One of the most exciting parts of my profession is never quite knowing what the day will bring. There is a general structure that comes from having a keynote speech to deliver, a baseball game to call or a Rounding the Bases podcast interview to record. But who might I meet, which team will win the game or what lessons my guest will share? I can honestly tell you that I have no idea. Anyone – myself included – could make an educated guess, but never for certain. There’s too much variety, and that’s some of its beauty.
Not all professions are that way. For those who prefer the comfort of consistency, the unknown can be stressful at best. At the other end of the spectrum is one podcast guest whose career takes the unknown to the extreme. But he always remains grounded by his life science research company’s culture and doing the right thing.
His story began on an infamous Tuesday in September 2001. He was a young professional with a unique – and highly valuable – set of skills specific to plant biology. While working in a research lab, he watched the Twin Towers come crashing down. And in that moment, vowed to use them for the benefit of the greater good. In the face of chaos, he went from archaeologist to agent of calm, and embarked upon a new career at the right hand of US National Security.
Dr. Dean Gray is the Vice President of Defense and Health at MRIGlobal, home to the best and brightest analytical minds in the Midwest. It’s here that he’s spent two decades spearheading attacks against the most nefarious biological and chemical threats in the world. With empathy and intention, Dr. Gray diligently surveils the international bio-landscape, leveraging science and tech to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems.
SINGLE: Life Science, For Life
MRIGlobal, formerly The Midwest Research Institute, has Kansas City roots that date back to 1944. Soldiers were returning home from World War II and movements such as the Green Revolution were advancing initiatives to turn bomb materials into fertilizers. In an effort to capitalize on industry while keeping science, technology and engineering brainpower in the Midwest, the groundwork was laid for the now-preeminent life science research facility.
The mind blowing work being done under its roof is what brought Dr. Gray there in the first place. But it’s also what has kept him around for so long after. “I thought I’d be there for three years,” he told me. “Then it’s five years. And then it’s like ten years is a good run, let’s do 12 years.” This year marks his twentieth with the company. It’s a milestone he never expected to reach, but also one that he embraces with exhilarated contentment. “I’ve got absolutely zero regrets,” he told me. “It’s been an adrenaline ride.”
DOUBLE: Global Influence
Imagine a career that integrates the far-reaching volatility of global current events with the arduous cycle of life science research. For Dr. Gray, it’s all in a days work. Every news event around the world has a direct impact on his clients, which include the likes of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. And oftentimes, they begin to impact his day-to-day before the general public is even aware.
Take the Covid-19 pandemic, for example. Dean was in Denver during early 2020. By that time, he had already known for a month that something suspicious – from an infectious disease perspective – was emerging from China. “This might be the last time we come out here for a little while,” he recalled telling his travel mates at the time. Unbeknownst to most of the world, we were teetering on the edge of that “something” changing everyone’s lives. For MRIGlobal, it was an opportunity to integrate the way it had been longing to for years.
Dean and his team became community educators almost overnight. The company wanted this position. But the speed of its emergence never could have been anticipated. As pandemic response measures were deployed at breakneck speed, he remained calm and objective, working to quiet community fears while his company became more deeply woven into its fabric than it had been for decades.
TRIPLE: The Why
Life science is strictly tethered to good data and demands constant objectivity. But at MRIGlobal, the culture of a shared support system really makes it special. “What ties it all together is a sense of community around a mission,” Dean shared with me. “And there’s something fulfilling in that.”
The same mission continues to attract top scientific research talent like Dean, who become indistinguishable partners in their clients’ business. And despite the exciting, stimulating work demanded by his career, the calls from clients who value – and want – his expert input to solve their own unexpected problems are what give him the chills. “THIS is what we do,” he quipped. And in twenty years, he has never once grown tired of it.
HOME RUN: Lifetime Letters
If the culture at MRIGlobal is strong, its commitment to helping others is even stronger. Service to our country is a central tenant of the work it does. Dean and his team conduct life science research that allows Americans to rest easily. But mission-adjacent, and perhaps equally fulfilling, is its Letters to a Pre-Scientist program to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders.
