Sarnoff’s Venture VP

Muscatine, Iowa

Mount Holyoke

Biophysics and Business

The Liposome Company

VideoBrush Corporation

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Women Living & Working the Dream: Anne Van Lent

This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 3, 1999. All rights reserved.

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Sarnoff’s Venture VP

At age 50, Anne M. Van Lent has her dream job. Since

October she has been the vice president of ventures at Sarnoff

Corporation,

the first female vice president at the former RCA Laboratories. She

is a coach, helping scientists get their technologies to market, and

a recruiter, attracting investors looking for hot picks (http://www.sarnoff.com).

Van Lent has worked both sides of this game before; she worked on

Research Way for eight years at the Liposome Company, leaving as the

chief financial officer. But at Sarnoff — which has dozens of

products in the pipeline and spins off several companies a year —

she is pulled many ways at once. "I view myself as a juggler and

a complex problem solver," says Van Lent, "but I have never

juggled harder in my life."

Juggling, in fact, is the story of her life. She trained as a

physicist

but went into business. She married young, but soon was faced with

a commuter marriage. She was working for organizations going through

major changes before "change management" was a popular term.

"I thrive on that kind of chaos," says Van Lent. "I think

women tend to fill voids. If they see something that isn’t being taken

care of, they say `I’ll handle it.’ In a situation of flux, women

rise to the top."

Van Lent has a long commute to Princeton, but not for the first time.

When she worked for Liposome in the ’80s, she lived in Connecticut.

Now she commutes from north Jersey but softens her schedule by staying

at Novotel two nights a week. "I’m used to trying to balance

personal

and business life," says Van Lent. She is engaged to Sam Castimore

VMD, large animal/equine veterinarian. They have been partners for

seven years, and he has children ages 19 and 21; it will be her second

marriage.

"I learned at Mount Holyoke that a degree in science produces

complex problem solvers. I always thought of myself as a complex

problem

solver," says Van Lent.

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Muscatine, Iowa

In the 1970s she was at the leading edge of women going into business.

"I come from a good old solid Midwest background," says Van

Lent. Like her parents, she was born and raised in Muscatine, Iowa,

a town that appears to be "in the middle of nowhere" but

actually

boasts a handful of big firms.

Her father worked for Hon Industries, office furniture manufacturer,

in sales and marketing. "That was an emerging growth industry

at the time. My mother worked a little on the side and took care of

my grandmother, who died when I was 18." She has a younger sister

who has taught grade-school art.

The example set by her parents focused on a work ethic, "that

you can accomplish anything if you put the right amount of effort

into it. And they had constant support for anything I tried to do,

never wanting to hold me back." For instance, when she was accepted

to Mount Holyoke, the idea of her going to the East Coast "was

a stretch both psychologically and, very much, financially."

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Mount Holyoke

But she set her heart on it. "I was very impressed with several

of the women I met who were Mount Holyoke graduates. Uncommon women,

bright, involved, gracious — how welcoming they were. If these

are the kind of women who come out of this school," I thought,

"this is where I want to go. I was taken aback by the stature

and poise that I saw in those women."

After college she had been accepted for doctoral work in biophysics

at Northwestern but first she took advantage of a Rotary scholarship

to study for a year in Strasbourg, France, partly to get in touch

with the heritage of her grandmother. "When I was in grade school

I would come up the stairs after school to see my grandmother and

she would make me recite the French alphabet," says Van Lent. (She

has had occasion to use her fluent French during joint venture

negotiations

with European firms.)

14 = Heinz in Pittsburgh

When she returned from France, she took a summer job in her hometown

at the Heinz tomato processing factory, and she never returned to

academe. At that time Heinz was just getting into computer oriented

reporting.

"McKinsey was doing major productivity studies at Muscatine, and

I was exposed to the senior executives who came out there," says

Van Lent. Heinz created a position for her to monitor the profit

improvement

programs initiated under the study. "It was appealing to stay

home for a year, rent an apartment and save money. I enjoyed watching

things happen. Then I had an offer to be assistant to the president

at Heinz USA, Ray Good, in Pittsburgh." The job was much more

than being the president’s assistant; it was to start the first

product-line

profitability reporting.

"The food industry was shifting in the mid ’70s and early ’80s

to be more marketing driven," says Van Lent. "Because of my

hands-on experience in the tomato plant, because I had the base level

knowledge, I was promoted into the first ever financial planning and

analysis group for tomato products. It was my first financial

management

job."

She met and married her first husband in Pittsburgh, and when he was

transferred, she followed, taking a job involving financial analysis

for International Harvester. "My leaving Pittsburgh was definitely

influenced by his career move," says Van Lent. "In today’s

environment I would not have left that position when I did."

