University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – B.A., Economics
Eastern Virginia Medical School, Doctor of Medicine
When Dr. Lucy Gibney found out her son had severe food allergies she discovered two things: there was a growing market of gluten-free and vegan treats, and, most of them weren’t very good. Thinking she would fare better in her own kitchen, Lucy got to work with the goal of making something that managed to meet special dietary considerations and surpass taste tests. But it wasn’t easy. At all. “I worked at recipes for weeks, just trying to make something good for us to eat at home,” admits Lucy.
More than a few recipes later, Lucy has grown her at-home tinkering into a baking powerhouse – selling treats that prove ‘a modified diet doesn’t have to be a limited diet’ at retailers coast-to-coast. And while we didn’t get to try samples of her certified gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO treats (feel free to ask for our address if you need it, Lucy) Lucy’s press, which includes Women’s Health, Food Network Magazine, Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine, earns her a dedicated spot on our grocery list.
Love someone or something other than work. Your significant other, kids, friends and pets will make the hard days much easier!
Why did you decide to start Dr. Lucy’s?
I’ve always loved good food and I believe great nutrition can also be very decadent and indulgent. With that as a backdrop, Lucy’s grew out of my family experience with food allergies. My son was diagnosed as an infant with several severe food allergies, which led me to experiment with baking gluten-free and vegan treats for him. Thankfully I’m a persistent and driven person, because otherwise I would have given up! I was shocked at the challenge, especially because I’ve always tinkered with cookie recipes to make more nutritious and interesting versions of classics. I thought the gluten-free and vegan quest would be just a tinkering project, but found out differently! I worked at recipes for weeks, just trying to make something good for us to eat at home.
I was driven to the kitchen because at the time I found nothing on the market that came close to my standards for taste and texture. Also, I was unsure about food safety with small, unknown producers. I eventually tackled the taste and texture challenge. The food safety concern remained, because just as I had doubts about cookie producers, I wanted to be sure about the ingredients I was using. The path toward Lucy’s was unfolding.
My husband and I decided to launch Lucy’s so we could impact the gluten-free, allergy-friendly marketplace with high standards for taste and texture, food safety, beautiful packaging with clear safety information and convenience, including wide availability and portability. We wanted to make life “normal” for people with special diets, providing tasty food that is easy to find with top safety standards.
How did your training and experience as a physician prepare you for the work you do now?
People ask this often, usually because they assume a disconnect. I’m definitely a believer that all experience is valuable experience. If we’re doing something worthwhile we will take the experience with us forever – it shapes us.
As for medicine, and emergency medicine specifically, I am sure I’m a better entrepreneur and leader because of my training and experience as a physician. In medicine you study the details deeply, and then you learn to identify problems or opportunities and address them based on this knowledge. You’re taught to own the details and the risk. You work very hard, for long hours. You’re taught to manage crises, and handle everything that comes your way. You learn how to ask for help from others. You do not step away from duty. All of these skills and traits are crucial in my job now as well.
Being a physician also is especially helpful in the health and safety aspects of being a food manufacturer and marketer. Food safety is science. And, since we developed our extensive allergen safety program for people with food allergies and celiac, it certainly helps to know those diagnoses well. I probably enjoy the medical and science aspects of the food industry the most – though I love it all.
What responsibilities do you have in your role?
I am chair and CEO of Lucy’s. I lead in all areas of the company – greatest in business strategy, R&D, food safety, branding, and most importantly in building and facilitating a strong team.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
I love the variety of subject areas. Lucy’s is part of the very large, complex and competitive food industry. We are a manufacturer and brand marketer. I love all aspects of the business – alternative ingredients, baking, intellectual property, customers, finance, branding, sales, HR and deal-making. It’s all very creative. There is lots of problem-solving – thinking about situations and working through details so we are on a successful track.
I really love working with our team. We have an amazing group of smart, enthusiastic, hard-working people. I love to help everyone work through the situation they’re managing. I think about the details, ask tough questions, and consider all aspects of the business. That’s my job!
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Love! Love what you do and do what you love – even if it takes a while to figure that out. And, more importantly, love someone or something other than work. Your significant other, kids, friends and pets will make the hard days much easier! Your home and other interests will also bring joy and balance – even if you don’t have as much time as you'd like to have for them.
Work is one of the ways we learn and grow and share ourselves with the world. But, it doesn’t have to be the only way. It’s probably better not to be the only way.
What does success look like for you?
Sustainability and joy. Living life and operating a business in ways that are sustainable and joyful. For life that means good food, quality sleep, exercise, family, friends, fun, smart lifestyle decisions and enjoying simple things. My husband and son are the best joys each day. My mom and my dog too! I love them all!
In business, sustainability and joy means getting to the point where you consistently making a profit. That may sound callous, but a business can’t survive without making money. Making money means paying employees, vendors, investors, etc. They all love that! It also means providing reasonable pay rates, health insurance options, retirement savings and developing a fun and healthy place to work.
What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned so far?
Leadership takes all you have to give. It means hard work, patience and persistence. It’s a long-haul endeavor and it takes experience, knowledge and wisdom – even if you have to build them up from scratch. It takes confidence and willingness to make mistakes – then handle them well. It’s important to really care about your mission and the people involved in the journey. Leadership can feel like a burden at times, but mostly it’s deeply exciting and fun.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge women face in the workplace?
In recent years I’ve paid a different kind of attention to this question. I have always been confident that as a gender, women and girls can learn anything and work as hard as anyone. That’s what my parents and my community taught me.
Because of this I’ve wanted to believe that there are no significant, unique workplace challenges for women. However, widespread pay disparity is a glaring, very concrete demonstration that this is not so. And, regarding more subtle ways that women are treated in the workplace, I have experienced positive and negative. Just like studies show, I’ve been recognized for performance and achievement, I’ve been listened to and I’ve been empowered to lead. I’ve also, at times, had trouble getting a chance to speak or be heard in meetings; I’ve been the focus of doubt for no real reason. I think these are the areas where women need growth. Though this sort of downplay still happens, I believe that most of the people who talk over us or doubt us really don’t mean to. It’s a consciousness-raising thing. Women and our male advocates (and there are many!) need to pay more attention to this, contemplate it and change it. For decades to come there might still be a few people who don’t believe in women or support our place at the table, but eventually they won’t be in control of the dialogue.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Don’t worry. Work and play in ways that build your life. Take chances that make sense. Tolerate a less-than-perfect job while you are working your way to another one. Eventually it all comes together. Understand yourself. Be humble, yet assertive, as needed. Find a way to develop that in yourself.