MRIGlobal‘s diversity, equity, inclusion team proposed the program. In its most basic form, its a pen pal project between a 6th or 7th grader and a STEM professional. During the year, students with an interest in science or engineering write letters to practicing professionals, which gives them an opportunity to ask questions as they consider a future career in the field. “They discover that they can be paid to be curious and solve problems,” Dean shared. And even though its an activity that takes mere minutes to execute, it creates a spark of excitement that last’s a lifetime for scientists and pre-scientists alike.
Learn More About Culture in Life Sciences from Joel
Book Joel Goldberg for your next corporate event. He draws on over 25 years of experience as a sports broadcaster. In addition, he brings unique perspectives and lessons learned from some of the world’s most successful organizations. Whatever your profession, Joel is the keynote speaker who can help your team achieve a championship state of mind.
Joel Goldberg 0:16
Welcome everybody to Rounding the Bases presented by Community America Credit Union: Believe in unbelievable. My name is Joel Goldberg. It’s good to have everybody back on the podcast just rolling along as I’m recording this right now. It’s actually July of this year, later than that, but I’ve got an amazing episode coming up and knee deep in the middle of baseball season. All Star Break for me is coming up. I feel like I haven’t even been home. I’m briefly home, jumping back on the road. It’s that time of year where all of the craziness is going on in my world, but Rounding the Bases always continues. Quick shout out to my friends at Chief of Staff Kansas City, Making Connections That Matter. They’re so good. I love my partnership with them. They believe in culture, they believe in people and the vibe, the feel what I get from them all the time, along with being great people is that they just want to help. And so even if they don’t have the answer or the ability to do something for you, even if it doesn’t benefit them, they’re going to put you in the right direction. So if you’re hiring if you’re looking for a job, not just in Kansas City, but all over the country, give them a try. Check them out chiefofstaffkc.com. One of the beauties of this business from my end, my speaking business to podcasting and baseball for that matter, too. It’s just the people that I meet. The networking the connections. I’ve mentioned the name Andre Davis before, he’s also been on to guest, a good friend, and he introduced me or I don’t know originally if he did or not off, I’ll have to ask my guests about this, but really brought me closer together with today’s guest. His story, my guest today’s story, began on an infamous Tuesday in September 2001. He was a young professional with a unique and highly valuable set of skills specific to plant biology. While working in a research lab, he watched the Twin Towers come crashing down and in that moment vowed to use them for the benefit of the greater good. In the face of chaos. He went from archaeologist to agent of calm and embarked upon a new career at the right hand of US national security. I’m going to be joined today by Dr. Dean Gray, the Vice President of Defense and Health at MRI Global, home to the best and brightest analytical minds in the Midwest, maybe around the world for that matter. It’s here that he spent two decades spearheading the attacks against the most nefarious biological and chemical threats in the world. With empathy and intention, Dr. Gray diligently surveilled the international bio landscape, leveraging science and tech to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems. And all of that said, and read feels like it should be over my head. Because I was a terrible science student. But what Dean, I think, gets more than anything is people and teams and culture and everything that I love to speak about. So with that said, let’s get a little bit more informal. Now, I welcome into Rounding the Bases, Dean Gray. Hi, Dean.
Dean Gray 3:16
Hi, Joel. My gosh, what a great intro. Thank you.
Joel Goldberg 3:20
I told you that that I’ve got the amazing Ashleigh that that keeps me in line. And I love to write by the way too. But I couldn’t give it the justice. Yes, she’s really good. If she’s listening, a shout out to Ashleigh. But that, right, there was a mouthful. That is a career. And first off MRI Global is one of the really cool, well kept secrets. I don’t know that it’s supposed to be. I know that you guys are proud of what you do. The same time, I think that the average person like me and anyone else, we’re not supposed to know about all this stuff. We’re supposed to rely upon it. So let’s begin with this. What is MRI Global because you guys are doing something incredibly critical, important stuff for the security of this country.
