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Update Sept. 16, 2015 at 6 p.m.: Travis McCready was unanimously offered the position of CEO at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center by the center's board on Wednesday. He will make less than the center's first and only other chief executive — $230,000 a year compared to Susan Windham-Bannister's $285,000.
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BOSTON — Travis McCready, an attorney with experience working with tech companies and grant-making, is poised to take over as the person in charge of state government's efforts to foster growth and discoveries in the biotech sector.
With the approval by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Board of Directors on Wednesday, McCready will become the center's second ever CEO.
A vice president at The Boston Foundation, McCready was the first executive director of the Kendall Square Association and has held finance and operations posts at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
Originally from Harlem, the 45-year-old lives in Lexington, with his wife, an attorney, and two teenage daughters.
McCready said he would seek to bring more large biotech firms to the state, foster an "incredibly yeasty environment for upstarts" and look to determine an additional state investment following the 2008 $1 billion state investment that helped launch the center.
"We want to come back with a number that's right-sized for the task," McCready told reporters Tuesday in the office of Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, who is a co-chairman of the center's board. McCready was unequivocal about his and the administration's aims toward the life science sector, calling it "our backbone industry," and describing the administration's "unwavering and unabashed support" for the center.
After Susan Windham-Bannister, the founding president and CEO of the center, announced her planned retirement in May 2014, the Patrick administration launched a failed effort to find her replacement before Ash and center co-chair Dominick Ianno, the chief of staff and communications for Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore, restarted the search process. The search was a largely secretive affair with Ash and Ianno at the helm.
According to Ash's office, a total of 42 individuals expressed interest in the prior search led by Russell Reynolds, and eight reached as far as an upper-level interview, though none were put before the board for approval.
McCready said he had known Ash, the former city manager of Chelsea, for years, and knew Ianno when he worked for Pfizer, as well as Ash's director of policy and communications, Paul McMorrow, when McMorrow worked as a reporter covering development and other matters. McCready said leadership of the center was "not something that I immediately sought out," and said he had not been part of the earlier search process.
Michael Kennealy, assistant secretary for business growth at the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, is serving as interim CEO of the agency.
"We will be coming in for a reauthorization at some point," McMorrow said of the center that was created in 2008. The state's authority to issue tax incentives will expire in 2018 and the $500 million bond authorization mostly for construction of facilities at educational institutions will also expire at some point, according to the administration.
A finance and compensation committee of the center's board will meet ahead of Wednesday's full board meeting to work out compensation, according to McMorrow. If everything falls into place, McCready said he would hope to start in early October.
McCready, who practiced mergers and acquisitions law in Minnesota's Twin Cities, graduated from Yale University and the University of Iowa College of Law. McCready conceded he is "not a scientist," though he has experience working with those on the cutting edge of technology at the Kendall Square Association. The Cambridge neighborhood is home to an active tech startup scene as well as some powerhouse life sciences research companies.
"I'm looking to bring a degree of civic commitment to the industry," McCready said.
The Pioneer Institute last year suggested state investment in biotech has yielded only 571 direct life sciences jobs since tax credits began in 2009. Without mentioning that report in particular, McCready cited robust job growth in science and said he would "push back on the critique" that the center has fallen short on economic development.
Apart from its job-creation role, McCready also referenced the scientific accomplishments achieved by the institutions and companies supported by the center as inspirational. If he receives the vote of the board, McCready said he would examine the effectiveness of the center's toolset of grants and loans and "strive towards a 2.0 iteration of the center."
At the Boston Foundation, McCready is in charge of distributing nearly $20 million in grants for education, health care, jobs, arts and culture and neighborhood development. He said the health grants are geared toward preventing ailments such as obesity and diabetes in communities rather than life sciences research.
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