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College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

Department #3354

1000 E. University

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-4133

Fax: (307) 766-4030

Email: agrdean@uwyo.edu

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Outstanding Alumni - 2019

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Robert Grieve

Rejecting conventional led alumni award recipient on path of exceptionalism

Robert Grieve

A preference to make himself uncomfortable more than likely led Robert Grieve to those sweet retirement views of the broad-shouldered Bighorn Mountains near Buffalo.

His academic and business career is peppered with times he could have taken the routine route but didn’t. Grieve is a recipient of an Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He will be recognized during Agriculture Appreciation Weekend September 14-15 at UW.

“I have an inborn tendency to work and live outside my comfort zone, to continuously challenge myself and to learn from those experiences,” said Grieve, former professor and retired CEO. “Each time I consciously stepped away from comfort and routine it caused me to improve, both personally and professionally.”

Grieve would become tenured at two universities, then pivot to helping found a startup company, ultimately becoming its CEO and pulling the business from deep red into black. Grieve and his wife, Marcia, have two grown daughters, Megan Scales and Madeline Runstrom, and a grandson, Zane Scales.

Fifth-generation Wyoming son

The son of Fort Laramie-area ranchers (his family is fifth-generation Wyoming ranchers, and his great-grandmother [Isabel] was born here before Wyoming was a state) enrolled at UW, showing his uncommon streak early. He believed moving to a different part of the state would help him mature. Grieve received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology and cited his thesis adviser, the late Robert Bergstrom (“He was a wonderful man and had an enduring influence on me,” Grieve said).

Professor Leroy Maki’s pathogenic microbiology class (Maki died last year) launched his interest in infectious disease and disease processes.

“He was the first of several great teachers who helped me at UW,” said Grieve. “I was ‘hooked’ at that point.” His studies and career would focus on infectious diseases, especially parasitic diseases and immune responses in infectious diseases and allergy.

He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Florida, Gainseville, and was tenured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then again at Colorado State University. He authored or co-authored nearly 100 scientific publications.

Grieve also had been working double time while at CSU. A venture capitalist from Palo Alto asked if he would cofound a company, drawing upon his academic research and network of colleagues. He was responsible for overseeing all science activities at the company while maintaining his responsibilities as a professor.

“It was simply too much work to do what essentially became two fulltime jobs and to do them to my standards,” he said.

Enters private enterprise

Besides, Grieve had already accomplished a great deal in academia and the thought of two or three more decades in academia made him restless. Heska (www.heska.com) was born in 1988. The company, which includes worldwide distribution, provides latest generation technologies to animal healthcare providers.

The corporate work was riskier than being a tenured professor. “But I tend to like risk,” he said. “I like the accountability that comes with such things, and I knew I would learn a great deal every day. It very much worked out that way.”

Heska means “white, or shining, mountains” company executives discovered in a Lakota/English dictionary. (“I believe the Lakota people used the word to reference the Bighorn Mountains, interestingly where I live today,” Grieve notes). He wanted an ancient name from indigenous people rather than Greeks or Romans. A check with a representative of the Lakota ensured the name could be used and it would not be offensive.

The company had grown fast through hiring and acquisitions and by 1999 performance lagged, with the company bleeding by as much as $46 million. Grieve took over as CEO and doubled revenue, reduced operating expenses and flipped the large losses to an operating profit and cash-flow self-sufficiency.

He credits his team.

“Together we effected a major financial turnaround through restructuring, focus, discipline and execution while continuing to build a pipeline of products for future growth as well as a brand that became known for quality and customer care in the animal health industry,” he said.

A strategic acquisition was his last transaction as CEO. He said that company brought a complimentary suite of products to Heska customers and the founder of that company who was outstanding in sales.

“I believed he would be my successor and would bring important skills that we were lacking,” he said. “Both of those things turned out to be true.”

Science launches college student

Grieve said he’s not exactly sure when he was propelled forward, reflecting on his life. He guesses between his sophomore and junior year at UW. He had become excited about science, “And I began to clearly understand that everything was possible, and it strictly depended on me and no one else and my willingness to work hard, be smart about my choices and to take calculated risks.”

He also said fixing on any one experience that caused him to improve was difficult.

“I choose Laramie over a community college because I knew I needed a challenge,” he related. The same for when he was accepted to various Ph.D. programs but chose the University of Florida over western schools without ever visiting.

“The change for a young Wyoming man to go to a subtropical climate with a massive student body was amazing,” he said.

Next, he pursued postdoctoral studies in upstate New York at an Ivy League school. The position paid less than another opportunity, but he believed the challenges would shape his career.

“Of course, the ultimate discomforts were leaving my tenured academic position for an unstable startup and then, within that company, leaving my science career to pursue business leadership,” he said.

(See the sidebar for a short list of his many board and community service honors.)

Grieve sees opportunity for those entering an agricultural-related career.

New information and technologies coupled with global needs for the products of agriculture will drive innovation to meet those needs, he said.

“It is an exciting time, and I truly believe agriculture is an area where Wyoming and UW must succeed. We all have a responsibility to expect and support that success.”

Professional Honors

Grieve’s list of academia, board, community service, and his business honors, is long.

A few include the Henry Baldwin Ward Medal from the American Society of Parasitologists; advisory roles with National Institutes of Health, United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Wellcome Trust, and World Health Organization; membership on the Medical Center for the Rockies Business Relations Council; Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation Board of Governors; Wyoming Governor’s University of Wyoming Top-Tier Science and Facilities Task Force; Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Fort Collins Economic Development Corporation; Colorado Technology Transfer Society, University to Industry Award; President, American Society of Parasitologists; Ralston Purina Small Animal Research Award; associate editor, Journal of Immunology; Editorial board member, Journal of Parasitology.

Contact Us

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

Department #3354

1000 E. University

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-4133

Fax: (307) 766-4030

Email: agrdean@uwyo.edu

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