Dean Gray 4:03
Yeah, no, absolutely. Look, I want to get back to your intro, though, to was Adam Hawley, who introduced us,
Joel Goldberg 4:09
Adam originally. Thank you. Who is it? There’s like a family tree of Adam. And Andre, that I met that Andre brought us together after that. So Adam was the original, shout out to Adam and apologies. But Adam, Andre, that those are good people to be hanging out with.
Dean Gray 4:25
Those are a couple of my favorite folks. And I’m grateful to him for introducing us, our conversations have been a blast. And yeah, I’ll get back to your question MRI Global with, you know, around Kansas City. I mean, I’m calling in from from one of our Maryland laboratories right now. We’ve got a couple around the DC area too, but headquartered in Kansas City since 1944. It was Midwest Research Institute, when it was formed and then turned in MRI Global when we changed our name around the early 2000s. And science, technology, engineering, contract research, you know, it was originally formed around the region to be able to keep brainpower around the Midwest and provide jobs for folks that were also coming home from World War II and tried to capitalize on some of the industry that was happening during that time, like the Green Revolution and, and kind of, you know, turning bomb materials into fertilizers and so forth. And the work that’s gone on over the decades, it’s just been, I mean, it’s just, it’s just mind blowing the kind of work that’s happened there. It just right there in Kansas City. Over, over the last several decades, I’ve been there. Geez, you know, Joel, I thought I’d be there for three years. And then it’s like, five years, you know, after 10 years, and like, 10 years is good run, let’s do 12 years that it’s been 20 years now this year, and I’ve got absolutely, like zero regret. I have not been bored, one day, that entire time. It’s just been like a, like an adrenaline ride. I think through the last couple decades. It’s been awesome.
Joel Goldberg 5:58
Well, you know, I always say this. In terms of baseball, maybe it’s true for every profession, I don’t think it is, that when you get beyond just the obvious of they pay me to talk about baseball every day. Okay, so if you love sports, I have the dream job, obviously, especially for someone that really wasn’t all that good of an athlete. But one of the things that I love about the job, so much, two of the things that I think are going to apply to your world, one, just the people that you meet. And I think that’s probably, that probably is true in every profession, you hope. But two, and this is not true in all professions, you never know what you’re gonna get on any given day. You want to ask me as we’re sitting here, right now, who’s going to win the Royals game tonight, and I can give you a guess. But I really have no idea who’s going to win, how it’s going to happen. Short game, long game and all that. And so that’s one of the beauties of it. Is I go to work everyday, really not knowing and I would think maybe, not maybe, maybe day to day for you, but certainly big picture. The world moves fast, things are changing. They’re, they’re dangerous out there. Some that you could never have envisioned 20 years ago, a lot of them that you did envision 20 years ago that maybe are happening now. How much does that all keep you on your toes.
Dean Gray 6:31
Oh, gosh, every day? Yeah. I mean, you nailed it. A couple of things that you said there, especially with the the people. And I think we’ll probably hit on that topic a couple of times during our conversation, there’s just, yeah, again, it’s just a big source of gratitude and job satisfaction that I’ve got, and a sense of mission. And then the keeping on the toes is really the, the understanding that whatever is hitting the news cycle, you know, global events, whether it’s the war in Ukraine, whether it’s, you know, a biological attack somewhere of a chemical attack somewhere, an assassination, a pandemic, an epidemic, other emerging infectious disease that could be happening in some part of the world, it affects our customers, and then it affects the work that we end up, that we end up doing and helping, and helping, to help our country respond. So yeah, every day is pretty different. I can remember back to just I mean, it’s just only been a couple of years ago, right? But I was traveling out to Denver, and we were out at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, we manage that facility as well for the Department of Energy. And we were hearing about a month earlier from a group of our biologists that you know what there’s, there’s something emerging, it looks like, in China, there’s, there’s something going on here from an infectious disease standpoint that we’ve got to keep our eye on, you know, we started hearing about it from our customers too. And I remember kind of like looking at my travel mates, as we were out there, I thought this might be the last time we come out here for a little while. And that was like right on the verge of what, what ended up changing a lot of people’s lives over the last few years. Certainly, you know, for MRI Global because we’ve been working in the areas of infectious disease and diagnostics, development and medical research and pharmaceutical sciences, heavily since then. It was really an opportunity, I think, for us to respond, and then also become even more a part of the community. Even though that MRI has been there since the 1940s. As you mentioned in the introduction, sometimes were looked at as a well kept secret or a hidden jewel, I’ve heard us described like that too. And, you know, that’s not really our intention. Our intention is to be out there with our, with our partners, and you know, being being part of the fabric of the community and helping each other and I think it’s actually over the last couple of years. I think we’ve seen that happen as a result of this even more so than in decades past.
