Jean Hoffman ’79 addressed a sizable crowd at Thorne Dining Hall Thursday morning for the biannual Bowdoin Breakfast lecture to talk about her career as a successful entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry.
In 2006, Hoffman founded Putney, her third start-up company. Based in Portland, Maine, Putney is developing generic medications for dogs and cats to give vets and pet owners a low-cost option for pet pharmaceuticals, currently a $6.7 billion industry.
Hoffman’s company has attracted $33 million in capital for R&D and was listed as the 1,040th fastest growing company in the United States in 2011. It grew 291% between 2007 and 2010, according to Mainebiz, which named Hoffman 2012 business leader of the year.
Hoffman, who studied East Asian history at Bowdoin and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, launched her career at the National Council of U.S. China Trade. For this job, she traveled and worked throughout China in her early 20s, helping establish American pharmaceutical companies in China and advising Chinese manufacturers on exporting to the U.S. In this role, she became an expert on China’s pharmaceutical industry at an exciting time.
“What could be more fun at the age of 22, 23, 24 than to work seven days a week, travel constantly, sleep on trains, and spend most of the time speaking another language while building a business in what would become the world’s second-largest economy?” she said.
At age 29, she was hired as CEO of ZetaPharm, a Zuellig Group subsidiary. Hoffman rescued the ailing company by focusing on the then-nascent U.S. generic prescription drug industry. “I felt extremely lucky to have had at that point considerable success at an early age,” she said. “And it was very clear to me that with continued hard work and the privilege of some great mentors, that I would be even more successful.” But she also had the “cockamamie” idea that she wanted a life. Her family moved to Maine and she gave up her corporate job.
In Maine, however, her life was far from quiet. Hoffman went on to found three companies: Newport Strategies, Inc., a product-targeting and sourcing-systems company for the generic pharmaceutical industry that in 2004 was acquired by Thomson Reuters; Q Street Advisors, Inc. a consulting and advisory firm to the global generic pharmaceuticals market; and Putney. Newport Strategies was named after Newport, R.I., where Hoffman’s grandfather had owned a small business.
When asked by an audience member what she would do if she were governor of Maine to make the state a better place to grow businesses (Hoffman had said earlier she once nursed a notic of entering politics), Hoffman answered that her number one priority would be investing in education, from elementary school to university. “It is essential for a knowledge-based economy to have pools of highly skilled, highly-educated people,” she said.
The Office of Stewardship Programs presents one Bowdoin Breakfast lecture each semester, featuring a talk by prominent Bowdoin alumni, parents, professors, staff members or Maine leaders. Topics include business, public policy, arts, academia and other areas of the speakers’ interest and expertise. A buffet breakfast is provided.
Photos by Dennis Griggs