Interview with Pam Marrone: New Partner and Executive Chairperson for PBI and GBAL
Interview with Pam Marrone, Chairperson – Primary BioAg Innovations (PBI) and Global BioAg Linkages (GBAL), and Managing Director of Merger, Acquisition and Fund-Raising (GBAL)
In this exclusive interview, Pam Marrone talks about her last hurrah as she calls it. The discussion started with her decision to combine forces with Roger and Primary BioAg Innovations and Global BioAg Linkages, and her commitment to continue to work within the BioAg Industry. Pam talked about her plans on various issues in the industry, such as the global farming community, soil health, the role of AgTech, food safety, the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures for enforcing social isolation.
Q1: Pam, as a serial entrepreneur, you've had quite a few successes and some heartbreaks during your career. How would you describe your journey? Do you have any regrets?
Pam: The work I have done with my teams has certainly had an impact in moving the biologicals forward over three decades. I am very proud of starting from scratch and successfully scaling two biopesticide companies to tens of millions of dollars in revenues. I don’t know if that has been done before. The products we have developed are innovative with new modes of action, bringing an increased ROI to growers when used in integrated programs. True learning comes from a blend of success and failure. I had some big setbacks, which helped me learn and grow, enriching my journey. I regret my mistake in hiring employees and bringing in board members whose actions set back the companies’ progress by years. That said, at Marrone Bio, I am truly proud of the employee-driven, diverse culture we have created together out of adversity.
Q2: How would you rate the BioAg industry as of now? What are the challenges and opportunities that it might face in the future?
Pam: It depends on whether you are talking about biopesticides or biostimulants/biofertilizers. The biopesticide segment has gone through a transformation in the past 25 years. The products have improved with the progress in molecular biology and genomics as well as fermentation and formulation. The regulatory barriers mean that only a few companies can start up and survive to scale in the biopesticide space. The biostimulant and bionutrient/biofertilizer segment is in the throes of the same kind of transformation, but the lower regulatory barriers make it so too many companies with “bugs in a jug” or “bathtub brews” or "snake oils", as Roger calls them, without enough scientific rigor and quality control behind them, can survive. This is changing as more science-based companies enter the field.
I am pleased to see more and more farmers adopting biologicals, but we still have a long way to go to see truly ecologically based/biointensive crop production and pest management. The BioAg industry needs to see an increase in the proficiency of university extension specialists and other public researchers in biologicals. Many existing IPM programs are outdated and do not reflect the products and modes of action available to today’s growers. Trials should be conducted with integrated programs rather than just stand-alone comparisons; and because of their unique modes of action, marketable yields with biopesticides may be the same or even better than chemicals. To support the adoption of biologicals, more public funding should focus on the development of integrated program at the farm level, starting with soil health. It’s high time now and we need to combine all the available knowledge, cultural practices, and all the tools together to build a truly resilient and regenerative system.
Q3: Why did you combine forces with Primary BioAg Innovations and Global BioAg Linkages as chairman of both companies?
Pam: Although I have had a long career with 30 years as a CEO of three BioAg companies, my work in biologicals is not yet complete. Biologicals are still teeny in market share compared to chemical pesticides. I would like to continue to have an impact to see biologicals grow much further, globally. I want to work with people who are as passionate about biologicals as I am and are focusing their energy on advancing biologicals – for the grower, the consumer and the planet, but not for selfish egos. I have put up with a lot in my career (I’ll save the stories for a future book), so at this stage of my career, I am now better equipped to choose what to do and who to work with. I saw that Primary BioAg Innovations and Global BioAg Linkages, under Roger's leadership, have true synergies, passion, like-mindedness and uniqueness to be able to support adoption of bio-products globally.
Q4: Roger is known to be a live wire business-builder and you are known as a serial entrepreneur with a "never give up" attitude. What plans do you have together? What significance does that partnership have for the BioAg segment?
Pam: The global network and unique business model that Roger has put together is impressive and is a much needed commercialization platform for young innovators. He is a bundle of energy with so much passion about biologicals. I laugh at how he pushes and pushes ahead (however annoying it may be) – all in the service of moving biologicals forward. Imagine what two people with not just a passion for biologicals, but decades of business experience and success, can do together. Watch out!
Q5: What is so special about these two businesses (Primary BioAg Innovations and BioAg Linkages) that made you decide to work with them?
Pam: There are a lot of BioAg inventors and entrepreneurs who don’t have a home for their discoveries and products. They may get their product to a certain stage, perhaps get a registration, then find out how hard it is to get into the market and gain adoption. Partnering with big companies has disappointed them. I see it time and time again. They are looking for advice. Roger and I understand that completely and together, we can build a powerhouse to move the plethora of good technology and products into the market with better information and training. I do not see anyone doing what is being done by PBI and GBAL. You must truly understand this industry and have years as a senior executive running a biologicals business that gives insight to what is needed to take a product from A to B to C.
