Cindy Eckert - Pharmaceutical Industry Disrupter and Business Aviation Advocate
- By Eli Stepp
At BizAvJets USA Magazine (BAJUSA) we network to meet and interview those who have utilized business aviation in one form or another. I was fortunate to hear Ms. Eckert’s (CE) speak at a Grant Cardone conference where she was featured onstage. Afterward, I approached her regarding possibly connecting for an interview. I am pleased to say Ms. Eckert agreed to take time out of her schedule to speak with us. We are thrilled to have someone of her caliber on the cover of our publication.
Cindy Eckert is a self-made serial entrepreneur and vocal advocate for women. She defies convention in her industry, in her companies, and in her outcomes. Over a distinguished 24-year career in healthcare, in only the last 10 years she has built and sold two businesses for more than $1.5B. One business being Sprout Pharmaceuticals which broke through with the first ever FDA-approved drug for low sexual desire in women — dubbed “female Viagra” by the media. After selling the company for $1B in 2015, she successfully fought to get the drug company back and launched it on her own terms. Cindy has made waves, and made her own success, creating mission driven companies that deliver big. Her results have become a widely covered business success story featured in major media outlets such as Entrepreneur, Fortune, New York Times, Vanity Fair, Fast Company,and Forbes. Her work today in “The Pinkubator” continues to break barriers by investing in and mentoring other women to get to her same outcomes.
BAJUSA: Welcome Ms. Eckert! BizAvJets USA Magazine Co-Publishers Eli Stepp and Annemarie Buonocore here with you today. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us! CE: Thank you. BAJUSA: To start off, could you give us your two-minute brief snapshot of your story?
CE: Yes. Well, it’s hard to imagine getting that into two minutes. So I’ll focus on the highlight reel. You probably best know me from getting what the media calls female Viagra approved by the FDA. Men had 26 different options for the bedroom. I thought it was time women had one of our own. It became a very colorful story covered in media. And ultimately, while it was an interesting challenge to build that business, I sold it for a billion-dollars cash to a big company to march it across the world. Remarkably, I didn’t get the billion-dollar happy ending in quite the way that all entrepreneurs dream. The company didn’t launch the product, so I then went back, bought them, got it back at no cost to me or my organization and kept the billion. Now I invest the proceeds of that sale into other female disruptors in health and wellness today.
BAJUSA: Wow, that’s a great story. We love it!
CE: Yes, it sounds so fun in the “Cliff Notes” version. However, I must to tell you, going through it resulted in days of remarkable pain, as you might imagine, just like anybody who’s building something from scratch. So at my heart, I’m a builder, a serial entrepreneur. I love building and selling businesses and helping other people get there.
BAJUSA: We appreciate your comments and as mentioned it is easy to hear, but I’m sure it’s a lot harder to experience. Okay, so a few business aviation-related questions. To start, was your past business aircraft experience a charter, or a with a guest owner of an aircraft, or other business aircraft utilization?
CE: How about all of the above? I have sampled it all. I started off in private aviation with memberships into some of the different organizations, and ultimately have gotten to where I charter now with a vision. I am being told repeatedly by my friends that surely there’s a pink aircraft in my future. (Laughing) Let’s just say that’s on the wish list to make a reality here soon.
BAJUSA: Have you ever used a Jet Card Membership?
CE: Yes, for sure. And I’m a Jet Card member today. Even though I currently charter, I always keep a membership just to have that complete flexibility to be able to hop on. I am a Wheels Up member today.
BAJUSA: Do you feel that the cost of business aircraft travel is justified for your business purposes?
CE: While it can be viewed as the ultimate luxury, from a practical sense you must consider what your time is worth. The efficiency of being able to get there quickly, being present for meetings, and not walking out too soon because you might miss your flight, has not only afforded me better quality of life in terms of my travel, but also really more productivity in terms of being truly present, when I am at a destination.
BAJUSA: Understood. We certainly understand the cost of a CEO’s time waiting in an airport if they were not flying private. As a well-known person, sometimes there are security issues that need to be considered. Do you feel there is a safety factor flying private as well? CE: Yes, definitely. BAJUSA: Okay, great. Is there a business aviationrelated charity you’re familiar with?
