Entrepreneur has advice for Winston School seniors

Tim Wollaeger, managing director of Sanderling Ventures, felt a kinship with The Winston School seniors who recently attended his two-day class “Goal Setting and Problem Solving.”

The entrepreneur was a founding general partner of the San Diego-based Biovest whose portfolio included Pyxis, Biosite and Amylin, all of which achieved values in excess of $1 billion.

However, just like the students he was teaching, Wollaeger had also been a high school student with learning challenges.

“School was a challenge from day one,” he said. “I applied to private school as a sophomore and, after testing, they said I had to come in as a ninth-grader. And, to top it off, they said if I didn’t do well I would have to leave.”

Fortified by the challenge and motivated by fear, Wollaeger said he ended up No. 1 in his class junior year. He also excelled at sports, making All-State in track and swimming, and playing football and basketball.

The message he wanted students to take away from class was, “Success is not random — it happens for a reason.” While he was spurred on by fear, it was the lessons learned in those early years of school that helped him become successful.

“I had a couple of teachers who took me under their wing who said ‘you’re not going to make it unless you change.’ So I did.”

Envisioning a successful career and a good life, he planned backwards from those goals to map the necessary steps, which included an undergraduate degree from Yale and a master’s from Stanford University.

True to his plan, he went on to have an illustrious career highlighted by billion dollar deals and accolades from the business community. He was named San Diego’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 1995 and Corporate Director of the Year in 2001.

— Karin Olsen