May 21, 2021

At the intersection of technology and finance: In conversation with Christine Gorjanc

The industry veteran and Zymergen board member talks about supply chains, commercialization, and the art of constant transformation

Christine Gorjanc

In March 2021, Zymergen appointed Christine Gorjanc to the company board of directors. We spoke with Christine about her background and plans to help move the company forward.

What attracted you to Zymergen?
I think the thing I find most interesting is the work Zymergen is doing at the intersection of science and technology. I’m currently on two other boards, one technology company and one transformative healthcare company, and it’s really exciting to see all the possibilities that are being unlocked at Zymergen. It’s a great place to be right now. I am really drawn to Zymergen’s mission and vision.

Do you see similarities between the ‘biofacturing’ journey we are on and some of the tech trends you experienced?
One of the similarities I see is probably the tools, but being used in very different ways. For example, at my last company, we used AI and ML in the development of our products. Our smart cameras in particular were built to distinguish between objects that they were viewing. Is it a person, an animal or a package? The products needed to capture and recognize all that information so the user could use that data to adjust their behavior. Zymergen uses AI and ML in a much different way, but the technology still performs a transformative function for the business and products we are developing. I think the tools and technologies are only as good as the way you articulate the problem you are trying to solve, and Zymergen is clearly using leading technologies to achieve real results.

Are there particular lessons you’ve learned along the way that you think are important for our company and culture?
The majority of my operational experience is in finance, IT and supply chain, and through that lens, I’d say the biggest – and most consistent – lesson I’ve learned in my career is that companies are always transforming. Change is a constant and you need to embrace it and continually innovate to move forward successfully. Stagnation or resistance to change will leave you behind the competition. The other lesson I learned as a leader is that you should not be afraid to hire people that are smarter than you, people that you can learn from and that make your team stronger. Teamwork is incredibly important and really drives successful organizations. One last thought, I once read where someone said that we all have a “to do” list, but do we have a “to learn” list?

What challenges do you see as being most pressing for Zymergen?
Zymergen is entering the commercial phase, which I think is a very exciting period for any company. Of course, it’s challenging because it’s new, but it forces a real focus. You always have to be thinking about what products customers need and are willing to buy, what channels are the best to access those customers and how can we make sure they are satisfied customers. It is important for the company to have a focus on the sales pitch to the customers to compel them to “Buy Zymergen”. That focus also helps drive operational excellence. As I mentioned, change is an inevitable part of any commercial enterprise – customers change, the competitive landscape shifts, supply chains shift, etc. – so the challenge is to build the framework that maintains operational excellence while supporting the flexibility and optionality the company needs to manage risk and pivot.

Lightning round:

Where are you from? El Paso, Texas. Hot, dry and dusty but exceptional Mexican food.

Where do you live now? I’m in San Jose, CA, in the Willow Glen neighborhood.

Can you tell us about your family? My son is in law school (from his bedroom) and my daughter teaches third grade (from the extra bedroom) and we have a new puppy.

Hobbies or outside interests? I’ve missed my pilates, but now I’ve got the puppy. Fun fact, I started as a music major and play the flute.

Sweet or savory? Savory. Chips over chocolate every time.