C-4 Leadership – Chris Winton

C-4 Leadership - Chris Winton

In this OneMoment episode, we welcome Chris Winton, currently the Champion of the People at Tesla. Chris joined Tesla in December of 2022 after several years at FedEx where he was most recently the CVP and Chief People Officer. Chris is also an author, mentor, philanthropist, real estate investor, and coach and in 2020 published his leadership book C-4 Leadership: Ignite Your Career. Shatter Expectations. Take Charge of Your Life.

Today’s episode of OneMoment connects to one specific conversation Chris had with a colleague at FedEx which materially changed the direction of his career. If this moment had not happened, Chris would not be in his role today… What happened in this conversation? What was said that impacted Chris?


Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a 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, joined today by Gaurav Deshpande, an Experienced healthcare professional with 12 years of clinical, academic, and global health experience. Gaurav is currently the Head of Medical Oversight and safety at one of the largest cleft NGOs in the world, Operation Smile. He is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at PennState Hershey school of Medicine with several publications in the craniofacial and cleft field. Gaurav is passionate about global surgery and is constantly looking to bridge the gap between patients and healthcare corporations by helping develop and disseminate high quality products and therapeutics.

Gaurav – It’s a pleasure to see you again and have you with me today!

Gaurav Deshpande: Thank you so much, Naji. It’s a pleasure to be on your show. And, um, you know, I’m, I’m very excited, uh, about this, uh, um, this meeting. Thank you so much.

Naji Gehchan: Can you share with us first your story from dental to specifically cleft surgery, MIT Sloan, and now leading medical in one of the largest NGOs?

What’s in between the lines of this inspiring journey?

Gaurav Deshpande: Well, I mean, if I would write, uh, this story, it probably would inspire a Bollywood movie for sure. Um, because, uh, there are so many. Unbelievable events that happen in, in, in, in between all this, um, you know, phases of my life. Um, So I did my orals and Max facial surgery residency in 2010, and I was an assistant professor at one of the teaching hospital in Mumbai.

And there was this opportunity that came in where Operation Smile was doing, uh, a humanitarian, uh, mission, uh, surg, short term surgical program in the northeast part of India Guha, um, which not many people knew. You know, it’s, uh, It was considered a remote area. There was a lot of, um, insurgency problem at that point of time.

Lot of political instability, et cetera. So what’s, you know, not a very great place to go, but, uh, you know, when they came there and started a program with the, with the Ministry of Health, um, and I got to know about it. I, um, Signed on on that program as a, as an observer, because to be honest, I had never ever seen a patient with clef lip and p and you know, this kind of, um, facial differences in my life because all those usually went to the facial plastic surgery department, not as, So I was here, I showed up, I got selected as an observer, and the team leader asked me, how many CLEs have you done have?

How many cliff surgeries have you done? And I was like, you know, should I tell him a few? Or, you know, the devil was pointing me with his trident. But, uh, you know, I, I told him the truth, you know, was I’ve never seen a, a case patient with my life. He was just theoretical article from the books and, you know, you should have seen his expression.

Well, long story shot. Um, I started working with

Naji Gehchan: them. Yes. Sorry for, uh, for stopping you here, but can you share with us a little bit more about clef patients? I’m not sure everyone listening to us who they know

Gaurav Deshpande: about it. Sure. So, uh, so clef lip andal is, um, the most common facial congenital, uh, anomaly, uh, in very technical terms.

Now, let me make it simple. It’s basically, um, you know, when a human being is developing in a mother’s womb, um, There are chances, um, one in 700 times, uh, that that baby would not have a complete union of the facial tissues. So what that leads to is there is, um, you know, like a hole in the pallet or the lip as we see them.

Uh, you know, we probably have seen, uh, people with a scar on their lip. We’re not able to talk clearly, uh, when we speak with them, uh, either on Subway or one of our friends or somebody’s friends. Uh, and as I said, it’s um, you know, the incidents is one in 700, so it’s pretty common, and especially it’s more common in countries, uh uh, who lack.

Resources, you know, whether nutrition is a problem. Uh, healthcare is not very good. Diagnostics are not very good. So, so this is what left mentality is like. It’s, uh, it’s, it’s a condition that we are born with. Uh, so, uh, yeah. So I started working with this gentleman. His name is Alex Campbell. Uh, we became Friends for Life and he, he’s my mentor teacher.

Uh, and I was also inspired by this that I decided to shut down my practice in Mumbai and moved to Guari and work with them at the center. Uh, my wife joined later, after six months, uh, because she was running a clinic and, you know, it was not very easy for her to directly shut it down, but, She came in, she started a dental department there.

Uh, we worked for around four years there. I took care of 16,000 patients. Uh, was, was a, was a great experience for us, not just helping kids, but also to develop our personal careers and life. Um, and then we moved back to Mumbai, started a similar center at a teaching hospital in Mumbai. Stayed the same work for six years with the Ministry of Health, uh, uh, the government of, uh, um, family welfare and uh, and health, um, you know, helped more kids.

And I always wanted to do administration because, you know, when we were running our center, a lot of things we did at that administration. Flavor to it, but we never knew about, like, you know, formally management. You know what it is? I had no clue. Because doctors in medical profession, you know, the problem is they do not, and you, you’re aware of it.

They do not teach us anything about finance. They do not teach anything about economics, accounting, nothing. Right. And it’s so important because doctors in a way are business people. So, um, yeah. Uh, so covid hit, we had to shut down elective surgeries, which is, you know, we only were operating emergency surgeries.

So, um, that gave me an opportunity to appear for the G R e, uh, perform decently well then, uh, apply for, uh, for Sloan. And, you know, luckily got there and pursued, uh, my dream, uh, course.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you for, for sharing this. Uh, I, I, I, I wanna go, let’s start by the end. So, you said your dream course, you talked about administration, uh, and, uh, how, how to lead, you know, organization.

So you, you moved from academia, from clinical surgery, uh, where you were having immediate impact on, uh, majority kids. Um, to now leading a nonprofit organizations more on the admin side, uh, as you described it. Uh, what have you learned through this transition and do you have any advice you can share with those who are thinking about such

Gaurav Deshpande: transitions today?

Yeah, that’s a great question, Naji, and I think it’s very common these days for clinicians to, you know, um, Pursue their dream. Uh, and that may not be surgery. Uh, and you pointed it out correctly, right? When you are operating on a kid, you are impacting that kid and their family. Um, it’s a 45 minute operation.

It’s a, I’m talking about left surgery. It’s a very simple operation, but has such a big impact, right? Uh, I always thought that, you know, Whether it’s a good idea to, to leave this because you see that happiness in the mom’s eyes when you give that, you know, new smile to the child. Um, but then I realize is that okay, this is, surgery is great, it impacts one child at a time.

But what if I pursue this dream of administration and workforce, let’s say Operation Smile. At that time it was not, uh, fixed. But even healthcare companies, even bio, uh, biotech, you know, pharma, uh, any healthcare company would gimme an opportunity to impact larger audience in that amount of time. So I think it was that thought that, you know, the, the, the impact that I would create, Over a larger population in short amount of time.

Uh, that was very pleasing for me. Uh, and, and you know, that gave me inspiration to, to change this field. Uh, and I think the same advice goes to whoever is at this point thinking about it. You know, um, we all are passionate as physicians, um, but we all. Sometimes, uh, are stuck in that idea is that direct patient care is the only way we can impact as physicians.

Um, but I think there are so many other alternatives to that. And you’ve, you’ve been doing that Naji yourself, uh, and we have so many other examples where people have actually impacted a larger population with, you know, uh, in a shorter period of time when they pursue both. And for me actually, um, operation Smile is uh, kind of a dream job as well because I can operate on the medical programs, so I can go as a volunteer and, you know, continue that surgical skills and practice administration.

So, you know, I get to have, enjoy the, uh, uh, both parts of the world. That’s,

Naji Gehchan: that’s great. I’m talking about large impact. It’s just incredible what you’ve been able to do through this journey, and it feels like a full circle now, being in this organization and doing it at that big scale globally.

Gaurav Deshpande: Yes.

Naji Gehchan: I’d love to hear, uh, as you are going through it, and really you’re in the nonprofit with Operation Smiles.

How, how do you see NGO’s role. In the healthcare ecosystem several times, you know, and as you said, so I relate to your, to, to your journey. And also I’m in the biotech biopharma industry. We hear about several partners, but it’s true, nonprofit won’t. It is not one of the first that would come into place, even though it has such a big impact.

And usually unfortunately, with underrepresented or smaller populations or those places, Where healthcare is a need or is a lack. So I’d love to get your thoughts as you’re now a leader in those organizations. How do you see your role as NGOs in the

Gaurav Deshpande: ecosystem? So I feel, uh, naji that nonprofits are like the catalyst to the process.

Uh, they can never be, uh, the sole ingredients. I mean, they could be the sole ingredients of the, um, of the process, but, but to, to make things more efficient, to make things, uh, you know, work favorably. It’s always good to partner, uh, with. Other organizations and that could, that could be governmental organizations, which is very important for nonprofits, uh, given the work that they’re doing.

Uh, and when we work with governments or ministry of of health, um, you know, our work is kind of made simple by them because, you know, they know the lay of the land. Um, many times, you know, we are far into that particular place. So it helps a lot if you’re actually able to partner with the government. Um, you can also.

Uh, partner with corporates. I mean, that, that’s like, um, you know, might sound funny, but, uh, but with the CSR initiatives with companies that have similar vision, you know, like, um, uh, if, if there is, I don’t want to name any particular, uh, organization, but if there is any, any, um, big corporate partner. Who have similar vision, who want to do the same work in that particular area, then you know, we can work with them, uh, in making sure that we have, um, the right elements to the, uh, to the process.

So I think nonprofit is that catalyst. So it brings in the government together, the corporates together, it has its own team, uh, you know, has been doing this for, um, that particular, um, specific job for many, many years. That helps to build the contacts as well. So, um, you know, working together is always the, the best way going forward, uh, especially in the low and low middle income countries because, uh, again, you know, we can impact the lives of many more, um, people by doing so.

Um, talking about Operation smiled specifically. Uh, we’ve always historically been, um, a surgical mission, humanitarian and mission driven organization. Uh, so what we did was we used to form a team and then send them into the, into this countries to, you know, to take, and we had local foundation who would, you know, find these patients who needed the care.

We would go there, operate, give them comprehensive care, and then. You know, the team flies out with a few people staying in the country to take care of the after surgery, um, care. Right? But now we are moving forward towards strengthening the local healthcare system. So our focus now is on education and training.

So whenever we are taking care of children, we are making sure that we are actually harnessing the local. Healthcare, uh, resources like surgery, anesthesia, pediatrics, biomedical, and we give them the necessary training so that they can now start taking care of their own children. Uh, and this is again, done in partnership with either the Ministry of Health, um, large corporations, which for-profit, who help us, you know, in donations in kind cash, uh, which help us to, uh, You know, take care of the pa the patients, take care of the surgery, give them a complete care, not just surgery, which includes dentistry, speech therapy, psychosocial care, et cetera, which is also very important.

Um, so, you know, I dunno whether I was able to answer your question, but, um, uh, long story short, I think it’s the, uh, the non-profit role as a catalyst that is very important in bringing all this partner together and forming that good uh, uh, team. You, you

Naji Gehchan: answered this question and my second one, which was around bridging the gap, uh, it’s one of your passion between patients and corporations, and you, you definitely talked about how you are doing it with your current role.

So let me pivot it to another question that is more personal, um, and talking some m MIT Sloan language, I’d love to hear more about your leadership signature. How do you define it? And how your leadership journey has been going.

Gaurav Deshpande: I think, uh, to define the leadership, uh, in one word, I would, um, say it as, uh, being an empathetic leader is so important.

Um, you know, um, many times we are so engrossed into what we want to do. We’re very focused on achieving our goals. And that point of time, we forget that, you know, there are human beings around us who are also doing the same thing for us. I remember us, uh, I was working with a senior plastic surgeon in India.

He was an American plastic surgeon and spending six months with us at this center, he would operate all day. And in the afternoon when it was lunch, there was no lunchtime. But you know, whenever you finish your surgeries, you come and you have lunch. This gentleman would go and see the patients who are waiting.

And when I was to say, Sam, you know, you should come and have your food. You, you are must be tired. You’ve been working all day. He said, but these kids are also waiting for us all day, so, you know, let me take care of them so that they can have their food and I can have it, have it later. So that kind of empathy, you know, when you see from people, you get so inspired.

And I think, um, uh, Sam Fuller is the name of the gentleman who has taught me that. Uh, and I would never forget, uh, uh, spending six months with him. We are still great friends. Um, Is to care for others, to take them together, you know, join hands. Um, there would be instances where, you know, there would be deadlines, there would be crunch times.

Uh, but I think if you have developed this relationship with your team, um, I think it goes so far, uh, uh, to, to solve the purpose rather than, you know, being, uh, very objective about, about the, uh, the work that we do. So, um, so I think, uh, it’s, it’s a mixture of that, but to, to summarize it, I think being an empathetic leader, um, is so important, uh, in today’s world.

Um, and that’s, that’s all I can say. Uh, and

Naji Gehchan: Guo, you talked about something that might seem obvious, but unfortunately we don’t see it. It’s this empathy to word your patients when you are a healthcare provider. So it, I’m saying obvious because many times you think like, yeah, healthcare providers are built that way, which is, as we both know, not always the case.

And, and then you also talked about empathy towards the people you’re working with. To provide this, this care, or in your nonprofit world to be able to lead and bring even more impact. Uh, do. Do you have any thoughts or stories, especially in Operation Smile as you are leading across cultures across really different countries, how do you think about those really?

I don’t wanna say cross-functional, but really like putting people from different places with a huge diversity to be able to bring an impact in those underserved population. How does the magic work somehow for you to be able to impact, uh, kids’ lives?

Gaurav Deshpande: It’s, it’s such a great question, Naji, because it’s so relevant to us.

Uh, so Operations Mile headquarters, uh, are, is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Um, And we work in 36 different countries. Each of them have their own foundations. Each of them have their own leaders. So, um, you know, it’s not the way that we can actually direct them to, you know, do things like this. But rather than, you know, respecting the local culture, respecting the local leadership is so important in this case.

And I think the communication is extremely important. Right. Um, Not just the communication, but the way it is communicated is so important. Um, what we do at Operation Smile Headquarters is, you know, uh, our, like a backend support for them. So we encourage the local leadership to take care of their own problems.

And whenever they have any pro any issues that are, you know, um, um, difficult to address, then we are always there with our resources to back them up. So I think the most important point here is to, to respect, uh, the, the local foundations, the local people. Many times what happens is, um, you know, we have the right experience, we have the right knowledge, but we do not know how that right knowledge and right experience can, um, you know, be, uh, of relevance in that local particular region, um, that we are working in.

So I think. Mutual respect to our colleagues from, from the local foundations to the local organization, the local, local companies is very important to get their perspective in rather than having a unilateral decision. Um, we believe in having that dialogue with them and discussing, brainstorming the difficult problems.

Easy ones are, you know, disolve it, we say, awesome, great job. Uh, when there are difficult problems to solve, we all sit together, uh, you know, get their ideas. We do. Definitely give some recommendations from our side, uh, and obviously offer help with other resources that, you know, as a headquarter organization would have.

Um, so I think it’s that combination of respect and good communication, uh, not being, uh, very, uh, direct about, you know, telling them how to do things, but rather getting the ideas from them and then mutually agreeing to what works best in that region. Um, is what is working so well for us. So I’ll give

Naji Gehchan: you now a word and I’ll want your reaction to it.

Okay. The fir, the first one is leadership,

Gaurav Deshpande: um, hard.

The second one is health equity.

Um, we are getting there.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Do, do you think, so do you feel we’re, we’re striving, do you think we’re getting there? And what is your thoughts? You’re, yeah, but I’d, I’d love you to get your thoughts. You’re obviously working on equitable issues with Claf.

Gaurav Deshpande: Yeah. So, uh, you know, when, uh, during our time at M I t, um, I was, uh, in Healthcare Club and me and three other amazing, uh, individuals we worked with Biogen.

Um, on health equity, the same topic. And that was kind of an eye opener for me. Um, you know, when we were doing our research, the background research is how far we are, but the kind of, um, Excitement that Biogen showed with what our findings were and they implemented what we recommended, which was a big deal.

You know, these are four students from some business school coming and recommending them something. It’s a multi-billion dollar comp corporation, and they actually implementing that was. Such an amazing feeling for all of us. Um, and, you know, that showed us that confidence that, you know, people are really thinking about it.

And we have so many other examples. I’m, I’m probably ignorant about other corporations, but this is my personal example. Uh, same thing is with Operation Smile. Um, you know, as I said, uh, before, uh, the, the core now is. To make sure that we reach to the patients rather than the patient reaching to us. So what we are doing now, our strategy for the next decade is going to, uh, work in a similar fashion, like a cycle tire, right?

Hub and spooks. So what we are doing is now with the local foundations, we are trying to identify hubs which are this big, um, high activity. Academic centers, um, which can, you know, be the source of education, training, service, delivery, care delivery, clinical care delivery. And then we are also trying to find the spokes, which are, you know, well connected to these hubs, but are in the periphery towards the patient.

In doing so, what we are doing is, you know, we are trying to reduce the catastrophic expenses that the patients. Might experience and also make sure that they get the timely care, right. So, uh, instead of sometimes we have seen patients traveling for 16 hours, you know, sitting on a donkey, then riding a boat and sitting on a bus in a train, and then coming to the hospital for care.

