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March 19, 2012

2012 Business Leaders of the Year: Jean Hoffman blends a love of animals with fierce determination and a focused strategy

Photo/Tim Greenway Jean Hoffman, president and CEO of Putney Inc., intends to use $21 million in VC funds she secured last year to grow the generic pet medication company
Photo/Tim Greenway Jean Hoffman, Putney president and CEO, snuggles with Plaid the cat as she discusses Putney's generic drug donation program with John Flood, a veterinarian who oversees PAWs, a local animal welfare program

It took five years, but Jean Hoffman has finally reached the point in the development of Putney Inc., her generic pet medication company, where looking for money can take a back seat to developing talent.

"The team is my No. 1 focus," says Hoffman, who completed her Series C funding in October, closing a $21 million venture capital deal with NewSpring Capital and Safeguard Scientifics. "I can now spend my time supporting management and researching additional members of the Putney team. The team is everything to how we execute our strategy."

The strategy — developing generic equivalents for pet medications based on consumer and veterinarian demand — has served the company well as it transitions from a small startup to a bigger player in the highly competitive world of pet pharmaceuticals. In the United States alone, consumers spent $6.7 billion on pet medications in 2011, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.

Putney currently has two generic pet medications in the market, carprofen and ketamine, prescribed by veterinarians to ease inflammation in animals and manage pain; 20 more medications are in development. When those medications receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and go into distribution, Hoffman expects the company will be poised to make $100 million in annual revenues — a benchmark she forecast three years ago.

"I thought we'd make that mark by 2013, so I'm revising it to 2014, maybe 2015," she says, smiling. "We're on a good track." Last year the company reported revenues of $10 million.

Propelling that growth is a $5 million bump in payroll that in the last year allowed Hoffman to hire a chief operating officer, a vice president of strategy, a vice president of strategic portfolio planning, marketing specialists, a staff veterinarian and people to work in product development and regulatory affairs, among others. The company's growth caught the eye of Inc. magazine, which last year named Putney one of the fastest-growing companies in Maine, with 291% growth from 2007 to 2010.

Hoffman isn't stopping to catch her breath. She expects to hire another 10 people before this year is over. To accommodate the growth, Putney has expanded its space bordering Post Office Square on Congress Street to occupy the entire second floor.

"We are Maine's leading buyer of white boards," she jokes moments after a delivery man wheels a hand cart stacked with several flat cardboard boxes past her office. She ticks off several current openings: two positions in finance, and positions in commercial operations, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and product development.

The investment funding means marketing and product development can now get the attention they deserve, helping Putney stay ahead of the competition, says Hoffman. Putney has historically distributed its medications by selling directly to veterinarians, a channel that Hoffman says could be expanded in the future. As more medications are approved by the FDA, there will be more emphasis on marketing — a situation she expects will keep her new vice president of sales, Patrick Powell, busy.

"One of the happiest parts of my day is walking by Patrick's office and telling him how a good a job he's doing, and how much more he'll be doing next month," she says, adding he has already increased revenues significantly.

A formula for growth

But growth in and of itself isn't what's important to Hoffman. She says her leadership gift is the ability to see patterns and trends before others and develop a strategy around them. For instance, she recognized an opportunity in generic pet medications when research she did in 2006 showed only 6% of pet prescriptions have a generic equivalent versus the 79% of human medications with a generic option. A lifelong animal lover and pet owner, Hoffman decided to combine her love of pets with her industry savvy to form Putney, crystallizing a business opportunity and fueling Hoffman's desire to help pet owners care for their animals.

Once Hoffman has a goal in mind, she says it's all about being focused and disciplined — two characteristics that led to the successful creation and ultimate sale of two previous companies she founded, Newport Strategies and Q Street Advisors, both with ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Those ties created a network of global contacts in the pharmaceutical and generic industries, where Hoffman is a recognized authority who often presents at international conferences.

Since founding Putney in 2006, she has worked with a core staff to develop drugs designed to meet specific market demands identified by veterinarians. Putney contracts with R&D firms for the research and, after it receives a patent, contracts with off-site manufacturers to make the medications in facilities that are FDA compliant. By keeping overhead low, Putney can nimbly respond to market demands, says Hoffman, who recently returned from a trip to Europe where she explored a manufacturing and development opportunity with a company there.

Hoffman says the venture capital received last year means the company can explore new projects that she declines to describe, except to say they are still in the field of generic medicine for cats and dogs.

"This is one of the few opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry — a worldwide business — to build a company of scale doing the right thing and making a lot of money in a way that serves the customer," she says.

Navigating with purpose

"Doing the right thing" is a mantra she learned from her father, Burt Hoffman, a Rhode Island businessman who became the editor-in-chief of the National Journal following stints as a reporter and editor at the Congressional Quarterly and Washington Star in Washington, D.C. Later he opened a Beltway consultancy. Photos of her father surrounded by the political heavyweights of the 1960s and 1970s — inscribed with best wishes from the likes of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon — hang on her office wall as inspiration.

"I lost him in 2010 … I think he would have been proud of what we've accomplished here," she says.

Hoffman keeps a sense of purpose beyond building Putney by donating their generic drugs to animal shelters and refuge leagues across the country. She is also a member of a kitchen cabinet assembled by Gayle Brazeau, the new dean of the University of New England's nascent College of Pharmacy.

"Jean has been instrumental in advising me on curriculum development, and she has offered me some leadership advice as I build this program," says Brazeau. "I value her insight and experience very much."

When Hoffman got word that her VC deal closed, she celebrated by taking the weekend off relaxing in her Peaks Island home and then returned to her office Monday "to work on what really matters.

"Raising big money is the beginning of hard work, not the end of it."

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