In 2006, Bonnie Anderson was living on a sailboat, thinking about the future. She had just left a leadership position at her clinical diagnostics company, Beckman Coulter, and was taking some time to “regroup.”
She had been itching to get involved in a startup, but soon, she started getting calls asking her to interview for positions like the one she’d left. Eventually, she struck gold—a group of venture capital firms asked if she’d like to consult with them on a new diagnostics company that could deliver better care using genomics. Anderson went on to become a founder and the CEO of Veracyte.
Having trained as a medical technologist, Anderson started her career working in a laboratory at a teaching hospital, helping to drive clinical testing that would guide doctors making treatment decisions for their patients. After a few years, she was recruited into industry, eventually landing at Coulter, a privately held hematology specialist that was ultimately acquired by Beckman in 1998.
“As I transitioned into industry out of the laboratory, I kind of found my footing with early positions in sales and marketing and technical support, training clients, because at one point I was a client,” she said.
Anderson credits Coulter for giving her the opportunity to start new businesses and grow new product lines, and for providing her with mentors, both men and women, who had a “phenomenal influence” over the course of her career.
One key moment was when she was invited to a new Coulter program geared toward training the next generation of leadership. Anderson had already applied for an MBA program and was faced with a tough choice. She valued the chance to join about 15 handpicked colleagues to travel the world, learn about the business and its global markets and receive direct mentoring-style training. But she wondered whether that training would help her outside of Coulter itself.
“It sounded like a lot of fun, and a lot of benefit, but I knew the outside world may not value that because I wouldn’t put the initials after my name!” she said.
But that program turned out to be the right choice—it was “one of the more profound decisions I ever made that really gave me what I needed to be able to do the job I'm doing today.”
Anderson said she has never felt intimidated or inhibited by gender disparity, even when, at one point, she found herself as one of two women who were vice presidents, out of a total of 32.
She credits the environment at Coulter during her formative years—the company had many strong women leaders in key roles, including the president, the head of business development, the chief financial officer and two heads of marketing.
“So, I was never faced with this ‘I'm the only woman and how do I get up this mountain’ problem,” she said. “The mountain had already been built for me.”
And her attitude translates into her work at Veracyte. The company was founded to tackle diagnostic uncertainty in cancer patients using genomics, to accurately identify patients who have benign tumors and keep them out of the surgery suite where, historically, cancer diagnoses have typically been made. The company now markets genomic tests for thyroid and lung cancers, as well as a classifier that improves the diagnosis of interstitial lung diseases.
Anderson’s approach to hiring is to get the best people, regardless of gender. While this may be a common sentiment, she feels her experience at Coulter prevented her from developing gender biases that many leaders have, whether they’re men, or women who have come up in a male-dominated space.
“I’d never tell anyone not to set their eyes on anything they want to be,” she said. But, she warned, very few careers take a speedy and direct path.
“I didn’t learn to be a CEO overnight. It took many years of learning various roles and building on each new role. Many times, that meant making lateral moves to run different businesses even after I became a VP."
“My confidence moving into the CEO role at Veracyte came from the fact that, at some point in my career, I was in the role, or managed the role, of every single function of the company,” she said. “Sometimes, it does take real experience to train to be what you want to be, and it’s not always easy to cut those corners and still be successful.”