And sometimes, you know, it just doesn’t work. The the kid is not, well, he cannot undergo the surgery. He has to go back. So that made us think like if we take that care and go to the patients, they have to just travel for less than two hours. That’s our aim. So whenever they need care, they can immediately go and get in there.

So, you know, that’s the way we are trying to, um, work on getting equitable healthcare to everyone. But again, you know, as I said, there’s, the journey is long, but I’m so glad that whatever my recent experiences are, uh, not just with my current organization but with with several other organizations, is that the journey has started.

We’ll get there. Yeah,

Naji Gehchan: I, I have the same hope. Uh, and I really think as healthcare, as a healthcare leader and all of us, uh, healthcare leaders, it’s just the right thing to do. We cannot be healthcare leaders and not think and act on health equity. And the example you gave is such a powerful example on, you know, thinking about the holistic experience, not only providing care, but actually for some patients, the journey for them literally.

To get to a center and get care or even what, what are the resources they have to be able to get and uh, and have care is, is so important. Thanks for sharing this. The third word is Sloan

Gaurav Deshpande: Fellows. Uh, the best possible, uh, the course. If you want to change to administration, um, I really enjoyed the, the experience, um, just because, you know, it’s in the, in such a, a unique kind of offering, right?

It’s not mba, it’s not executive, it’s a mixture of both and that makes it so special. So, you know, you spend time with young, very, uh, energetic. Folks from the, the regular two year mba. You also spend time with the senior leaders who are currently working. And then you have yourself a cohort, um, who are accomplished managers, uh, you know, with 12, 15, 20 years of experience themselves.

So I think it’s kind of the most unique experience that I, I you could imagine, um, Plus it’s m i t, it’s the kind of, um, you know, the, uh, the resources that just come with that name. Um, I always thought I was well traveled. I always thought that, you know, I’ve done fellowships at, uh, international universities, uh, I’ve done clinical rotations there, and I thought, oh yeah, well, I’ve seen the world.

When I came here, I realized I was living in a big pond, you know, uh, and. That was just an eye-opener for me. The kind of things I took away. The, the kind of people I met, the friends I I I made, uh, is just amazing. Um, and, uh, you know, there’s so much, um, positive energy that I took from there. So much positive learnings that I took from there, which are gonna be lifelong for me.

Yeah. So, uh, in one word it was amazing and, um, you know, a life-changing experience for sure. I, I was so

Naji Gehchan: afraid when you said the young mba, how you’re gonna describe, uh, the exec mba. So I don’t know how to take senior. It’s not all that please, but, uh, yeah. Okay. I, I take that the, the last word is spread love in organizations.

Gaurav Deshpande: Um, very needed. Um, and, um, let’s, you know, let’s do it together. Uh, that’s, uh, that’s a wonderful feeling, you know, when you, uh, give a compliment to your coworker, uh, when you just, you know, give them that encouragement when they are really down, um, when you, you know, in simple ways, very, very simple ways.

Show your appreciation. And the kind of, you know, impact that it makes on them is so huge. Um, you know, we’ve all, all heard and we have all, uh, in various fields have experienced toxic culture. We have also been lucky where we have found that one or two, or three or four, uh, coworkers who have been completely opposite, very positive, very optimistic, you know, full of love.

And we all agree that our. Uh, output. Our efficiency is the, is very high when we are actually working with these, uh, individuals who are positive. You know who, who mean love, who, um, you know, I keep using this word too often. Empathetic. Uh, it’s so important in my life and I’ve, uh, seen how it benefits. Um, so I mean, I am, whoever is listening, I can just request them.

You know, it’s a very simple, um, Uh, thing to do is just to, you know, be kind, be, um, uh, empathetic towards your, um, your colleagues. Make sure that, you know, you see their side of it. Sometimes, you know, we are, as I said, we are very focused on our outcomes and we do not see that, okay, this person is also human being.

May he also has a family, may have some issues, but when we start thinking holistically about all those things, I think, um, you know, just not. Um, better humans, but also better managers. So I, I sincerely hope that, you know, in the next decade or so we’ll be in a different place.


Naji Gehchan: final word of wisdom, uh, gu for healthcare leaders

Gaurav Deshpande: around the world? Uh, well, I mean, I, um, I have been very, um, honored to, to have, um, see and experienced, uh, different styles of healthcare leaders. Um, and the only thing I would, um, you know, um, suggest, I mean, I, I’m not sure whether I even have, uh, that position to, to recommend, but, uh, what I could just suggest from my end, the small experience that I have is, um, You know, there is so much need in the world.

There are millions of people who, who lack access to, uh, safe care, safe clinical care, uh, safe medicines, you know, safe diagnostics, and, you know, we are losing precious lives because of that difference. In the distribution. Uh, so my humble request to all the healthcare readers in whichever field, you know, they are, is if we can work together and think about this inequity in the distribution and make sure that, you know, we work towards that, uh, we make sure that, you know, we have the resources that we can, we can distribute it around the world where it’s most needed.

Um, I think that would. Be very helpful, you know, to humanity and, um, uh, in general, uh, it’ll be very, very impactful. So that’s, that’s the humble request to everyone. That is such

Naji Gehchan: an important, uh, issue and topic that needs to be addressed. Thank you so much, uh, again, for being with me today and for this incredible chat.

Gaurav Deshpande: Thank you so much, Naji. Um, you know, uh, you and. An inspiration for me. I’ve learned a lot from you, uh, with our short chats during Sloan as well. So thank you for this lovely endeavor that you’re doing. I, I follow it very keenly. Um, you know, and so many fabulous, uh, leaders that you’ve, uh, you know, spoken to in the past.

And I’m, I feel lucky and honored, uh, that you thought of me. Thank you so much.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much. Your words mean a lot. We’re, we’re so many leaders more than a hundred now, who are definitely striving to make life better around the world by leading from a place of love, and you’re one of them. It’s been an honor to have you, Gaurav Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this special episode in partnership with MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Conference, an event that brings the Healthcare Ecosystem Together.

Jami Taylor is joining me today for this episode. Jami is Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Protagonist Therapeutics, and a Global Justice Fellow at Yale University, working to design new models to improve access to medicines in the world’s poorest and most challenging settings. Earlier in her career, Jami held global leadership roles at Johnson & Johnson across key divisions and was a founding member of Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health. Jami has served as a member of the National Academy of Medicine Forum on Microbial Threats; the Private Sector Delegation to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; the Chairman’s Circle at the Center for Global Development; the Global Health Advisory Council at Harvard Medical School; and on many other committees and forums addressing priority issues in medicine and society. In 2014, Jami was named a Cross-Sector Leadership Fellow at the Presidio Institute, a program created by the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to advance the work of leaders addressing society’s most complex challenges.

Jami – it is such an honor to have you with me today!

Jami Taylor: Thank you so much for having me, Naji. It’s great to be here.

Naji Gehchan: Before we dive into accessibility in a global health setting, which was the topic, uh, of your panel at, um, S H B C, I’m eager to hear a little bit more about your personal story. What brought you to healthcare and this inspiring journey of impacts you have.

Jami Taylor: Sure. I’d love to recount it. It, um, it’s something that I reflect upon a lot really. It’s the tension between innovation and access that’s defined my career and in many ways my own personal life and even my childhood. I grew up in Washington, DC and both of my parents worked on key legislation affecting the business model of the pharmaceutical industry, namely the Orphan Drug Act, and later Hatch Waxman known for really creating that split.

Between the innovator industry and the generic drug industry, which really defined that tension between innovation and access, and in some ways defined responsibilities between those two sides of a coin, so to speak. And so the innovator industry was. Tasked really with the work of innovation, uh, and the work of r and d and investments therein, whereas the generic industry was seen as sort of taking the baton on access after a particular IP period had expired.

And I think there was a satisfaction with this model, despite all the tension that remained within it for a long period of time. But ultimately, when we think it globally, and think about how the models played out. It’s fair to say that there are imperfections in it and the waiting period between the, the innovation as it comes forward.

And the medical sphere and accessibility, especially when we think about the world’s po poorest and most remote communities. It um, it strikes me that there, it always struck me that there were solutions that needed to come to the fore more quickly. And thinking about that sense of urgency, my childhood was really incubated in the crucible of the H I V crisis in the us.

I had an uncle who contracted h i v via blood transfusion in the early 1980s, and that sense of urgency and real desperation for innovation and for access was very much, uh, formative as I observed that as a child, and it imprinted itself upon me that experience. You know, well after his death many years later and is really a guiding light for me when I think about and knew that desperation at the time as it was experienced by my family.

And then now that I’ve traveled the world and spent a great deal of time in frontier and emerging markets and communities and all kinds of situations socioeconomically and other, economically and otherwise, you know, seeing that desperation as it manifests its itself. In many different contexts across many different disease states really drives my passion for expanding both innovation and access and looking for ways to innovate for access in the context of the innovator industry in which I now sit.

Thank you so

Naji Gehchan: much, Jamie, for sharing part of your story. Uh, let’s first, uh, talk about ACC access, right? You shared about accessibility and healthcare specifically. Can you share with us, how do you define this?

Jami Taylor: So, I define access, uh, pretty broadly. I use the term healthcare everywhere. I think healthcare really should be something that is integrated into every aspects of our lives.

Healthcare treatments within arms reach the ability to access physicians or train healthcare providers within a moment of need whenever that moment might arise. Thinking about healthcare very expansively and very ubiquitously helps us, I think, to set the mindset around access that we need to then drive innovation for access.

So if we

Naji Gehchan: take this into a global health setting, as was the panel, uh, discussion during the conference, uh, what are your thoughts, uh, as of today about ACC access accessibility in global

Jami Taylor: health setting? I think we remain in an urgent state where access falls far beneath the levels at which it should.

When we think about healthcare everywhere as a goal, as an ultimate aim, we fall far short of that. And I think obviously the recent pandemic laid bare many of those inequities, but those inequities. Are constant and I think we find too much satisfaction in the status quo. I, for example, find it completely unacceptable even when we’re able to scale old and toxic drugs and this sort of self-congratulation that accompanies that often on the part of, of, of companies in the industry.

It, it’s, Always important to scale. I mean every possible medication, but where we allow these sort of waiting games that I referenced prior and where we tolerate the absence of innovation, where unmet need is so clear and urgent. I just truly believe that there’s more that we can do and that sense of dissatisfaction is very much a driving force in, in my day-to-day work.

Naji Gehchan: So I love that you talked about dissatisfaction more we can do, and you really come from this, uh, place of, uh, urgency to ask, right? With the desperation that you shared. So can I double click on this and hear from you? What do you think we can do and we should do to improve accessibility?

Jami Taylor: Oh, absolutely.

Well, I mean, I could probably spend all day, you know, you know, a relative soapbox on this one, but I’ll just offer some perspectives just based on my own experience. One, it starts with the belief that we can do something about it. I know that’s many times, especially sitting in the pharmaceutical industry, we feel really almost straight jacketed by.

The systems in which we operate. There are legal frameworks, regulatory frameworks. There are just business models that in some ways have so deeply entrenched the status quo that I described, that it drives that sense of. Complacency around access to medicines. Uh, we’ve heard many times, at least in past years, even top leaders in the pharmaceutical industry accept that sort of bifurcation of responsibility that I mentioned, which I believe is a false dichotomy.

Innovation versus access with. Really generic industries responsible for access. I think we’re all responsible for access and frankly, I think we’re all responsible for innovation. And so driving an innovation for access MI mindset, grounded in that sense that we can do better. There’s, there are gaps that we can fill.

The status quo is not necessarily where we need to remain. I think there’s, I think it begins there. I feel very strongly that even. Where we feel like those deeply entrenched business models are, you know, sometimes insurmountable. There’s a role for advocacy and that can happen not only outside of our organization and the context of the policy and legal frameworks and regulatory frameworks that I mentioned, but it can happen in inside even large organizations and even small cap companies like where I sit, we can ad advocate for investment.

That has innovation and access as twin concepts and as pillars and priorities for how we allocate r and d dollars. We can advocate with our benefactors and shareholders for those who invest in our companies, we can push for an innovation for access mindset. And I’ve seen that kind of advocacy where it’s built upon, I think genuine intent.

And then of course, certain capabilities that can un unlock and realize a goal. I’ve seen that kind of advocacy really move mountains. Uh, early in my career, I worked with a group, kind of a ragtag group within Johnson and Johnson at the time. There was an attempt within j and j to turn around the pharmaceutical sector of the company, which wasn’t its high performing sector in the early two thousands.

And there was a huge profit margin imperative. A massive transformational INF innovation imperative, but less so at the time, an access imperative. And this was an observation that a few of my colleagues and I recognized. And so what we did was we created on our own an access and affordability team. It had three people, actually four, but one defected very quickly when he realized maybe this was radioactive from an internal political perspective.

But we, we began to really advocate around this idea of access and affordability and building into the priorities and the strategic, strategic pillars at a really critical time for the, for the company in this particular segment of the company. You know, at the looking back, it really was a risk in many ways, but in some ways we were seizing upon an opportunity of the moment where there was this appetite to shift a whole collection of innovators.

And it was a time when. Jansen, which is com comprises the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson and Johnson, was really begin to getting to brand itself and really understand itself as a single entity underneath the Johnson and Johnson umbrella. We seized upon, uh, a lonely asset that had been a development very quietly in our labs in Belgium for, uh, that appear to be very clearly effective against multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

Certainly that would not be, uh, a sort of, Big win blockbuster by any stretch, but we were able to really craft a narrative thinking about the ad advocacy angle as entrepreneurs where we were able to elevate this M D R T B asset as a driver of business model innovation a means of. Reaching communities and driving new access models that could help support our, our aims in terms of global expansion across the company’s portfolio of products and where we could push and test these new models.

In what, what, because there was no real profit to be had. That where we could test these models in ways that would confer reputational, gain, help to build rapport within new markets or markets where we had a lower footprint and where we could, where we could develop relationships and new public-private partnerships with governments in ways that constituted its own sort of innovative model.

That kind of advocacy proved to be very, very powerful, and I’m proud to say. That despite lots of obstacles along the way and a huge amount of internal and external skepticism, because we believed it was possible because we brought a mindset that said, access and affordability is a priority, and innovation for access is a meaningful direction.

Even for a major company with all of its pressures from shareholders and other stakeholders, we were able to, at this point save many, many thousands of lives around the world to prove out and new treatment regimen for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and potentially TB more broadly. And we were able to, uh, elevate what has now become from a three person team, what has now become many hundreds of people engaged in the formal work of global public health within that organization.

Naji Gehchan: Wow. Thank you so much, uh, Jamie for sharing this, and I love it. It’s a concrete example with impact, uh, that, that you’re sharing here and along with a lot of entrepreneurship that you know, I believe in. And obviously you’ve done it in, in large organizations, uh, and you talked about. I love how you framed it.

It’s belief innovation and access advocacy, and there’s the piece of access and affordability. So if I wanna double click on affordability, you know, especially in the poorest and most challenging places on earth, do you think cost is the only challenge? Or is, is it one challenge and there’s other pieces?

I’d love to get your perspective about how you think, uh, through affordability for the poorest spaces on earth.

Jami Taylor: One, I believe in models like the Global Fund to fight aids, TB, and malaria, where there’s. The opportunity to collect funds together in sort of a massive way even, and use that as a driver of effectively subsidizing costs for access as a priority for communities that otherwise could not afford innovative medicines or even generic medicines for that matter.

So there’s, there are models out there that I think offer us real guiding lights. But if, but as, as I’ll probably say through, through the course of this whole discussion, there’s more that we can do, right? We can never be satisfied as long as healthcare isn’t everywhere. And so to that end, one of the, one of the observations that I’ve made, you know, climbing mountains and Rwanda and, and trudging through, you know, banana plantations and Ecuador and really moving in lots of places in between.

Touring hosp TV hospitals in Chenai India. One observation has been this sense of absorptive capacity, where you have limited infrastructure. How can you bring some of our most sophisticated technologies to the market to really, uh, achieve the health health outcomes that you’re seeking everywhere. And that’s where that real innovation for access mindset can come in.

And where we can make palpable gains in that direction, we can obviate the need for heavy infrastructure for that so-called absorptive capacity. And one example is it comes from the company where I am right now, protagonist Therapeutics. It’s a moonshot company really taking areas of medicine or disease areas that are typically treated through heavy infrastructure treatment modalities.

Doctor’s, office based infusions, for example, of monoclonal antibody bio, large molecule biologic drugs. There are, um, diseases that are treated as first line with phlebotomy, for example. Where patients have to go in and have complic, it’s sometimes complicated procedures carried out, or even simple procedures are out of reach in some of these markets.

And so where you can look at those barriers and ask, how can we traverse those barriers through the power of technological innovation, harnessing a lot of human ingenuity along the way, that kind of creativity coming down to new drug formulations, new drugs that can. That can essentially displace and replace heavy infrastructure.

That’s the aim of the work that I’m engaged in right now. Really excited about the gains that we can make in that direction. Helping to solve for last mile problems and helping to keep some of these communities where. I mean even, uh, an an in reach healthcare clinic is out of reach. Putting ourselves in a position where we can scale medical therapy that can be used conveniently at home and preferably in pill form or even, or in long-acting injectable form or some way that keeps patients from having to go into, into experts to receive expensive medicines.

I think that innovation for access. Perspective and companies built around. It will really define the age of access, which I hope is very much upon us. So,

Naji Gehchan: Jamie, the, these are great example and really thanks for sharing what you’re doing daily, obviously to improve this, uh, this important, uh, issue we face, uh, since decades.