CE: Yes. I am based in Raleigh, North Carolina. There is a wonderful charity that I’ve been involved with which is Children’s Flight of Hope. Their website address is www.childrensflightofhope.org. Helping children who really have a need for specialized medical care. Duke Raleigh Hospital is right in my backyard. So many children will come into Duke who have life-threatening illnesses. And being able to get them and their family here, often, through private transport because they cannot fly commercially for their medical needs is just something I feel very passionate about.
BAJUSA: That is wonderful you support such a worthy aviation-related cause, benefitting those with medical needs. Are you familiar with Corporate Angel Network?
CE: Please tell me more about them.
BAJUSA: Basically, Corporate Angel Network arranges free seats on corporate aircraft, for cancer patients needing treatment. Corporate flight departments volunteer empty aircraft seats to fulfill CAN’s mission.
CE: Thank you. I love knowing about them.
BAJUSA: Our pleasure. Are you considering a business aircraft ownership in the future?
CE: Yes, absolutely. I can’t say it’s happening this year, but it’s in the plans. And I think we’re looking at it more seriously than we ever had before.
BAJUSA: Okay, great. Could you share your current company status in your own words?
CE: Sure. The company that I took back, I’ll say inside of Sprout Pharmaceuticals rocket ship growth, we’re doubling year over year. We have for the last couple of years. We will again this year. And nothing delights me more than getting this product into the hands of women who need it to improve their lives. In terms of the pink ceiling and my investment arm, we have taken on 12 different, really exciting disruptions in women’s health and wellness. And I just can’t wait for the world to see all of these categories we’re going to disrupt one at a time.
BAJUSA: That’s excellent. Could you share the meaning of the pink ceiling from your perspective?
CE: Sure. I think the pink ceiling is this invisible barrier that exists for women either to advance themselves, or for concepts that uniquely affect women to advance. And that’s been the story of my career. Some of the things that are the most taboo, I have taken on. Be it women in sex, or women in money. And I think that makes no sense that these really unwritten rules exist. And so I’m determined to break most of them.
BAJUSA: Great. Excellent. So we’re excited for you. Have you ever thought about becoming a pilot or experiencing aviation in the pilot seat?
CE: Okay. That is really a fun question. I bet there are certain things I think I am not qualified for, and that might be one of them. However, it would sure be fun to get a ride in the cockpit. I always do a little “fist bump” when my crew is all female in my current business aviation travels.
BAJUSA: Do you have a plane that is a favorite of yours, like a certain jet?
CE: Yes. There is something so magical about a Challenger.
BAJUSA: Wonderful. Is women’s health something you have always had an interest in, or did you dabble in other businesses before that?
CE: So I’ve always been in the healthcare space. And I would tell you at heart, I’m a science geek. It is about products that can improve people’s lives. Everything I’ve worked on in my career, I would say the common thread is to put power in the hands of women. That is what we invest in today. Those are the products we want to see in the market. It is my deep passion. I’ll share a “fun fact,” however, there is nothing fun about it. A mere four percent of all research dollars go to women’s health. Wow. That’s staggering in terms of how low it is. And I think in some small way, we’re trying to do our part to change that and really to be the champion of scientific innovation for women.
BAJUSA: Wow. Thank you for educating us, and our readers regarding women’s health research. That is a very revealing statistic. CE: My pleasure. BAJUSA: Do you feel your location in the Southeast United States has been beneficial?
CE: I’m not originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, but I chose it deliberately to start companies. And the joy to me has been the community, how supportive they are of entrepreneurial ventures. And the talent pool is second to none. Sitting in the seat of Duke UNC, NC State, Wake Forest. The youthful talent here that can come in and build organizations is just extraordinary. I’m a very proud business builder in Raleigh, and I think that market has been a big contributor to our success.
BAJUSA: Oh, great. That’s awesome. It’s always good to hear about entrepreneurs being successful away from areas like San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle.
CE: No doubt. I never had Silicon Valley money. I am like the weird entrepreneur. You know, pharmacy is expensive. So it was $100 million capital requirement to take Sprout from start to finish. I raised it all through family, office, and high net worth individuals. Not a dime from venture.
CE: I am a little unusual bird in that way. But I do love the Raleigh area and have to brag. We surprise people with how much we deliver on our companies.
BAJUSA: Wonderful! We appreciate your time. Thank you for your time and insight on your business aviation experiences, as well as educating us and our readers in the pharmaceutical industry regarding women’s health.
CE: My pleasure. BAJUSA: Our sincere thanks to Cindy Eckert who was a pleasure to interview. Our best wishes to her and her and her entire organization.