Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
I am Naji, your host, having the pleasure and honor to have with me today Christi Shaw, Chief Executive Officer of Kyte.
Christi serves as CEO of Kite, Gilead’s cell therapy company. Based in Santa Monica, California, Kite is pursuing the ambitious goal of a cure for cancer with industry-leading pipeline and manufacturing capabilities. In her role, Christi is responsible for all cell therapy operations around the world.
Before joining Gilead in 2019, Christi held senior executive positions at Eli Lilly and Novartis. Her leadership has spanned a broad range of therapeutic areas. In 2016, Christi founded the More Moments More Memories Foundation, which assists patients with cancer and their families. Christi currently serves on the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Avantor and the Healthcare Women’s Business Association.
I had the incredible chance to learn from Christi at many different levels, she’s definitely THE example of servant loving highly successful leadership.
Christi Shaw: Oh, and I’m so humbled by your recognition and having me on the podcast now.
Naji: Thank you Christi first, we would love to learn more about your personal story from business administration to now leading one of the most innovative companies, improving patients’ lives and oncology around the world.
What’s in between the lines of this inspiring journey,
Christi Shaw: uh, in between the lines, you know, We people talk a lot about making sure that you’re living your true north. And I feel so humbled and, um, so, so much self satisfaction and reward being every day able to come to work and help people and really help in a way that gives them the potential to live a longer life.
Having as our foundation’s name is creating more memories in their life, uh, with their loved ones, you know, my, a story. From I w when I was little, you know, I grew up in the Midwest, uh, for the most part. Between the ages of six and 12, we, we moved every year to two years. So I got to witness other ways of living in Canada.
Um, you know, the French speaking, Montreal, Quebec, and then other states in the United States, but, you know, from zero to five and also, you know, from 12 to 22, I was in Iowa. So very strong Midwest roots, which really grew up in the farming area. Uh, area where community’s extremely important. Family’s extremely important.
And moving around like that too, as well as, you know, it really makes the family close and really makes you understand when people say, uh, home is where the heart is, that it is not just about the physical place, where you go, but who, the people that you’re surrounded with having come into the pharmaceutical industry, it was an intentional on my, it was intentional on my part is.
Personally my family to go to college. And my father really wanted me to know what I was doing before I went to. So I, so I, you know, he was a very strong role model for me, and I really wanted to help people. My mom was very philanthropic. My dad was a businessman, which also intrigued me and it was really intentional.
I said, you know, I want to do something that, you know, takes the skills of business and also. You know, it gives, gives, gives help to so many people, as many people as possible. And then, you know, fast forward it both in my personal life and in my professional life, that desire and that true north and mission have only gotten stronger over time based on personal circumstances and professional.
So for me, between the lines is people are people. I was tried. Uh, I was coached by somebody early on. My job was to be respected, not liked and my first manager job. And I’ve never believed that I was, uh, uh, not responsive to that initially. And I’m not now we spend too many hours at work, not to like the people that we’re with, not to get the best out of them and to leverage their strengths for the whole, to, to create better in the world for more people.
And so, um, that’s been kind of my journey, if you will. I
Naji: thank you so much for C4 for sharing this with us. Uh, you talk about liking people, so let’s go immediately there. Um, is this your key learning as a leader through your journey? Or what would, what would it be like if you want to pick one key learning you had through your journey?
Christi Shaw: You know, I, I think it, it goes to when you’re at your best, um, and you can help other people be at their best and throughout through my journey, I’ve learned, you know, one hard lesson, which is my dad always taught me not to let success go to my head, but what he didn’t teach me that I’ve learned on my own is not to let failure go to your house.
And so one of the biggest things is knowing that you’re in control of your destiny, that this is a journey. And when you’re going through very difficult times, know that that’s a point in time in your journey. And if you can control. You can change your destiny and not to be scared to do that, um, that whatever lies on the other side, uh, can be better and most likely will be better than where you are now.
But at the same time, those moments of times are also so precious that the very, those very small moments that are good. How can you take advantage of it? So an example for me would, that was really big for me, was growing up. I was very close to my family and moving around, like I said, you know, it was always with my older sister, who’s two years older and my parents, and then, you know, my younger sister who was significantly younger than us.
