Emilio Cordova, PhD, MBA –C’90 and P’22
Dr. Emilio Cordova is a class of 1990 alum from Drew University having majored in chemistry and minored in Spanish. He earned his PhD from the University of Miami in 1995 in Analytical Chemistry; his research involving the synthesis and characterization of molecular switches. He continued his education as an NIH post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University under the guidance of Dr. George Whitesides. In 2006, he earned an MBA from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.
Dr. Cordova has published 8 scientific articles during his career with his work having been cited over 4,000 times. His PhD thesis work was one of three principal works cited in the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry given to Dr. Fraser Stoddart. Dr. Emilio Cordova has over 20 years of management and executive experience in contract research. Throughout his career, he held leadership positions in sales, marketing and business development including positions at Worldwide Clinical Trials, Bioanalytical Systems, Inc., and AIT Bioscience. Dr. Cordova has served as chief executive officer of SAMDI Tech, Inc. since January 2015.
Drew University Highlights:
- First-Generation Student at Drew University – 1986-1990
- President of ARIEL –Latinx Cultural Society -1990
- Resident Assistant (Hoyt-Bowne Hall) –1989-1990
- Co-Chair ECAB (Now BoB) –Student Activity Board -1990
- Parent to senior Adriana Cordova -Drew Class of 2021
- Secretary for Class of 1990 –Alumni Notes –2015-Present
- Member of Drew’s Parent Council –2018-Present
- Parent Ambassador –2019-Present
- Board Member of College Alumni Association Board –2019-Present
- Endowing a scholarship at Drew University – Cordova Family Minority Scholarship in the Sciences – Endowment scheduled to be completed in 2022.
THE VALUE OF DREW
When Emilio visited Drew’s campus he enjoyed the environment, the people, and especially the professors he met. He also liked that Drew offered both sciences and a liberal arts education. He started out his Drew career as a pre-med major; however, when he did better in chemistry than biology, he knew chemistry was the best path for him. He took advanced chemistry courses at Belleville High School, including organic chemistry, so he came to Drew well prepared to excel in this subject. He also attributes his Chemistry professor and advisor at Drew, Dr. Alan Rosan (who recently retired) with instilling a passion for Chemistry. Emilio said, “He was fantastic as a professor and gave me the skill set to fall in love with chemistry. To this day I still consider him a mentor.”
I asked Emilio what he learned from Drew that has helped him be successful in his career and he said, “One of the biggest takeaways from Drew is that my advisor, Dr. Rosan, helped provide a path to my success. I tell students all the time that your advisor is going to be a life-long mentor. You should talk to them and ask them questions. The best lesson you can learn is from those who have experience in your subject and/or field. As a senior I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. As a first-generation student, my parents couldn’t provide career guidance because they did not have the tools or experience to help me through that process. That’s why having a great advisor and other people in the Drew community is critical to help you make those decisions that go beyond Drew. It was my advisor who helped me make the decision to continue my educational path and go on to Grad school. I have never regretted it and this is why I love Drew. I think it was a “Golden Age” for me when I was there. It was such a great tight knit community. The fun part about science, is that people connect science with being in a lab and doing research all day long, but Dr. Rosan told me that is not the case. He showed me that with an advanced degree in the sciences you can do anything, you can go into law, business, industry, or entrepreneurship. It was clear to me that having the tools to do a science degree gave me an opportunity to do more than mix chemicals in a beaker.”
Some of Emilio’s favorite memories of Drew include the time he spent in Ariel as a club. He said, “We had a great group of students that wanted to do outreach to the community regarding issues surrounding the Latinx community. Being able to share our stories with the greater community was so impactful. I found my VHS tapes of those events and will be sharing them with the new generation of Ariel members, including my daughter, who is a senior at Drew and the Vice President of the current club.”
CAREER IN BUSINESS
After Drew you earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Miami and began working in business development. Can you discuss how you started in this industry and what motivated your decision to pursue an M.B.A. in 2006?
When I got my Ph.D. at the University of Miami, I knew I wanted to be in the life sciences but I didn’t know where. My advisor at the University of Miami said I should do a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, so I applied and got accepted as an NIH Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University. At Harvard, I spent time working under the guidance of Dr. George Whitesides. He is a phenomenal person and he quickly showed me that I didn’t belong in the lab, instead that I needed to be in front of people; guiding me to take the business route. After my Post-Doctoral Fellowship, I ended up working in the business side of the industry. The first 10 years of my career, I was at the same company in West Lafayette, Indiana and it was at that time that I decided I wanted to do my MBA. I wanted to work on the corporate side of the industry and I felt that having an advanced degree in business would help me increase my opportunities in moving up the corporate ladder. Purdue had a program for adults to pursue an executive MBA experience. The program was 79 Saturdays over the course of 3 years. It was tough with a 4 and 7-year-old at home, working full time; it was a sacrifice for all of us. However, the best experience I had was having my kids see me walk across the stage receiving my M.B.A.