Joel Goldberg 9:41
So I want to talk about how this goes down. So I think it’ll, it’ll allow people to understand the magnitude of the work of MRI Global and the sometimes the immediacy of it, I mean, so much of this is big picture, right? I mean, this is potentially planning for that next is a big thing. But a lot of it is that phone call comes in from someone very high level, maybe within the government, Department of Defense, whatever it is. And MRI Global has to jump in at a moment’s notice. And be ready to do something here in the country or around the world. So, for instance, whatever details you can or can’t give, when that news starts to come down, and you and a lot of people there have an idea that this, that this COVID thing, I’ll call it that this pandemic, is potential pandemic, is on the verge of happening. What happens? You, you hear that news, and you already have the foresight to say what, we may not be, we may not be coming out here for a while, we may not be traveling, and no one else, for the most part around the world has an idea of the scope of this thing. What happens at that point?
Dean Gray 11:02
Oh, yeah, you know, one thing that was really important for us to do from a science standpoint, and we learned this also from, from our work, responding, helping our government respond to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, was do our best as objective scientists and engineers to cut through what’s what’s real, and what’s politics. And that’s a hard thing to do. You know, so we, we ended up having a lot of outreach. And I think it was even that day that I was talking about, that kind of that day in Denver that we were traveling that we there were a group of us, I think two or three of us that did a Reddit Ask Me Anything, said, Look, we work in infectious disease, we’ve been we’ve been following this, we’ve got some information, Ask Me Anything. And just to try to get the word out on things as simple as you’re going to start hearing about wearing a mask, again, you’re going to start hearing about the importance of washing your hands, you’re going to hear about lessons learned from the previous pandemic, you know, in the early 1900s, you’re going to, and I think also helping folks, not panic. I think that was part of it. And then so when we made our way back to Kansas City, and we got a group of us together, we started doing presentations around the community as well. Because there were folks that were very concerned and rightly so you know, you’re running a business, you’ve got an organization needs to keep functioning, how do you do it? What, what is the biosafety plan? How do you how do you end up sending people home and working in a hybrid environment now and then wanting to bring them back in a couple of days per week? And do it in a safe way? What’s your air handling situation? In your, in your, in your, in your facility? What what spacing should you have between all of the early stuff these questions that were on people’s minds, you know, everything from percentage of alcohol in hand sanitizer to how long should you be washing your hands to should you go out to the grocery store at all, I mean, people were really, really concerned, very afraid. And there was also then this political atmosphere that was not helping the situation in one way or the other. It was really it was it was more of, you don’t want to divide science along political boundaries, you know, you you want to work with data, you want to be able to get the best information you have out there as quickly as you can, and then build on it, and give people tools so that they understand how to take care of themselves. And so we did a lot of that in the very early parts of it. And that was part of the community outreach part. But from a customer perspective, it was learning from all of the work that we’ve been doing for four decades in biosafety, level handling of materials, you know, understanding the laboratories, how to develop the laboratories, work in the laboratories work with biological pathogens, track pathogens, and also develop work with companies to develop vaccines and then also with new therapeutics and diagnostics devices. First time people were hearing on a regular basis of EUA, like emergency use authorization that really didn’t make its way into the mainstream until you know, SARS-cov2 or PCR, preliminaries chain reaction, you know? How we’re going to analyze samples and stuff, those types of things along with sequencing and sub variants and all these, it started making its way into kind of like, you know, popular discussion for the first time and so there was a lot of explaining and education and I looked at that as a way for this is a great opportunity for scientific outreach. This is what we want in this kind of situation to be able to help people people feel empowered, and that things are understandable. And you always want to be able to, at least try to, is regardless of how complex something that you might be explaining. There’s always, if you can explain it simply and straightforward. That means you understand it. And you know, and that, that means that the more people that understand the better. Yeah, it’s a good question.
