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David Johnson

Independent Director at Caribou Biosciences, MBA 2000

Tell us a little about your current role and how your time at UNC prepared you for it.
I have spend the last 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry and my time at UNC helped me a lot throughout my career. At the end of 2022 I transitioned out of my role as the Chief Commercial Officer for a San Francisco based biotech focused on sickle cell disease. Our company was sold to Pfizer, which is why I transitioned. Before that I worked at several other pharmaceutical companies including GSK in RTP, NC when I was a student at UNC Kenan-Flagler. The business school provided me with real-world insights into the broad aspects of business, helped build a network of business professionals that I could lean on throughout my career, and it added me to a great community of people that I still enjoy engaging with today.

What made you choose a career path in healthcare?
Early on I was in high tech sales and I had a brother-in-law who was in pharmaceutical sales. We compared notes and I really liked how his job had the added benefits of helping people in need. I immediately new I wanted to be in healthcare and he helped me get my first pharmaceutical job. The medicines I’ve had the opportunity to work with have saved many lives and helped many families around the world. I’ve worked in HIV, cancer, mental illness, hepatitis, and sickle cell disease. Healthcare has that added motivation of helping people.

What is the most important skill you have developed in your career?
Resilience and patience are key skills that I’ve learned over time. Early on being driven and active is helpful, but as you get more experience and take on more responsibility being thoughtful and patient is more important. Having the resilience to learn and keep moving forward when things don’t go as expected has helped me a lot.

What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
I am a big advocate for the bio/pharmaceutical industry. The amount of serious diseases that can now be treated with medicines is incredible, and it is just the tip of the iceberg. The industry is full of innovation, strategy, collaboration, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and scientific breakthroughs. Sometimes people think you need to be a scientist to make a difference and to succeed in this industry, but I can assure you that there is also a huge need for people with business degrees, too!

What is your favorite spot on Carolina’s campus?
I never lived on campus so every time I am there it feels like I am still discovering great spots. I like them all, however, it is hard to beat sitting in the Dean Dome watching a Tar Heels game.

Who inspires you?
Great thinkers and entrepreneurs inspire me. Great athletes who overcome adversity like Jesse Owens. Also strong leaders with high integrity who are willing to make the tough calls because it is the right thing to do. And of course, my mother.