If you’re looking to get ahead, Adrienne Mendoza has a bit of advice.
“You can’t progress and grow and forge your capabilities without accepting a challenge and be willing to struggle a bit,” she said during an employee event at South Texas Blood & Tissue, where she took over as Chief Operating Officer in January 2022.
“Honor that struggle. Take on a challenge.”
Adrienne has taken on multiple challenges throughout her career, stretching her capabilities and her knowledge of her interests while thinking of herself a lifelong learner and adventurer.
Her interests range from sailing to horse training, and from blood banking to the development of lifesaving cures. It may sound like an odd mix of inspirations, but if you look back at her journey, it all starts to come together.
Moving halfway around the world
When Adrienne was a girl, her mother Carla was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The family decided to pursue a dream and moved from California to New Zealand. In New Zealand, the family lived life to its fullest while also fighting cancer.
Between chemotherapy treatments, Adrienne’s mom received blood from donors, giving her strength to tour all around the country, sharing incredible experiences as a family and creating memories.
Several years later, Adrienne’s family moved back to California to try a new type of chemotherapy in a clinical trial, but unfortunately, the cancer still took her mother’s life. Later, Adrienne’s career path would be inspired by the passion and mission to support others fighting cancer and searching for a cure.
A family interest in sailing
In California, Adrienne’s family enjoyed sailing and boating and learned a new hobby together. Her father restored several classic motor and sailing yachts, and the family lived aboard two of these during those years, including Panalua II and Happy Trails.
As a teenager and young adult, Adrienne continued sailing, and she enjoyed the challenge of learning new skills, including how to use simple pre-GPS navigation tools to set and chart a course. This opened the opportunity for more adventure, including participating in distance regattas organized with fellow sailors and family.
“I enjoyed the lifestyle I had aboard my little Tartan sloop Bruja,” she said. “I had it for many years, while I attended college and then after I started my career journey in the blood banking industry.”
Her first job in the field was in the hospital services department with the American Red Cross in San Diego, delivering blood donations to hospitals. Adrienne could see how many patients needed support from their community and reflected that those patients had family, hobbies, and desires just as her mom had.
“In patients’ times of struggle, fear, or injury, I took pride in knowing that I had facilitated the delivery of gifts from others who stepped forward with a donation of blood, tissue or cells,” she said.
The importance of the mission ignited Adrienne’s desire to support it in any way she could to positively impact the lives of others and Adrienne enjoyed challenging herself to investigate and develop solutions to common issues.
Over time, she became the “go-to” for process improvement and it was during that time the organization needed her talents, investigating several serious incidents that occurred in other regional facilities.
After the investigations, the Red Cross promoted her into a newly established department called Problem Management, which was part of Quality Assurance. Eventually, through her work and that of her colleagues, the organization was able to improve and prevent many systemic issues and these improvements later resulted in the lifting of a consent decree from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
It was also at the Red Cross that she met her husband, Jose. Together, they left the sailboat behind and moved inland, where finding an affordable starter home was more realistic.
A new passion
Adrienne turned her love of adventure and skill development to another passion: horses.
She had been acquainted with horses through her family, which had a tradition of ranching in Oklahoma and Texas. Her grandfather was also a horse racing enthusiast and often took Adrienne to the races at Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.
Adrienne studied bloodlines and horse training, but her first horse, Fancy, was so well-mannered and easygoing, she didn’t require much training. She gave Adrienne the confidence to ride through many situations and they enjoyed the adventures together.
“When I adopted a mare named Coco years later, with a more rebellious personality, I accepted the challenge,” she said. “With a lot of patience and training, Coco has become a dream horse. To this day, I still find peace when I’m in the saddle, exploring the amazing beauty of the backcountry with Coco.”
In her career, Adrienne wanted to become even more effective by honing her skills in quality management systems. At that time, the emerging field of cell therapy was looking for talent.
“I was inspired by the opportunity to work toward the discovery and development of cures for diseases like cancer, tapping into the body’s own immune system and regenerative functions,” she said.
Adrienne was offered a management role at StemCyte, one of the largest and most pioneering umbilical cord blood banks with an international presence. She accepted the challenge and found another learning opportunity, representing the cell therapy industry as a pioneer in the development of industry standards and also helping reform health policy.
Adrienne was able to lobby for and directly support the passing of California Proposition 14, which established funding for advancing promising cell and gene therapies through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. This legislation set the funding path toward accelerating cures, and the experience also gave Adrienne more exposure to other aspects of the field of regulatory affairs.
“I embraced the opportunity to improve the industry in a more global way and continued to challenge myself to learn how to deliver the safest products with the highest efficiency and quality,” she said.
Several years later, Adrienne knew she could benefit from leading a larger team dealing with complex processes which leveraged sophisticated engineering and administrative controls.
A role in quality leadership
She found the perfect fit in a quality leadership role at Bachem, a global contract manufacturer which produces active pharmaceutical ingredients for many of the world’s major drug developers.
Over the years at Bachem, Adrienne relished the fun she was having in building confidence with her team and improving the partnership between operations and quality. The art of leadership and organizational design became a new passion, and so she pursued further education in the fields of executive management and administrative leadership.
“At the same time, I longed to return to the connection I had felt to the mission of organizations involved in blood, tissue and cell therapies,” she said. “I knew there was an opportunity to infuse the blood banking, tissue banking and cell therapy industries with the best practices and quality by design methods in place in pharmaceutical manufacturers.”
The American Red Cross had difficulty adopting wide-scale improvements efficiently because of its size, so Adrienne looked for a better fit to return to the field. In late 2015, she discovered BioBridge Global in San Antonio.
“It was the perfect size, and it blended a need for my experience in cell therapy, blood and tissue banking, and pharmaceutical quality systems,” she said.
She applied for an opening in the QualTex Laboratories subsidiary for the Director of Quality Assurance and came on board in early 2016.
Adrienne has embraced the organization’s mission and BioBridge Global has embraced her back, providing her opportunities for increased responsibilities and of course, more challenges.
With the support of the organization in 2017, Adrienne formed Global Quality to further cross-pollinate knowledge, gain efficiency of scale and the adoption of global best practices in quality and regulatory support.
Leading the team in Global Quality as Vice President through 2020, Adrienne enjoyed further developing the world-class team of leaders and quality systems through to being selected to succeed Elizabeth Waltman as Chief Operating Officer of South Texas Blood & Tissue, one of the operating subsidiaries of BioBridge Global. She assumed the interim role of Vice President of Blood Operations in 2020 before her transition to COO in January 2022.
In just a few years, South Texas Blood & Tissue will celebrate its 50th anniversary of saving lives, and Adrienne paused to reflect on the occasion with gratitude and responsibility.
“I feel that my career and life experience have all culminated in this tremendous opportunity to lead an outstanding organization with a proud legacy and honorable mission,” she said.
“It’s an absolute thrill to work alongside this eclectic and talented team that will help take this organization into its next chapter. It’s my whole desire to bring real value, transparency, integrity and creativity in leadership to positively influence the future of the organization.”