Business group’s new chief aims to make Kendall Square a global name
Not everyone gets a second shot after turning down a job.
C.A. Webb had agreed to take over as interim president of the 175-member Kendall Square Association, a part-time position, while the group sought a long-term, full-time replacement for Alexandra Lee. (Lee now runs the Hideo Sasaki Foundation in Watertown.)
Webb had left Underscore VC, the venture firm she had helped launch in 2015, last year before taking on the interim role at KSA. She says she was looking for a job with a bigger platform, one with more potential growth. So she turned down a full-time job at the neighborhood association but agreed to find and vet candidates.
But then she thought more about Kendall Square’s potential.
“I had so much fun here that as I got closer and closer to handing the keys to someone else, I realized I was passing up an awesome opportunity,” Webb says. “Everything about the KSA thrilled me. It’s such a well-run organization with a dynamite board. [But] our ambitions have not yet been realized.”
She finally told the board last month that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“I just realized, this is Kendall Square’s time,” Webb says. “Fortunately for me, they were all incredibly good-humored about me changing my mind midstream.”
Webb has previous experience leading a business group, as president at the New England Venture Capital Association from 2012 through 2015. She was in the running for the CEO’s post at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that year — a job that eventually went to Jim Rooney, the state’s convention center chief at the time.
At the KSA, she starts with a five-person staff and an annual budget of about $750,000, largely funded through membership and sponsorship fees. She hopes to grow that number. (The board also notably changed the title of the job from executive director to president with Webb’s hiring.)
Groups like the KSA can be the connective tissue that unites businesses in an area, from mom-and-pop shops to big guns such as Sanofi Genzyne and Shire. On her to-do list: helping companies diversify their ranks, tackling the square’s notable transportation issues, and ushering in a new era of public art and enlivened streetscapes.
Her goal is nothing short of making Kendall Square universally synonymous with innovation, in the way that Silicon Valley and MIT, Kendall’s beating heart, are now.
“There’s a strong desire to put Kendall Square on the map,” Webb says, “so it’s truly a household name in every major market around the world.”
Biotech council hires first diversity chief
Edie M. Stringfellow knows a thing or two about controversial matters.
Over the past two decades, she has worked at Philip Morris USA on a court- ordered program to discourage kids from smoking, and at We Are Allies Inc., a nonprofit group fighting the stigma of opioid addiction.
So maybe it’s no surprise that when the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council decided to hire its first director of diversity and inclusion, the nonprofit trade group tapped Stringfellow.
Her first challenge is to get the state’s booming biotechnology industry to put more women in leadership positions. Only 1 in 4 of top senior executives are women, according to a 142-page analysis on gender diversity issued by the council in September.
Just 1 in 10 board members are women.
“If you take a look at the investment side, if you take a look at the consumer side, and if you look at health care overall, you need more women in decision-making roles to provide different perspectives,” Stringfellow, 46, of Belmont, told the Globe.
Stringfellow, who joined MassBio in March, says she will push biotechs to identify more women who should be groomed for leadership roles. But she’s not just looking for more women in C-suites. Diversity at biotechs means more veterans, more employees with disabilities, more workers who identify themselves as a gender other than the one evident at birth.
Abbie Celniker, chair of MassBio’s board of directors and a partner at the venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures, said the creation of a full-time diversity director shows the trade group’s commitment to change.
“Edie will serve as an incredible asset to these organizations and the industry at large,” Celniker said.
Yes, an algorithm is named after him
Andrew Viterbi, cofounder of the San Diego chip maker Qualcomm Inc., is one of the few people with an algorithm named after them. But his parents weren’t always sure that Viterbi would be destined for mathematical greatness.
Viterbi talked about his Boston upbringing last week, during a visit with the Friends of the Italian Cultural Center of Boston. The group was honoring Viterbi, a graduate of Boston Latin and MIT, with the 2018 Thomas M. Menino Award.
Tony Pangaro, the group’s chairman, says Viterbi talked about how his parents were worried about his math skills after arriving in Boston in 1939, fleeing the persecution of Jews in Italy.
“He said that he was bright but didn’t quite have enough math,” Pangaro says. “So his parents pasted multiplication tables everywhere in his house, on the walls, the doors . . . That’s the way he sort of got it.”
Needless to say, Viterbi’s early math problems took the crowd by surprise.
“I laughed out loud,” says Pangaro, who recently retired from the development company Millennium Partners. “I couldn’t imagine that he couldn’t do it. . . . His brain is working 100 miles an hour, even today.”
Viterbi didn’t mention Broadcom’s recent failed attempt to acquire Qualcomm through a hostile takeover. But he did talk about other current events: He expressed frustration with the federal government’s antipathy toward many immigrants.
“He understood what this country gave him and how it might be denied to others,” Pangaro says.