Joel Goldberg 15:10
Well, and that, thank you. That’s about, again, people and about communication. And so before I ask you about people, culture, and so much of what you and I gravitate towards, in our conversations, I want to ask you about the political side of it, because I feel like, I live in that world to meaning this. You either live in a world where it is advantageous for you to be political, or you have to keep up whatever that might look like. Or maybe it just feels good or doesn’t, I don’t know. Or it is advantageous to stay out of that. And so I tell people all the time, it’s not that I’m a-political, but I would like every Royals fan to watch the game if they’re interested. Not half, all. I am not a guy that believes in shut up and dribble, I think everybody has a voice. I just don’t think that the baseball platform is the voice for me, unless I’m helping promote a cause that helps people not one -side-or-another type of stuff. You are in a profession where your work will save lives, yet somehow politics has pushed into it. There’s also the other element, that you have to work with a lot of politicians, that it is part of your job to be able to communicate these messages with politicians to educate them. And I’m just curious what a challenge that is in the climate of the world today, especially in this country, in this day and age where they may listen to you. But it may not be to their benefit to agree with you. I don’t know if I’ll make, if I’m making sense or that that is all out in the yard, you have a you have a job to do to provide safety, security, and everything that we’ve discussed. And it feels like to me that that has become a more difficult thing to do nowadays, just because of whether it’s social media, or just the climate of the world. How challenging is that?
Dean Gray 17:14
Yeah, wow, that, you know, we do our best to maintain an objectivity. I mean, that that’s really part of our responsibility is we’ve got to be objective. And, and when we’re working for our government customers, we support our country. And that ends up being agnostic to whatever party is, is in control of House, Senate, and the presidency. You know, we support our country. And, and we support the companies also that work around our country. And we do our best to be completely objective in that area. And I think that I’ll give you like a ray of hope in this a little bit, is that the folks that we have that we work with, I think that some some people, unless you’re kind of immersed in some government contracting, and working with these folks that are in these levels of Department of Health and Human Services, and NIH and Department of Defense, and, you know, all these subgroups that are part of them, you’re not, they’re not going to be represented in social media, they’re not going to be represented, you know, and I think more of the highly politicized things that that might be brought up. But I’ll assure you that there are so many talented, talented people, and just great people working in our government system. And those are the folks that are behind the scenes that are helping to make really, very good things happen for our country. You know, these are the people who, when it was when it was the United States responsibility to respond to bring back the Ebola epidemic, you know, in 2014, 2015 timeframe. There were people who worked behind the scenes within Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, they’re never going to get the spotlight anywhere. They are not highly political. They just happen to work for government organization, and they helped eradicate this, this, this infectious disease in West Africa. I mean, they were really people who worked in contracts and people who worked in on the technical side, and people who worked in logistics and folks that we worked with 24/7, you know, as part of this response, and in those organizations, they were some of the best and most talented people that I could, that I, that I can remember, I’ve learned so much from them over the years, that they’re not the ones that are going to be out there with the platform, you know, but, but I’ll tell you, they’re the ones that are really back behind the scenes and they’re making sure that that we’re we’re always doing our best to do the right thing.
Joel Goldberg 19:46
And I am guessing they’re the ones that don’t want the attention. They are not looking for it. They are not comfortable with that. They just want to go to work and do their job. And you know, serve whether it’s their country, their employer or both and and you can’t live without him.
Dean Gray 20:02
Do good work, just do good work and care about our country deeply. Yeah, yeah.