And, uh, and she wasn’t born until later in that, in that journey. And so as my life progressed, I started losing family members. My mom died at 51 of breast cancer. My dad died at 67 of a rare infection. And then my sister passed away at age 51, um, of multiple myeloma. And through that journey, it only strengthened my desire to do more and more critically important work, to help more and more patients as possible.
Um, not to have to go through that pain, you know, at kite. Our goal at kite is to focus on the cure. That’s our mission. Um, but what we do is we, we have patients who are. Um, have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who are told they have on average six months to live and they’re in the last moments of their life. And we’re able, 50% of those patients are now to be specific.
43% of those patients at five years are still alive. And they’re having not only. More precious moments with their loved ones. Their loved ones are having more precious moments with them. Some of them are having children and grandchildren and are there for remarkable moments. And to know that we’re able to give that to people, uh, by what we do every day is, is so very motivating.
And it’s, it’s, it’s the love. I would say that love that we give and the love that we get back. The patients come to us, uh, remarkably the biggest and most powerful ambassadors of just wanting to help spread the word because so many people who are eligible for cell therapy don’t even know what exists and they’re sent to palliative care sent to hospice.
And not even knowing that they have a 50% chance to live. And so what we’re trying to do now is really spread the word cause why should only some people have access to this therapy? We now are a global company. We have two cell therapy labs, one in California, one in Amsterdam. One that will open in Maryland this year.
And we basically take a patient’s own immune system and they send us their T-cells and we help re-engineer them so that they can be put back in that patient’s body and really fight the cancer. Uh, and, and we’re continuing on that journey because now we’ve gotten. We have three indications now and he malignancies and three, three in hematology, I should say four lymphoma and one in leukemia and hematology.
So four indications in blood cancers, three in lymphoma, one in, uh, leukemia. And we’re looking to continue to figure out how do we get that 43% to a higher number to treat more patients. And how do we actually take this therapy to more types of cancers so that more patients can be. And I’m just, uh, just so humbled to be leading an organization like this and to be around people that I do.
Like, uh, I’m a big believer in leveraging people’s strengths. What are they good at? It’s what are they, what inspires them, motivates them. And just really triple down on that, because people like to do what they’re good at really focusing on what people are bad at and what they need. Work on. Sure. You need to do that.
Um, if it’s a derailer or people are doing things terribly wrong, but in general, I feel, you know, that loving spirit of leveraging people’s strengths and loving them enough to tell them when they’re doing something wrong. I think, you know, that’s just how we should be as human human beings. I just feel like the more I do that, the more reward comes back to.
Naji: Oh, Christie, uh, you, you shared, you know, we feel the passion and the purpose and the passion you have for the people. And it’s just impressive what you did with, um, with your teams and, uh, literally changing people’s lives and boxing them positively. And. Changing their lives, right? That w when I joined oncology, that was one of the pieces, you know, can we, can we have cure?
And, and it’s true. Even one additional day can mean so much. So thanks for sharing this. And I want to go there. You’ve done this. During moments of crisis, you brought a disruptive way of treating, uh, I with impressive results for those diseases. And on top of doing this and the complexity of the technology itself and manufacturing and all, uh, all those challenges that you were, that you knew you were facing, you had on top of the pandemic.
I I’d love to hear, you know, your key learnings. Uh, as a leader during those times of challenges. And if there is something that you would definitely keep from, from those learning after the pandemic, or if there’s something that you would definitely change.
Christi Shaw: Sure. You know, so w what I do for a living today is actually an experience that I went through as a caregiver with my sister.
So my sister actually had cell therapy, um, back in 2016. Um, I was her caregiver for a couple of months, uh, in Philadelphia at UPenn. Uh, we stayed at cancer hope lodge. Um, I don’t know if you know this or your audience knows this, but there’s, there’s approximately about 40 million people, almost 17% of the United States who are caregivers.
Uh, two other adults in the us and 60% of them are also employed on top of that caregiving. And so going through that experience, and now I actually gave up my job. I was, um, in a financial situation where my husband worked and I was very fortunate and most people can’t do that. Um, but being able to see this therapy, um, front and center and what it takes, um, from that, that was really my first glimpse of it.
I had heard about it. I was at Novartis working at Novartis when we did the acquisition, but, um, it wasn’t launched yet to the marketplace and, and my sister got it as a clinical trial patient. Unfortunately, she had the type of cancer. It did not work for. Um, and shortly after her death, I was asking. To become the leader of kite, the leading organization in cell therapy.
