La Sierra Business School Dean Brings Venture’s Success to the Classroom

John Thomas is one of the co-founders of biopharma firm Genelux.

La Sierra University
La Sierra Business School Dean Brings Venture’s Success to the Classroom
John Thomas, dean of the Tom & Vi Zapara School of Business at La Sierra University, relays lessons he has learned in the world of entrepreneurship and business to his students. [Photo: Natan Vigna]

It’s been a whirlwind ride for a biopharmaceutical venture in Westlake Village, California, United States. The firm enjoyed a successful initial public offering in January 2023 that led to the coveted ringing of the Nasdaq opening bell followed by national media interviews in the fall; as of December 18, its stock price was more than 100 percent above opening rate.

The company, Genelux Corp. (NASDAQ: GNLX), is a late-clinical-stage biopharmaceutical firm focused on developing a pipeline of next-generation immunotherapies for individuals suffering with aggressive or difficult-to-treat solid tumors. The goal of immunotherapy is to assist the immune system in recognizing and destroying cancer cells. Genelux’s lead product, Olvi-Vec, is in phase three clinical trials for treatment of ovarian cancer and aims to seek regulatory approval.

Genelux was incorporated more than 23 years ago. Its co-founders include John Thomas, dean of the Zapara School of Business at La Sierra University. Over time, the company built its team and pushed through various challenges to file its initial public offering on January 26, 2023. Its market capitalization and share price quadrupled following the initial public offering (IPO), then settled into its current rate. Genelux’s evolution into a tightly focused firm that has rocketed through a major milestone and progressed forward presents an opportunity for Thomas to drive home to students and others his advice on entrepreneurship derived from his tenure with the company.

“Entrepreneurship is a long haul. It takes persistence, determination, the ability to pivot. It’s much more difficult than the traditional track,” he said.

For Zapara business school MBA student Douglas Mejia, Thomas’s influence throughout his academic journey has been pivotal, he said. “His guidance and leadership have been invaluable, especially his role in steering Genelux towards a successful IPO,” Mejia said. “This achievement, amidst the usual challenges of post-IPO stock fluctuations, highlights his exceptional entrepreneurial and strategic skills. His journey with Genelux is a testament to his resilience and business acumen but also a source of personal inspiration for me. It has influenced my decision to pursue a Chartered Financial Analyst certification alongside my MBA.” 

From left to right: Genelux Corp. board directors John Thomas, Mary Mirabelli, James L. Tyree, Thomas Zindrick, Gabriel Woodward. They are pictured at the Nasdaq exchange in New York City on March 29, 2023. [Photo: courtesy of Genelux Corp.]

In September, the Genelux board of directors held its annual shareholders’ meeting at the Zapara School of Business’s Troesh Conference Center. Afterward, Fox Business news channel conducted a livestream interview with Genelux president and chief executive officer Thomas Zindrick.

The business school’s Dean Thomas holds a doctorate in economics and politics from Claremont Graduate University and is also the Bashir Hasso Professor of Entrepreneurship and Political Economy at the Zapara School of Business. In addition to his multiple duties as dean and professor, he leads the development of the school and helps motivate and mentor student entrepreneurs as well as advocates in the business community for investment in education. He serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards.

“For an institution like the Zapara School that emphasizes entrepreneurship, the kind of entrepreneurial experience and connections gained through involvement in a venture like Genelux can be invaluable,” said associate business school dean Gary Chartier, distinguished professor of law and business ethics. “This kind of involvement can provide crucial insights for classroom presentations that focus on the startup process and create opportunities for students to interact with people on the cutting edge of business.”

Noted Kevin Straine, the business school’s business development manager, “Dr. John Thomas does not stop advocating for business students, especially those who are committed to the entrepreneurial process. Beyond the open-door policy, the physical space [in the business school] offered as a startup garage, and even sitting down in the student lounge to give advice to students, he knows what it’s like to bring an idea from nothing to the NASDAQ.

“Unlike many lifetime academics in his position, he offers more than just a theoretical lesson of how to create something of value so that students can see he not only talks the talk but can walk it as well,” Straine said.

Among the key lessons that have emerged along Thomas’s 23-year journey with Genelux has been the vital importance of building a strong team, a goal he has also pursued at the school of business.

“Build a team, trust your team, and pay your team. You do that and you will have an incredible company,” Thomas says. “Those are lessons we can put into any venture.”

The original version of this story was posted on the La Sierra University news site.

La Sierra University