Woman of Western Wake: Anne Clem Whitaker

For Anne Whitaker, finding the best therapies to help patients manage disease is more than a career; it’s a lifelong passion.

As a child in Alabama, Whitaker witnessed her cousin’s painful battle with cystic fibrosis. The genetic disease, known primarily for the respiratory distress it causes, ultimately claimed her cousin’s life, but not before she observed countless efforts by her aeronautical engineer uncle to find therapies that would lessen his nephew’s suffering.

She saw first-hand what taking a personal and vested interest in beating a disease and helping a patient looked like.

The lesson made an indelible mark on Whitaker, who pursued a degree in chemistry and a career in pharmaceuticals. She honed her craft, working as a sales representative with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and became regional sales director.

As she moved into the leadership role, she met DJ Mitsch, who was contracted by GSK to be an executive coach.

“When I first met Anne, I saw she was humble, yet a force of nature. She needed a bigger platform and voice for her natural skills of engaging the hearts and minds of her team and the larger organization,” said Mitsch, president of Pyramid Resource Group.

Like many women, Whitaker found herself trying to balance the aspects of her life. Successful and ambitious in her career, she was also a mother to two young boys, a wife and an athlete who ran marathons, played tennis and enjoyed water sports.

“When people see her dressed up in business attire, they may initially underestimate her. Behind that grace, there is a tenacious competitor,” said Mitsch.

In fact, it was through a sports mindset that she found balance. “I began to develop that marathoner mindset of, ‘I can grind through anything.’ I realized that while that benefitted me as a marathoner, it didn’t benefit me as a leader,” said Whitaker.

She looked to famed coach and author Dr. Jim Loehr and his Corporate Athlete program to find a new way.

Described as a “tenacious competitor,” Anne Clem Whitaker loves water sports, running and playing tennis. (Submitted photo)

“I changed my whole training routine. I started doing sprint triathlons so I could focus on short and strong bursts of energy. I started treating work that way too, and it taught me to be fully engaged in whatever I was doing,” Whitaker said.

She began a new pattern of mindful presence. Whether playing UNO with her kids or encouraging an employee, she gave her energy to the moment.

Her oldest son, Chad, works with Whitaker at Aerami Therapeutics. Though he doesn’t remember a specific moment of transformation, he felt its impact.

“When she was at home, she was fully at home. Her mind was not still at the office,” he said. “That’s something I try to do as well. It’s become more difficult as we’re all working from home, but I try to be mindful and present, and that’s something I got from her.”

Grateful for the effect that Mitsch’s coaching and Loehr’s mentoring had on her life, Whitaker feels compelled to give that gift to others. Though, she offers a light-hearted warning to anyone seeking her mentorship.

“If I’m committed, you better be committed too,” Whitaker said. “I was really fortunate, and still am fortunate in my career, to have some great mentors who challenge me. I feel that I should pay it forward.”

Whitaker and Mitsch designed a groundbreaking accelerated female leadership development program at GSK, which resulted in 78 women gaining career promotions in just over two years. Whitaker also mentors on a volunteer basis through professional organizations and referrals from many throughout the life sciences communities.

She sees an opportunity for greatness in others, and she commits to helping them find it in themselves. It is that pattern of opportunity and commitment that led her to where she is todaythe CEO of Aerami Therapeutics.

Whitaker’s current company actually began as a different entity. Dance, a pharmaceutical company, developed an inhaled insulin and an innovative device to deliver it. As CEO, Whitaker saw that this type of therapy also had the potential to treat respiratory illnesses.

Once she felt that Dance had accomplished its mission to improve therapies for patients with diabetes, she rebranded the company to Aerami and shifted its focus to therapies for chronic respiratory illness.

Moving the company from California to Durham, she tapped into the talent of the Triangle and created an opportunity for a venture-based, fully integrated pharmaceutical company to be built from the ground up.

When asked what’s next, Whitaker says that her focus is on ensuring Aerami becomes the pharmaceutical company she knows it can be, potentially changing lives for people just like her cousin. Beyond that, she ponders the possibility of starting her own venture capital fund, one focused on helping other female leaders.

“I’m most proud of when I can have an impact on someone’s life and be able to see them grow into a great leader,” she said. “My goal with leadership is just to help people become their best self.”

1 Comment

  • Marguerite Clem says:

    I am proud of you and the impact that you have had on many people’s lives and that you have helped them grow and become their best self. Love you, Mama.

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