I, I wanna bring also this, you know, there’s the access piece. There is also a lot on the trust. Of the system, the trust of those companies. Um, everything around, you know, misinformation, miscommunication, which is becoming like even countries that can afford treatments. Unfortunately, we’re seeing people dying because they don’t believe in those treatments.

So I’d love to get your perspective, how you would, especially that you’ve gone through places, uh, that are underserved, uh, you know, countries where you have. Poor challenge to access. How do you see this fit in and how can we solve also this piece? Is it only about getting those drugs, for example, to this market or to this population?

Or is there more to be done also from, from a trust, from a communication standpoint, from any other aspect you, you think would be needed for us to solve this problem?

Jami Taylor: Naji, this is such a great question and I really appreciate it. It almost brings me to a very vulnerable place, reflecting upon the case study that I shared around M D R T B and the work that we did to bring Baklan now under the brand name curo to markets all across the world.

We really believed, I think, in our naivete that the moment we received F D A approval and were able to unlock that access to this drug, And given that, of course, that this was the first innovation in tuberculosis in more than 40 years, that there would be this organic outpouring of praise and celebration and uptake that we would be embraced as a company, that the drug would be embraced quickly across every community where it was needed, that we would have partners pouring out their own resources to, to support and shore up, and scale up all of that effort.

We were very surprised and frankly, at a personal level, I was very. I mean shocked and, and hurt at the time when we actually received quite a bit of criticism with the rollout of the drug. Much, much of that criticism looking back, was well placed. I mean, we struggled with the pricing model and attempted to be as innovative as possible and the pricing model around what we called equity-based tiered pricing.

But we did a really poor job of explaining the rationale there, and it almost looked like we were placing artificial limits on access. We’re trying to force a pricing model. Uh, in, in markets that where we hadn’t primed it, so to speak, we hadn’t done the work of patient intimacy in achieving that, that sort of deep listening to your customer to know all of the hurdles that they face, we were so engaged with the biology of the drug and, you know, understanding how it operated, you know, in that sort of physiological sense.

And so proud of that, that there was a lot of community engagement. That needed to happen pre-approval that we just didn’t even perceive as a requirement. And so when criticism came in, and I should say there it, there was that sort of organic that that slice of organic celebration, but there was also a fair amount of criticism in print and otherwise we took it very, very hard.

But in ways, in some ways, I’m glad that we did because. We taking that criticism so seriously, really prompt us, prompted us to reflect and reset and understand community engagement, stakeholder engagement at a whole new level. And from there, I think we were able to set a foundation for what would later become, as I mentioned, Johnson and Johnson Global Public Health set a foundation of intensive partnerships.

Intensive government engagement, intensive community engagement. We began to dispatch our teams into some of the most far flung areas of the world. We were camping with hippos in Uganda. We were touring hospitals, as I mentioned, TB hospitals throughout Southeast Asia. We were really beginning to understand the settings in which we were working.

Well beyond what our preclinical work in Petri dishes could indicate for us. And it takes both. It takes that scientific excellence, but also that stakeholder engagement excellence. And that’s really the lesson from that case study and certainly a lesson that informs so much of the work that I do today.

Naji Gehchan: That’s great. And really talking about this combination about science and underground, what people need in population. We’ve heard it several times during, during the discussion, uh, in the conference. W w with all that you’ve seen, you’re learning, you’re an expert in this field now. Uh, are you hopeful for the next decade that we will get there as a society?

Jami Taylor: I’m hugely hopeful. In fact, I’m, you know, with this sort of driving understanding that there’s so much more that we can do. I think that perspective helps to unlock a huge amount of optimism. On the research side, we’re seeing accelerating drivers of new research. New research timelines effectively where r and d can be compressed so that we’re not waiting 20 years for a drug to come to market, but rather through the strength of new regulatory pathways and certainly even new discovery modalities and lots of new tech being applied across the board.

I think we’re seeing our ability to move from bench to bedside. With a whole new, I mean, to use a term that’s become its own catchphrase, warp speed, and I want to see that, as I’m sure you do, and many in the audience here want to see that applied to the access space and the innovation for access space.

I think we’re seeing lots of other factors outside of healthcare proper that are coming into view, transportation and logistics, innovations that from drone delivery, for example, and, and so forth. Those innovations are helping us to traverse that last mile, which for many years just felt like was, it was such a firm barrier to access that we would never jump over it.

But by engaging some of those other actors in that space, we’re seeing some whole new ways of getting healthcare. Everywhere. We’re also seeing, uh, remote monitoring and telemedicine taking hold all across the world. I mean, even for some of the momentary quarterly earnings calls that suggest a decline in the usage thereof, maybe here in the US or other high income markets in in low and middle income markets, it is taking off like wildfire in ways that are very encouraging and hopefully we can continue to stoke that momentum.

We’re also seeing non-traditional actors, like I mentioned, like tech companies, seeing some of these longstanding gaps and creatively considering ways that they could help to fill those gaps in equity. And I think there are some powerful roles that some of those actors can play in ways that, uh, will emerge the benefit of, of everyone across the world.

I’m thrilled with the level of innovation that we’re seeing right now in diagnostics. I remember years ago listening to the president of Tanzania saying that the crippling aspect with of healthcare, the weakest link within their healthcare system there in Tanzania was lack of reliable and accurate diagnostics and access to diagnostics.

And here we’re seeing tests that are now reliable, accurate, and diffused. Everywhere and the power of some of those, those, those, the MedTech innovations that I mentioned to carry diagnostics forward at new levels across all kinds of disease areas. So absolutely thrilled about that. I think we’re seeing.

If not with the warming of the capital markets to this direction, we are seeing a lot of innovators jump into innovation for access. With access as an explicit priority for an innovation agenda among small cap players, your garage biotechs, some of your publicly traded biotechs, and I think we’re seeing large pharma really begin to set the tone.

I think. The industry is an entirely different place from a values point of view and how those values are expressed. When we think about, say, 1999, big pharma versus the large pharma actors today, and we see increasing evidence of this access imperative. All the time. And that advocacy within those organizations and outside of them can continue in ways that I think will really, truly bring us a new golden age of biomedical innovation, innovation for access, and will help to realize this vision of healthcare everywhere.

And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. I will shift

Naji Gehchan: gears now and give you words, and I would love your reaction to it. Okay, great. So the first one is leadership


Jami Taylor: Can you share, so a word, a word back, or

Naji Gehchan: I, I have to get Oh, yeah, you can, you can share more if you’d like. And, and I’m, especially when you talked about the values we have in biotech and in pharma, I think obviously leadership plays a big role on setting the tone and how you wanna drive this. So I’d love a little bit

Jami Taylor: more on this.

Oh, absolutely. Okay, good. Well, I’m glad you’re giving me more room too, to sort of opine. So, in leadership, I think there’s, there. Is something so powerful about that sort of fixed firm value system and how it evidences itself in every aspect of a of a, of a company or a movement. And I’ve seen that certainly in the case of Johnson and Johnson, where we were able to appeal to the fundamental credo values that hang on every wall in which are etched in stone at the company’s headquarters.

Think when it comes to leadership, there’s always something courageous about the best kind of leadership. And I mentioned early in our conversation all of these barriers that are deeply entrenched and systemic, right? I mean, where you’ve got, I. Uh, high regulatory bars to that, that dictate large timelines and large co or long timelines and large costs.

Takes a lot of courage to have a vision that’s often many years out. And to see that vision through many, uh, innovators today face, uh, lot of, uh, let’s just say heavy input. From investors, uh, the investors upon which they depend in order to carry out some of this, you know, more moonshot oriented work and sometimes, uh, whether it’s it, it’s shareholders of publicly traded company or early stage BC investors, what you find is that they can place pressure on you to adhere.

To the system as it stands and not to try to go against the grain in ways that, uh, potentially imbue more risk in the enterprise. And so leadership requires that courage and then that tenacity to see things through and to see a bigger vision through. And I think where the, where a vision can be expressed in ways that are deeply connected to values, then you can have the success of advocacy that we’ve discussed.

What about

Naji Gehchan: health equity?

Jami Taylor: I’m so glad we’re talking about health equity because, uh, years ago there really was almost wasn’t a place or a forum or even a, a, a phrase to really capture, uh, Inequality as it’s, it’s very clearly evidenced, uh, across either the healthcare access sphere, whether it’s in communities here in the US or, you know, certainly as those inequalities are present on a global basis.

And so simply the fact that we’re able to talk about health equity as this clear phrase and one that is familiar to probably everyone listening, I think it represents a leap forward in the dialogue that really governs the industry and where it should go. We talked about large cap pharma and MedTech companies, really setting the tone and leadership, setting the tone.

When I think about health equity today, I’m extremely encouraged and really enthusiastic over the number of CEOs that we see emphasizing health equity as a priority, and we see it not only in sort of you, I always worry about sort of glitzy social media posts or what I call the red carpet. The red carpeting of, you know, some of the, um, you know, some of the priorities that we’d like to see, you know, much more substantially connected to business models.

But we see health equity now connected to business models, and that’s evidenced in earnings call transcripts and, and. And the way organizations are being designed right now and the way leadership is being constructed across some of your largest healthcare players. And so I’m very enthusiastic about healthcare equity.

I’m, I’m extremely glad that it’s become such a familiar catchphrase and I believe that it is really is one that has teeth and will for the long term, and will be a driving force, you know, as it is a driving priority right now for many leaders of companies, large and small. Global justice. Okay. I love this word because it’s much more expansive than healthcare.

I love this phrase, global justice. I mean, we talked about some of the fundamental sort of framing tools that can help to give us the lens. That can situate a value system around healthcare access, and that can help to orient innovations and allocation of resources toward innovation for access. Global justice is almost even deeper than everything that we’ve talked about here and certainly much more expansive as a frame.

It suggests that there is something wrong with lack of access. To medicines and it does so, or it prompts us to consider that conclusion in ways that force self-reflection as across especially high income countries that are in many and, and markets and players that are in many ways responsible or at least partly responsible for injustice as it applies to healthcare.

And it’s, you know, in a world of a lot of moral relat, and I’ll certainly, you know, concede that everyone can have different views thinking about healthcare through a lens of global justice. I think it just hits deeper and it prompts us to think harder and it really raises that sense of urgency for moral reasons that I think cascade.

Across many different actors at many different levels within the healthcare ecosystem, and I hope that that justice lens can come more firmly fixed into the collection of lenses that we use to explore access to healthcare challenges going forward. I

Naji Gehchan: certainly, uh, deeply agree with you on, on this piece, and coming from a country where w we felt injustice, where even being in the US in a country where depending on the community or on you feel there is no justice and healthcare is delivered.

So it’s, it’s really, I think, a great point on how you’re framing it. The last word is spread love in organizations.

Jami Taylor: So Naji, I love this because in some ways it’s the thread. Looking back through our whole conversation. Yeah, that really opens, I would almost say doors, but I think that’s too modest. It really opens the floodgates to progress in this area. We talked about stakeholder engagement and patient intimacy. And I mean, I’m almost emotional reflecting on some of the moments where I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with patients who have multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, patients suffering from severe head and neck cancers and places like, like Uganda.

Without access to any kind of sophisticated care and the pain that they have to sit with is so powerful. And in those moments, sometimes it feels like love becomes its own medicinal force, but also this driver to bring. Medicines and tools and resources and expertise to really conquer these issues. It prompts us this sort of spread love approach prompts us to relieve suffering.

And I think that’s what love entails so much. And I think that’s the essence of compassion, which is the essence of access to healthcare, access to medicines. And I’m glad you reminded me of that today.

Naji Gehchan: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Jamie, for sharing those, um, those moments that you’ve lived a and I think we all have this, um, this responsibility as leaders in healthcare to ensure a better just word in in healthcare.

Any final words of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the world?

Jami Taylor: I really believe that we are on the cusp of this healthcare everywhere era. I believe that we are entering a whole new era of biomedical innovation that’s ed up by. All these different factors that I mentioned. Diffusion of diagnostics, the leaps forward, innovation in transportation and logistics. The entry into the space of new tech players and MO technology modalities that can infuse with our work, whether it be on the r and d side or the access side and everywhere in between to really accelerate our progress.

I think it really just takes a pre. Prioritization of innovation for access, with access as an explicit priority of the work we do to drive new medicines. Technologies, medical care approaches forward. And as we think about speed and scale, as has been many times discussed in the context of climate, as we think of speed and scale in the context of healthcare access, and as we take that bigger lens of global justice and the even.

Bigger lens that you’ve mentioned here of really love, compassion, and relief of suffering. There’s no stopping us. I really believe the sky’s the limit as an innovative community and as a community of leaders in the healthcare space today.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, Jamie, for being with me today.

Jami Taylor: Oh, I was thrilled. Thank you so much, Naji. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spreadlove in Organizations podcast! More episodes summarizing the MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Conference are available on spreadloveio.com or on your preferred streaming app. Follow “spreadlove in organizations” wherever you listen to podcasts and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement our World so desperately needs.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a 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 today, excited to be joined by Enrique Conterno CEO of Fibrogen. 

A native of Peru, Enrique is a mechanical engineering with an MBA from Duke. He joined Eli Lilly in 1992 and spent the next two decades working in the U.S. and internationally across sales, marketing, finance, business development, and general management roles. Enrique became the President of Lilly Diabetes in 2009. In addition to those responsibilities, he took on the role of President of Lilly USA in January 2017 before retiring at the end of 2019 after 27 years of service with the company. I had the privilege and chance to work in Enrique’s teams, learn from his leadership, and grow in the culture he has created.

Enrique – I am so honored to have you with me today!

I would love to learn more about your personal journey? What is in between the line of the incredibly successful leader you are.

Enrique Conterno: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to have these chats with you and matching. Great. Great to see you again.

Naji Gehchan: Great to see you too. I would love Enrique to learn more about your personal story, your personal journey, what is in between those lines of this incredibly successful, uh, career and that either you are today.

Enrique Conterno: Thank you. I’m not sure exactly where to start, but probably I have to start when. I decided to, um, embark on the journey outside of Peru and pursue my education in the United States. At that time, I was a swimmer I think. And, uh, therefore I had the opportunity as a swimmer to get us a scholarship or scholarships in the U S but beyond that, I think.

Uh, what, uh, that, that was the start of something that I believe shaped me throughout my career, which is, um, we have to take chances, personal chances, certain risks. Uh, it was not easy at that time for me to leave Peru, but I decided to do so. Um, and I think throughout my career, I’ve taken a number of, um, personal risks and for the most part, um, I’m delighted that I took those chances.

Not every single one. Worked in the way that I was expecting them, but we do have to take, be thoughtful, take appropriate chances and, and, uh, And then adapt to changing circumstances. But, um, I think in between the lines, I, um, uh, we’re all, I think our product of our experiences, and I think that’s something that has really shaped me is basically taking chances, uh, thinking certain risks and then, uh, uh, manage in the, in the best way possible to produce excellent outcome.

Naji Gehchan: When you’re talking to Enrique about taking chances and tourists, obviously you said you took it personally. I know as a leader also, you’re taught a lot of risks and you gave people opportunities and chances. Uh, how do you, how do you do this? How have you managed to always build successful teams, lead them towards even bigger successes for the organization stats.

Enrique Conterno: Yeah, there’s no question that talent is at the very heart of successful organizations and creating diverse teams, I think is critical to do that. And, um, and I think I always reflect on. As we, uh, build teams and give people chances. And the opportunity to grow one has to reflect the, somebody took the chance on us to take larger responsibilities.

And in some cases, maybe for us to step up in position, the maybe we thought we were not ready to take on and we have to reflect on that as we basically provide opportunities for, uh, others. Um, At the end. I think there’s no formula when it comes to hiring people or building teams. But I do think there are a number of elements that we want us to look for in a culture that one wants to create.

Um, and we can speak a little more about that, but there’s no question that, uh, people and talent are at the very heart of, uh, continued success in, uh, organizations.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, I would love, I would love to hear about those elements. I’ve, I’ve, you know, I’ve lived that. I think the country, you build a caring culture.

I, you know, I personally call it loving culture, but truly from this shared purpose, the strong values, and then leading your teams to where it’s exceptional execution, uh, to, to deliver on, uh, uh, on this chair and common purpose. I’d love to hear more about the elements you use shared. You shared those, but I’d love to hear more about.

Enrique Conterno: Sure. So, um, and you are absolutely right. I think it’s, um, it’s all about, um, I think centering on our common purpose and, uh, key values and what do we basically expect from all leaders or, uh, employees? Um, all of our colleagues in an organization. Uh, all of that I think is. Part of, uh, starting to create the culture, to the extent that one lives, those values, you start to create those, that culture.

Just try to, uh, uh, not just retain, but attract talent to the, to the organization now it’s, uh, clearly I think, um, there are, um, a number of other elements. Claim to that. Um, I’m a, I’m a huge believer in looking at a track record of success when building teams, uh, not just experiences, but really looking at the track records of, uh, individuals.

And, um, this sometimes can be misunderstood. Um, yes, we look for. The outcomes and outcomes are critical, but it’s also how people dealt in many cases with failures, I think, or, uh, with maybe a, uh, a hand that was not quite perfect. And well, what, what were the actions that the individual then the individual took to improve the situation to, to, uh, make the situation better?

Um, as we, uh, I think about that. I think, uh, we need to, um, and we build this culture and you call it a loving culture, um, a caring culture. Although I think all of that is true. I like to think of it as an empowering culture and you’re right. I think the leader in many cases, trying to serve to ensure that people can basically give, uh, Uh, the most, um, um, given their capabilities, the opportunity that they have.