Now I’m on the other side looking at, um, delivering for patients and then the pandemic hit six months after I get here. So if you can imagine, um, a patient just to give you a story, a patient who’s in Europe who has, um, lymphoma, who this is their only hope at survival. Now all of the flights in the United States are grounded.
Um, international flights are grounded because of the pandemic. And we need to figure out how we’re going to get these patients. Um, from our California site back to that patients in Europe. And so going outside of just our company, just outside of healthcare, working with airlines, getting, um, on their top list of medical need, getting the government to allow us, uh, to ship, um, and to, to fly that overseas and, and having a plan a with, you know, the, the normal airlines, everyone flies in a plane.
Be with charter flights and a plan C with, you know, um, private airlines. And we did end up needing in Europe to fi to really, um, charter private jets to actually ship patients cells. And when these cells come in, a lot of people call them all your manufacturing site. I like to call themselves therapy labs because those patients, little red bag of cells comes into the facility.
Uh, It looks like our two D two goes in the elevator gets shipped up to, um, the floor where they’re re-engineered and they come back out hoping to give life to that patient. And we actually had, in one instance in Chicago, O’Hare airport now a total of nine cancellation of flights, one after the other.
And we had no way to store these cells, no cold storage in the area. Luckily the cells got there, but during the pandemic. A hundred percent of patients got their cells returned to them and it is absolutely remarkable. And in fact, there was a wall street journal article of one of our employees in Europe who used to, um, actually get, uh, supplies and the war torn countries.
And he was his expertise, but actually helped us with the logistics of how we could do that. And he really sprinted into action. And regardless of his title, which wasn’t. Uh, hi in the, on the wrong Healy, he led us into how to solve this problem. And so as I look at that, and I think about the pandemic, what I learned is this inclusive leadership leveraging the strengths of people who know, learning, uh, leveraging the expertise.
Variances strengths, intuition, uh, listening. Nobody had a title. We were on the call twice a week, um, who can remove what barrier? What is the problem? Um, from CEO down to the, um, you know, uh, manufacturing, uh, so. Uh, a chemist, a researcher, we were all on the same level working together. And at times it was daunting.
I mean, it was absolutely, you didn’t know if they were going to get there, you all, and having that caregiver experience of thinking about that patient as my sister’s. And needing the urgency that you have to get it there yet, sometimes feeling absolutely helpless that you have no control over it. Um, sometimes makes you crawl in bed and want to throw the covers over your head.
I have to be honest. Um, but in the end, uh, seeing, uh, seeing cell therapy now really coming to fruition has been so rewarding at the American society of hematology in December. We had probably the most. Transformative and a legacy leaving event in that we were able to show that five years patients who were going to die survive, 43% of them were able to show it’s working in multiple indications, and now we’re able to show as well that you can use it sooner.
You don’t have to wait till the end of the line, but if you actually, hopefully in April, So we’ll get approval. Um, but if you can use cell therapy earlier lines of earlier, like second, let’s say instead of third, fourth, fifth, or sixth, you can actually save a lot of hardship on the family going through a lot of different therapies that aren’t curative, but only give you a little more time.
And so I’m just so excited as I’m sure you can. Um, when I go, when I, when I talked to my employees just before the holidays, I said to them, could you imagine going to Christmas this year and think about a loved one that you’ve lost or everybody I know has lost someone. They love, whether it’s a close member of family, friend or a relative, but imagine them being there at Christmas when you thought there.
No, you’re told that they were supposed to, they only had six months to live and here it is a year later and they’re still here two years, three years, five years. And just the change. That that has on the family in such a positive and deep meaning way. And obviously for me, it’s rewarding and at the same time disappointing, unfortunately that, um, my mom, dad, and sister didn’t, uh, benefit from that, but so rewarding that hopefully for years and generations to come others, uh, we’ll see this become a chronic illness and not a death sentence.
I don’t know if I told you my learning’s dodgy, but I guess my big learning is, uh, is love at work is a good thing. Um, and really, um, you know, this new generation of titles don’t matter. I don’t, I, I want to be developed, I don’t want to be promoted. Somebody told me that the other day I got three promotions, Christian, and during COVID she worked for another company, but my, I want to be developed and I’m being developed every day, but I, everybody I work with and so.
