The road I’ve been on is not one that is frequently traveled. I was raised in Taiwan, the oldest of six girls. That made for tight financial resources. Upon moving to the United States when I was a teenager, I didn’t even know the alphabet.
Early on, I was always on survival mode. I wanted to make sure that I got on par with my peers as quickly as I could.
But there were challenges to that. Even though I was at the top of my class in Taiwan, I remember during the first PTA meeting in the States my teacher recommended that I get a medical checkup because they said I wasn’t responding. They didn’t know that I just didn’t speak any English.
It was that kind of environment that gave me the determination to stay calm and patient but to have that quiet resolve. I knew I wasn’t in a situation where the world was open to me or the sky was the limit — especially being raised in a traditional home where women weren’t always expected to excel outside of the home. I wanted more for my life. Being independent is important. Plus, I wanted to be an equally contributing partner.
So I decided to go to college. When my husband did a post doctorate in Georgia, I pursued two masters degrees at the same time. It helped me figure out what area I wanted to go into. Then I got my CPA designation and started with a pharmaceutical company.
I did a five-year stint in management consulting at Grant Thornton and Booz Allen, supporting both government and private clients in health care and information technology.
Because I was exposed to a lot of different modes of operations, there were a lot of lessons learned. I developed project management skills, how to perform an engagement, how to frame the questions, how to analyze the alternatives, and execution.
I transitioned to Human Genome Sciences for 11 years, eventually becoming a senior director of finance.
Through one mechanism or another, we raised capital and monetized assets to have sufficient resources for the company to develop a list of products such as the first lupus drug approved by the Federal Drug Administration in more than 50 years.
We raised $1.8 billion in equity and restructured more than $600 million in convertible debt over that time.
Because of my background, I am so appreciative to the people who lent a hand to me.
The chief financial officer at HGS who hired me was a great mentor. He looked beyond the typical stereotypes and helped shape my thinking in the business world.
He taught me that the more perspectives you can bring to analyze a situation, the better the decision-making process will be. I apply that method almost always.
In terms of my career path, I have experience and background that are relevant to PharmAthene. I look forward to contributing in whatever way I can with the analytical, decision-making or execution approach that I’ve learned along the way in pharmacy care.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Senior vice president and chief financial officer of PharmAthene, a biotechnology company based in Annapolis.
Career highlights: Senior director of finance, Human Genome Sciences; associate, Booz Allen & Hamilton; associate, Grant Thornton.
Education: BS, Business Administration, University of California, Riverside; MBA, Accounting and Health Administration, University of Georgia; CPA
Personal: Resides in Gaithersburg with husband.