When Denise Gilbert resigned from her position as vice president and CFO at Incyte, no doubt there were some who called her crazy. And during the subsequent year-long bicycle world tour that she left for, Gilbert concedes, “There may have been days when I questioned my sanity for going on the trip.” She laughs good-naturedly as yet another person asks her just why she took off with a couple of duffel bags and her bike.
The bike tour involved a group of 250 people who signed on to spend the year 2000 traveling around the world — through 45 countries, a total of 18,000 miles. “About half the people were retired and about half, like myself, were in the middle of careers, looking to take a break before jumping back in,” Gilbert says. Now 43, she was a spring chicken on the trip; the average age was 49. The itinerary was planned to follow the warmer seasons, but it didn’t work out quite so nicely: “We had a phenomenal amount of rainy, wet, cold weather,” she says. The group met snow, floods, and even monsoons. The route started and ended in Pasadena, Calif., and hit every continent except Antarctica. By the end, Gilbert was one of fewer than 60 people for the triumphant finale in the 2001 Rose Bowl parade.
Now Gilbert’s returned to the genomics field, this time as CEO of Entigen. So nothing’s really changed? Au contraire, she says. The trip was a chance to reassess priorities (“I had been working at a very high pace for a long period of time”) — and it turned out to be a convenient way to miss last year’s market slump.
When she left Incyte to prepare for the tour, Gilbert says, “I left and I came back with no preset expectations.” She wasn’t even sure she’d return to the same industry. But when she found upon her return that problems she’d identified earlier in the field were just reaching “crisis proportions,” she jumped right back in. Gilbert worked with Bala Manian, now chairman of Entigen, who was looking at the same issues she was: mainly, the inefficiencies in discovery caused by data overflow.
Gilbert liked Entigen’s “bench-to-bedside” informatics approach. The company neither develops content nor releases software tools. Instead, it builds frameworks out of customers’ existing content and tools to get people to the point where they can compare expression data with clinical phenotypes, she says. “That’s when you can ask questions we’ve never been able to ask before.”
— Meredith Salisbury