By Tom Still
MADISON – When last you heard the name “Tommy Thompson,” the reference was almost certainly in the context of state or national politics.
Today, the ex-governor, former U.S. Cabinet secretary and one-time candidate for U.S. Senate is operating under a very different title: Tommy G. Thompson Inc.
More precisely, Thompson is the chairman and chief executive officer of Thompson Holdings, a business umbrella under which one of the most familiar names and faces in Wisconsin politics is investing and advising about 30 companies, mostly in the health care space.
“When I left public office at age 63, I hadn’t saved much,” Thompson said recently when asked about his transition from career politician to private businessman. “I figured it was about time to change that.”
Thompson’s tenure as Health and Social Services secretary under President Bush in the early 2000s was an extension of an interest in health care that began during his tenure as governor, which spanned from 1987 to 2001. He became enamored with health-care innovation, organizing the first federal summit on electronic health records, as well as promoting healthier lifestyles and pushing the concept of “medical diplomacy” around the world.
His DHHS tenure also introduced him to many deep-pocket companies in and around health care, many of which were eager to work with him once he left government. Thompson became a partner in a prestigious Washington law firm and also became a senior advisor to Deloitte LLP, where he founded the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
Slowly but surely, Thompson wound up on more corporate boards than a reasonable travel schedule might allow, including La Crosse-based Logistics Health Inc. After a brief bid for the presidency in 2007, Thompson returned to the business world and more or less stayed there until his 2012 run for the U.S. Senate, in which he was defeated by Democrat Tammy Baldwin.
As personally bitter as it was to Thompson, his loss may have been a blessing in disguise. Today, Thompson talks with excitement about his portfolio of mature and emerging companies and his efforts to help them find financing, sometimes from venture capitalists or other private equity investors. The list includes:
· Cytori Therapeutics, which develops regenerative medicine products for different cell-based therapies. Thompson is a director of this publically traded company.
· Careview Communications, which provides services that help reduce hospital-related falls, bed sores, sitter costs and more through patient monitoring systems. Also a publically traded company, Thompson is a director.
· StayHealthy, a private firm that provides both physical and online kiosks to help people manage their health. Its self-serve kiosks offer clinical-grade health checks for blood pressure, heart rate, body weight and composition and other factors. It has about 3,000 kiosks in place nationwide.
· Evofem, which is a privately held biotechnology company that largely focuses on health issues for women. It is developing products for dermatology, pain management and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, many of which are affordable solutions for women in developing nations. It’s worth noting that Thompson’s wife, SueAnn, is the founder of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation and his daughter, Tommi, is its executive director.
· Physicians Realty Trust is a publically held, self-managed health care real estate company. It invests in outpatient care facilities, medical office buildings, hospitals with specialized acute and post-acute care services and other health care facilities. Based in Milwaukee, this company has raised millions of dollars through an initial stock offering and is looking to raise more.
· Centene Corp., a public company that focuses on care plans for underinsured and uninsured people. Thompson is a board director.
· C.R. Bard, a publically held global company that markets products related to vascular treatments, urology, oncology and surgical specialties. Thompson is a board member.
What’s largely missing from the Thompson portfolio so far are Wisconsin-based startups and emerging companies, but he says there might be interest there over time if he and other partners exit from current deals with money to reinvest.
“I know from my time as governor, in particular, that Wisconsin has great innovation and great technology,” Thompson said. “I also know that hasn’t changed.”
At age 72, don’t look for Thompson to become an entrepreneur, but the platform he has built in health care may help younger companies plug in to broader networks.