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Arts / Career development / Technology

Meet the veteran pharma technologist who started his career as a rap artist

George Llado was a successful teen musician before pursuing a career in computer science.

George Llado. (Courtesy George Llado)
George Llado looks at his career as chapters.

Having retired two years ago, the 58-year-old is currently in a chapter of focusing on his family life, serving as a board member and advising companies.

His first chapter was as a teen rapper in the Bronx, where he grew up. Llado started rapping in his friend’s basement when he was 14, falling in love with the art of music while playing with turntables.

In college, Llado left music and leaned into computer science. He went on to work for pharmaceutical giant Merck doing networking — at the time, that meant setting up infrastructure for computers to connect to the internet. He stayed at Merck for 30 years, working his way up to CIO.

Then he transitioned to Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a company developing therapies for rare diseases, where Llado used data to help doctors identify affected patients.

Those were the three big loves of his career, he said: music, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, which all shaped him — and he hopes he helped shape those industries, too.

In this edition of’s How I Got Here series, Llado discusses the common threads through the chapters of his career journey.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you end up in an early music career?

I begged my mom and dad to buy me two turntables and a mixer in the late 70s or 1980, and they bought one for me and my brother. And I ended up being really studious and understanding how to work this thing and became really good at being a DJ. I started my own crew. The group was called The Ultimate Four and became popular. I’m still young, about 15 or 16, and I practice religiously.

I’m playing this music one day, and this nice car goes down the street and gentleman stops, comes out of his car, comes in my garage. He goes, by the way, I’m a producer for this label called Profile Records. He’s like, I’m making a record, I want you to scratch. A week later we’re in the studio, we’re making a record. And I’m now like a sophomore or a junior in high school and the record is playing on the radio.

He introduces me to the group that I ended up joining called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which became a popular group. We made a record later. It’s a popular record. I end up going on tour with these guys. We toured for many, many summers, through college. And it leads to the fact that about five years later, we were not selling records anymore. We’re not making much money. The record company is asking us for money back and that’s when I quit.

How did you transition from rap to computer science?

During this rap thing, I’m a senior in high school, and my teacher says to me, “Hey, George, I know you’re into this computer programming thing. I’ve got a set of Commodore 64s coming in. I want to set up a lab for the school. Why don’t you assist me in helping set up the lab.”

That’s where I first fell in love with computers, setting up the Commodore 64s and understanding how to program them. I taught myself how to program and then when I got to college, I signed up for computer science. When I quit rap two to three years later, I really focused on computer science and I went from, Bs to As. So that’s how I fell in love with computer science.

What skills did you take from your music career into your tech career?

How to communicate in front of large crowds.

When we started, in the early 80s, I was always nervous going on stage. But over time, I became really confident. It was natural to me just going on stage and not being nervous after a while that I just got a sense of hey, as long as I know what I’m doing. I have my script. I’m good at what I’m doing, there’s no reason for me to be nervous.

So that just taught me that if I had the proper context and content, I could do anything in front of anybody. Learning in the music world, that helped me sort of transition very naturally into the technology world.

As well as the music. Stringing things together like our records, rhymes, that’s very much the same way that I tell a story as an executive in the technology world. Everything in the music world was about telling a story. It’s the same thing in technology. It is about telling people a story that engages them.

The third thing I got from it was establishing relationships. In the music world, as an artist, you want to tie yourself to the senior executives at a record company, you want to tie yourself to the people who can promote you. That totally translates into the corporate world right? Relationship is king.

Do you still play music?

I don’t. I keep in touch with some of my friends, but I do not dabble in music. The art form has turned into something that I’m not very happy with. I still have friends that have turntables in their garages. So sometimes I just pop in, and I listen more than I actually do [anything]. Because it’s not just like riding a bike — there’s a science to it.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Series: How I Got Here

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