20 Oct 2021

A Q+A with new HBS Health Care Initiative (HCI) Director Michael Gaines


We caught up with Harvard Business School’s new director for the Health Care Initiative (HCI) to learn more about his background, career, and his new role here at HBS.

What’s your professional background?
Before attending HBS, I was a pharmaceutical sales representative at Eli Lilly, which sparked my interest in healthcare—I enjoyed promoting transformative medicines to healthcare providers across major academic institutions, such as Mass General Hospital, as well as long-standing community health centers such as Dimock Community Health Center.

Since HBS, I’ve spent the past 25 years in biotech and pharmaceutical (bio/pharma) organizations building a career in marketing, corporate, and brand strategy. I held a broad range of leadership roles in both U.S. and global bio/pharma organizations.

In my last two years in the industry, I founded Gaines Biopharma Consulting as I recognized that there were many small- and mid-sized clinical-stage organizations that needed experienced leadership to launch brands and help pursue strategic partnerships. In addition, this time has enabled me to pursue work related to the social determinants of health and health inequities.

How did you choose your line of work?
My passion to pursue a long-term career in pharma and biotech was sparked by my initial role with Lilly, then solidified by a course in business school. As an economics major, I came across pharmaceuticals as a career serendipitously while attending the Harvard Summer Venture in Management Program. I learned about potential career roles from other interns and became excited about the prospects and benefits of pursuing an MBA.

First, my decision to pursue a role as a pharmaceutical sale was based on the idea that I could impact the lives of patients with innovative life-saving products. Supporting healthcare providers, who we know are on the front line of patient care daily, provided me with clarity on the role I could play in developing and launching products to directly benefit patients.

Secondly, with a three-year glimpse of the industry, I pursued my MBA at HBS to strengthen my business skillset with the hopes of returning to pharma post-graduation to assume even broader responsibilities. While at HBS, my career ambitions were solidified through a course with Professor David Thomas, Self-Assessment, which was a rigorous and introspective approach to evaluating career and personal aspirations.

Reflecting on the past 30 years, my tenure in pharma and biotech has been based on my desire to help people and my ability to leverage a broad skill set developed at HBS in a market comprised of like-minded people who indirectly or directly have a role in enhancing patients’ lives.

What do you see as the role of the Health Care Initiative? Why is its work important?
The role of the Health Care Initiative is aimed at achieving three goals. The first is to amplify faculty research through the dissemination via multiple channels (print, digital in-person, and virtual programming). We also support educational programs for current students while delivering industry education programs that complement other activities across HBS partners.

I am thrilled to return to HBS to partner with the faculty, students, alumni, and the Initiatives team to design and implement relevant programming aimed at transforming healthcare.

Returning to HBS feels like I’ve come full circle in my career, returning to the institution that prepared me for a rewarding career to now share my knowledge, to contribute to the momentum of the HCI team, and to learn a ton from students, faculty, colleagues, and alumni.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy volunteering on the board of governors at the Harvard Club of Boston and the board of advisors at the Museum of Science. I also serve as a board member of the Paul Robeson Institute for Positive Self Development, a community service organization aimed at affirming the viability of young Black and brown boys in greater Boston. For relaxation, I enjoy playing golf and making frequent trips to Martha’s Vineyard with my wife Iris, two sons Cristian and Sebastian, and our golden doodle Winston.

What is your favorite book or movie?
My favorite movie is The Pursuit of Happyness, which is a true story about Chris Gardner, who struggles to financially and emotionally raise his son until he triumphantly obtains a life-changing professional investment career. Throughout their challenging journey together, each interaction between Chris and his son embodies emotional yet inspiring life lessons, which is a reminder of the power of perseverance in pursuing your individual personal and professional aspirations.

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