Q6: How has MBI performed in 2020 and what will be your role going forward with MBI as you are still a member of the Board with significant shares?
Pam: Marrone Bio had record first quarter revenues and gross margins. We continue to execute successfully on our plans to grow revenues at rates well above industry rates (through geographical expansion, selected product launches and increased market share), continue to grow our gross margins and manage our expenses to get to EBITDA breakeven in the near term. I am proud to be leaving Marrone Bio as CEO in the best and strongest position it has ever been in. I will continue to consult with Marrone Bio as needed and serve on the Board. Yes, I have significant shares of MBII, and, like all our other shareholders, I want to see them rise in value like we think they should be based on our results and progress.
Q7: Lastly, what are your plans for your retirement? Will you ever retire?
Pam: People retire from work, not from their passions. I don’t see myself truly retiring for many years yet. Like I do, my husband has a vocation – clinical social work. He is an adjunct professor, teaching in the Smith College School of Social Work. He works very hard and is always busy, so that fits well with my continuing to want to do things that have an impact on agricultural sustainability.
About Primary BioAg Innovations (PBI):
BioAg Innovations provides the first of its kind global commercialization platform for innovators who have spent millions in developing outstanding biological technology, but have limited or no access to the global market. The private-label model also makes it possible for innovation partners to continue with their branded commercialization strategy in parallel, if they wish to, especially for those products which do not come under PBI. Alternatively, with a unique profit-share model, BAI offers to take care of the global commercialization needs of its partners. The focused model depends on true partnerships with innovators and other stakeholders at each level of product distribution, targeting a tangible ROI for our farmers and safe food for consumers.
About Global BioAg Linkages (GBAL):
Global BioAg Linkages, as the name says, links people together all across the world to local experts in the agricultural industry through its global network. The GBAL team works with you as part-time team members, making its whole team your collective asset. Therefore, we want to get to the root of your needs to help efficiently. We are the only global network who provide eight different services under one umbrella, through highly accomplished local specialists. Our seasoned experts specialize in all areas including: business management, regulatory, M&A, fund-raising, go-to market, product development, and more.
About Pamela G. Marrone, PhD
Former CEO and Founder, Marrone Bio Innovations
Dr. Marrone recently retired as CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations (MBI), a company she started in 2006 to discover and develop bio-based products for pest management and plant health. On August 2, 2013, MBI listed its stock as MBII on NASDAQ. Under her leadership, the company commercialized 10 products from 6 EPA-registered active ingredients, and in 2019, acquired Pro Farm Technologies to accelerate growth in the multibillion dollar seed treatment market. From 2015 to 2019, the company grew its revenues by 32% CAGR and gross margins from 5% to 56%. In the first quarter of 2020, MBI reached both record revenues ($9.7 million) and gross margins (58%). Prior to establishing MBI, Dr. Marrone founded AgraQuest (1995-2006) where she served as its CEO, Chairman and President. The company’s biofungicide Serenadeâ, which won the Presidential Green Chemistry Award, became the global biofungicide standard and was the first organically listed product in Wal-Mart’s garden section (>2000 stores) in 2003. Before AgraQuest, she was founding president of Entotech, Inc. (1990-1995), a biopesticide subsidiary of Novo Nordisk. Pam started her career in biopesticides by leading the Insect Biology group at Monsanto (1983-1990), which was involved in pioneering projects based on natural products and plant biotechnology. She is a well-recognized leader in the biopesticide market as evidenced by the following awards; “Lifetime Achievement Award” for contributions in biopesticides by BioAg World, the “Sustie” award by the Ecological Farming Association, Agrow’s “Best Manager with Strategic Vision”, and the NRDC’s Growing Green Award in “Business Leader” category. She is the founder of the Bioproducts Industry Alliance, now a trade group of more than 200 companies. She advises several agtech startups, currently serves on the UC Davis Ag & Environmental Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council, and just finished her 4-year term as an alumni-elected Trustee of Cornell University. She is on the Executive Committee and is Treasurer of the Association for Women in Science and is a board member of the Foundation for Food and Ag Research. She holds several hundred patents and is a most sought-after speaker to deliver keynote addresses on the future and potential of biologicals for pest management, innovation and entrepreneurship. She was elected by her peers as a Fellow of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). Pam is one of very few in the industry that has twice taken a company from founding to scaling to many tens of millions of dollars in revenues. She is proficient in raising debt and equity, doing turnarounds, navigating companies through major crises, leading M&A, commercializing products, and building robust patent portfolios. She has a B.S. in entomology with Honors and Distinction from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in entomology from North Carolina State University.