Bankole Johnson on Transformative Decisions in Business and Life
Professor Doctor Bankole Johnson, Founder, CEO and Doctor at Casa Privée
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your journey as a leader in your industry?
Prof Dr. Bankole Johnson, is a brain scientist, psychiatrist and addiction specialist. My journey started by going to medical school at about the age of 17 years, graduating at 22 years, doing a research scholarship at Oxford University MRC unit in neuroscience and neuropharmacology, and then a further doctorate in molecular genetics, brain imaging, and addiction. Additionally, I have a masters degree from the University of London for a project in neurology and computational mathematics. I have won several prestigious national awards for my research, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. I have edited or written 6 books, and have over 250 scholarly publications. I have been on the Best Doctors list in the USA for over 20 years. Finally, I am an accredited expert in Forensic Medicine. I did not at first want to go into medicine but had set my mind on being a lawyer. My parents would not have it. So, they pushed me into a career in medicine. That is also why I decided to work to be a leading expert in Forensic Medicine. My work has led me to change many paradigms in science. Including holding over 100 global patents on how genes affect brain function, and changing opinions about the nature of addiction, which can be seen in the HBO series Addiction: Why Can’t They Stop, which won 2 presidential Emmy awards. It has not been an easy life but one of struggle, challenge, and being a pioneer. It has often been lonely. But through it, I am strengthened by faith and conviction. I am a family man, and blessed with 2 wonderful boys. At heart, my goal is to help change the way people think about the brain, and to help them look after its health.
What specific experiences or decisions in your journey do you believe have shaped your approach to business and leadership?
The death of my parents when I was 22 years of age has been a burning spur to never give up. I am always hopeful that things will turn out better the next day. My decision to start a biopharmaceutical company in my kitchen, with just $450 in my pocket, and take it all the way to being listed on the NASDAQ. I am committed to building value. I have been blessed by strong mentors who pulled no punches and always gave me their version of the truth without sugarcoating. Naturally, I am adventurous and have advanced my skills through self-learning, reading the classics, and an understanding that nothing is really new - only being re-discovered.
Can you share a story of a pivotal moment in your career that led to a significant transformation in your business or personal life?
My understanding of how much of a brain disease the use of alcohol and drugs is. My rejection that this was a disease of bad luck and personality, and promoting that view despite its great unpopularity even amongst some today. Ringing the NASDAQ bell for the Company I founded, Adial Pharmaceuticals, was pivotal. Opening Casa Privée in Miami - an elite medical center devoted to improving brain function, pushing back the ravages of age, improving physical condition, and bringing space-age techniques into clinical practice. It really has been Time Travel in Medicine.
What factors did you consider when making that critical decision, and how did you weigh the potential risks and rewards?
I have failed many times but am relentless in determination. I think hard about decisions but in the end trust my instincts. I often tell trusted friends stories or different scenarios to get their opinion but I do not burden them with the responsibility of giving the wrong advice. This unburdens them to tell me their true feelings.
What challenges did you face during this transformative period, and how did you overcome them?
My promotion of the brain was initially criticized heavily by the scientific community, which is often slow to change. I, however, overcame that through persistence in research and demonstrating the conviction of my views, most of which are now mainstream. I take to the adage of being a “Dam Buster” and the music from the movie is one of my favorite tunes.
At several points in my life, I have worried that I had lost it all. I certainly did when my parents died. I was lonely, out of funds, a struggling young doctor, and my fiance at the time left me to find a “richer” man. But I pulled myself up and persevered.
I have had to overcome prejudice but admit I have been sheltered by intellect to reason much of this away. I have learned how prejudice can hurt and hold people back. But I also have learned that it is best to rise to the occasion and perform to the best of one’s ability.
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self at that time, or to entrepreneurs and business leaders who might find themselves in a similar situation?
Your first idea is always the best. Intuition is always the best advice. It is better to be wrong and try than fail through procrastination Success is fleeting, and there is always a tomorrow to be handled Keep your circle of loved ones small, and love them with all your soul.
How has that pivotal moment influenced the way you make decisions today, and what lasting impact has it had on your business?
The decisions I have made have created uniqueness and innovation. Sometimes, I have to be patient to explain where I am heading and to get others to follow. I have to caution myself not to pull in too many directions at once but to remain anchored through discipline. It is always easy to do what you love. Boredom and routine are demons to be feared as they stifle innovation and life.
In your opinion, how important is it for entrepreneurs and business leaders to have these transformative moments, and how can they best prepare for and learn from them?
Transformation only comes from a prepared mind. You cannot transform without knowledge. You must read and learn voraciously from others. It is important to always have context in your mind and create a platform of steps. Dream about your “big ideas” always then wake up and work towards them. Realize that not everything is possible, but much more than you ever realize is!