Joel Goldberg 20:08
Let’s talk about that. I mean, we mentioned the people aspect, the teamwork aspect, the culture, tell me about that at MRI Global, and, you know, you’ve been there a long time, much longer than, you said, you ever could have envisioned. You don’t stay somewhere, unless you have those elements.
Dean Gray 20:25
Yeah, it’s a, I love the culture that we have at the organization. And right now I’m calling in from, like I said, from from Maryland, and we’ve got, you know, we’re talking about DC. We got this is, this is a DC trip, you know, a typical kind of a trip for me. And we’ve got slightly different cultures, depending on, you know, some cultures in the organization, depending on whether we’re in Charlottesville, or whether we’re outside of Maryland, or, you know, in Kansas City, or in North Kansas City, or, and in a really, what ties it all together is this sense of community around mission. And I don’t want to say, family, all right, that ends up getting a little bit too paternal or maternal, that’s, that’s not what I’m going for here. But community in that we support each other. And everybody who we have working at the organization supports the mission of the organization. And I, there’s something that’s just really, there’s something fulfilling with that, you know, you’re you’re coming here, because you, you’ve made a decision somewhere in your career that, hey, look, you love products, but you don’t want to necessarily work for a company that develops a single product, you want to be part of a company that ends up evaluating all kinds of different products. And you’re going to strictly be, you know, tethered to good data, always objective, good data that’s being built on. And then being a trusted partner with as many customers as you can have. That really just the best thing. I mean, I talked to people all the time, and I’ve had this feeling too is like the best feeling that you can have. And in a job like this is when you talk to one of your customers, and they say, you know, we were having a meeting yesterday, and we came up with this problem. And we don’t know how to solve it. And we thought of you. And so I’m reaching out to you right now to just kind of brainstorm with you. What do you think you could do in this area? That is, that still gives me chills. Like that’ll give me goosebumps, when you get a call like that. And you think, yeah, this is what yeah, this is what we do. And yeah, I think we attract people like that to the organization. And just, yeah, it’s just I tell you, I just over 20 years, I’ve just not had not gotten tired of that, for sure.
Joel Goldberg 22:46
It’s a good time to be in your profession, too, isn’t it? I mean, I recently had on the, the Director of the the University of Kansas, Kansas Health System, or the KU Cancer Center, and he was talking about what a, and they just, they just won a big designation as you know, the National Cancer Center. But he was talking about what a good time it is for a young scientist, to be in that profession. I mean, so much of the world is changing. And and I’ve got to think, in your profession, that change always affects what you’re doing. And you’re always having to keep up with it. But I’ve got to imagine it’s a great time for a young young scientist or someone that’s interested in, in your line of work to be pursuing this.
Dean Gray 23:31
It is, it is and if you had, you know, Dr. Jensen, if you had Roy Jensen win it, what a tremendous win for them. And just fantastic for them. Fantastic for Kansas City, fantastic for the region. And for the, for the time to be a scientist. No, there’s no doubt about it in my mind, whether, and pick your discipline, whether it’s chemistry, whether it’s engineering, whether it’s biology, there are things that have happened in the biological sciences and life sciences over the last just five, six years or so that I could probably go back and get a, like, another advanced degree that would be different from a lot of things that I learned 20 years ago. It’s just there have been, you know, with with synthetic biology and all sorts of additional advances that we’ve had in some of these areas. It’s a fantastic time to be a scientist, you know, you sometimes you go through school, and you feel like wow, everything’s been figured out. And the truth is, almost nothing has been figured out. We are, anytime you feel like you’re at a finish line on something, whether it’s a project or a discovery or something else you just, all you did was reach another starting line. And you are right back, you know, and just building on it and building on it. I have a daughter, my oldest daughter who just, you know, I’m proud of all my kids. I love my kids, right? But my oldest daughter just graduated with her degree not too long ago and I’m so excited for her, because the world is just completely open to her, you know, and she’s only got an idea of just a thin portion of it right now. And there’s so much that’s going to open up over the next few years. And I just love being part of that. Well, one other thing I’ll mention too, is that the earlier, we’ve got a program that we support at MRI Global called Letters to a Pre-Scientist, and it was this was brought to us by our diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging committee, and they just, I love this program, because you end up being a pen pal with a sixth grader or seventh grader through the school year. And you end up just trading letters. And they ask you questions about what it’s like to be a scientist. And I think that you start to hit around in that age group of the 10, 11, 12, 13. That is a perfect time to start getting people interested in STEAM and STEM going forward. And if you can, just with even one letter or one conversation, or one toward MRI Global or one outreach, if you can reach a kid and provide five minutes of inspiration, that’s going to hit them, even five years later, and say, Wow, wait a minute. I can, I could do that. I can be a scientist. I can do, I can be an engineer, if I want to. I can do that. And I’ll tell you, Joel, if I can do it, anybody can do it. Anybody can do it. And I love that outreach. And just just to see a little bit of a spark of excitement, whether it comes through in writing or what do you see it in somebody’s eyes when they when they discover that? Oh, my gosh, I can get paid to be curious and solve problems. You know, it’s just a love it.