I think all of that I think is very much true. Um, at the end of the day, I think, um, uh, empowerment needs to also come with accountable. And, um, I’m a big believer on, uh, marrying those two, uh, which is, uh, people need to be empowered, but at the end, I think that empowering needs to lead to increased accountability.

And hopefully the organization then works, I think, in a much better way, um, uh, so that everybody can contribute as long as the priorities and the purpose is clear. I think it’s, um, everything tends to work, um, much more effectively and efficiently.

Naji Gehchan: And thanks Enrique. And I know you’re passionate about DNI and you mentioned that try trick twisting at the first team, uh, while building this culture.

Uh, any, any advice, you know, as you are. Bringing those leaders. Uh, many times we, uh, we are faced with some of the inclusion challenges, and I remember something you always talked about remaining yourself, be yourself and continue to be yourself as you’re, uh, leading and, and in the organization. What, what, what do you do to make sure that people, as they join, uh, don’t change to be in the mall, but try to be themselves and being able to deliver to the expectations?

Enrique Conterno: Yeah, a discussion that I will, that I, uh, come, you know, often have, is that the responsibility of both the leaders in the organization, but also. The, um, the, the, uh, employees coming into the organization to ensure that we can build an inclusive culture. Um, It is through, we need to create that type of environment, a leader, but there’s also responsibility on the person coming in, um, to, in some cases to take that person arrest.

To always, um, uh, be able to speak out and quite frankly, not to just, uh, sort of, uh, come in and be just like your organization that are coming into the reason we, um, organizations can benefit so much from new blood, from fresh thinking from new talent, new hire. It’s because of the unique perspective that they bring from the outside.

What a period would it be that the second day coming into an organization that we lose that because they’re trying to fit in. And there’s no question that there is a bit of a compromise trying to fit in. And, but, um, to the extent that those individuals can be true to themselves, who they are, I think we have a best chance of the organization thriving and ensuring that the individual collective.

Uh, growth, uh, uh, benefits the entire organization. So yes, there is a responsibility of the leaders and there’s also a responsibility of the new hires to ensure that this culture can be built.

Naji Gehchan: Pivoting now to, uh, I, I know you, you know, you share it and you did it on leading in crisis even before, you know, if we want to talk about the current pandemic. Uh, but even before that, I read one of the articles you wrote about leading through moments of crisis. Uh, so can you share more about your learning experiences and did anything changed, uh, leading in this global crisis that we’re all

Enrique Conterno: living.

Yeah, I, um, my, uh, sense, I think when you’re living in a crisis, um, uh, one of, one of the key, um, it’s, it’s always, uh, critically important to remain true to your values. And do the purpose and to understand where the north star is for you and for the organization. Um, otherwise one can, uh, get lost, um, whether it’s a crisis or a.

A moment where you’re going to Sage is thriving. I think we have to recognize that there are, um, a few, I, I call it a few critical decisions each year that really shape, uh, the business, uh, outcomes, the people outcomes, the cultural outcomes of the organization and being thoughtful about those decisions, I think is critical.

Um, it’s um, A crisis, um, tends to, um, uh, challenge all of us because maybe it was, uh, an outcome we did not expect, uh, or an uncertainty that got resolved in an unfavorable way or personnel exiting the organization for other opportunities, whatever the crisis might be. I think it’s always good to remember the crisis.

So. Both, uh, opportunities in itself, it becomes reframed in the right way. So it could be a matter of, um, somebody succeeding. It’s the opportunity to, um, promote somebody. You maybe bring new talent in the organization and, uh, how, you know, how welcome we do that. Um, it’s, it may be a matter of refocusing that priority.

So the organization, or for us to think about, um, um, um, what those new priorities are at the end of the day, though, I think one critical thing throughout crisis. Uh, we all need to be grounded. What I call that reality. Of the ground, the real yet, and the relatives of the situation. I think it’s critically important as a leader that we can objectively assess the situation.

And at the end, uh, provide the direction for the business on the enterprise. Our people, um, sometimes in a crisis is one, one vents to maybe color how things might be. It’s just critically important that we don’t have those roads with rose-colored glasses and we’re able to tackle, I think the challenges.

Naji Gehchan: That’s great. You talked about being true to the values, right? To your personal values. You started with this, uh, around the common and shared purpose. Um, looking at it from an opportunity standpoint, are there things to do to refocus and then ending on a objective objectively, always assessing the situation?

The communication I imagine you mean in this is super important, right? Like giving hope, but at the same time being realistic to what we’re going through. Uh, is key,

Enrique Conterno: right? It is, I think, without being realistic, I think it’s, um, the changes not very lasting because. You lose credibility over time. Um, and at the end of the day, people can kind of objective, really assess what the situation is as well.

Um, so it is, uh, I think it is critically important than, uh, that the organization or the other days align and needs to be aligned on those. In, uh, a grounded view of what the realities are, uh, because I think then I think the priorities are better. Understood. Uh, demonization can be best aligned. And at the end of the thing, then I think, uh, um, that, that grace, a certain.

Um, build trust and trust is critical. I think, to be able to execute with agility and speed.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, definitely. Uh, Enrique talked about failure. Uh, we, we, we, we look at you, we see huge successes all over even, uh, you know, we we’ve seen you in your, in the different leadership role that you had taking things and making them happen, right.

Like, Challenging pieces, giving again through a vision and taking all the organizations to amazing, huge successes. How do you do this? Like, and did you ha did you have some moments of doubt you started in the beginning saying sometimes you have to take jobs, even doubting that you can, even to them, what, like, do you have a story that you can tell us, uh, around this and how you manage to, uh, to build all that you’ve been building throughout the.

Enrique Conterno: Yeah, I, I, there are there, there are probably many that I can share, but I think we can start. I think, uh, you were mentioning, we both worked together in, uh, diabetes. You were, I recall when you were working in, in France and I really wanted to show that you could come to the U S. In, uh, and I was delighted that you were able to come in and so that we were able to work together.

But, um, uh, 1, 1, 1 piece, I think. Maybe people don’t realize is that those, those first few years in diabetes, while everybody looks a little bit diabetes today, and it’s an incredibly growing successful business, the first few years were challenging. Um, um, it, they were challenging because, um, we were having a number of setbacks.

We had, uh, uh, uh, we’re losing market share with some of our key products. Um, we, our pipeline was not where we wanted it to be. And we had some setbacks in our pipeline. And at the end of the day, I think we needed to. Take stock of really where we were at at that time and make some, um, some pretty big decisions.

Right. Um, um, all of that did not change overnight. Um, it was a matter of basically building, you know, starting, you know, uh, at one point in time, we entered into Alliance with Boehringer Ingelheim, um, with. That today, of course, highly successful. Um, but at that time there was, you know, um, those, those, uh, uh, products were, uh, promises, if you wish.

Um, we were trying to build, uh, GLP one pipeline. And, um, you know, we’ve had some, uh, also a challenging, uh, collaboration at that time, uh, with, uh, with another party. So all in all, I think it w we were looking at a business, the what challenge, but had potential. And if there was, uh, There was something that I can, um, maybe look back it’s I’m, I’m glad that we felt, you know, um, the, we were committed to our strategy and we allowed for the strategy to play out over time.

It took a little bit of. Patients, um, net, net and, um, vision was needed at that point in time, because I think for Lilly, uh, overall I think, uh, the situation was a challenge, but it was not just for diabetes. Um, but we saw the potential, um, while, um, we, we, we didn’t have what I’m going to call it the perfect plan or the perfect roadmap.

Um, we saw what were the key levers to try to.

We followed those I’ll be honest too. We had overtime, we had some good breaks and some people say we took advantage of them. That’s true. Uh, but some of the journey and some of these strategic initiatives took several years to develop anything from that collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim that is highly successful in everything from developing the pipeline and the new products.

Uh, from, um, being much more cost efficient or, uh, our cost structure. Those were the, your projects. And over time, I think, um, we, uh, we were able to build that thing. Together with a great team, I think, um, um, a great organization, but it, it took time and I keep in mind that I was in that job for what is it?

Over 10 years. Um, so I had a chance to see the cycles of it. Um, and yeah, I’m, I’m, uh, very proud of what we built, but, uh, yeah, it’s. Everything else. It wasn’t all always roses. There were, you know, what’s a little bit of a rollercoaster in particular in the.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, but it’s the, the millions of patients around the word help through, uh, what you’ve built and, and the value that your breath is just, is just immense.

Um, you, one of the things, you know, we always talk in strategy. Uh, and I’d love your take on this that you said you had to be patient, try to build this strategy. You believed in it. We all believed, believed in it, and then you have to be patient. And we here on the opposite side. So now being, uh, see, oh, um, in a, in a different company and in biotech, we hear a lot about agility, changing the gap, making sure that we understand what’s going on and change if needed.

Any, any thoughts about this when to change strategy and when not to change and be persistent on it?

Enrique Conterno: I think it’s, um, clearly the circumstances, um, um, the, the fine, what the strategies should be. Uh, the strategies should be able to overcome setbacks, but I think sometimes that’s easier said than done. And I, uh, Depending on, you know, the, uh, resources, the size of the company.

And, and so for some of his strategies might be more valuable than others. And I think we need to reassess and adjust the strategy as circumstances change. Right. Um, uh, you mentioned, um, I draw a lot from, um, some of the challenges when we’re building the diabetes business, as I think about five region where we are right now, uh, the fact that we have, um, yeah, we had a pretty significant setback, uh, when it comes to a complete response letter in the U S at the same time we’d been approved.

China Europe, Japan, uh, to be able to commercialize rocks, reduce that. Um, so to me, I think it’s, um, um, clearly, uh, uh, as I’ve mentioned, I, uh, drawing on all of those experiences and thinking about how do we ground ourselves in and the realities of the situation. How do we adjust our priorities? Uh, how do we basically think about greatest, significant value for our shareholders, their patients?

How do we keep our purpose, uh, in front of us? And, um, and once again, honestly, assessing where, where we are and, and, um, and what is it that we have to focus on right now? So, Uh, as leaders, I think, um, we have to keep in mind that all of these experiences serve to ground us, right. They give us confidence for the path ahead and the ability that we can have to be able to, uh, basically for job, a very successful future.

Naji Gehchan: Thanks Enrique. I would love to get your first reaction to a couple of words out. I will, I will be saying, uh, and the word, the first one is leadership. What would it be? The first,

Enrique Conterno: first thoughts on, on leadership is change agents. Um,

Bias for action and, uh, working doors, um, working towards, uh, outcomes, uh, aligning or, uh, organizations.


Naji Gehchan: about mentorship?

Enrique Conterno: Uh, And, um, and mentors should have been a bit different from sponsorship. Uh, but men mentorship is basically, um, providing, uh, the advice and, uh, they use sites. At the personal and professional level for, for talent to be, um, uh, you know, as successful as they can be and different from and sponsorship because sponsorship, in addition to all of that, I believe it also includes advocacy and a real action from the leader in terms of.

Um, you know, uh, taking a, had done, um, basically allowing for that individual to, uh, take additional jobs or, uh, responsibilities as they basically grow.

Naji Gehchan: And I know you’ve, uh, you believe in reverse mentorship, I think too, right at where it got it. Any thoughts on this too?

Enrique Conterno: All of us to make sure that we are truly at the other, they connect it to what’s going on and receive informal feedback. I’ve I’ve had reverse mentioned mentorship one-on-one and also multiple in one meeting, just being able to hear people. And I, um, to do that, I think curiosity is incredibly important, uh, and openness, the ability to really.

Um, uh, here and try to understand as opposed to try to justify. You know, uh, why sort of things are what they are. So that’s, that’s a thing, the, uh, the power of it, but, uh, mentorship is a, um, you said is, um, dual way street. And anytime one is mentoring somebody in the way that I mentioned one can be mentored as well.

One is open to that.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. I totally agree. Um, vacation.

And I’m asking this because you wrote about it. Yeah. It’s um,

Enrique Conterno: I’m a big believer on, um, uh, working hard and playing hard as well. Um, uh, Uh, I believe all of us need to take that diamond space, you know, to refresh and replenish ourselves. And to do that. Sometimes we do have to disconnect from our daily work.

So, uh, uh, allowing for the space and time to be able to do that, I think it’s, um, critical. Um, so I’m, I’m a big believer in, uh, Ensuring that, um, that, uh, balances is going to be there. Sometimes people ask me to quantify what that balance should be, but I think that balance is very personal. It’s like people say, well, define for me with a work-life balance is how many hours I think it’s different for.

Different people. And each one of us needs to understand our own personal boundaries. And what is it that allows us to basically be as effective, you know, at work. Um, and we have to be self aware to be able to assess and evaluate that, right. Maybe somebody is able to work many more hours than somebody else and we need.

Naji Gehchan: We’ll be able to

Enrique Conterno: respect those, those boundaries and what we at the other day should look for is, um, what are the outcomes? Um, um, and how are the, uh, how, um, how effective is each one of us, uh, being in the positions that we have. So no hard rules, but, uh, finding that personal balance is incredibly important and the organization cannot find this balance for you.

You have to find it for yourself. Yeah,

Naji Gehchan: totally agree. And I think you shared it at the beginning. You’re a swimmer. I’m not sure if you. Uh, continued to spend, but I know for a while, that was also because I’m thinking about how every day, not only taking vacations, but even everyday how to disconnect, try to refresh our minds as leaders super important for not only us, but our teams, our families, uh, as I know, for, for a while, swimming was part of this for you, but definitely it’s important.

I imagine to disconnect daily, to.

Enrique Conterno: Yeah. I, I, I, I, uh, whether it’s swimmer swimming on a different exercise, I think it’s good to be, uh, active and, uh, and I’m pretty big believer for awhile was swimming every day. Um, Maybe between, uh, you know, when I was in my mid forties to my maybe early fifties, I was swimming every day and even competing in masters competition.

Uh, um, and I, uh, I got a lot from it. Um, but I wasn’t doing it just to be active, you know? And, um, but it’s, it’s fun, you know, because you can see your progress and you are getting in shape. Uh, so yeah, I need, it’s fine to compete. So I, I it’s, uh, I got a lot of satisfaction from that. I’m not swimming today, but I’m doing, uh, I do go to the gym at least four times a week.

Um, and I do spend about an hour. Um, so it’s, it’s, it’s something that I believe in that I think is critical. I think it’s as part of, at least my personal balance.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, that’s, that’s great. And it’s great to hear because many times we have those idea. No, you cannot, you know, work, be successful, be have your family, your network, and then do also train.

But another amazing example, uh, your, your setting here, Andrew, uh, the last word I’d love your reaction is spread love and organizations.

Enrique Conterno: Yeah. It’s um, That’s, that’s probably an easier one, uh, from the, uh, questions, I think aside, um, as you work, I think in the organizations you, uh, closely with people and when you align on, on, on purpose and objectives and when you’re committed to, uh, to a cause or, uh, an objective.

You, you tend to spend a lot of time with, uh, with each one of our colleagues. And of course, as part of that, you, um, you develop a certain closeness and you, I think all of us care for the people that are all of our colleagues that are working with us, um, And I think though the way that I think about spreading to this is your quote spreading love through the organization is, um, is caring, truly caring for four people and demonstrating that in a number of different ways.

There, there are a number of, uh, maybe axioms or. Uh, truth that one has to abide one, uh, uh, abide by one of them is to really be, uh, completely truthful to people and not just for people to hear what they want to hear, but truly what they should be hearing. And I know that sometimes people say, well, that’s hard.

Love it is really not. It is just truly caring about the person. Why would you want to say some person that is not really helping them, uh, maybe make that interaction easier, but at the end, I think longer term, I think we’re not, uh, the person is not going to grow. So when it comes to, um, uh, spreading love or care, I think it starts with, uh, the intent having the right intent and, uh, having a transparent, honest relationship, uh, with, uh, uh, with, with your colleagues.

I think that’s the basis, uh, for that.

Naji Gehchan: I love it and I will definitely keep it in mind. It’s not tough love. It’s true love, which is definitely true. Any final word of wisdom for the leaders around the.

Enrique Conterno: No, thank you very much for, uh, you taking this initiative, uh, with this, uh, set of, uh, podcasts. Uh, it’s exciting to see you again, and, um, I’m glad that you’re doing well.

And once again, thank you for the opportunity to share some of these thoughts with you. Naji Gehchan: Uh, thank you. Thank you for being here and sharing a part of your story and amazing advice. And for this inspiring, genuine discussion.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a 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 for this exciting episode from our new series focused on us as leaders. I’m joined by Professor Elsbeth Johnson, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and an expert on leadership, strategy and change. The main focus for her research is on what leaders need to do to help their organizations execute strategy, or deliver long-term, strategic change, without the need for the leader’s ongoing, personal involvement. Prior to joining MIT, Elsbeth was taught leadership at London Business School and London School of Economics.

Prior to academia, Dr Johnson worked as an investment banker, a sell-side equity analyst, and a corporate strategist. She also spent three years as a special adviser to the first Blair Government in the UK.

As a consultant and executive educator, Elsbeth has worked with a range of companies, helping them develop their strategy and the capabilities and culture that will deliver it. I had the opportunity to be her student this year in the MIT EMBA program and couldn’t but ask her if she can share her wisdom and advice with all of you!

Elsbeth – I am thrilled to have you with me today!

I’m eager to hear more about your personal story from investment banking to politics to now a professor of leadership! What’s in between the lines of your journey?

