My money is on Lee: An Interview with Lee Jones

“Lee Jones is AMAZING, she really is!” said one of her largest private equity shareholders and board members, Erwin Kelen.

I met Erwin many years ago when we served together on a nonprofit board. He is a renaissance man if there ever was one. He is extremely smart, passionate, and when he decides to put his mind to something, completely committed. So, when Erwin wanted to introduce me to Lee Jones, of course I said, “Yes!” Lee, at the time, was a CEO who stepped in to recover a struggling startup that she went on to successfully grow and sell. As a personal passion, I invest in women-owned and led companies. Lee’s company was one of my first and, admittedly, one of my most successful investments.

Lee is now the CEO of Rebiotix. They have a small (kidding!) mission: Rebiotix is a clinical stage biotechnology company founded to revolutionize the treatment of debilitating diseases by harnessing the power of the human microbiome. (I do know what that means but better if you check out their site and they explain!) Yes, once again Erwin has been an investor and so have I. And, at this writing, Lee has done it again. In recent weeks, Rebiotix has been acquired by Ferring Pharmaceutical. Looking ahead, Lee sees a bright future for her team and herself. Needless to say, her (now former) shareholders are (or should be!) over the moon. Not to mention the many patients who will benefit from these treatments in the years ahead.

But this isn’t a blog about smart investing, it’s about BOLD leadership – the kind of leadership I’ve witnessed in Lee for many years and in a variety of settings. She completely fits the Aveus definition – those who think and act beyond the existing organizational limits, are imaginative, and are willing to take risks to get rewarding results.

When we sat down to have this BOLD conversation, we discussed the four core characteristics these leaders have: curiosity, confidence, empathy, and trust.  Here’s one of the first things Lee said:

“Curiosity has always driven me. I see things in threads that others don’t because they didn’t think to ask the question. And I’m lucky, I have a really good memory. I read something, remember it, and can later recall it and with other information, synthesize ideas.”

She didn’t use the word empathy, but went on to say, “There is a person behind every dollar we’ve raised. I made promises. I’m responsible for not wasting your money.”

We talked about the uncertainty that comes in the world of startups and that is also present in acquisitions. It takes confidence and trust building to succeed in either situation. Lee noted, “I’m thinking, How do I get to the end game as fast as possible – IN THE RIGHT WAY? How do I use the rules to my advantage?” (versus, as she has witnessed, seeing others trying to skirt the rules to get ahead).

Lee anticipates the challenges she may encounter, and she knows that just telling an answer is insufficient. She explains, “What if the face on the other side of the table is unknown to you? How do you enroll them?” Sometimes you must present and educate and revisit opportunities until you know from the other side that they really, fully understand. She starts with confidence building: “We are going forward – here is an opportunity we are going to take.” She told one story of needing to go through the explanation six times.

She knew it was her leadership job to bring others with her, and she knew they were there when she heard, “I see you were really thoughtful and already factored in these risks.” She continued, “At the end of the day, I had someone totally bought in. This really made me think more consciously about the decisions I was making. And how to engage other people going forward.”

Lee sees too many people in business who quickly get to no because they don’t think to test boundaries or ask the hard questions, or they operate on the assumption that “you should be ruled by someone else’s perspective.” They may be good leaders in some settings but are not the ones that will drive change. She makes the point: “Appreciate and be open to other perspectives, but don’t be limited or restricted by them. I’m always surprised when people don’t think to ask questions. Or don’t see what’s going on around them.”

Like all the BOLD leaders we’ve interviewed, people – her team members – are very important to Lee.  She looks for people whom she can trust, and who watch out for her and each other. “They do the jobs that need to be done without needing a lot of input, and they keep me informed. They dive in and figure things out. They will just pick things up that need attention.”

When she hits a wall, Lee says, “I make a plan. I try to think ahead. How do I use this [event, challenge] to my advantage? What is it I really need?”

As we closed, we talked about where she goes for her own support. “Find someone, like Erwin, who understands you, the issue, and the situation. Find someone who can help you think strategically.” As Rebiotix moves to the next level, Lee is continuing on and looking forward to it. She sees the real potential to achieve their mission. Just think of how cool it will be when she and her team can fully say they have “revolutionized the treatment of debilitating diseases.” My money is on Lee.

Lee, for as long as I’ve known her, has been about outcomes. Not titles. Not fame. She chooses audacious challenges and opportunities to improve the world. And she succeeds. Who do you know like that? We’d love to hear their story.

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.