Tell me about your work as CEO of SAMDI Tech.
SAMDI Tech is a contract research company that caters to the bio tech and pharmaceutical industries. When these companies need to do work outside of their labs they seek companies like SAMDI Tech to do the work on their behalf. Our company is focused on a unique technology called “SAMDI” that we use for drug discovery. I call it, “Before a drug becomes a dream.” Through this process, we’ve been able to grow the company over the course of ten years to be a major player in the contract research space. In my role as Chief Executive Officer I have many responsibilities. I am the CFO, Director of Human Resources, Mentor, and Counselor. Being in a company like SAMDI Tech lets me participate in many aspects of the business and it’s been really a fun experience overall.
You founded Cordova Corporation in 2010. What inspired you to start your own consulting business and can you explain what services you provide?
My wife was also a chemistry major in college, but she stayed home to raise our children; however she later wanted to use her chemistry knowledge. During our time in Indiana, we knew companies in Latin America who wanted to purchase chemistry and analytical products in the U.S. but they were having a hard time doing it. They needed a middle person, so Cordova Corporation started as a way to provide my wife with a work opportunity. She was able to network with distributors across Latin America, help them in purchasing products, sending them overseas, and helping their client base and that spun off into a consulting business. I enjoy that aspect of the business, so I consult for contract research, bio-tech companies, depending on their need. I like sharing my experiences in the life sciences with those companies.
What are the highlights of being an entrepreneur and running your own business?
The most important thing about being an entrepreneur is you can’t be afraid to fail; you have to be a risk taker. You also have to be organized and thorough in your understanding of the business you are going into. I think my background in life sciences combined with my business experience has given me a firm foundation to be successful in building up a company from the bottom up.
What do you thing is the key to your success?
The key to my success is perseverance for many reasons. As a first-generation student, I am passionately driven to succeed and to make my parents proud for the sacrifices they made. I also want to show my children and my family that with hard work you can achieve success. Lastly, in my job, in that I have a “never give up attitude”. When things go poorly you’re there to meet those challenges head on to be successful in the end.
You are part of our Launch First-Generation panel. Can you talk about how being a first-generation student impacted your journey?
Being a first-gen in any university is very tough because you are acclimating to a new environment. The problem for first-gens in general is that they connect to other first-gens that are going through the same thing they are going through and they don’t know what the end of the tunnel looks like. I would challenge these students to find alumni mentors to have someone to talk to about their future. If I had a mentor during my first year at Drew, my year would have gone smoother, as I needed help with things like time management, organizational and interpersonal skills.
We often talk about the challenges of being first gen, but I think first generation students possess many strengths. What do you feel they are?
The number 1 strength is multi-tasking in the sense of managing courses, jobs outside of school, managing family life, your social life, and trying to meet those needs. By learning how to do that and learning how to foster this, the strength they gain will translate into their lives. They will see that in the future they will be able to manage their work, home life, their financial situations, etc. because they made this foundation. Multi-tasking is just one step in their path to success and mentoring is critical to helping first-gen students sculpt the skills they have and see them blossom.
What advice would you give students who are interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?
I always encourage students to keep studying. The sciences offer something critical and unique that other majors don’t offer, which is the ability to get paid to go to school. As grad students, whether in a Ph.D. program or otherwise, the ability to be funded by a university through tuition and a stipend is quite likely as a science major. Why wouldn’t you further your education and become more viable in the industry if you’re getting paid for doing so?
What advice would you give first-generation students who are just starting out?
Don’t have tunnel vision. Don’t focus on one area and put all your eggs in one basket. One of the beauties of Drew is that you can explore different courses, majors, and minors for a holistic experience. Take courses in anthropology, religion, political science, or other sciences. You’ll remember this knowledge years from now. A liberal arts education allows you to explore so many things.
Are there any fun facts about yourself you’d like to share?
- I was so passionate about Drew over the years that my wife and I decided that we would be endowing a scholarship to be completed by the end of 2022 which we will call the Cordova Family Minority Scholarship in the Sciences. This is part of our vision to help minority students who are interested in pursuing a science degree. It would be awarded to a sophomore or junior. It will be a selection process of one student every year.
- I am also a first degree black belt in Taekwondo.
- I recently donated my comic book collection to the Drew archives.