Elsbeth Johnson: Um, so I, I mean, investment banking was very much where I started and actually I loved the city. So the city has kind of what we, it’s the UK equivalent of wall street.

Um, lots of smart people, all of whom worked really hard. I really felt at home in that environment, but I’d always been very interested in politics. So as a teenager, um, as a student I’ve been interested and involved in. And so it was a bug that I had to kind of give into, um, until I felt like I didn’t want to be a professional politician myself.

And so I worked on, um, the labor campaign in 97, which resulted in, you know, the largest labor landslide and since 1945, not that, that was personally done to me. Um, but, um, and then I joined the labor goes or I left the city. Joined the government as a special advisor, uh, worked in three different departments of state.

Uh what’s on another two election campaigns. So it was very, very enjoyable. But what I, I guess I realized was there was quite a few things I missed from the private sector. Um, and there was quite a few things that I didn’t necessarily like about, um, doing politics. Professionally kind of for living. Um, but I guess if, if I looked at the red thread that linked.

Banking and particularly the kind of the kind of work that I did in banking. So corporate strategy, corporate finance, structure, finance, um, thinking about businesses and, and why they make money. I mean, that’s basically, you know, uh, sell-side actually almost essentially a well-paid financial journalist in many ways.

Um, and the sort of work I did in politics and the sort of work I’ve done since then. I mean, basically it’s thinking about. Two things it’s thinking about strategy. Um, you know what what’s, what’s not just the best way to do this, but what’s the right thing to do. And secondly, then once you’ve settled on what, what you’re going to do is what are the activities that leaders need to focus on in order to get that work done in the most effective way.

And so essentially, I mean, that’s that, I suppose to the extent that there is a red thread,

Naji Gehchan: Awesome. You touched it on, you know, this, um, this thread, uh, with your life or the decisions that you’ve made. And I know in, uh, in the very first course touch, we had video and the discussions we talked about, uh, you know, the green circle, blue circle, if you can touch it maybe before you say, but what I would love to hear from you is your, your personal green circle.

If I may, what is your personal purpose? I know you make us work a lot around this, so I’d love to hear that.

Elsbeth Johnson: So that’s a really good question. And, um, and it’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question and every time I’m asked it, I think, wow. I’m not sure my answer is very good. I’m not sure. My answer is probably as good as yours now is when, when not given, I asked you this question in class.

So I think, I think about the purpose of why, why I continue to do what I do with, particularly with clients, because I could just either teach all the time or retire or. I think what I really like doing is finding, and I think about, you know, the businesses with whom I work these days and the leaders with whom I work.

I guess what I really liked doing is finding and helping people find the work that they most love. Um, because an awful lot of people, um, you know, I, I don’t think spend enough time really focusing on the work that they really love to do. Um, you know, that a lot of people are very good at lots of things, right?

So they’ve, they, they’re in a spoiled position of, of having lots of options open to them. But if they were to focus on the work they really love doing, I think, I think that’s particularly interesting. I have to say, I think the most effective leaders out there are the ones who really want to lead rather than simply be senior in an organization leading and being senior are two very different things.

Um, the reason you, you do those things are very different, right? Um, so if all of our leaders are just the people who are obsessed with gaining and retaining positional power, then I suspect we’ll end up with leaders who are. It’s as good as the ones we, we could end up with. If we, if we really focused on getting people who really wanted to lead.

And so one of the things I really enjoy about my, my work outside of teaching outside of MIT is I get to spend time with people, both who are already like. But also people who are maybe one or two below C-suite who are thinking about, do I want to be on at the C level? Do I want to be a leader and really kind of helping, you know, finding the ones who really want to lead as opposed to simply be senior and then helping them get that is, is just incredibly real.

Naji Gehchan: I love where the discussion is going. Uh, you, uh, you know, I, I always say life is too short. , life’s too short. And I know sometimes it’s hard. It’s easier to say that into, but it’s just incredible when your personal, why isn’t total coherence with what you’re doing. I just think good morning. This is where I think magic starts.

Elsbeth Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m not sure that I’m, I’m always as disciplined. Like I really need to read my own slides a bit more than I do. Right. I’m not sure. I’m always as disciplined as. Could be about the Y I mean, you know, I really have no excuse to not focus on, um, you know, the stuff that I really enjoy and the stuff that I think has most value, um, because I’m in a privileged position of not, you know, not needing to work.

And so I have no excuse not to be doing the absolute, um, You know, most value adding work or most enjoyable work. And yet, you know, there’s still days when I just think, oh, why did I agree to this? You know, we’re all, you know, we’re all we all, we all, sometimes aren’t quite as focused as we ought to be. Um, but it’s the 80 20 rule.

As long as you’re doing it. Most of the.

Naji Gehchan: Exactly. As long as work is not more than, you know, 20% not liking a trap. We all have our jobs, things we do with sort of the people at that 20%. I do the same rule when you were talking about leaders, right? Is senior execs, C-suite leaders, younger managers, leaders that you have.

Is there a, what is for you the most important trait? For the leaders of the 21st century. If there’s one thing I know we discussed of different topics in class, taught us a lot about this, but for you, what is the most important one to have?

Elsbeth Johnson: So for me, and you’re right, there’s lots of traits that we know from empirical research or really.

But for me, and this probably says something about my own value set and upbringing. I am always looking for a combination of two things. One is high capability, and I guess what I mean by that is really high capability. Uh, really clever, very applied high capability with low. Now I have one or two clients who in my mind personify exactly that combination of high capability and low ego, and they are just a treat to work.

But I think if we can get more leaders who are in that combination, I just think regardless of the culture of the organization, that’s always a great combination because what that enables that, that what that combination enables is obviously high capability, right? People are smart. They’re able to get stuff done.

They’ve got a lot of processing power, but low ego means that they, they put the work, they put the business. They put their clients, they put each other, they put the people, the next generation of leaders before themselves or before their own. Need for validation or, um, or promotion. And, and I do think that’s important.

I think, you know, history is replete with examples of when, if an individual or a collection of individuals put the greater good, the quality of the cause ahead of their own need to, um, to benefit then. Chances are higher, that good things will happen. Um, I mean, as someone once said and forgive me, I can’t remember who this was, but it’s amazing what a mate, it’s amazing what good things you can do if you no longer care about who gets the credit.

And that’s kind of what I mean by, by low ego that they put the work and they put other people ahead of their own need for validation or.

Naji Gehchan: And do you think if I followed a double pick on this, do you think those are skills that can be developed? That can be COVID right.

Elsbeth Johnson: So, I mean, what, what psychology would tell us is that, um, you know, I mean that capable of both capability and low ego are a combination of, um, How we’re brought up and a little bit of nature, um, particularly capabilities.

Some of this, some of these intellectual or, um, cognitive skills are, are to some extent inherited. Uh, but our environment, particularly our young, early age environment is very, very important. I think, I think the low ego stuff is largely around how. What we, um, what we come to value and also, um, what our organizations value.

So, you know, I, I grew up on an island, um, where most people knew each other, a lot of people were related to each other. It didn’t matter if you were really, really clever. This island did not suffer tall poppies. So, so, um, you know, like you, you had to get on with everybody because you know, when, if the blizzard came and you needed somebody, hell you better have not been a joke to them at any point in the previous three years because people are on an island have long memories.

Right. So I think to your point about, is it, how, how do you, how do you get this combination of high capability, low ego? I think some of them. It’s nature, some of it’s nurture, but I also think it’s what we’re brought up to value. And so, you know, I’m, I’m pretty allergic to high egos because I grew up on an, in a, in a world, literally an island where hikers, just one tolerated, you know?

Um, so, so I think our own sensitivities to these things are, are largely a product of our value set. However that that’s been.

Naji Gehchan: You, you, you, you talked also, you know, we talked here about the traits of leaders. Um, you talked about you in your book. I, I have to, uh, relate to it and honestly the, the strategic leading strategic change and the framework that you, uh, that you give and, uh, and step up and step up that book is really amazing.

And you’ve touched on something that is called meaningful autonomy. So I’d love to hear about it. But before that, Why I’m talking about the book, because you summarize it in one sentence at the end of the class, and you talked about it, uh, just in the introduction here, you said something I would always remember is that the most essential Java either is to create more leaders.

So that, that is so powerful. And I think it clinks into the skill ego and how you care about your people, how you bring you sat in the beginning of the next generation. So a little bit more about the

Elsbeth Johnson: office. Well, let me, let me explain a little bit more on that. Talk about, um, meaningful autonomy. But, but I, I do think, I mean, this was, um, Mary Follett who’ve, um, originally came up with this idea that, or the statement that, you know, that the primary job of leaders is to create the next generation of leaders.

Now you obviously at one point or in one way, as a leader, you use your positional power to create the next generation of leaders just by promoting. Choosing a pipeline of successes and deciding who’s going to get the top job. I think the problem though, is that that either creates a vicious or a virtuous circle.

If the existing set of leaders are all, um, highly ego, um, you know, value certain things. What we know about human psychology it’s called the affinity bias is that people will choose. Um, they will essentially self-replicate, they will choose successes who look and smell like them. And so the real risk or danger is that if you’ve got an existing set of perhaps quite high ego leaders, is chances are that, that for, for a set, for a set of reasons, including that people self-replicate, but also that the candidates for leadership will look up above them and the low ego ones will go.

Oh, well, there’s no point in me trying to be a leader around here because when I look up above me, the only people who are in positions of power are high, he goes, so either I need to change and stop being low ego, or I need to go somewhere else and try and be a leader where my low ego tendencies are, are not going to be punished.

So the cell replication that we very often see in organizations around leadership and who gets promoted typically means. It’s quite hard to break the vicious circle of high ego leaders. But assuming that you can then, then yeah, your, your job as a leader is, is, is to create this next generation who can understand what good leadership looks like.

Who’ve been taught and coached about how to do it well. Um, because, because then it becomes, you know, you just cascade that down. So.

Naji Gehchan: Before you jump, make it to the autonomy piece, because it’s a very important one. You talked about affinity bias, self replication. Um, and I want to extend that even more.

It’s something I constantly have in my mind, try this. At some point, I remember very early in my career, someone told me, usually we recruit our clones, which I hate, you know what I think about it. Yeah. Especially when we think about diversity equity inclusion, right? So. Yeah. So this circle that we need to break on high ego, it’s the same that we need to break on.

Man. Women do diversity ethnicities. How do you consciously and intentionally look into those unconscious biases and every recruitment I make with the teams and the things specific you’ve seen and been successful on breaking this vicious circle last week.

Elsbeth Johnson: Well, I think two things. Um, I think first of all, getting as many people involved in the recruitment and promotion process as possible, um, if you like that, that’s not to reduce any individual affinity bias that any individual leader brings.

That brings to the table, but all it does is create a portfolio of hopefully different affinity biases, assuming that, you know, not all of your leaders are white, straight able-bodied men. In other words, assuming that there is some, both cognitive and social diversity amongst your leadership population.

If there isn’t, then you need to be looking outside for some help on that. Um, from, you know, recruitment consultants or, or head hunters to really force you to look at candidates who you, whom left to your own devices, you wouldn’t think of as plausible candidates. So that’s the first thing is to broaden the portfolio of afinity biases as to say, as individuals, we all have these biases because we’re human the best, almost the best we can hope.

Is that we, you know, if you and I are both recruiting somebody, you’ve got a different set of pharmacy biases for me, and therefore, you know, yours, yours will challenge mine and vice versa. So that’s the first thing. The second thing to say is that the process of recruitment. Um, has to be very carefully structured and managed.

So, um, you know, it frightens me, but it’s true that there are still some organizations in the world who don’t even use structured interviews, that they, they just kind of bring someone in for a chat or they meet over coffee or they recruit out of their network. And what we know about all of those sources of, uh, of candidates is because our networks will, will sell.

Um, there’ll be, and when we just chat with someone, we are essentially trying to work out, we’re trying to discern social fit. In other words, oh, look, we went to the same school or we, you know, we both play golf at the same club or we both, you know, do the same running track. Um, so it, it. So human beings are incredibly, um, almost invisibly skilled at sniffing out social fit.

And so if you just quote, unquote, have a chat with someone, um, actually you will be doing a terrible job, recruiting them or interviewing them. You’ll be doing a great job working. That whether you could be friends with them. Um, but so, so at the very least what what people need to do is have structured interviews.

In other words, you know, if I’ve got six candidates, I basically asked them the same question, hopefully in a sufficiently conversational way. So I don’t sound like a robot, but, but I am asking them the same set of questions. I can form my, um, my assessment of them across, but even more than that, we should be going beyond interview because most care human beings are actually very good at impression managing.

And so, you know, if, if you asked me to give you an example of where I’ve been really collaborative in the past, guess what. Semiotic human being. And I’ll probably come up with a couple of really plausible sounding examples of me being super collaborative and you’ll be thinking, oh, wow, she’s amazingly collaborative.

Actually I might not be, I might just be impression managing. So a much better way to test that is not in an interview scenario or setting at all, but actually in an experiential setting where you put me in a, in a group of other people, perhaps under some stressful conditions and you watch and see whether I can collaborate rather than ask and, and listen to me, tell you and quite possibly.

You know, fabricate some of my, um, collaborative tendencies. So I think there’s lots of ways we can get smarter about how we recruit now, the problem with all of the things that I’ve just talked about is they take longer and they are more expensive ways of recruiting. And so for those of us who, perhaps for organizations that don’t have that much time on or enough budget, it’s it’s, um, it can feel like.

Um, it can feel easy and free to compromise on our recruitment process. Whereas actually compromising on our recruitment process is one of the most expensive mistakes that organization can make.

Naji Gehchan: Definitely thank you for that. Going back. I want to go to this, these two words, uh, about meaningful autonomy and bed to talk about because.

Many people, some people would be afraid of the word autonomy. Some others would be excited about it, but I love how you framed it, which is meaningful. But me, what I have thoughts about this and for us as leaders, uh, how to get to that. Really good position where our people can, can be meaning fully

Elsbeth Johnson: autonomous.

Yeah. So the reason that I call it meaningful autonomy is because in my research, so my research is in inductive research, which means I go and watch and ask people, um, you know, very open-ended questions. Um, a lot of it done, um, by watching and observing. So ethnographic research. What is it that makes your autonomy meaningful or sorry?

What, what, what is it that, that, um, sorry, what, what is it that means that you don’t have to go and ask your leader for input or support or. And, um, a number of my informants, um, said, oh, well, in other words, what you’re really asking me is what makes my autonomy meaningful. And that’s the critical point that, that this, this, these words actually came not out of my mouth or my head, but out of the mounds of my informants.

And so that became a really interesting research question. Um, and it turns out there’s two things that really help someone come to work and access. The autonomy, the decision rights that they have technically been given. Um, but, but, but that where they feel that they can actually exercise these rights without having to escalate and go back to their leader and say, help me, or referee between these two options or tell me what I should do.

So the two things are when the autonomy, when the exercise of the autonomy is. Uh, in other words, they’ve got enough resources. Um, they’ve got enough time, uh, the scope isn’t stupid, um, or too great. Um, so in other words, lots of structural elements, all of the structural elements are in place to enable the, the, them to exercise their autonomy.

But then beyond the structural element, there’s almost a psychological element, which is that it is not. Possible, but also pleasant. Um, but they’re comfortable in exercising their autonomy. They don’t feel like they are having to go out on a limb or take on unnecessary risk. Um, and the elements that really help them.

Um, oh, when the leader has really put really signaled in every possible way that they can, what they want and, um, and back that up. So not only been clear about what they want, but also align the organization and been consistent in that, um, Uh, a period of time. That means that people don’t have to second guess, you know, well, you know, you say that you want this, but that’s not what I see you role model, and it’s not what you measure.

And, and by the way, that’s not how you know, it’s not all my OKR is contained. So, so all of a sudden, if you’re sending me in congruent, I’m having to second, guess what you really want me to do. And the critical thing there is that good employees who want to come to work and do their best. They do not want in congruent inconsistent leaders because that does not help them.

The Corolla is also. That your, that you’re less good employees who kind of wants to come to work and have a slightly easier time or not do amazing work. They upset you love it when leaders are inconsistent or in congruent, because it gets, gives them a get out of jail card. They can come to you at their performance appraisal and say so sure, I know you said you wanted me to do this.

You haven’t brought it in my job description, but I don’t see you role model and it’s not. You’re going to reward me and it’s not even what we measure. So you can’t possibly hold me accountable for the thing that you asked me to do. So that’s really what we mean by, um, by meaningful autonomy. And I guess the most interesting thing about, um, or, or almost counterintuitive thing about this idea is that autonomy needs to be constrained albeit in certain ways, in order to become meaningful.

Now this can feel a little bit paradoxical. First time I say that, right? What do you mean constrained autonomy. It’s almost an oxymoron. Actually. It isn’t unconstrained. Autonomy is. Actually frightening for your best employees because they, they actually really do need to know. And have you signaled consistently what you want?

Unconstrained autonomy is Nirvana for your back for your worst employees, because they just they’re rubbing their hands with glee. At that point, they, they get to do exactly what they want. They get to spend shareholder money doing whatever they fancy their hobbies. So unconstrained autonomy is fabulous for them, but this idea of constrained autonomy, it’s the constraints, the clarity and level of prescription that leaders give in the constraint that sets up that frees up, that they’re the people who report to them to really shine.

In delivering what the leaders have asked for. And so the, the, the quality of the autonomy experienced by managers is directly proportionate to the quality of, of prescription and the clarity of that prescription, uh, given to managers by leaders.

