Lisa Grimes, President & CEO, PurThread

How does a respected, well-coiffed leader earn a reputation as a hot pepper-eating champ?

It all started on a Friday afternoon. Then-CEO of Insite Clinical Trials, Lisa Grimes instituted a “Friday break” at the office and invited everyone to a hot pepper-eating contest. She won.

Week after week, she won. Finally, an especially large guy from IT challenged Grimes to a contest eating spoonsful of progressively hotter sauces — no  crackers!

“Let’s just say, he never challenged me again on that!” laughed Grimes. "I guess it’s part of my goal-oriented nature, I like to win!”

If there is a recurring pattern from Grimes’ childhood home in Hamilton, N.C., “a small town with a big textile plant” on the Roanoke River, to her present-day home in Cary, which she has decorated herself with impeccable style, it’s that she continually embraces new challenges.

More often than not, she, and the organization she’s aligned with, come out on top.

Her most recent success is with Cary-based PurThread, where she has served as CEO since 2013. The life sciences textile company uses germ-fighting silver salt, recycled from Kodak, to produce fibers that kill bacteria, mold, mildew and fungus.

Those fibers can be used in fabrics ranging from athletic apparel and military gear to pet bedding and maybe most importantly, hospital scrubs and linens.

“If we could be one piece of the puzzle that lowers hospital-acquired infection rates, that’s a big innovation!” said Grimes.

After six years of research and development, PurThread is poised to hit the consumer market through a partnership with Burlington, a global leader in textile remanufacturing. Soon you may see clothing tags on the rack that read, “Protected by PurThread.”

But her business successes, while extensive, are only a part of what makes Grimes, the woman, successful. In fact, it was when she jumped off the corporate track more than a dozen years ago that she began to truly discover what being successful really means.

She and her husband, Ed, traveled to Russia to adopt their son, Eric,  who had been in an orphanage there for nearly three years. When they learned of Eric's extensive medical needs, Grimes  decided  to stay home to tend to him during many surgeries and therapies, and “love, nurture and catch up."

Success, she found, is more than just a profit/loss sheet.

“I think it’s using your God-given skills and talents to the best of your abilities in whatever it is that you are doing,” reflected Grimes.

For Grimes, that included charting new territory as a mom, then starting her own interior design business, LTG, so she could stay busy and creative but also work a more flexible schedule.

Having a bit more breathing room also allowed her to focus on volunteerism and the positive difference that can make.

“We live in a great and growing area but there are lonely people out there,” said Grimes. "I think people get to feel the love of Jesus when you go out and do something for them. I think it makes the whole community stronger.”

Grimes specializes in bringing her business skills to nonprofits so they can be more functional and effective organizations. Whether she is planning the Pay It Forward fundraiser for The Caring Community Foundation or helping a friend throw a launch party for her new book, Grimes has a knack for connecting people in just the right space, without  micro-managing.

“If you can pull together a group of half a dozen people, or hundreds of people, and you let people work in their sweet spot you can  get so much done and help others. And it doesn’t even feel like work because you’re working in your target zone of gifts and talents,” explained Grimes.

It’s not only the giving back but the balance that giving provides, that keeps Grimes entrenched in her volunteer work.

“Balance to me means making sure that my faith is included in my day. It is doing a good job while I am at work, but not working for pay 24/7,” she explained.

One non-paying job she particularly enjoys is mentoring other professional women, something she wishes she had received in her 28-year career. She  offers young women this advice:

Be yourself.

Maintain integrity in what you do in your relationships.

Have balance. Don’t have everything you read and stream be work-related because that becomes your entire self-image.

Learn to juggle (visually not literally). Juggle just a few things at first and then add another and another. But figure out which item requires the most care and attention and let that be the item you don’t drop. The others can drop … and bounce back.

Check out periodically. Take a long weekend or real vacation and completely unplug from cell phone or work email.

For Grimes, her Christian faith has been a touchstone in her life since she was a child, and it is through those eyes of faith that she evaluates her life and work.

“I pray about it. If I am looking at things I believe He wants me to do, it’s gonna happen,” Grimes said simply. “I think that’s how you have peace. I think that’s how you find fulfillment.”

Title/ Organization: President & CEO, PurThread

Education: UNC-Chapel Hill School of Pharmacy

Family: Married 31 years to high school sweetheart Ed Grimes; sons Collin, 23, and Eric, 18

Hometown: Hamilton, N.C.

Early Jobs:   First stint as “interim CEO” was at age 14 at a local garden nursery, while the owners went on vacation. At 16, she drove a school bus, having received her bus driver's license the same day she got her regular driver's license!

Passions: Volunteering with organizations such as Lighthouse Ministries and The Caring Community Foundation where she serves on the boards, and connecting people for the greater good. Also, reading, travel, interior design.

Fun Facts:  Known as a hot pepper-eating champion among friends and colleagues. She receives hot sauces from around the world from clients and enjoys a jalapeño in her daily kale shake.

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