Joel Goldberg 26:42
Curiosity to win. Yeah. That’s amazing. Okay, so let’s get to the baseball theme questions, because I know that there could be a lot of I suspect a lot of answers for this first question. So I don’t really know what the answer is. But what is the biggest home run that you have had in your career?
Dean Gray 27:04
All right, big, the biggest home run that I’ve had in my career, that the thing I’m most proud of over the last few years has been a culmination of this 20 years of experience that a small team and I put into developing a long term strategic plan for the organization to really build off your experience that you’ve developed and, and again, with a couple of people who just make a fantastic team, look out 10 years and say, where do we need to be in 10 years? And, and start putting thoughts on paper and planning on paper of where is technology really going in 10 years, and artificial intelligence and machine learning and virtual reality and augmented reality and human augmentation and infectious disease diagnostics, and medical device? All these areas, you know, in which we work? Where’s it going to go in the next decade? And like, putting plans together? And then how do we end up then bringing the organization along? And how do we attract the best and brightest talent, keep them in Kansas City, that putting putting together that plan. And the first steps on that is been I think the biggest home run that I can look at, it’s something I look back on as part of the team is just just really proud of that. Really proud of it, because we can build on it.
Joel Goldberg 28:23
Yeah. As, as you, as you should be proud of it. And as you will build on it. That’s exciting stuff and never ending too, which is, which is fun. How about a swing and a miss? And what did you learn?
Dean Gray 28:34
Okay, look. How long is this podcast? A week? Is this a week long? Or is it? I mean, you probably have a lot of guests that will say the same thing, right? I mean,
Joel Goldberg 28:44
I mean, we haven’t even gotten to my swings and misses. But go ahead.
Dean Gray 28:47
All right, look at swings and misses I’ve had, I’d say, well, you can call me an experiential learner, all right? So I have learned from my mistakes, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, Professionally. Yeah, I think there’s one, if I can point to kind of a suite of mistakes that I’ve made in the past that are around the same theme, which is wanting to implement changes to, you know, insert something, organizational design, the way we handle program management, the way that we develop technology internally, any any one of those things. And thinking that change management was as simple as a this is a good idea. You agree it’s a good idea. So number three, let’s just do it. And everybody will be going in the same and not understanding truly that people are involved and when people are involved, emotions are involved. And when emotions are involved, it’s a whole different story of trying to, you know, set up an experimental design that doesn’t work when you’re dealing with people. And every swing and miss that I had, I think I could probably point it back into some level, I have incomplete communication. And thinking that you’re communicating enough, when actually you’re not communicating even a fraction as much as you need to. And listening. When you are talking, you know, when you should have been listening, I can, I can win things really I’ve seen kind of like my swings and misses have really been around that area. And what I’ve taken from it is the human element in any kind of a change management plan, and then with just connecting with people and empathy and understanding where people are coming from, regardless of what it is, is step, that’s step one. I think it’s probably step two, three and four, probably two, you know, and I think, yeah, I’d say that jewel.
