In July 2020, Dentsu Health’s strategy guru Kent Groves grabbed a bag and his “backpack guitar” and set about visiting people and places all over the world while most of us remained paralyzed at home. It was another wonderfully unconventional move in a professional life full of them. If Groves isn’t the most interesting guy in pharma marketing, he’s certainly in the discussion.
What prompted you to travel so extensively during the last two years?
I didn’t have any real commitments to be in one place, so I put together an agenda and hit the highway. I desperately missed traveling. It was a chance to catch up with friends and see parts of the world I hadn’t been to.
My partner of many years lives in Florence, Italy, so I was there for one or two weeks per month. Jackson Hole, Calgary, Vancouver, Portugal, Greece .… Air travel and Airbnbs were definitely on sale and the high-visit tourist sites were empty. On weekends it felt like I had many places — the Parthenon, Lisbon, Algarve, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Florence — to myself. It was crazy.
What was your professional “eureka!” moment?
It wasn’t really a moment. I wrote a blog post about this — I have a sister who’s physically and mentally challenged, and she’s dealt with basic challenges all her life. When I realized the work that we’re doing has potential to reach a physician who may not know about a product and reach a patient who may not know about a product, and bring them together — I thought, “Oh, this justifies everything I do.”
What’s the best advice you were given?
My dad said to me early on: “You can go to school and study science or you can study business. But science will teach you how to think and you can bring that into business.” Science gives you that test-and-learn mentality.
Did you ever consider doing something else?
Before this, I worked in field research for Monsanto. I ran a mail order company. I spent some time working for the government. All led to this culmination of data and insight and relevance that I do now.
What are three essential things on your work station?
For me it’s just two. I always have a guitar around. Between meetings, I pick it up and play a song or two to clear my head. And I always have my notebook. I’m a minimalist.
What is a typical day for you?
It always starts with either a mile swim or five-mile run. Once I get rolling, it’s coffee, a little bit of guitar and a few different global newspapers. Wherever I am, I try to start things up at 8:30 a.m. — which is really challenging, because we literally work in 24 time zones.
What’s something about you your colleagues don’t know?
There are probably a lot of things I don’t want them to know (laughs). One thing is that I have all the equipment I need to play live. Sometimes I’ll go to the local pub or hotel and play for beer. I’m your standard Neil Young/Eagles kind of guy, nothing too dramatic.
What are the best books you’ve recently read?
All the Light We Cannot See [by Anthony Doerr] is so interesting, because it shows how the development of an individual’s disease — the loss of sight for a young girl — can have such an influence on how she perceives the world around her. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal taught me so much about understanding cancer and patients’ and caregivers’ acceptance of it.
When you retire, what are some of the things you want to do?
Lots of guitar for sure. Languages. Definitely sailing, coastal and offshore. More skiing, more tennis.
My friend Neil MacKinnon, who’s provost at Augusta University, wants to get me guest-lecturing — I can see myself doing a little of that. Students are like an open slate. You can fill them with interesting ideas.