Stories of husbands who would defer to a wife’s career were just

beginning

to surface in the 1970s. "People were just beginning to write

about issues such as who is the dominant partner. Our relationship

was definitely on the cutting edge. We were struggling with that

balance.

Now, I would have been able to say, `Now is my time, not your

time’."

Later, she says, "I definitely learned that I had probably damaged

my career. But I don’t look back. My career took other directions

because of that."

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Biophysics and Business

After she moved to Chicago, her husband was promoted to a position

in Minneapolis. This time she did not follow but initiated one of

the early commuter marriages. In her eight years in the food industry,

she looked back — not too sadly — at the academic

opportunities

she had forgone. "I really missed my science, but I really love

the more practical side. In Chicago we would drive by the Batavia

Linear Accelerator labs, and I would wonder, `What would have happened

if I had stayed in science.’ The whole area of biophysics and

biochemistry

was coming to bloom in the ’70s, which had been the focus of my

intended

graduate study."

"But I don’t think I ever would have been happy as a bench

chemist.

I am more of a social animal, and I really enjoy working with teams

and inside organizations. I don’t think I would have been happy as

a research scientist."

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The Liposome Company

"One of my strengths is being able to blend the science background

with the business side, being very comfortable with dealing with

investors

and analysts in explaining the technology, because I understand it

at a fairly high level." She used this combination to move to

Liposome, then a start-up biotech with about 25 employees, and in

1983 she worked there part time. "When I joined Liposome it had

just finished its first true round of venture capital and had had

one corporate deal." By the time she left in 1992 she was chief

financial officer. She had concluded six stock offerings raising $200

million, directed development of a raw material distribution division

from a start-up (Princeton Lipids) to a sales rate of $750,000 per

year, and participated in joint ventures in both Europe and Japan (http://www.lipo.com).

Van Lent takes pleasure in working in life sciences "and

contributing

to an organization where we made a difference in peoples’ lives. At

Liposome we all donned suits and went into the clean room to mix test

batches around the clock. Letters came thanking you because a child

was alive. It is worth everything to know that you have been part

of something that changes peoples’ lives."

Next on her resume is a two-year stint at Trophix Pharmaceuticals,

a venture capital financed neuroscience company in South Plainfield,

where she was chief financial offer from 1993 to 1995. She had her

own consulting business in life sciences, from 1995 to 1998, and one

of her clients was Roderick Mackenzie of Gynetics, which came out

with a daring emergency contraception pill for women.

As a consultant Van Lent worked with Sarnoff on a joint venture on

DNA diagnostics, and she was asked to join Sarnoff as vice president

in spring, 1997. Sarnoff hired her, she says, because she had been

in small companies and worked with venture capitalists, and was

familiar

with issues that the scientists had not dealt with, and also with

relationships in investment banking.

"Anne has added a lot of value not just in the venture area but

with her overall broad business background," says Susan Gauff,

who is the second woman to receive the title of Sarnoff vice

president;

hers is in communications and human resources. "It is very

important

at Sarnoff for each team area to take the larger view and be willing

to pitch in and share their experiences with everyone else. She has

made a very big difference here and will continue to do so at her

new level."

When Van Lent came to Sarnoff, she had the title of vice president

and reported to Curtis Carlson, who soon was promoted to be president

and CEO of Sarnoff’s parent company, SRI. Now Van Lent is one of eight

people who report directly to the CEO. "Her job has not changed,

but her visibility and her influence is much greater," say Gauff.

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VideoBrush Corporation

Van Lent has been acting president for VideoBrush Corporation and

has just sold it to a joint partner, Picture Works, in California

(U.S. 1, December 2, 1998). "We thought the market would move

faster than it has," she says. "Given how competitive the

PC software business is today, the best way to maximize the value

of the assets was to merge it with a company already dealing with

more basic ways to introduce images."

Mentoring, to any man or woman who needs it, is a big part of her

job. She describes it as "an overall obligation and responsibility

of my position as an internal consultant on how we build value from

our technology to create viable companies. I like to feel my door

is open to everyone."

"I have always tried to ignore gender issues in business,"

says Van Lent, "and I have tried not to use my gender." Yet

circumstances sometimes differ for women and men, and she does find

herself reaching out to women on a social level. "If I am going

to be in town for dinner, for instance, I will call another woman

rather than a man."

"I have always taken every job based on my gut reaction,"

says Van Lent. "I want to be surrounded by people challenging

me to be creative, open, and deal with problems. I am not a political

animal. I am much more focused on getting things done. Of all the

things I tell people, I say, `Grab onto any situation you think you

can handle. Step out in front to get ahead.’"


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