“There’s no better time than now to start becoming the person that you want to be. Now is likely the least complicated it’s ever going to be and the time to take the risk is now.”
~ Paris Wallace, CEO, Ovia Health
Welcome to HBS Association of Boston’s CEO Lounge
Our CEO Lounge features up close and personal interviews with numerous CEOs spanning iconic brands and industries.
Our goal is to share with you a communications platform showcasing stories that inform, inspire, and share valuable insight from dynamic CEOs and how their journey has shaped and impacted their leadership styles, reflects their vision to building brands and drive business growth to the next level.
CEO Lounge: #006
CEO, Ovia Health: Paris Wallace
Madeline Keulen (MBA 2019)
HBS Association of Boston Board Member and Vice President of Leadership
MK: Paris, thank you so much for joining us. I’d love to go back to the beginning. Tell us about where you grew up.
PW: I grew up in the Bay Area, CA. I had pretty humble beginnings, growing up with a single mom who was disabled but was fortunate to go to fantastic schools starting from kindergarten thanks to financial aid. I went to private school through highschool and then took my first trip out east looking at colleges.
I visited Amherst on a sunny day and made the decision almost instantly. At that point, I was already deeply committed to becoming an entrepreneur – I wanted to make an impact and use my education to give back to the community. I began at HBS a year after I graduated college and started a company during my last year of business school.
MK: Your journey into entrepreneurship started early – tell us more about what shaped that experience?
PW: I worked at a bike shop for minimum wage in the late 90s. Through that job, I saw an opportunity to start selling Timbuk2 messenger bags on the internet. We’d allow customers to customize color panels on the bag, would take orders, and then place the orders with the brand and dropship items.
I realized one day that I was able to make more money sitting at school with orders coming in than I was able to make at my day job in the bike shop. I’d discovered the power of entrepreneurship and never wanted to go back. I knew then that I was never going to work for anyone else. I wanted to work on things that mattered, would help my family, and create opportunities for others.
MK: What first sparked your interest in healthcare?
PW: While at HBS, I did a dual degree with the Harvard Kennedy School. I received a fellowship to study social entrepreneurship and quickly began to dive into research within the genomics space. Second generation gene sequencing technology was just starting to be commercialized and the only place it was being reimbursed was in women’s health.
I learned how far behind the US is regarding women’s health despite the progress we’ve made in other areas of medicine. The US has the highest mortality rate for mothers of any developed country, and the stats are even worse for black and brown women. This was the spark for my second company, Ovia Health.
MK: Do you have any advice for emerging leaders who’d like to move into entrepreneurship?
PW: Do it. Life is short.
One of the biggest challenges people face is that they’re always preparing for what they wish to do vs going out and doing it. But there’s no better time than now to start becoming the person that you want to be. Now is likely the least complicated it’s ever going to be and the time to take the risk is now.
If you want to know what’s important to you look at how you spend your time. If there seems to be a disconnect there then it might be time to make a change towards your values. You are the decisions you make, not your aspirations.
MK: What is something most people don’t know about you?
PW: I’m an avid cyclist and particularly enjoy riding in the B2VT – a 150M ride from Boston to Vermont.
CEO Lounge Archive
MK: Chris, thank you so much for joining us. I’d love to start with where your journey began. Tell us about where you grew up.
CH: I grew up on a farm in Ontario. The only way out of town was playing hockey and I was very lucky that I had an eighth-grade teacher who saw me as a kid with some promising hockey ability.
He recommended I apply to a private boarding school and he fundamentally changed my life.
MK: Denise, I’d love to start by asking where you grew up, your family, and how your upbringing shaped you?
DW: I grew up in Fayetteville, NC, home of Fort Bragg, one the largest US military bases. My father is African American and served in the US Army for ten years. He met my mother who is Korean while stationed in Korea and they settled in Fayetteville which is where they raised me. Neither of my parents finished high school – my dad got his GED when he was in the army and became an entrepreneur.
LG: You are originally from Canada and came to the U.S. in 2008 to take the helm at John Hancock, just as the financial crisis was unfolding. Describe your first year at John Hancock and how the industry has changed since the financial crisis.
MH: In 2008 I had been at Manulife, John Hancock’s parent company, for five years and got a call one day from the President of John Hancock, asking me if I’d consider running a business. He was talking about John Hancock’s Long Term Care insurance business – located in Boston.
LG: Describe your transition from being CEO of the PGA of America to President of NBC Sports.
PB: During my time at NASA I had the amazing opportunity to work on the Voyager 2 flyby of Jupiter and two of its moons, Io and Europa, and on the Solar Polar Solar Probe, now known as the Parker Solar Probe. I earned my master’s degree in engineering at Stanford and pursued a career in technology, working as an engineer and executive at Apple, Dell, Autodesk, and IBM.The transition has been very smooth.
LG: You were one of the first Hispanic students to earn a master’s in engineering from Stanford and you began your career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Talk a little bit about your career trajectory and the journey you took to becoming CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.
SA: During my time at NASA I had the amazing opportunity to work on the Voyager 2 flyby of Jupiter and two of its moons, Io and Europa, and on the Solar Polar Solar Probe, now known as the Parker Solar Probe. I earned my master’s degree in engineering at Stanford and pursued a career in technology, working as an engineer and executive at Apple, Dell, Autodesk, and IBM.