Naji Gehchan: That’s amazing. I’m not gonna detail. You know, things in

focus consistency. We’ve got to talk about these also a little bit more, but really the framework is super helpful. I’m going to jump into the section that is a little bit different. So I’m going to give you one word and I’d love to have your first reaction to it. And yeah, you can, will discuss a little bit about it.

So the first one is authentic leader.

Elsbeth Johnson: Um, and do you want a one word response or just, just my response

Naji Gehchan: and response. I’m going to be one. We’re going to be a fellow first thing in mind.

Elsbeth Johnson: So I guess my one word response would be misunderstood. Um, I know for a lot of people, I think certainly a lot of the leaders that I work with, they, they hear the words authentic leader.

And they, they, they misunderstand it in one of two ways. They either think, okay, in order to be authentic, I just show up as myself. You know, I just kind of vomit myself into the room, like a human hand grenade and, you know, whatever I’m kind of, you know, however I show up, that’s just my authentic self. So like, what else can I do in otherwise it’s relatively uncontrolled.

And that’s a huge mistake, obviously, because. As long as we have an obligation to manage ourselves for the benefit of, you know, our people, our organization. So, so that’s the first way in which I think a lot of leaders misunderstand authentic leadership and the requirements that it puts on them. I think the second way that leader is very often misunderstand, authentic leadership.

That they something in my experience, they don’t always realize that that who you are changes over time. Um, now I think that, that sounds really obvious when I say it, but you know, we very, again, part of the human condition, another, another cognitive misconception is that we very often. Underestimate the extent of the changes that will undergo as human beings over the longterm.

We typically overestimate how much we can get done in the short-term, but we underestimate how much we can do and how, how, how much we can change over the long-term I’m talking decades rather than months or years. And so I think as a result of that, we very often think, well, you know, in 20 years time, I’ll basically just be the same person, whereas actually, Johnson’s all that’s not true.

Um, but more than that, if you think you’re, you’re not really gonna change that much or that you don’t think you could change that much, you might be missing some opportunities that you could be looking for in your career. And I think that’s a real shame. So I think that will be my reaction. It’s it’s very often a misunderstood.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And then you talked to, I remember you talked also about the different sounds try. It’s like in different places situation. So it’s really every day how we change over time. Right. The second word would be focused.

Elsbeth Johnson: Well, I mean, focus for me is the thing, it’s the secret. I’m going to say secret sauce, because that makes it sound like it’s kind of some secret recipe. Focus is for me, the thing that explains whether some strategies get implemented and some leaders make it versus other strategies that actually probably intellectually were equally good strategies, but they didn’t get implemented.

Um, focus is the thing that, that means that we, it requires choice. It requires deliberate choice to do certain things. We’ll spend time on certain things or invest in certain things and not others. And I think, I suspect we are much worse at this as human beings than we have ever been, because I think a lot of people they’re so used to.

No doing without in their lives, at least, you know, in the first world, right. You go on Amazon and you can have whatever you want. Um, you know, things are. Uh, available. Um, I mean, they’re not currently available in my country because we’ve managed to cut our own supply chain. Cause we’ve just, you know, left a 40 year trading arrangement unilaterally.

But, but assuming you, you don’t live in an irrational country that, you know, commit economic suicide, um, you know, things are available and, and I don’t think people have. Choose the often, but actually that’s a complete misconception because the most important things in life, like time for example, is completely finite.

So back to your point earlier, you know, life’s too short. I mean, that’s a classic example of the AFR. Uh, a series of choices. We only have so many hours in the day and so many days in our lives, so we have to choose how to spend them well. And, and, and focus is, is really the thing that focuses, what results from your, the choices that you make.

So the fact that Mo that an awful lot of people and organizations like focus, I think is basically because people just don’t want to.

Naji Gehchan: I love this frame, a bit of red choices, you know, and many times we see here discussing with leaders and organizations, right? The list of priorities that keep on moving and changing.

So I’m more, I’m more just talking about like, what are the choices, what are the two, three things that you want to do and be great at, right. And it’s, yeah, it’s tough to choose. And so what we need to do for able

Elsbeth Johnson: to be. But I would add to that, that I think the other problem is that, you know, an awful lot of organizations will run a strategic planning process, almost like an event, you know, um, once a year or once every two years, an ounce of that may actually come some pretty clear choices.

But the problem is that over time the clarity gets corrupted, um, because they add in, you know, so-called additional priorities. Um, and so one of the things that I, uh, I wouldn’t say force. Cause I mean, you know, I can’t quite force my clients to do things, but one of the things I very strongly advise my clients to do is that for every additional priority that they say they want, they have to take something off the list.

So the total amount of what. It doesn’t increase. And therefore the total amount of bandwidth that is being sucked up doesn’t isn’t eroded and therefore employees continue to have the slack that they need to stand back and think and reflect and learn about the work rather than just do the work. It’s what I call in the book, the tea party test, um, this idea that, you know, the total amount of.

Well in the tea parties, case legislation, doesn’t sort of passively accumulate over time. It’s exactly the same with work and organizations. You, if by all means, choose on alternative or another priority, but you can’t do that at the expense of the overall, um, you know, amount of work that’s on. So, so if something’s going to be added to the list, something else that was already on the list needs to be taken off it.

And it’s actually, by the way, amazing. When you say to people, okay. If you want that additional thing, that means you can’t have one of the things that you said was really important. It’s amazing how that focuses minds. Um, and an awful lot of people go, oh, okay. Well, in that case, I don’t really make that.

Naji Gehchan: And did the dude, did you find, uh, a good cutoff cycle to force leadership to go through the exercise and take, if you add something you, you take on something else or because you know, one of the things I’m always amazed by how organically things boil up and after like three months of clarity, if you don’t keep on having the same.

Discipline. Right. And coming back and making sure that it’s really focused on two, three things, organically things grow, right? Like it’s, it’s, it’s always the case,

Elsbeth Johnson: such a good point. And it, it that’s that organic growth is essentially the thing that you’re trying to, uh, I mean, a bit like a Gardner is always trying to kind of keep the wildness at bay.

Right. Um, so one of the things that we always encourage is, uh, Sure leaders to kind of take a cold, hard look at themselves in terms of, you know, are they, are they helping create and protect slack for their managers? But we also, um, encourage managers to give leaders feedback on exactly that point. When we have a set of diagnostics that we run in these organizations to say to test things like how much bandwidth has been taken up, um, to what extent is your leader giving you additional priorities that, that, um, that suck up the time that you previously had as slack.

And, um, and if we get a signal that, that that’s becoming a problem, then that’s the kind of red flashing warning light that says to leaders that they probably need to go back and, and prune the activity.

Naji Gehchan: The last word above the reaction is spread love and organizations. What’s your reaction to this?

Elsbeth Johnson: I mean, I suppose, I mean, obviously this, it, this is the total of your organization and, and, and it perfectly encapsulates the ambition of the organization. Um, part of me just feels really sad that we even have to say this and spell it out because I mean, I mean, I love the word love.

I mean, I love how, how kind of, um, Because I’m sure in some jurisdictions that that must feel a little bit edgy to people, but, but I just feel like what would be the alternative, what spread hate, um, you know, spread antagonism. Um, so I just feel almost kind of, I almost feel sad that we even have to have to for this to be the invocation, um, because you know, the, the most effective leaders, um, are the ones who.

I mean, they might not describe it as spreading love, but they’re certainly spreading, um, you know, respect, um, you know, they’re spreading the talent, they’re sharing their skills, that teaching people that, as we said earlier, that bringing on that next generation of leaders. So. For me, um, I feel kind of sad that we even have to ask for this to be done in this explicit way.

Um, but I just think that’s a pretty damning indictment of about what, you know, what that says about the leaders who get promoted and a lot of the organizations that we see

Naji Gehchan: any final words of wisdom for all of you. There’s this thing there, the word.

Elsbeth Johnson: I think I would say two things. I think the first is, excuse me, and this might not be a word of wisdom. And just the kind of word of warning is that very often in organizations, we confuse confidence with competence. Um, in other words, the people who walk into our office and you know, are incredibly eloquent and, you know, sell us on an idea.

Um, Yeah, it’s perfectly possible that they are incredibly passionate and competent and their idea is the best thing that they’ve ever worked on. It’s also possible that they’re just incredibly. That they came through, you know, a private school, Ivy league education, and they’ve acquired the trappings of confidence and it has got absolutely nothing to do with confidence because the really dangerous thing for organizations is these things are not necessarily.

They’re not perfectly negatively correlated either, but, but, but when we conflate them and think that when we see confidence, it must mean that there is competence. That’s a very dangerous assumption. So I think that’s the first word of warning. The second thing I would say to all of those leaders who are out there thinking, Hmm, I’m not really sure that I want.

Like it feels a bit icky. Um, uh, and there might be some people that are particularly, um, particularly women, I think have, uh, have, uh, a bit less of a natural inclination to seek positions of power. Um, I think I would, I would just remind people that unlike every other type of power, social power, Uh, you know, the power of, um, networks or, or, or, um, or authority, um, positional power is a zero sum game.

And what I mean by that is if you have, if, if, if you and I are both going for the, for the top job and you get it, it means that I haven’t got it. So let’s make sure that the organizations that we’re putting. Give the positional power to the people who are most worthy of holding it and exercising it and using it for good, because if all of the good people who would use positional power, well, if they all take themselves out of the game and say, oh, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t want positional power.

No, no, no. I don’t want power of. Then the only people, the only candidates for positional power positions will be the people who just want to be senior rather than those who really want to lead and lead for the best. So I think that would be the final thing. I’d say, make sure that, that if, if you want to lead for the best reasons, make sure that you’re working out how to get your hands on positional power, because it is a zero-sum.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for such amazing discussion, the great tips that you gave us to be better leaders and go use all that we can do for us to change the world for the greater purpose.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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.

This episode is very special! In partnership with ESCP Business School, I’ll be giving the mic to students, our leaders of tomorrow, to discuss with incredible healthcare executives about their journeys and leadership beliefs.

Hello, I am a specialized master’s student at ESCP Business School in Paris and I am honored to host Dries Hens in collaboration with Spread Love in Organizations, who is in a mission to transform healthcare, continuously improving patient outcomes with previously unavailable insights.

Dries Hens is a medical doctor and a successful entrepreneur. Dries knew he did not want to go toward clinical practice, but still wanted to remain in the field. He wanted to do more in healthcare, by making the most of all the unexploited data. In parallel to his studies, he began to set up his company: LynxCare Clinical informatic. Dries is currently Co-Founder, Chief Business & Medical officer. Actually, Lynxcare transforms medical data into insights for hospitals, physicians and patients.

“Hospital system is on an edge: today we have a lot of relevant data, almost everything is picked up but the next challenge is: what are we going to do with it?”

Dries Hens: Thank you. By the way.

ESCP Student: Thank you. Uh, you have a once month that you wanted to do more and have cared and being an ethical doctor, and you wanted to do something that would have an impact. Can you tell us why you have this vision and how that assimilated to the thing beyond medicine?

I would love to hear about that.

Dries Hens: Yeah. So, uh, it’s uh, of course a long story, but, um, in terms of impact, of course, I have to say that that medical doctors really working in hospitals have the real impact of treating patients, but, um, After med school. So I studied, uh, like energy medicine. I did it in Belgium.

Uh, after seven years of med school, you have two choices or you going to specialize, for example, in orthopedic surgery, or you become a general practitioner, um, But for me at that time, uh, I prefer to dirt option because I was really intrigued by the health care ecosystem as a whole. And that’s why after med school, I started to, um, yeah, doing biopharmaceutical management and yeah, fire this program, I learned really how the whole healthcare ecosystem works from life science companies to hospitals to insure Speyers.

Dries: Uh, and this is where I saw a lot of opportunity really leveraging. Yeah, my education into a more broader, uh, complete story, uh, of really changing healthcare. Um, and at that moment I was still studying in Paris. So my co-founder contacted me and he said, let’s do something in medical data. And yeah, I was directly convinced of the added value that better healthcare means better data.

And there’s still a lot to do, like you said, in need introduction. And that’s why we started the company straight out of philosophy. Which is right now, a scale-up with 35 people. Um, and it’s a really nice, nice potential and they story

ESCP Student: and to do other regrets with.

Uh, yes, she was the path of, uh, non medicine. Uh, uh,

Dries: exactly. So, yeah, it’s a question that I got, uh, yeah, a few times during my, uh, the course of the company. So everyone, the beginning, a family friends of course found it really weird that I was, uh, not specializing or not further advancing really to become a healthcare professional work in hospitals, directly with patients.

But, um, The moment that , and that’s also how I am personally, the moment that I was convinced of the ID and that we had the bigger goal to serve with our company and that I could have maybe an even bigger impact by starting this company and trying to successfully, uh, I’m trying to successfully yeah.

Build up this company, um, that we could really have a, a further division or mission is being that we want to improve health care by making sure that more and relevant data is becoming, uh, actionable, uh, towered healthcare professionals to. The first use case that we did with our company, we directed, demonstrated that our company really can, uh, in case, uh, healthcare outcomes without me being really directly involved in the patient, uh, uh, process.

And that’s why from that moment on, I didn’t look back and I didn’t have any regrets that I’m not active in the hospital.

ESCP Student: That’s nice. And what made you the leader you are today and how are you preparing the floor to the young leaders of tomorrow?

Dries: I think, um, um, of course it’s so still young. I’m now 32 years old, but, um, the big, yeah. Stepdad, you have to learn because we co founded the company with one co-founder. So we were too in the beginning, but our company grew quite exponentially.

Uh, the following years going to five to 10 people then going at 2 35 people. So, uh, your position as well as, uh, an entrepreneur, but also co-found the changes along the way. Um, and I think my. Biggest path of learning, uh, internally as well was, was more self knowledge. So you have to know really, if you want to become a leader or you have to know what you’re good at and how you really want to support the company.

And you have people that are really good in daily management. On a daily basis managing people within the organization. Uh, but this was not really my strong point and by being transparent as well to investors or to my other co-founder of course, um, we were, um, yeah, the heck the, on a path where I could be more motivational and inspirational to young people in the company, uh, by letting them, uh, in, in, in the field of healthcare data and trying really to push.

Uh, to blossom, uh, in our organization, which in my opinion is crucial. If you want to make sure that, um, your company succeed, you have to make sure that your organization and the people really working in your organization, uh, can blossom professionally. Uh, and this is still, I think the biggest impact that you can have as a, as a leader.

ESCP Student: Thank you. Address. And based on what you just said, can you link who you are today with an event that shapes you in the.

Dries: Um, can you, sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

ESCP Student: Um, can you link who you are today with an event that shaped.

Dries: Um, of course with, with, with a single event, that’s of course difficult.

Um, you have to know if you start a company, uh, or, or scale up company to really a coaster. So there were multiple events that, that shaped, uh, what am today and, and how I am, um, pursuing my professional and personal life. Of course. So it’s always a balance, um, thing, the biggest event. That changed me professionally is really something personally being, uh, yeah, the, the birth of my first daughter.

So my first child, uh, which really gives me, or gave me the necessary, uh, how do you say the necessary, uh, Hawk eye view on the cost to a helicopter view on the company. Uh, and which, in my opinion, makes me a better leader professionally, because I could zoom out into problems that are not really relevant.


ESCP Student: That’s amazing trees. Uh, you also mentioned that you started, uh, your, uh, your career from scratch with a few people and you made them. So let’s talk about your first hiring experience. Can you tell us about it and, uh, uh, what was the impact on the evolution of links care?

Dries: Yeah, so, um, the first real hire that we did is still someone that works in our company.

I remember 12, the, uh, because we, we were on a budget, so my co-founder Josh is CEO of the company. So he is the executive leader of the business in all transparency. But, uh, the first guy that we hired T actually did his internship straight during university as well with us, the moment he finished, uh, school.

It was really, um, yeah, we knew that we had to get that guy incentivized. And as of today’s still the lead data engineer in our company, really making sure that the platform is, um, how we are seeing it as a school founders. So that really, of course, was a big impact into a company. And he is still one of the most important people as well in our organization.

ESCP Student: And deal with the true leaders like you, they will, they will always stay. Uh, now, uh, how about the fundraising? How challenging did you find that to, uh, to establish links care?

Dries: Yeah, so, um, we had S and you have to know, uh, five, five years ago when we started the company. Healthcare data was something that people knew of, but a lot of people thought that the importance of what we are doing was not really there.

Um, but, uh, Josh and I, yeah, we kept going and we kept really convinced, uh, for our vision and our mission that healthcare really needs better data. And then of course, uh, COVID 19 QA came, uh, two years ago where. In one moment everyone saw from whether you worked in healthcare or not. Everyone saw the importance of having good data in order to, for example, control a pandemic.

Um, and that moment for us was, uh, was a real game changer. Um, also business-wise because, uh, yeah, our business model for our company, uh, pivoted a little bit, uh, in that case, and that was a accelerator. So to come back to your question, being fundraising, that. The first three years, it’s really difficult for us as a company.

It was not that easy, um, to really find the right investors because, um, the problem or the problem was not that’s. How do you say visible, uh, through the whole industry? Uh, two years ago, when COVID-19 hit, everyone jumped on what we were doing, uh, and we are still doing so fundraising right now for us comparison with Tibet four years ago is a lot easier.

Um, And I have to say. If you, for example, start a company and everybody says you have to start your company with, with family and friends, capital, et cetera. I’m not a big fan of this because I’m not a fan of mixing personal with, with professional life. Um, At first, you really need to have champions in your company being business angels, who already did this before and who can guide you to a first bigger round with, with, uh, venture capital.

