Spotlight On: Tim Gabel, President & CEO, RTI International

Spotlight On: Tim Gabel, President & CEO, RTI International

2022-09-13T14:47:49-04:00September 13th, 2022|Healthcare, Raleigh-Durham, Spotlight On|

2 min read September 2022 — Invest: spoke with Tim Gabel, president and CEO of independent nonprofit research institute RTI International, about partnerships and why they are at the core of its business strategy. “We are all about regional economic growth and want it to be approached in an equitable way. It is a question of how innovation can create more opportunities,” he said.

What is the key challenge facing industries today?

The people dimension is the most pressing need facing industries today. In today’s labor market, attracting the most talented people is largely about the environment a company creates, both physical and interpersonal. Another essential aspect is creating a more diverse talent pipeline, which is something we are doing with our Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (EDIB) initiative. Having a strong pipeline of leadership talent is not just about being strong in capability but also in providing a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. This has always been a heavy focus for us but since the pandemic, it makes even more business sense. We want a fabulous culture where people love to work and feel they belong.

What is some of the innovative research you are most excited about right now?

RTI is a fascinating organization, competing in the arena of good ideas and innovation where we don’t rely on outside investors. We are approaching $1.2 billion in annual revenue and about 50% of that is health-related in some fashion. 

We invest in innovation, both inside and outside of our organization to address the world’s more complex scientific and societal challenges. One local example is our recent Forethought initiative. This was created to build on a foundation of successful investments in university collaborations and to help stimulate transformational change for the next 65 years in the RTP region. READDI, a project led by UNC-Chapel Hill, received $5 million in seed funding as the winner to continue work to accelerate the production of antiviral drugs to prevent future pandemics – innovation needed now more than ever. 

One of the things I’m most excited about in my new role as CEO is working with our staff in international development. It’s an important segment that reaches across the world specifically to help improve health and save lives such as by eradicating neglected tropical diseases. These are diseases that affect more than 1 billion people worldwide causing daily suffering for individuals in poor and marginalized communities, with devastating effects like blindness, malnutrition and disabilities. We partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) and ministries of health with unprecedented support from pharmaceutical companies and bilateral donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on a coordinated global effort to administer treatment to control and eliminate these diseases. This is a great example of implementing our mission to improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. 

How does RTI align research with establishing broader partnerships?

We are all about regional economic growth and want it to be approached in an equitable way. It is a question of how innovation can create more opportunities, especially for disadvantaged populations. One way we are doing this is through partnerships. For example, we are committed to working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including North Carolina A&T, whose chancellor is on our board of directors. We have also partnered with North Carolina Central University to establish the Center for Advanced Research and Environmental Sciences, focused on health and environmental justice research. This will serve as a fantastic hub for students in the field to graduate into excellent, well-paying jobs in high demand industries. This is such an exciting endeavor not only because of the excellent research we’re producing together, but also because it benefits the region, adds jobs, and becomes a magnet for additional resources so we can grow our investment. It’s a win-win-win model that I would like to see replicated in the Triangle and across North Carolina. 

How is RTI attracting and retaining talent amid national workforce challenges?

It’s been a challenging time because we have onboarded more than 600 employees over the course of the pandemic and many have not even stepped foot in our facilities. Work from home and hybrid work models have transformed our business. Despite an uptick of turnover rates relative to our historical standards, we have done well compared to a lot of companies. The pandemic changed the expectations of how people work, and we have learned to be more flexible for our staff. Flexibility is a guiding principle for RTI moving forward: giving our staff the agency to say what works best for them. Our top and bottom lines have grown during the pandemic and having more people work from home has not impeded that. If we give our staff flexibility and create as employee-friendly an environment as we can while still meeting the needs of clients and carrying out our mission, it’s a winning formula.

What makes the Triangle a great place to do business?

A big part of the Triangle’s value proposition is access to high-quality academic institutions. The life science sector has also emerged as a huge strength for the region and there is a critical mass of global companies moving here. Private equity is gaining momentum in terms of outside money coming through venture capital and angel investing that is hopefully stimulating more startups from within the state while attracting more business from other regions of the country. RTI has also done a lot of business with the military in our state, including the time I served on the board of the Defense Alliance of North Carolina. Our military population is one of the largest in the country and, yet, if you look at the economy, we are middle of the pack in terms of defense sector economic impact. That is a huge opportunity for North Carolina.

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