Robert Chess


Robert Chess

Lecturer in Management

Teaching Statement

Rob draws on his experience in starting and growing businesses across multiple industries — life sciences, cleantech, and information technology — in teaching courses on the health care industry and the business opportunity being created by increased longevity and aging demographics. Rob’s teaching focus is on exposing students to the complex, real-world issues and trade-offs they will face in starting, growing, and operating companies. He has been a lecturer at Stanford GSB since 2004.


Rob Chess is a serial entrepreneur in the life sciences field. He currently is chairman of Nektar Therapeutics, (NASDAQ:NKTR), a health care biotechnology company, and serves as lead director of Twist Biosciences (NASDAQ:TWST), which is a leading company in the synthetic biology field. In addition, he serves on the boards of BigHat Biosciences and Artisan Bio. Rob joined Nektar as its first non-founder employee in 1991 and led the company as CEO through 1999 and as chairman since then. Rob co-founded and was president of Penederm, a dermatology company that went public and was acquired by Mylan Laboratories, and was the start-up CEO and later chairman of OPX Biotechnologies, a renewable chemicals company which was sold to Cargill. He also is the co-founder and former chairman of Biota Technologies, which is pioneering the use of DNA sequencing for energy and other industrial applications.  He started his career in the technology field and held management positions at Intel and Metaphor Computer Systems (later acquired by IBM). Rob served on the White House staff in the first Bush Administration as a White House fellow and associate director of the White House Office of Economic and Domestic Policy.

In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors and activities at Stanford GSB, Rob is a trustee of Caltech, was the initial chairman and is now a board member of Bio Ventures for Global Health, and was a long-time board member of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization where he was chairman of the Emerging Companies Section and co-chairman of the Intellectual Property Committee. Rob received a BS in engineering with honors from Caltech and an MBA from Harvard.

Rob is an out-of-practice but avid golfer, a reformed political junkie, and a father of 25-year-old triplets.

Academic Degrees

  • MBA, Harvard University, 1980
  • BS in Engineering with honors, Caltech, 1978

Academic Appointments

  • At Stanford University since 2004

Professional Experience

  • President and CEO, Nektar Therapeutics, 1991–2001; Chairman, 2001–present
  • Lead Director, Twist Biosciences, 2014–present
  • Co-Founder, Biota Technologies; Chairman, 2013–2019
  • Chairman, OPX Biotechnologies, 2007–2015; CEO 2007–2008
  • Deputy Associate Director, White House Office of Economic and Domestic Policy, 1990–1991
  • White House Fellow, 1990–1991
  • Cofounder and President, Penderm, 1986–1989
  • Market Segment Manager, Metaphor Computer Systems, 1983–1985
  • Product Manager and Strategic Marketing Manager, Intel, 1980–1983

Stanford Case Studies

Service to the Profession

  • Board of Trustees, California Institute of Technology, 2006-present
  • Chairman, Bio Ventures for Global Health, 2004-2009, Board member 2004-present
  • Board of Directors, Biotechnology Industry Organization, 1997-2008

Insights by Stanford Business