United Therapeutics CEO: Going public was my biggest mistake

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
Martine Rothblatt speaks onstage during the 2018 Forbes Women’s Summit at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on June 19, 2018 in New York City.

United Therapeutics Corp. (UTHR) founder and CEO Martine Rothblatt said the biggest mistake she’s ever made is taking the company public.

Rothblatt is America’s second-highest paid female CEO — and 19th overall — according to Equilar 200’s Highest-Paid CEO Rankings. Her total reported compensation in 2017 was $35.9 million (with $33.1 million in stock options) representing a 142% increase from 2016.

She founded the biotech firm, which has a market cap of $5 billion, in 1996, and took the company public in 2001. Though shares of United Therapeutics are down 20% year-to-date, the stock has soared 85% over the past five years and over 2000% since first making its public debut. Still, Rothblatt expressed her distaste of the public markets at the Forbes Women’s Summit in New York City on Tuesday.

“As the CEO of a publicly traded company, I would still say that a really big mistake I made was going public,“ she said. “I have learned over the years all the benefits of going public, and feel that I could have provided that value to my stakeholders by remaining a private company… without all the bureaucracy and encrustation of going public.”

Prior to founding United Therapeutics, Rothblatt was CEO of satellite navigation company GeoStar and creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

“If you lead a great company, and you’re out there listening, stay private,” she urged attendees.

The frustration with the public market is hardly a new conversation, but more startups have the luxury of staying private for longer, as venture capitalists continue to fuel their growth at a record pace, despite their lack of profitability.

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann cited the headaches of quarterly reporting and the pitfalls of being held captive to public shareholders as reasons why he intends to stay private for as long as possible.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have investors who are willing to go with us on this journey,” he said. “We didn’t want to take on the overhead at this moment of being a public company since we have the capital and runway to do it.”

Short-termism has been a hotly debated topic in the Wall Street community. Most recently, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon joined forces to try to convince other CEOs of publicly traded companies to stop reporting quarterly earnings-per-share guidance.

Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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