Robert Fallon’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of education, international experience, and a willingness to embrace new challenges. From his formative years at Boston Latin School to his groundbreaking work in international banking and, later, involvement in cutting-edge scientific research, Fallon’s story is one of resilience, adaptability, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge.
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A Foundation in Education
Growing up in the city, Fallon navigated the bustling streets of Boston using subways and streetcars to reach his beloved Boston Latin School.
For six years, the school provided him with an exceptional classical education, instilling in him a deep sense of gratitude and the confidence to pursue higher education—an opportunity not readily available to many of his peers in the city.
A Summer at Hyannisport Club
During his youth, Fallon spent transformative summers at the Hyannisport Club on Cape Cod, where he lived in a caddy camp. Caddying not only taught him invaluable lessons in responsibility and hard work but also led to a memorable encounter caddying in a foursome with President Kennedy himself, whose summer home was in Hyannisport.
Although he caddied for Pierre Salinger, Press Secretary to President Kennedy, the experience of being with the President and his friends left an indelible mark on Fallon, reinforcing his belief in the power of opportunity.
After graduating from Ohio University, Fallon went to Harvard Business School but his path took an unexpected turn when he withdrew from the MBA program to join the Peace Corps and embarked on a life-altering journey to Samoa.
Teaching math and science at a Catholic Missionary school, Fallon witnessed firsthand the impact he could have on young lives. His dedication and passion for education laid the foundation for lasting connections with the local community.
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The Gift from Samoa
Perhaps the most poignant memory from Fallon’s time in Samoa was the gift bestowed upon him by the father of one of his students—an intricately designed traditional Samoan tattoo, or “Taulima.” This symbolic gesture spoke volumes about the deep respect and gratitude Fallon had earned from the people he had come to serve.
After his stint at the Peace Corps, Robert and his wife, Joanne, backpacked through Southeast Asia. They also visited India and Nepal with just a few clothes and flip-flops, a journey that enlarged their perspective on the world.
Soon after, Robert returned to Harvard to pursue an MBA. Upon graduation, he applied for a position in the International Banking Division of Citibank. He recalled seeing the bank’s branches during his travels in locations like Suva, Fiji, Penang, Malaysia, and Singapore and thought Citi offered an opportunity to return overseas.
And it did, Robert soon found himself at The Asia Pacific Capital Corporation Limited in Hong Kong, a regional merchant bank that Citibank and Fuji Bank jointly owned.
A Sojourn Through Asia
Robert’s professional journey led him to live and work for many years in Asia, where he made significant contributions to the international banking sector. This position helped him gain invaluable experience operating across multiple geographies and cultures, from Indonesia and Australia in the south to Thailand and India in the west and through the Pacific Rim of the Philippines, China, Japan, and Korea.
Robert’s approach, rooted in understanding cultural nuances and building relationships, set him apart in a field often dominated by Western ideologies. Robert’s time in Japan and his role in expanding business operations across the Asia-Pacific region showcased his knack for navigating diverse cultural landscapes.
Banking in Asia, despite the cultural differences, was essentially built on relationships, and he developed deep and long-lasting ties that served him well.
The Drexel Connection
Fallon’s Asian finance experience brought him into contact with legendary figure, Michael Milken, who sought to expand Drexel’s international presence and hired him to run Drexel Burnham Lambert Asia. His involvement with Drexel and subsequent experiences in the industry shed light on the dynamic and sometimes controversial nature of finance in the 1980s. Nonetheless, it was an invaluable learning experience.
Robert later joined Bankers Trust in Japan but soon realized that the organization was more concerned with derivatives than making much of an impact by developing businesses in Asia.
At the time, he was being wooed by Manufacturers Hanover Corporation, better known as Manny Hanny, which he ended up running in Japan. Manny Hanny merged with Chemical and eventually, merged with Chase and JP Morgan, with Robert managing JP Morgan Chase’s operations across the Asia Pacific.
Teaching, Research, and the Ohio University Connection
After a successful career in international banking, Robert returned to academia, teaching “International Banking, Value and Risk” at Columbia Business School. After teaching for just one semester, he was recruited to become Chairman and CEO of Korea Exchange Bank, Korea’s largest international bank.
Robert realized it would be his job to pull the bank out of the capital inadequacy issues it was facing but his prior banking experience in Korea, and his firsthand knowledge of dealing with the Asian financial crisis of 1998, served him well.
Within four years, KEB returned to sustained profitability with robust capital adequacy. Back from his stint in Korea, he rejoined Columbia Business School to teach international banking. He also became one of the trustees of the Ohio University Foundation.
His involvement with Ohio University’s research endeavors introduced him to Dr. Rathindra Bose, a pioneer in anti-cancer compounds. This collaboration ignited Robert’s interest in the intersection of science and business.
Dr. Bose had synthesized a new anti-cancer compound: a small molecule that not only attacked cancer but stimulated the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer as well. This was novel and potentially quite powerful, but Dr. Bose was a scientist and not a businessman, so Fallon decided that he would try to help bring this drug into commercial reality. That led to the founding of Promontory Therapeutics.
Today, Promontory Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biotech company in the midst of three Phase 2 clinical trials: lung, prostate, and thymic cancer, a rare disease in which the National Cancer Institute assists Promontory.
Robert talks about how they raised $74M with another private funding round of $20M recently launched. The drug Promontory is developing is a small molecule immunotherapy, unlike gene therapy or cell therapy, which is a huge advantage since the drug can be readily manufactured and stored with a long shelf life.
Robert foresees a time when the drug will be made available not only to N. America, Europe, and Japan but to cancer patients in worldwide locations like China, Indonesia, West Africa, Eurasia, and South Asia.
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Robert Fallon’s journey from the streets of Boston to the boardrooms of international banking and research labs is a testament to the limitless possibilities that lie before us.
His story is a source of inspiration for those who dare to step out of their comfort zones, embrace diverse experiences, and forge their own path toward making a lasting impact on the world.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Early education at Boston Latin School provided a strong foundation and instilled a deep sense of gratitude and confidence to pursue higher education.
- Transformative experiences, including caddying at Hyannisport Club and teaching math and science in the Peace Corps in Samoa, significantly shaped a worldview and reinforced a belief in the power of opportunity.
- A career in international banking, particularly at Citibank and later at banks that became JP Morgan Chase, helped make significant contributions to the financial sector across the Asia-Pacific rim..
- Success in the banking sector was attributed to an approach of understanding cultural nuances and building strong relationships, which helped rule a field often dominated by Western transactional ideologies.
- Transition to academia, teaching courses in international banking at Columbia University. He later took on a leadership role at Korea Exchange Bank.
- Involvement with Ohio University’s research endeavors introduced him to the world of scientific research, particularly in the field of anti-cancer compounds. This collaboration ignited his interest in the intersection of science and business.
- Extensive research in targeting cancer cells led to the creation of Promontory Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotech company. Their small-molecule immunotherapy drug shows tremendous promise in cancer treatment, and they have successfully raised substantial funding for its development.