Uh, and that’s just crucial, the moment you hit the right metrics, raising funds in the time where there’s a lot of money, a lot of, uh, cash, uh, on the banks to invest that that’s not the most difficult one. It’s the zero to one that is really. The most, uh, the most difficult funding process in my opinion.

ESCP Student: And did that being a true leader, doesn’t also it doesn’t on here. And make people blossom, but really to, to face the challenges and keep going. Uh, now that you have, uh, in non traditional non-corporate path where a medical doctor, you founded and launched your startup right after graduating from the STP, can you give us some tips for that?

For the young graduates on how it should either an entrepreneur has no age limit?

Dries: No, exactly. It doesn’t have fast, no age limit. In terms of being an entrepreneur or being, or starting a company in the dependent on, on whether you just graduated or you’re already spending 10, 15 years in corporate life is, um, by really being convinced of something.

Um, and being convinced of an ID is simple, but you have to have also on a personal level, the drive to really, um, go all in. And this is where for a lot of people, this is a step difficult to make. In my opinion, I see a lot of great people that have great ideas, but will never, um, yeah, never jump out of their golden corporate cage in order to develop that idea.

But, um, but this is yeah. Something where I as well, want to play a part in and try to convince those people, of course, with the, with the right when, when the market and the company and the business model is, is clear, uh, try to push them to, to becoming an entrepreneur because it’s, uh, not the life that everyone thinks of.

So it’s not the most, uh, Easy life, to be honest, because I think a being or having a startup is often, um, romanticized to our, how do you say it in English? Uh, it’s really at all at Cosa, but you, you have to be ready the moment. Of course you can validate your initial ID or you can validate, uh, the mission of why you started this company.

And you could put it on paper that you realized it, uh, this ID, this is I think in my opinion, the most, uh, compelling story to, uh, to start a company. But you have to be sure whether or not it’s not age-related, but you have to be sure that you see opportunities this first, uh, and you see, or describe risks as challenges to overcome.

Another lot of people, uh, do it in that order.

ESCP Student: Thank you. Now, we would like to jump to another section. Uh, we will give you one word and we want to get your reaction. So we will start with purpose.

Dries: For me. Purpose is a yeah, it’s a way of living. Of course, you could see pers purpose as a professionally or personally. For me, it’s, uh, the purposes of course, to become happy, to stay healthy. And in that view, my purpose as well as if I start a company or with links care, what we really are doing is, uh, really try to optimize healthcare, uh, in a way of using better and more data.

So for me, the main purpose being. Healthy being active and being happy for the three points that are crucial in everything I do. So a, there will always be of course, a link, uh, professionally and personally, but this is what I, what comes up to me when I hear purpose. Yeah.

ESCP Student: So it’s probably, uh,

Dries: Leadership for me is, um, the best leaders are invisible at the moment that the company goes well, because if you have a lot of young, talented, or not only young, but talented people in your company, uh, and the company goes well, then they deserve all the credit to, in my opinion, true leader is when some things are not going well in a company that steps up and gives all the tools and support necessary.

Uh, to make sure that the internal issues or problems are being solved and that’s for me, truly leadership.

ESCP Student: What about technology?

Dries: Technology is a mean to, uh, to achieve a certain goal. For example, links care. We are really technology, product driven business. But the real capital or the real value is still in the people working in our organization.

So I think technology is always a mean to go from place a, to B, but it shouldn’t be the end goal.

ESCP Student: How about.

Dries: Yeah, a great, a great project, you know, a great program, you know, that, um, really, uh, yeah, always happy when I land in Paris or London to give the year the courses, I think. Um, yeah, if I speak personally, I think that everyone that studies medicine or studies from these should have during his education, the opportunity to.

To be, uh, included in a certain track. Like we have at the MSM, uh, thirsty bay for me, it was a game changer because yeah, in six months time, you really know. Quite well, how healthcare ecosystem is working, but also by seeing so many professionals talking about what they do at their company, you can really, um, make up for yourself what really interests you as a person and where you think you can blossom.

Because again, I think leadership starts with knowing what you’re good at and pursuing in something that you’re good at, of course, a true leader as well notice weak points. And then it’s. Are you going to solve them yourselves or are you going to be surrounded by team members that can make up for, for your, uh, for your floss?


ESCP Student: I totally agree with you. And now we will end up with the word spread love and organizations.

Dries: Yes. It’s spread love. Um, if I’m looking at a. The trajectory that we did with our company, because that’s the thing that I know best with links scared in the beginning. Yeah. It’s, it’s really chaotic. And especially if you don’t have too many people, uh, in your organization and you have to do a lot of work then, um, yeah, I can, I can look back.

Of course. As well see that we made Atlas, uh, uh, as, as the beginning founders of this company, by maybe pushing sometimes people in the company too much, because we have a lot to do a lot on our plates and we didn’t make enough time maybe to, uh, Yeah, to really support people the right way. And this was really, uh, as well for me, a learning exercise, um, by yeah, creating the time and really creating as well, an environment where people, um, can get to the necessary support and feed.

But, um, in all honesty, this is of course, something that you can do from a certain scale in the company. Don’t I think it’s not that easy to do it directly from the beginning. Um, but if I would start again with my company, um, I think. The much more, um, susceptible as well from a management perspective to how our coworkers or the people in our organization really, uh, feeling.

Um, and by, for example, two years ago, there was an experienced CEO joining our company. And the first thing that. Was he implemented a survey system where each, I think each month or every two months, uh, all the people can, uh, can fill in a survey and we can see how happy they are with the workload, how happy they are in the organization, what they want to do, et cetera, et cetera.

But that gave us so many insights related to. The better as well from a management perspective in the company. Um, and that would be something that I directly as well, which would switch, implement, uh, know,

ESCP Student: I can agree, uh, any words of wisdom, trees for leaders and entrepreneurs and healthcare around the world.

Dries: Um, of course as a true leader, I just want to not only incentivize people, but for me, um, we are taking big steps in healthcare. In general. There are a lot of big companies transforming the way, how they are looking at healthcare.

Uh, I think it’s a positive evidence. We’re really value-based health care comes into play hopefully in the next two to three years. Um, it’s, we’re still not there, but, uh, I’m convinced that everyone that listens to this, as well as, uh, everyone that works in the industry works for insurances, but also works for, um, yeah.

In, in, in hospitals, the real healthcare providers, um, and everyone really, uh, It’s aligned in a value based healthcare model. Um, and that’s for me, something crucial for the coming years.

ESCP Student: Definitely. I can totally agree on a attest to it. Thank you for sharing your experience with us today. It was such an inspiration.

We can really spend hours with you and never get enough. Thank you so much for your time.

Dries Hens: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

Naji Gehchan: Thanks, Dries, thank you all for listening to spread love in organizations podcasts. We have such an important responsibility as leaders of today to plant the seeds for the leaders of tomorrow.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast, joined today by Dr Robert Bruce Associate Chief of Clinical Affairs at Boston University School of Medicine, and Director of Primary Care at Boston Medical Center (BMC). Prior to those roles, Robert transformed healthcare in the New Haven community focusing in the largest health center in new haven on quality and value based care which resulted in significant savings for CT Medicaid and the community. Doug was also Chief of Medicine at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Yale University. He is a global expert in substance use disorders in people with HIV and hepatitis C. He has published widely on the topic of substance use disorders and HIV. He has provided technical assistance to CDC, NIH, and the United Nations.

Doug – I am so honored and humbled to have you with me today!

I would love to hear your personal story, from childhood to becoming an expert in HIV land hepatitis C living with and helping some of the most touched countries by those pandemics. What defined your journey and the incredible leader and physician you are today?

Doug Bruce: That’s a great question.

So, um, I grew up in the Cambridge kind of Boston area as a little kid, and I grew up and had lots of pulmonary problems actually. So I had like lots of asthma and what’s in and outta emergency room all the time. And so. I had some really good pediatricians and some not so nice pediatricians. And so at an early age, I thought, you know what?

I wanna be a doctor. I wanna be, I wanna be one of the nice ones but I wanna be able to help people. I want to be able to bring, um, joint and comfort. I, I realized that. What stood out in my mind as a child was not, oh, this doctor has more knowledge than that doctor. Right? It was more just, oh, this doctor seems to care about me.

Now, this one seems like I’m a widget. Um, I wouldn’t have said widget when I was a kid it was kind of the feeling. So I, uh, for a long time, felt like. I really wanted to be in healthcare. Um, my faith is really important to me and I realized when I was working in the public hospital system. So I, I went to the university of Texas Southwestern med school in Dallas.

And I worked at Parkland Memorial hospital, which is a big county hospital system. And I was taking care of marginalized populations of groups of people. Kind of, you might think of were forgotten by the system and began at that time, it was the aids epidemic was working with people with HIV, people, with substance use disorders and, uh, saw all kinds of things that, um, I felt like there were great inequities and great trials and tribulations that people were facing.

And that one of the jobs of being a physician was to be an educator, but also an. And so after I finished my training in Dallas, I went to Yale university and did a graduate degree in philosophical theology, um, because I wanted to read widely and think, and be very reflective about the care of those groups of people.

And then started working with the LH program and providing street level care for substance users and people with. And from that began developing programs and then working internationally with marginalized populations to try and systematically make things better for people who may not be able to advocate for the.

Naji: You, you have served, uh, Doug in countries hit hard in moments where few innovations were even existent for those diseases to treat those patients. Can you share with us your experience stories, learning that you take with you today leading in healthcare systems in the

Doug Bruce: United States? Yeah. So, um, I guess two, two things stand out.

One. I spent a fair amount of time going back and forth to Ukraine and what’s happening. There is a tragedy when I was in Ukraine. Uh, one of the trials that we faced was how siloed healthcare is, and we know that healthcare can be siloed in many countries. And so my time in Ukraine taught me that creative ways to try and overcome.

Seemingly impossible silos. So, uh, just concretely, for example, in Ukraine, if you take care of drug addiction, you’re an oncologist and you’re not allowed to prescribe medications or offer any treatments outside of your narrow scope. So like unlike in America, right? I’m not a psychiatrist, but I legally could prescribe psychiatric medications and Ukraine.

If you’re an oncologist, you’re not describe. Treatment for tuberculosis, even if your patient has tuberculosis, you have to get a special doctor, APH physiatrist who will do that. And then that person is divided between those who do it on the inpatient system and those who do it on the outpatient system.

So I kind of learned in that environment, just the critical need to begin asking questions to talk, not just to government officials or healthcare officials, but stakeholders. And, and I had known that in the, in the. Aids epidemic stays in the nineties and the importance of stakeholders, um, and importance of voice and people giving people agency and voice.

I think what I learned differently was also, um, sometimes the way to get to the truth is you have to just talk to so many different people. And that’s what blew my mind when I was in Ukraine. I didn’t understand the limitations and I. Because people were not forthcoming. I represented a government or I represented a university and people felt that they had to answer me a certain way, but when I would go talk to drug users or people with HIV and community, people were very forthcoming.

They’re like, ah, no, this doesn’t work. Or this is the real problem. Um, and like a classic example was when I was in hair song Ukraine, and we were just talking about like TB adherence rates and it was just, it was really difficult to understand. Like what the problem was because on one hand, like there are no problems, but eventually we got to the realization of, oh wait, you can just walk up to the pharmacy at the TB hospital and by part of a TB regimen.

So what, what we found out was like, if you were a substance user, you would go and get admitted to the hospital. You’d had no treatment for your heroin problem. So you got sick, which meant that you left, but you had started some treat. Your new treatment was important. So after you left, you could go to the pharmacy, but TV treatment was for medicines.

So you can’t afford four medicines, you buy one medicine. And so that helps you feel better until you get drug resistance. And so it was kind of this systematic problem, but it was very difficult to get at it through one lens. And so I think that was one thing that was really important to me. And I carried that with me when I went to Tanza.

And the need for stakeholders. So, um, an example of this was, um, so in Tanzania there’s a big heroin epidemic. That’s kind of really fed into the HIV epidemic. And we had a situation where those most at risk for HIV were female sex workers who also injection drug users. We had very, very high rates like in the survey samples that they had done, like over half of the women had HIV.

So we’re trying to get them into treatment on meds. You. But when you looked at the clinics, the clinics were mostly men that were providing services. And so what did we do? We had to go out and actually meet with the women and talk to them and find out like what’s going on. And they brought up just very logical reason, right?

Like what the clinic doesn’t have the hours that are convenient for me. Right. Cause the con the clinic had morning hours. The women were sleeping cuz they’d been up all. Uh, with their trade over, over the evening and using, using substances. So we had to think about, well, how do we lower the threshold so that women can get in?

How do we create a safer environment? What do we do with the men that are loitering around? How do we create an environment that’s, um, safer women. And, and that was based on the feedback from, from the women.

Naji: Uh, those are, those are powerful examples that, that you’ve, uh, led. Uh, so how, how do you ensure like this curiosity, but also this need actually to go on the field, understand what’s going on and bringing it back and change the system because you practically had to change systems to make this work for patients.

Doug Bruce: Yeah. So, um, I mean, I. You have to tailor it. Right. But to, to your point, just, just because someone recognizes the need doesn’t mean that they’re willing to help. I mean, an example of this is, um, we were showing that the tuberculosis rates among the patients in that first drug treatment program in Tanzania were very, very high.

It was not surprising. It was one of those things. You know that there’s a high probability that, that this is gonna be the case. Substance users are using drugs together. They’re in closed environments, inside poor ventilation, HIV increases your risk of tuberculosis. So the probability is that there’s gonna be TB among the substance users.

The there was no active program to search for TB. So one of the early programs we did intense and after we set up the drug treatment program was to check for HIV, offer HIV therapy, but then it was to start trying to be active in, uh, searching for tuberculosis. And so a, a student of mine went out there and, uh, started doing active case finding and the teams in Tanzania supported this.

So they were all really interested in. And part of the team’s interest, as you can imagine, was they didn’t want to get TB. And so, um, it was kind of playing off the enlightened self interest of this is a real material patient concern, but if there are high rates of this, this is a real material concern for all of the healthcare workers in that environment.

Cause. I mean, we didn’t have, they weren’t in 90 fives floating around for everybody to wear for TV prevention. Right? The main TV prevention is great ventilation, open windows, staying outside, um, where UV light kills it. So that program found that there were high rates of TVB like, not as high as south African mines, but like 20 times higher than the national average of tens.

So very high rates and eventually. You know, it’s not surprising, right? So you change your infection, protocol, infection, prevention protocols, you have better ventilation yet. Don’t put people in isolated environment. And, uh, eventually actually the TB program from the university hospital system in Tanzania started spending time taking care of patients.

And so it changed the system. But in this case, it was playing off on that enlightened self interest, which also paired with the patient. But then we tried to get, you know, external funding from a separate government agency that for all intensive purposes, you would’ve thought would want to fund this. Cuz their enlightened self interest would be like, oh, like you can get credit for this, but they didn’t wanna get involved because a different agency was funding.

The, the larger work that we were doing. And so they were worried about, they never said this, but it became apparent that they were more concerned about. Uh, who got credit for the activity, then the activity itself, which is very disappointing. So I wasn’t able to, to change them. They’re they’re much bigger than me.

Naji: well, yeah. And it touches to all those lenses. We, you know, we both learned in, in class mm-hmm um, the, obviously this is a huge impact that you had in, uh, again, in countries with. Tremendous need and in moment of crisis, uh, obviously in those countries, uh, I would love to get another leadership learning from you as you led teams there.

So you had students, you had physicians who were working with you, uh, and it’s kind of potentially also relatable to so many folks. And you went through the COVID pandemic yourself as a, as a healthcare provider. How do you lead teams in such moment? High pressure, attention, uh, emotional, uh, struggle and really life threatening diseases that you’re dealing

Doug Bruce: with.

That’s a great question. So I think probably the most important thing that I did in Tanzania, um, was to come in, in humility and say to the teams, cause like I’m a guy from the United States coming in. And I’m, I’m hoisted upon the people and people there, and they’re, they’re smart physicians there in Tanzania.

And so it can be very, uh, off putting, if you are, you know, a academic in the local university there in Tanzania, and some guy shows up from the west and says, I know more than you do. Right. So what I had to come in initially in the, even in the beginning meetings to say, I’m only here because I’ve done this before.

I have a body of knowledge. And so my job is to, to impart that knowledge and to work with you, but you have to figure out how this is going to be in contextualize in Tanzania. I’m not Tanza, I don’t know the local politics. I don’t know how to do this here, but we’re gonna work together to be successful.

And so I told them from the outset. I, there will be a day when I don’t come to Tanzania anymore because you won’t need me because you will be the experts. And so I think that resonated very strongly with them because they had been through, as you can imagine, a series of kind of us government funded activities, where people come in, kind of tell people what to do and set it up.

And, and it’s not as value driven from the, the people there. And. What I saw in my role as was just, I’m kind of your consultant, I’m your, your information person. And I’m really here to support the team, but you’re gonna actually contextualize it. And so a lot of that then became more about empowerment, more about working with the leaders to say, um, so like kind of an example, They were very worried about overdosing patients, which is a, a legitimate concern.

This was a methadone program in Dar Sal lump Tanzania. So they are keeping the doses really low. And so what that, what that happens is if you don’t give somebody adequate replacement therapy, they continue to use heroin, engage in risk, but they were afraid to go up on the dose because they thought, well, if I give the person more methadone and the person continues to use heroin, they can.