That’s a big one. Yeah, I mean, it’s like culture. It never is. It’s not a check the box type of thing. It’s like DEI. It’s like, I mean, it never. It never stops. It should never stop. Right? I mean, you, you can’t…I figured out the communication. I’m good. Now. Now. It’s it takes your attention every single day. Last question, small ball, it’s a culture question, the little things that add up to the big results for you. But what, what are those little things that people may not see every single day, whether it’s you, MRI Global or both, that make a difference.
Right before this call, I was going around office to office and just catching up with folks. You know, making a trip in and then being able to talk with them, how’s the work going? You know, if there’s some new people that have been hired on, if I haven’t met him yet, make it an effort to, make an effort to meet him. And getting out of my office in Kansas City, too, if I’m not traveling. And I’m in Kansas City, making an effort multiple times per day to walk around and talk with folks. Talk with everybody. And just make sure that we hire somebody new have I met him yet? What are they working on? I can think back 18 years, probably, Jim Spigarelli was was our president at the time of MRI Global. It was Midwest Research Institute at the time, and I can remember him coming up to me in the hallway during one of his walks around the building. And saying, I was a staff scientist at the time, you know, early in my career and have him saying, oh, Dean, you know, how’s it going, do I remember you were working on Project X. And you know, was that going pretty well, and I was thinking, this guy knows what I’m working on. Like, how cool is that? You know, there’s a president of our company, and he’s and he knows what I’m working on. And to him, it was just a, that’s Tuesday, and I care about my people. And I think that over my career, I’ve really, that’s that doing those things every day are the most rewarding. I know when I’ve had a good day when I’m feeling good when I’m driving home, if I’ve done something like that, if I have helped help somebody be better at their job, I’ve helped somebody understand something that might be confusing about what we’re doing corporately, and why we made a particular decision. Gotten input from someone else who has some opinions on something that they feel like they need to be heard on, or just had a chance encounter with somebody in the hallway to just ask them how their family is, you know, and I think that those things add up to a really just a fulfilling career and a fulfilling life. And I those are things that I appreciate every day. So yeah, I think I think that’s a jewel.
Joel Goldberg 33:34
That’s great stuff. I will tell you, I’m not blowing smoke, I think you you know that I’m real. I hope you know that I’m real with everything that I say, but I get I get energy when I connect with you. Not that it’s happened enough. But it well, it’s happened enough to know that, right? And it’s the same conversation with an Andre Davis, with an Adam Hawley that there’s a reason why you want to be around people like that. I said, I don’t, I don’t know a damn thing about science. I believe in science, I know that much. And that’ll be about as far as I get into politics with it. Not that it was meant to be. That, that I may not understand it, but I believe in it. There are a lot of people in your world and well beyond your world that have made it their life’s work to to make the world a safer place. And so it’s, it’s such important work. And I think that most of us don’t see what goes on behind the scenes we’re not supposed to, right? I mean, we’re not supposed to see how the sausage is made. We just want to know that we’re safe and secure. And you do that but I can’t double down enough on this and say that, that I know with you and MRI Global as well the culture that has been created and sustained over the years there is that people aspect of it, that culture aspect of it and I know, final word as we wrap it up, how important that piece and you’ve articulated that throughout the podcast is that that culture and that teamwork. That is so important over there
Dean Gray 34:57
it is Joel thanks very much. I was very, very kind. And believe me, I feel the same about you. I love what you do.
Well, I appreciate it. And it’s great to visit with you in front of an audience, I guess would be the way to put it versus at a coffee or over at your office. And I look forward to doing that again, as well. But we’re not really done. The audio portion is done. As is usually the case, I like to ask a few questions over on the YouTube side. So I hope you’ll join us. Links in the show notes or you can search YouTube for Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg and Dean Gray. Dean, thanks for the audio portion of this and continue great work over at MRI Global.
Thank you, Joel. My pleasure.