This collaboration, inclusiveness and no hierarchy, I think is really something the lessons learned from COVID that we need to reduce the barriers to collaboration so that we can really see what we’re trying to do together to have the best outcome possible.
Naji: Th this is, this is so powerful and I, I believe in this as you know, and I think what you’re, what you’re doing is just impressive on why we wake up every morning at this industry and your.
But she can get even patient by patients, which is, which is great. I want Christie to react to a word that I will give yourself. I’m going to give you four words and I would love to have the reaction on each one of them. So the first one is leadership.
Christi Shaw: So the first thing that comes to mind for me in leadership is enabling. Uh, a lot of people think that leadership is about having all of the answers, being the smartest person in the room, telling people what to do. And that is, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, but unfortunately I haven’t seen it change too much in the C-suite at least not in our industry.
And I think that’s a problem for us moving forward leadership. Isn’t enabling. Th the whole organization to move forward, um, as fast as they can by leveraging the great gifts everybody brings to the table, nobody can know everything, nobody can experience everything and that inclusion and diversity that we talk about.
The equity that we talk about, all of those things are so important for us to not have labels. You know, you’d have to be able to lead without labels. You can’t just wait to get the title and start leading, or you don’t have to have a title to lead. Um, and just knowing that your influence is leadership, whether you’re, um, an individual contributor, a manager, or the CEO leadership, it is about enabling others and bringing your best self, uh, solve problems.
Naji: You mentioned my second word at, which is.
Christi Shaw: So equity to me doesn’t mean equal and it’s so easy for that to, um, to, to be wrongfully, um, interpreted because you know, being equal is not always fair, right? There are, there are times when, um, some people deserve more based on the effort, uh, given, and I think, uh, equity means opportunity who has, uh, Uh, giving the opportunities to everyone is everyone.
Um, uh, Equal in, in their ability to tap into their potential. And that’s what that means to me. Um, you know, it’s not about everybody paid the same, recognize the same. Everybody gets a trophy. It’s about everybody having the same opportunity. And, um, people think that everybody has the same opportunity, but as I’ve, you know, been, um, I was the.
ERG leader at Lilly for the African-American, um, employee resource group. And I’ve also, um, been reversed mentored by two people in the LGBTQ group individually at two different companies. And I think it really requires us to understand and learn other people’s journey to understand if they really have.
’cause I, I w from those learnings, I changed my behavior. I ask questions differently. I have, when we’re talking about succession planning, we don’t just talk about the, you know, the leaders in the room, because if the leaders in the room aren’t diverse in their experiences, diverse in their, um, you know, social, uh, and their experiences, we need to have people in the room that are making sure that we’re not.
How a lot of unconscious bias, uh, cause that that exists. And I try to make sure that transparently, we call that out. So equity to means equity and opportunity and ensuring that we all understand and know what that means. Um, diversity inclusion, equity. They’ll all three of those go together and you can’t, you can’t do one and think that you’re now solving the problem.
You can’t have diversity and think now you’ve solved the problem. You can’t. Um, you need to have the equity piece inclusiveness piece with it as well.
Naji: So true and going through the journey of reverse mentoring, as you shared, and also willingness to learn and be curious about the other, and it comes with your beliefs on loving other certain like of your team.
Christi Shaw: Exactly.
Naji: What about CEO?
Christi: Oh, um, that’s a, that’s a really great question. What do I think of when I think of CEO, you know,
I don’t know this, probably not an appropriate answer, but so far I CEO, I, the first thing I think of is change. I want the cut. I want the connotation of CEO, not to be what people assume. CEO today means to everybody, um, financially driven, profit oriented. Um, and, and that’s not a positive term. And so for me being a chief executive officer of kite, um, I, I, I prefer to say, um, you know, I’m a leader I’m leading the kite organization because I think we have a lot to learn and a lot farther to go.
I think we’re doing some good work, um, by holding, uh, CEOs and their boards accountable for ESG, the, you know, um, giving back to the community. I know Gilead does a great job of that, uh, with the HIV communities and in the communities where we work and where we have, um, sites and you know, everything to do with clean air, et cetera.
Um, But we need to do more of that without being told to do it. Uh, we need to bring more love into the C-suite. Uh, I love, I, you know, I think it’s very courageous of you Naji to actually have the word love and your podcast and to put love in the business. I think it’s extremely brave of you because, um, It can show to a lot of people.
