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Colin Foster's drive to be a 'discoverer of interesting things' has meshed well with his business acumen throughout his career.

Business, science, work

by Barry Teater / Photography by Robert Lisak

As a young man growing up in Toronto, Colin Foster became a scratch golfer, shooting par for the course. He achieved that elusive status not through exceptional athletic talent, he readily admits, but "through blood, sweat and tears, and self challenge."

"Golf was a tremendous teacher," Foster recalls. "It taught me about hard work and how, at the end of the day, you only get out of any endeavor what you put into it. Golf gives you nothing. It is a very difficult game and a wonderful parallel to life."

Those lessons learned on the links helped Foster build a successful career as a biopharmaceutical CEO and biotech entrepreneur. And today they are enabling him to become one of The Jackson Laboratory's most ardent advocates as he serves on the newly formed Executive Committee of The National Council, the Laboratory's network of supporters.

It comes down to identifying and bringing together people of like minds who share a common level of enthusiasm for The Jackson Laboratory, and energizing them.

Foster is working with Joanne Bean, the Laboratory's senior director of development, to broaden the Laboratory's base of supporters and expand The National Council in concert with fellow Executive Committee members Jeffrey Dunn, M.D., Kathleen Reed, M.D., James Fitzgerald, Jim Noyes, Bill Rudolf and Sam Little.

"It comes down to identifying and bringing together people of like minds who share a common level of enthusiasm for The Jackson Laboratory, and energizing them," Foster says.

Foster was introduced to the Laboratory by friend and fellow Woodbridge, Conn., resident Robert Alvine, an executive, financier and philanthropist who previously chaired the Laboratory's Board of Trustees.

"Colin is an extraordinary person of integrity and diligence," Alvine says. "He's an accomplished leader and an outstanding board colleague with extensive knowledge and capabilities on a global basis in the world of life sciences and biopharma."

Upon visiting the Laboratory, Foster was "blown away by the enthusiasm and great science being done. It was really very invigorating and something special." So special that his own son, Connor, a sophomore neuroscience major at Boston University, spent this summer in Bar Harbor enrolled in the Laboratory's Summer Student Program, performing research under the mentorship of Associate Professor Greg Cox, Ph.D.

Blending business and science

"My natural inclination was to be a researcher and discoverer of interesting things," says Foster, who majored in zoology and microbiology, and also lettered in hockey and squash. He was only days away from starting graduate school in entomology when conversations with his faculty advisor and a family friend—a medical sales representative for a pharmaceutical company—changed his course with an epiphany.

"It was news to me that you could practice science within the business realm," he recalls. So instead of pursuing a Ph.D. in entomology, Foster sought a mix of science and business. He received his M.B.A. from the University of Western Ontario, then rose up the management ranks at Sandoz Canada then Bayer AG. He topped out as president and CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corp. and regional head for Bayer AG's North American Pharmaceuticals business, with responsibility for 3,500 employees and $2 billion in sales.

He left Bayer in 2004 to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. He is co-founder, president and CEO of two biotech companies: Immerion Inc. and Optherion Inc. He is also managing director of iSci Management, a health care advisory firm he founded in 2011 to assist biopharmaceutical companies.

When he's not working or reading about science and business, he enjoys family time with his wife, Andrea Ryan, and their four children: Connor, 19; Caitlin, 17; Rebecca, 15; and Jessica, 12. And on rare occasions he gets in a round of golf—though as a 16 handicapper now.