An evidence-based life

As a senior district business manager for a pharmaceutical company, Dave Kinnear (B.S. Biology ‘79) spends his days immersed in sales data in his home office rather than running assays in a research lab. But for the one-time biology student, the mindset isn’t all that different. “I’m looking at trends – sales in different territories I manage – and developing hypotheses about why I’m seeing these trends,” says Kinnear. “Then I go out and test them out.”

Kinnear didn’t set out after graduation with pharmaceutical sales in mind. In fact, he began his professional life at the Minnesota Legislature in 1979 with the help of Professor Doug Pratt, who connected him to the Minnesota Legislature’s Science and Technology Research Office where he both interned and held a paid position for a year. He was hired on as an analyst with the Minnesota Energy Agency soon after. His foray into politics turned out to be an education all its own.

As an intern, Kinnear was tasked with providing briefs to legislators on a wide range of scientific subject matter from the evolution-creationism debate to environmental issues. “I talked to some of the leading experts in the United States and presented information to legislative committees,” he says. In his next position, Kinnear’s focus shifted to renewable energy at the Minnesota Energy Agency where he promoted the use of energy sources indigenous to Minnesota then got involved in permitting for utility companies before changing course to join Bristol-Myers-Squibb in 1982. And he’s never looked back.

His switch to the private sector was motivated, in part, by the knowledge that what he does yields real-world benefits. “I know that if we do our jobs right, patients will benefit,” says Kinnear. “I can prove that people are less likely to die. That’s rewarding.”

Different as politics and the private sector are in some ways, Kinnear sees some affinities (and draws on lessons learned during his early years at the legislature) between how government and the health care system operate. “The healthcare environment has gotten very complicated,” he says. “There are a lot of people involved [in making decisions] — hospital committees, managed care organizations, government entities. It begins to look like a political system, so I go back to my knowledge of legislative committees.”

Kinnear’s data-driven style and political savvy aren’t just his hallmarks at work. He jokes that he often plays a similar role at home. He recalls how his son, now an airline pilot, memorably used this inclination to sell him on a ski trip to Europe instead of the usual foray to Colorado with a presentation Kinnear describes as “half science, half sales.” “My son gathered data about cost, travel time, weather, and other points of comparison,” he recalls, noting that at the time ski resorts in Europe were cheaper than in the United States. “It was pretty cool... We did the trip and it actually did end up costing about the same.”

– Stephanie Xenos