Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews from WRAL TechWire featuring “Legends – The men and women who helped create and build North Carolina’s technology and life science ecosystem.”  These leaders will join Jim Goodnight, Monica Doss, Dennis Daugherty, Charles Hamner and Venessa Harrison as members of WRAL TechWire’s virtual Hall of Fame, which named its first members in 2017.

Most of WRAL TechWire readers know Joan Siefert Rose as current CEO of LaunchBio and the former head of the CED. But she began her career as a reporter and morning drive news anchor for a Detroit, Michigan ABC newstalk station (50,000 watt WJR-AM) back in 1985.

Rose held executive positions at two other radio stations, the last as general manager at WUNC, the University of North Carolina NPR station, where she managed its format change to news and information from 20010 to 2008.

“I really enjoyed that (radio work) and stayed a long time,” she said in an exclusive interview with WRAL TechWire, although she did take a brief foray in PR for a medical center. “I had always been an active radio listener, mostly music,” she notes. She was herself an accomplished pianist, although she regrets not keeping up with that.

Joan Siefert Rose at a LaunchBio event , summer, 2019. “We like leis,” she says.
Photo courtesy of LaunchBio.

When she felt she had accomplished the job she set out to do at WUNC in 2008, Monica Doss had announced she was leaving the organization. The CED and WUNC had an ongoing relationship, so she got to know Doss.

After an interview, was offered the job, even though she admits it took her a year to become familiar with the language and “culture of entrepreneurs and technology, “But I had a lot of help from the staff.”

A hot new thing all over again

She rates helping the CED survive the great recession, which began at about the same time she took the position as CEO and president, as her most notable achievement there. “It was a time of retrenchment and we had to pull back and do a few things well. Entrepreneurship was really the way out of the recession. We came out the other side and suddenly entrepreneurship was the hot new thing all over again.”

It’s resurgence was fueled and abetted by new co-working spaces, The American Underground in Durham, where she said, “We (the CED) were proud to be one of its earliest tenants.”

After leading the CED for seven years, “I thought it would be good for a new set of eyes to take over. I had done what I came to do and it turned out alright.”

Thinking consulting “might be interesting,” she joined Creo, but almost immediately, BioLabs came to her and asked her to help get Launch Bio up in running in the Triangle and in San Diego.

Rose with Joe and Terry Graedon, hosts of The People’s Pharmacy on WUNC. She interviewed them in a “fireside chat” at a LaunchBio event in 2019. Photo courtesy of LaunchBio.

LaunchBio offers Strategic planning, partnerships and program strategy for national network of co-working spaces for life science entrepreneurs and holds impressive biotech focused events.

Q&A with Joan Siefert Rose

What was the epiphany for each of your career choices and the decision to build your business?

Rose: I’m not sure there was one moment that shaped my career, which has taken a number of twists and turns over the years. If anything, it’s important to be open to new opportunities, including the time I moved from running a public radio station to running the oldest and largest entrepreneurial support organization in the country. What did I know about that? But with the help of the board and the excellent staff at CED, I learned what I needed to know. I think that’s true for anyone who is curious and willing to listen to your customers.

What are lessons from your experiences that others can learn from, especially mistakes to avoid?

Rose: If I were counseling my younger self, I would say that whatever is causing me anxiety in the present moment will soon fade away, and that 99 percent of the time, things will be fine. I wish I’d had more perspective and equanimity and spent less time worrying about things I could do little to change.

What would be your biggest do-over?

Rose: I used to be an accomplished pianist, but stopped playing when I started working long hours early in my career.  I still love music and wish I’d kept up with it. Now my only outlet is occasional, and very bad, karaoke. My younger son is a punk rock drummer, so maybe the spirit lives on in him.

What do you value most (family, faith, friends?) outside of business and why?

Rose: I’m truly fortunate to have long-term relationships threading through my life, starting with my amazing 96-year-old mother, who’s still sharp as a tack. My husband, Jim, and I have been married for 30 years, and we just spent the holidays with our adult sons and their friends, which is so much fun. I have some good friends who knew me when I was 6 years old, and others whom I’ve met only recently. Life is full of good surprises.

Rose doing an interview with Stephen Perry, founder and CEO of Kymanox in fall 2019. Photo courtesy of LaunchBio.

Did those values contribute to your success?

Rose: I suppose that it’s hard to get too self-impressed when people can remind you that they knew you when you flunked out of third grade art class because you painted your face, rather than the paper, with red and yellow watercolors.

What’s the next chapter in your life and why?

Rose: I’ve been traveling a lot in my role at LaunchBio, and while that’s been exciting, I’d like to be home more often and reconnect with the people I’ve had the privilege of knowing over nearly 2 decades in the Triangle. Each new chapter has been something of a gift, so I’m open to what may be coming next.