2020 Executive of the Year: Debi Brooks
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
When Debi Brooks co-founded The Michael J. Fox Foundation with Michael J. Fox in 2000, it was after meeting with him on the set of Spin City. Instant chemistry and a shared vision led her to leave a lucrative career at Goldman Sachs and assume a new chapter: the foundation’s trusted and fearless leader. Debi’s balance of pragmatism and optimism has since grown MJFF from a fledgling startup to the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s research, nearing $1 billion in global programs funded as the foundation approaches 20 years.
Debi won’t be satisfied until there’s a cure for Parkinson’s. It’s this very ambition that has helped her scale the foundation — as Michael puts it — “with no blueprint.” Applying a serial problem-solving mentality, Debi’s stewardship and vision have led an industry transformation in our understanding of Parkinson’s disease, jump-starting drug development and launching a global expansion of available treatments to help improve patients’ lives. Due in large part to the foundation’s footprint, the field of Parkinson’s has revolutionized. When the foundation launched in 2000, there were almost no innovative therapies in development for the disease; since 2014, 14 new Parkinson’s treatments have received FDA approval. The New York Times has called MJFF “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.”
A perennial problem-solver, Debi looks at the big picture and keeps a keen eye on the ways in which MJFF can accelerate scientific solutions and impart the greatest impact on Parkinson’s disease research. Her background in finance and MBA training has positioned her to ensure MJFF pioneers a high-risk, high-reward strategy to partner with researchers, biopharma and visionary philanthropists to have the greatest, most tangible impact. And those touched by the disease — patients and their loved ones — are front and center. Debi, who has no personal connection to Parkinson’s pre-dating the launch of the foundation, is on a crusade to end Parkinson’s and to improve the quality of life for people with the disease everywhere.
As a wife, mother of two and Michael’s trusted lieutenant, Debi is a passionate advocate for Parkinson’s patients and their families. Her efforts have changed the culture of how Parkinson’s research gets done. This is evidenced by:
- Debi is a world-class fundraiser and is responsible for the foundation’s principal giving revenue, sourced primarily from a group of ~400 individual donors. These funds are used to support the projects that are most critical to patient treatment and care.
- Debi has a personal, not just professional, commitment to the cause. Through MJFF’s grassroots, peer-to-peer fundraising network, Team Fox, Debi created her own event and personally raised more than $752,000.
- Debi champions the importance of research participation, and she regularly “walks the walk.” She is a participant of the foundation’s online clinical study, Fox Insight, and has served more than eight years as a control subject in MJFF’s landmark clinical study, the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative.
- Debi “pays it forward” as a devoted mentor to young women professionals at the foundation, through service on various boards and through ongoing leadership as a Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business alumni. Reflecting on her own career path, Debi has said, “I could not have charted that course if my life depended on it.”