Um, it could be perceived as a weakness when it actually is a huge strength to show vulnerability to say, here’s what I know. And here’s what I don’t know. Um, here’s, here’s what we’re working on. Here’s what we need to be working on. Here’s how we’re trying to give back to society, not just to the shareholders and profit and be okay.
Um, that we were looking at the long-term not a short term, quarterly profit. And what are we saying to the analyst on the next call? If you take a long-term view, I think that’s what makes you successful. If you put people first, um, if you have high expectations for the outcomes and the outcomes are focused on what’s best and making the world better and you thinking, they’re thinking long-term.
I don’t see, um, failure in that. Uh, I CA I see only winning in that, and I think we could, we could add a lot more love the C-suite. It’s a long answer to say that we don’t. When I think of CEO, I think of the lack of love, um, right now, as a connotation, which I’d like to change,
Naji: but a great honor to hear this new Christie as a segue.
My last word is spreading love and organization
Christi Shaw: spread love. Yeah. Oh, Yeah, I, I, I am so, so lucky every day to go to work. And because we talk about patients’ life and death every day, it’s so easy for us to be so personable with each other. It’s so easy for our organization to get around our mission. I don’t have to create a mission and a value statement, and it doesn’t take long for people to understand what it means to have a loved one living longer.
Um, or for me to know that, um, as an employee. Um, you’re working really hard and we care about the patient. But one thing I will tell you, I’ve learned in this role in the last three years, Naji is sometimes we’re so focused on saving patient’s lives that we forget to focus on employees that are actually doing it and showing them that we care about them.
As much as we care about the patient, the pandemic. Put our organization, as it did many in overdrive, you would think that working from home meant that we were working less hours when everybody was working so many more hours, there was a blur between work and personal and really burnout, um, occurring.
And I think we’ve seen that in the great resignation that’s happened. And that we’re going through now, uh, in the world of people really, um, taking a second look at am. I actually spending the time with my family, my loved ones, not just helping those patients live longer, helping patients and their families, but what about my family?
And so for me, spreading love at kite is a greater focus on loving our employees and showing them. It’s like recognition showing them appreciation, developing them, not just through promotions, but developing them, not just at work, but in their personal, what do they want to develop personally, socially that we can help them with.
So for me, that’s the next, um, thing to double down on his love for our employees.
Naji: Any final word of wisdom Christi for healthcare leaders around the word?
Christi Shaw: So I, I, you know, the, the biggest ones I’ve talked about is, you know, um, I know you won’t let success go to your head, but don’t let failure go to your heart. I’ve also talked a little bit about, you know, realizing that things are a point in time and. Knowing through my experience that sometimes I stayed in places or stayed in jobs or stayed personally I’m around people that you just, you felt like you needed to, you had to, you were scared to take a risk.
Um, that’s probably the biggest, second thing I’d say is in my journey. Actually making the decision to not stay and follow a different path has probably led to more success than having stayed. Um, and, and, and trying to, um, work through these. I’m not, I’m not saying quit, but I’m saying sometimes there’s a another path.
So for example, the saddest story for me, when I left my job at Novartis was. And having the announcement go out that I was leaving my job to care for my sister and my LinkedIn box exploded over the course of the next three, four weeks from then. And it, and it was sad because most of those emails were people who did not make that choice.
Who worked instead of taking care of a loved one or who didn’t move closer to being next to a loved one, or spend enough time with a loved one before they died. And that time was gone, it was extremely heartbreaking. So for me, it was a motivation for me. After my sister died to come back to show people that you can leave, you can leave the highest level job, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
But it’s okay if you prioritize your loved ones, because you will find something else to me, I ended up finding the job that fulfilled in me and helped me grieve the loss of my sister by helping others survive. And I didn’t know what it was going to be, but if I’m any example, follow your heart, follow your loved ones, make those choices and it will be okay.
So that would be my advice.
Naji: Thank you so much, you’re such an inspiration and a real example for so many leaders, uh, around the word. Thank you so much.
Christi Shaw: Thank you so much Naji, and thank you for this podcast and for creating this, uh, for everyone it’s, it’s really exciting and, uh, uh, really, uh, a real, really great tool that I will pass along.
Naji: Thank you again. So, so honored and humbled to hear it from you.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
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