Dr. David Sack, BA ’74, has had a successful career in clinical, research and administrative psychiatry before becoming the president and CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a group of treatment centers focusing on addiction and mental health in 2008. With locations in eight states, Elements is comprised of Promises Treatment Centers, The Ranch, The Sexual Recovery Institute, The Recovery Place, Lucida Treatment Center, Right Step, Journey Healing Center, The Sundance Center and Clarity Way, making it the leading privately owned provider focused on addiction and mental health. From the treatment of emotional trauma, grief or loss, addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders or intimacy disorders, Elements assists individuals move toward recovery. After graduating from UB, Sack earned his medical degree from Rush Medical College and completed his residency in psychiatry at the UCLA-Neuropsychiatric Institute. He was also a senior clinical scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health where he researched affective disorders, seasonal and circadian rhythms and neuroendocrinology. Remembering his time at UB fondly, he recalls having “unprecedented access to senior faculty” as key to helping him select psychology, and not physics or pre-med, as his educational path. He remembers the department as being “very research oriented, there were things I was interested in and I loved it,” he said. As a student, Sack was involved with Sub-Board I in its earliest days of existence and Ethos magazine, an alternative to the Spectrum newspaper. It is this student experience that Dr. Sack attributes as the foundation for his business acumen today. In his role with Ethos, he had to work with fellow students for advertising, budgeting and the overall management of a publication, all skills he uses in his role as CEO. “It was the first business I ever ran,” he noted. While his work has shifted from direct patient management, as CEO he “helps to set the culture of the company and is able to provide more mentoring” in this capacity. He remains passionate about his work and those who receive treatment noting, “when you treat addiction, the magnitude of improvement is greater than one sees in other areas of mental health,” Sack said. Dr. Sack also helps foster the public conversation related to mental health and addictions as a contributor to the Huffington Post and has appeared on popular television programs including, Dateline NBC, The Doctors, Good Morning America and the Early Show. Additionally, his research has been published in more than 60 medical journals. Most recently, Dr. Sack returned to UB in October to accept the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Sciences. This award recognizes the outstanding contributions by an alumnus in the areas of research or scholarly activity and exceptional career accomplishments. –Gina Cali-Misterkiewicz, MA ’05 Communications Officer, College of Arts and Sciences November 2014
UB alum Keith Blakely believes that every moment is valuable. The ambitious 17-year-old was accepted into the University at Buffalo in 1974 and declared that not only was he going to receive his four-year degree in two, but that he was going to earn two degrees. His long-term plan was originally to become a psychiatrist before he was 30, and he did not feel he had any time to waste.
Disregarding his career advisor’s statement that the logistics of this were not possible, Blakely registered for his courses and created a schedule that allowed him to attend as many of them as possible. “I had to be extraordinarily creative,” he recalls. Having no time for social activities, he spent his days zipping in-between the Main Street campus, Ridge Lee, and the newly-built Ellicott Complex in his little Honda Civic—”It was like a roller skate on wheels,” he laughs.
Blakely fondly recalls that his professors at UB were all truly interested in engaging with their students. “I loved all of my professors,” he says. “My classes were very enjoyable and rewarding.” He is also grateful for the scholarships that helped make his education at UB possible.
After visiting some medical schools, Blakely reevaluated his career path and decided to focus instead on a profession as a research scientist. He spent the summer of 1976 working 3-5 hours a day in a microbiology lab on campus while also taking the final classes to complete his degrees. By the end of that summer, he not only had completed his research project and all of his courses, but a few days before graduation, he had also been offered a full-time job at Carborundum Co., a ceramics and advanced materials company, by the director of his microbiology laboratory.
Not even 20 years old, Blakely graduated from the University at Buffalo in 1976 with dual degrees in Biology and Psychology. He married the love-of-his-life the day after graduation, and was eager to begin his doctoral studies and prepare for his new position at Carborundum. Everything seemed to have fallen perfectly into place, until Blakely returned from his honeymoon to find that there was a freeze on hiring.
Blakely was offered a temporary position in Carborundum’s nuclear ceramics area. To his good fortune, the head of the project was impressed with his work. He received promotions and a full-time, salaried position, and within three years he was offered the position of principal engineer—the highest engineering rank you could obtain in the company. At the age of 21, he was a recipient of R&D Magazine’s annual IR-100 Award—a tremendous honor. Blakely did not intend to stay in the field of ceramics for long, but his new position provided him the opportunity to experience working in a wide range of functional areas, including marketing and new product development.
In 1980, at the age of 24, Blakely’s entrepreneurial spirit seized him and he gave his notice to Carborundum. He arranged an initial financing package of over $1M for a brand-new start-up company—Advanced Refractory Technologies, Inc. (ART). ART was a manufacturer of high-performance ceramics, composites, and advanced coatings. “In retrospect, it was a miracle,” he says. “I got the loans, grew the company from 2 to 325 people, and we were selling to some of the largest companies in the world, including GM and Mitsubishi.” In 1987, Blakely received his second IR-100 Award.
After 20 years, Blakely sold ART to Tyco International. “Then I retired… for six days,” he jokes.
In 2002, Blakely founded NanoDynamics, Inc., a leader in the commercialization of nanomaterials and nanotechnology-enabled components and systems. He served as CEO for seven years, raised over $60M, and oversaw the development and launch of disruptive products for the energy, environmental, and infrastructure markets. He also established Epik Energy Solutions, LLC, a $10M joint venture with Shell Oil.
Blakely is currently CEO of The InVentures Group, an advisory firm dedicated to working with companies by providing the business, strategic, financial, and human resources needed to become successful. “We bring a broad range of skill sets and some investment capital to young companies that need help with corporate development,” he says, “including branding, marketing, financials, bookkeeping, legal, business, and strategic planning.”
A native of North Tonawanda, NY, Blakely is largely involved with encouraging and expanding the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Buffalo area. “My company helps start-up companies maneuver the shark-infested waters and create viable businesses that can stay here,” he comments. In addition to helping local business owners achieve success, Blakely has also attracted many successful individuals and companies from outside the region.
Blakely has worked closely with UB to keep talent in Western New York. He helped develop the structure of UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Research (STOR), which connects faculty/student research with the commercialization of new product and process development. Related to STOR, he also established First Wave Technologies, a for-profit organization that helps researchers advance their technologies to a point where they can grow into successful enterprises.
Upon analysis of the companies that he started and the spin-offs and start-ups that were generated from them, Blakely has determined that they employed nearly five times as many employees per million dollars of sales as large companies. He also found that the types of jobs they created were much higher-value positions, including engineering and professional jobs. He feels that entrepreneurs are the individuals who create true, sustainable economic growth.
Blakely comments that his Psychology degree from the University at Buffalo was significant to his success. “If you’re going to be a manager, knowing how people interact and are motivated is critical,” he says. That being said, however, he stresses that you should never feel like you are limited by your degree. “Find what you’re passionate about. Find what you love to do and then find ways to create value for other people pursuing that activity,” he advises. Blakely believes that if you find what you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Jaime Jeroszko is the Communication Officer for the UB College of Arts and Sciences Office of Development and Alumni Relations.