mentoring students. Identifying and being available to talk to prospective students in your region, industry and/or functional area helps drive home the value of a UC Davis MBA and highlights the strengths of our alumni.

Tell a little about your career path.

Before earning my MBA I was a laboratory geek. I worked in protein chemistry at Genentech and was very proficient at doing the same seven experiments every day. I realized I needed to consider an advanced degree and, instead of the typical PhD program, my mentor suggested that I talk to our firm’s businesspeople. After several candid discussions, it was clear that there was a need for businesspeople with a strong research and technical background.

This led me to the Graduate School of Management, and then back to Genentech. After working in market research, marketing and business development, I accepted the chance to join a recent spin-out company from Genentech, Genencor. I worked in business development, marketing and product development for the nascent industrial enzyme company.

After Genencor was acquired by Eastman Kodak and Finnsugar, I made a lateral move into management consulting and joined the Health Industries Practice at SRI International. After four years of working for Big Pharma clients, I returned to the biotech industry. In a series of opportunities, I was able to work in marketing, market analytics, business development and sales. I was also able to work closely with clinical development, regulatory and product development teams.

A key therapeutic area in most of my jobs was the focus on cancer. In 1999 several former colleagues from SRI International and I started our first company, DaVinci Healthcare Partners. DaVinci quickly established itself as the leading cancer consultancy and was a key advisor to 14 of the 15 top pharmaceutical companies.

After selling DaVinci to a competitor and working on its transition, I took a short break to start a retail, consumer products company, and then co-founded Epiphany Partners with two former DaVinci colleagues. We founded Epiphany in 2009; in just over two years of launching our cancer epidemiology data source, we are close to eclipsing DaVinci as the market leader in our segment. Epiphany continues to develop and expand. We can’t wait to see where this company takes us!

What are you passionate about on the job?

Cancer and cancer research has been a cornerstone of my career. Because cancer impacts everyone, my work in cancer is focused on all areas—commercial, clinical and altruistic. Epiphany provides our advanced cancer data to drug developers to help them more rapidly and strategically develop new cancer treatments, as well as to researchers and patients. We believe that patient education in oncology should focus on helping patients better understand their disease and their options. We hope that our work helps provide assistance for new drugs, as well as background to help patients and physicians make better treatment decisions.

Where is your career headed?

After having started four companies thus far, I think that I’m justified in claiming to be a serial entrepreneur. I plan to continue with Epiphany for as long as I enjoy the work. As far as where I’m headed or what else I want to accomplish, I think it depends on how the marketplace evolves and what future opportunities arise from new technologies. I see myself involved in the cancer field, although in what exact capacity, I’m not quite sure. I just know that anything I will do in the future will be something that I’m passionate about: after starting successful companies based on what I love, doing something without that underlying feeling would be less fulfilling for me.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

I would never have contemplated being an entrepreneur without my UC Davis MBA experience. Understanding the risk: reward issues; being prepared to present accounting, economic and finance issues surrounding a novel venture; and defining what is salable to a client or consumer were worlds away from my undergraduate experience in the sciences. An MBA provides a depth and breadth of knowledge that is critical for strong team building, peer management and strategic planning. I’m able to successfully apply these in my career which—coupled with my scientific background—has resulted in a more robust career path.

What is the most remarkable thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed during my career has been the opportunity to travel and meet new people. And one of the most interesting people I’ve had the privilege of meeting was Margaret Thatcher and her daughter, Carol, at a summer picnic hosted by one of my favorite London hotels. I’m fairly sure I dithered like an idiot, but who expects to meet the Iron Lady at an afternoon picnic? Both Lady Thatcher and her daughter were gracious, engaged and entertaining.

Your favorite Graduate School of Management memory?

I have so many great memories, but one of my favorites had to do with my MGT 240 project team. We—Sonja, Drew, Mike, Don and myself—were working for a local OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) company known as FRS. After working hard to put together our final presentation, we received the highest compliment from a client: they wanted to pay us for the time we invested in their project. It was those type of outcomes that really made the work come alive and allowed us to appreciate the type of impact that we could have on companies and employees.

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