Which kind of is a logical fear, but the reality is as you go up on the methadone dose, they go down on the heroin dose. So, so I said to them, look, you all the very smart people. Why don’t you, um, just set up a small mini trial, just take some proportion of the patients, go up on their doses and see what happens.

You don’t have to make it a clinic-wide policy, but just use it as an opportunity to learn. So they did. Right. And this is this, I’m not like announcing this. I mean, this is just like private conversations with people and they did that. They went up on doses. Patients stopped using heroin and they were like, this is amazing.

And then the next thing I know, they have generalized that throughout the system and then they’re really dosing patient. But again, it was, it wasn’t about me coming in saying, this is what you have to do. It was. Let’s have a conversation and let’s talk about our options and why don’t you consider this kind of a pilot project.

And so I think humility is the most important thing that I learned in interacting, especially in international projects, because so often people are coming in again and just kind of telling people what to do, and then that’s so devaluing. Right. But as I talked to them and said, You’re the experts. How would, how do you, how do we do this intensity?

Like, what are we facing? How do we address this? It was, I think it was very empowering. They eventually set up training programs there where they were training additional physicians and, and who are now leading other programs, which was exciting. Um, but that’s something that I then took back to Boston and, and to other places of just, um, never underestimate the information and the power of the person that you’re meeting.

Regardless of education, regardless of position, they have something to teach you. And, and that, by valuing that person and partnering with that person, you can make a lot of change, more change than you thought you could. And it’s a great

Naji: pivot to my next question. You talked about humidity empowerment.

These are really strong, strong words. As a leader. In the last years, you’ve been focusing on innovation, operations, optimization, practice transformation, like all those large change management projects in academic, uh, medical practices in the us. So what is the main challenge you’re facing today and how do you lead through those large organizational

Doug Bruce: changes?

Yeah, inertia is a huge problem. I’m just amazed at how physicians, nurses, medical, assistant administrators really almost feel like the system can’t change, or if the system can change, they view it as, you know, one or 2% on the margins. Um, they view it through the current lens that they’re that’s, they’re passionate about volume value.

Um, Finishing my charting, right. Not spending the evening doing that. And so I’ve found it challenging to kind of help people understand that, wait, should you reconsider the entire paradigm here? You’re like, you’re living in this soup in this swimming pool, whatever you’re in. Maybe you should get out of it.

Like maybe we would need to completely rethink things. Um, and so some of that has then. You know, as I always do in a new environment, you spend a whole lot of time just talking to people, surveying the faculty, getting feedback, and trying to create an open door policy. And then also trying to help people understand.

Look, I’m not gonna take it personally, if you come and tell me that the system is dumb and it’s broken, like I’m, I’m, that’s fine. I want information and I want information so that we can make it better. But I would say like, inertia is a big thing and, and the pandemic. In many ways, because the pandemic was this push into the lives of people where people felt disempowered, they felt hopeless.

Like there’s this external factor and I can’t fight against it. And I think certainly where I’m working now, people have transferred that into their work environment. Some that, um, you know, my clinic got flipped from, in person to telehealth. I didn’t have control over that or. Alerts keep coming up in the electronic health record.

And I can’t control that. Or, and so there’s this sense that I’m powerless and because I’m powerless, I’m not really engaged with change management because I’m kind of hopeless about change. And so a fair amount of what I’ve been trying to do is find some small wins to show people that change is possible, but change is possible when we work together, change is not really possible.

Doug Bruce by himself trying to make change. Right. That’s completely ineffective it’s as we work together and come together that we can make change. Um, but fighting against inertia has been painful.

Naji: And this is a very interesting insight because as you said, pandemic has challenged all of us, right? And many would think that it challenged us in a way to change that now will be sustainable change, right?

Like from work from home and the hospitals, all telemedicine the speed of developing drugs, et cetera. But I’m hearing from you, the state of mind of healthcare providers today is not that like I heard. Hopelessness. We’re not powerful enough to make those changes. Where, why do you think that as we know, there is a huge mental toll on, on healthcare providers.

And many times I’ve shared it before we applauded them in the beginning of the pandemic, but actually didn’t change much of the, the struggle they go through, uh, after a couple of months. Right. So what do you think is happening and how can we do it as healthcare leaders across the different, uh, healthcare industries?

Doug Bruce: Yeah. Well, I, I think the, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is actually apply some of those lessons that I learned in Tanzania and into academic health centers, because, um, academic, medicine’s a very hierarchical system where people don’t feel like they have voice or agency, um, and, and promotion systems and things can be somewhat opaque.

And so trying to give people an opportunity. And so some of that is. And this is seemingly silly, but I think people have found great value in it is personally replying to the emails that people send me. Right? Like I’ve, I’ve, I’ve heard what you said, you know, or taking time to you have a question. Well, let’s set up a call, let’s have a conversation about this, you know, do you wanna mean person?

Do you wanna meet on zoom again? It’s it’s really trying to be responsive. And then to be honest, I mean, the thing that I’ve been trying to tell people is like, look, I’m I’m, I’m not gonna lie to you about this. I’m gonna just tell you where it is and it could be. Your issue is completely legitimate.

Unfortunately, like right now we don’t have resources to address it, or we don’t, we can’t address it. We don’t have the technology or it could be like, I’ve got this fire over here and we have to address this fire before we can do this. And the faculty, I think at least in the feedback they’ve given me is that they’ve been very appreciative of the transparency and the honesty, um, because that builds trust.

And so then when there’s some trust and then you. We can do this. Like, Hey, like we can, like, there’s a pathway forward. We can make this change and make it happen. Well, people start to say, well, Doug’s been honest before. Maybe he’s being honest about this. Maybe he’s not just saying this, like people have said in the past to try and motivate us.

So we see some more patience. Um, so I think building trust through transparency and honesty is really important. If we’re gonna start trying to help healthcare providers. Get out of some of that inertia and hopelessness and feeling that they don’t have voice and they don’t have power. And so we have to create opportunities for voice and agency and we have to listen to that.

And then we have to be responsive to that.

I love that.

Naji: Uh, I, I would give you one word and I would love to get your

Doug Bruce: reaction to it. So the first

Naji: word is leadership.

Doug Bruce: I guess when I think of leaders, I think about people who get on the front line and work with and like, or in the, in the middle of the battle. Right. I don’t think of leadership as detached from what’s happening. Um, the, the most success I’ve had in leadership has been. On the front line, learning from people, teaching people and changing the system there.


I think increasingly when I think of innovation, I think I would say I used to think of that as change, like modify the current system. And I, I think of that now as creativity I think more and more of innovation. What’s a better system. Like just what’s a completely better system. And so I would say I’m learning in that space again, having a breadth of people speak into that is really important because of the, the realization that I could say the current system is bad.

Let’s make a new system, but it shouldn’t. My new system, it should be our new system. And so well, who are the, our, and so often, like the physicians in the practice will say, what’s, what’d the doc say? You know? Well, what, what about the nurse practitioners and the PAs? What about the nurses? What about the medical assistants?

What about the front desk staff? What about the stakeholders? What about the patients who are the actual people who are coming right? And so the more that we branch that out and the more that we give agency and voice, I think the more we can be truly innovative and have something totally different, um, which is what I’m now thinking more about as the word innovation, just making it completely different and better intellectual

Naji: property.

And it comes from a debate we had

Doug Bruce: Yeah, I think so. I, I really do believe that you need to protect intellectual property. So I’ve changed in my view of this, right? Like I, I was in the, probably more supportive of act up and like, Get meds to the world. I still believe that we need to find ways that we can get medication across the globe, to everyone who leaves it.

Um, the, the very reason that we did a methadone clinic in Tanzania versus anything else was because, um, it’s the cheapest thing to do. It’s also the most effective, which is kind of rare that the cheapest is the most effective, but it was incredibly effective, but because it was cheap, we could treat more people.

And, you know, in public health interventions, it’s really about treating large numbers of people. If you’re going to make a difference, right? If, if we only vaccinated 10% of America against COVID, we really wouldn’t be having the kind of successes that we’re having now. So public health interventions, especially with infectious diseases require large scale intervention.

I think that if we don’t protect intellectual property, people will not be innovative. They will not create completely new drugs. They will not create completely new solutions. I mean, I’m amazed when I started taking care of people with HIV, they were fists of pills that were incredibly toxic and horrible life limiting side effects to now, now, today, like, I mean, this is crazy to me.

It’s easier to treat HIV than high blood pressure and. Like I, if you had asked me in the nineties, in the middle of the aids epidemic, you know, someday HIV will be easier to treat than diabetes. I would’ve said you’re nuts. Like that’s just not gonna happen, but it happened because people, because let’s be honest, right.

There was a profit motive in, in doing that the same with hepatitis C. Like I never thought that we would be curing people as easily as we can now with hepatitis C treatment and. I want to preserve the intellectual property that helps foster innovation for companies to make a profit, because that’s why they’re innovating in the first place.

I just wanna find a way where we can, that those medications don’t just stay in rich countries. And then the patients that I care for in, in other nations of the world, who are people too, and who have I. Dignity as people and rights to good healthcare that they can’t access it just because they were born in a foreign country.

Right. That just doesn’t seem right to me. Um, but I do fear that if we just do away with IP in these things, or we fight against them, then people will say, well, why, you know, we’ll invest our money in real estate or something. And I don’t want, I want people to continue to invest in developing great medications, especially when there are some serious diseases still in the.

That we need people to be innovative about. I mean, malaria, for example. Yeah. What about

Naji: spread love in organizations?

Doug Bruce: Well, I think that, I mean, that kind of goes to everything that we’ve been talking about. Right. Um, I, you know, one of the things I, I tell healthcare providers who can be so serious sometimes , I’m like, you know, if all we do when patients come is tell patient.

How they failed in everything. They failed to lose weight. They failed to take the medicines. They failed to like, go get it. Just whatever, like who wants to come see anybody? That’s that negative? Who wants to come see the healthcare provider? Who’s like, yeah, you, you failed come back. Um, and my own life.

Right? So my, my doctor told me one that, um, cuz I was like, I don’t wanna exercise. Why don’t you just give me a statin for my Cho. And like the guy looked at me and was like, you’re a smart guy. Figure it out. Like just go exercise. And I didn’t go see him for a year because I was like, I wasn’t exercising.

And then I like exercised two weeks before I see him. So I could answer the question and be like, yeah, I’m exercising. And he didn’t even ask me. I was so upset. I was like, really, but that’s not necessarily a productive healthcare relationship. And so when I think of spreading love, I think of spreading love, both among staff.

So one of the things that I do often is I try to remind every member of the staff, their vital importance. So I’ll tell the front desk staff, like you’re the first point of contact when people walk into the clinic, like your role is incredibly important because that’s gonna set the tone for the rest of the visit.

If I’m mad after the front desk, I’m gonna be mad when I talk to their medical assistant, I’ll be mad when I talk to the nurse. I’m mad when I talk to the doctor. So, and then empowering medical assistants, like you are getting a proper blood pressure as like real material, healthcare consequences, like your role’s really important.

And so I think part of spreading love is helping people know that they are valued and that they’re not just parts of a machine and that we, I can flip a switch and easily replace you. It’s like, no, no. Like you are bringing you to work today. And you are valuable and you are important and what you bring is important.

And so I think as people feel that value as they feel that like coming to work’s really important, I like, I need to go to work today. Well, why? Cause I’m really important that then spreads to patients, right? If I’m really happy and experiencing joy in my job, because people hear value and care about me, I spread that to patient and that’s infectious.

I mean, I like infectious disease. Right. But like it’s really infectious. And so I think we just need more and more to do that. And it just starts with saying you have dignity as a person, and I need to treat you with dignity. And as I do that, I’m spreading well,

Naji: I love that Doug. And, you know, I, I thought a lot and you kind of touched on the four letters that I sometimes use with love.

It’s listen, observe value, and empower you. You literally talked about all of that. Thank you so much for those amazing examples. Any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders

Doug Bruce: around the word?

Uh, I would say be creative, be a listener and be humble. The, you know, I I’ve had, um, high school educated substance users, um, teach me things. I’ve had people with multiple doctorate teach me things.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT: Dimitris Bertsimas

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 for this episode joined today by Dimitris Bertsimas Professor of Management, Operations Research, and Associate Dean for the Master of Business Analytics at MIT.

A faculty member since 1988, Dimitris’ research include optimization, stochastic systems, machine learning, and their application in different sectors including healthcare. Dimitris is also a serial entrepreneur, he cofounded several companies like Dynamic Ideas sold to American Express, Benefits Science, a company that designs health care plans for companies, and MyA health, a personalized health care advice company. 

Dimitris has coauthored more than 200 scientific papers and several books. He has received numerous research awards, including the William Pierskalla best paper award in health care.

His work in healthcare through analytics contributed to improve many patients’ lives, and still more to come!

Dimitris – I am humbled to have you with me today!

Dimitris Bertsimas: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Naji Gehchan: First, I would love to hear your personal story from electrical engineering, to math, computer science and analytics, and now being a serial entrepreneur and MIT professor what’s behind this impressive journey of yours.

Dimitris Bertsimas: Well, um, I was born in Greece and came to finish the computer science department there graduated in 95 and then came to the U S at MIT in that year of 1995.

And I have been at MIT ever since I finished my PhD in eight in enjoying the faculty that. Uh, so th there is, um, but back in my childhood, I mean, uh, there is, uh, my, both, my parents installed in me the idea to, to Excel in whatever one does. Um, so with these preconditions, um, we see something I try to do, I try to do as good a job as I can.

Um, then, uh, when I find myself in. In the, um, in the Boston area and at MIT, which is, uh, an environment that, um, sort of excellence is a given, uh, I thought, uh, and inspired by the, by the environment. I, I thought that it might be. Um, a reasonable idea to apply what I, I study and I do research on in the real world because in the end of the day, I, I believe then, and now that, um, the best theories are those that solve the problems that originated with theories and other results.

I have been involved in the beginning of the nineties in. In this early in the financial sector of Boston, Boston has a very strong one of the strongest in the world asset management area. But then later in healthcare, healthcare in Boston is very strong. Some of the best hospitals in the world are here.

So the combination, therefore of my predisposition to effect, to have impact, to matter, to affect the world, the environment at MIT that, um, uh, motivates people. Uh, for all ages to do as good a job as they can, and the opportunities that are available to somebody like myself, um, and, uh, who has both the mighty connection, deep connection, and it has an entrepreneurial spirit, um, to achieve these objectives.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you for sharing that you have a passion for healthcare, and you mentioned it’s here, um, as your work contributed 3d to change people’s lives on many of the research and the work that you’ve done. Why healthcare? Why is this passion specifically for this sector?

Dimitris of yours.: Um, at some point, um, I definitely have a predisposition to have impact, but, um, and in the beginning of the 2000, there was an opportunity with a close friend of mine to start a company called who also in healthcare. Uh, and I started, we started the company. Oh, my, he was doing well at decisive point was also that my parents also got sick.

My, I lost my father to cancer in 2009. She got sick in 2007 in the same year, 2009. I also lost my mother. So this is a period of roughly middle age. When you, you think about your. And, um, and you observe that, um, what is important. Um, and I thought, um, affecting the lives of people in a positive way is more important than, uh, perhaps making money and making rich people richer that I was doing when I was.

In an earlier life when I was working in finance and services. So I, I’m not that I have any negative opinion about these matters, but I definitely believe that, um, researching the and helping people to improve the lives, um, is a value is a worthwhile effort. And I have also observed that with the evolution.

All for analytics, namely the data in electronic form in healthcare, the opportunities are significantly higher than they were in the past. So, um, that’s some of my, um, aspirations.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, and we definitely share this similar purpose of making life better. And in healthcare you would frequently, I think you met with people who share this purpose, uh, deeply, uh, you, you start talking about, uh, data, uh, AI and what this can bring to healthcare.

So there’s obviously a huge hype on, on this, on big data AI and how this will disrupt the healthcare industry. You know, those trendy words these days, you’re obviously an expert there. I would love to hear your thoughts about

Dimitris Bertsimas: it. Um, so let’s take an analogy. Um, in, um, I was involved, um, in financial services in the late eighties, early nineties using quantitative approaches, analytics, beta, and so forth.

And, uh, it can have a significant impact in the field, um, in healthcare. The availability of data and electronic form of, uh, both fractured and unstructured, electronic medical records, uh, computer vision scans, uh, language is starting to become increasingly available. I would say in the last decade. Uh, so if you think about human doctors and how they, they, uh, reach decisions, uh, diagnosis and, uh, and prescriptions regarding their patients, they definitely involve data of this type electronic records test.

They do scans, they read reports that they read. Uh, recently genomic information. So it makes reasonable sense to me anyway, to utilize the same type of data that human doctors do to, uh, to make these predictions with a difference that computers, unlike. Typically don’t get tired. They are, they have less bias.

Maybe they might be biased on the developers, but, uh, of the algorithms, but, um, but nothing else. So it makes sense, you know, rationally to consider. The use of methods that have been unusually successful in other areas. I mentioned finance services, but you know, energy production, if you think about energy production in the world regarding why we have electricity today, and it works quite well, and I leave the keys behind it and we use of data and so forth.

So it’s makes sense that, um, given the availability, um, to, um, to attempt to do that, Um, and of course, many people realize. And when people try that, there is a complexity that unlike other areas, we are dealing with humans, both human doctors and human patients. So therefore other elements besides data, mother, understanding what drives them, understanding the culture, how they react to compliance that’s um, that makes it as what are some more active.

Um, in addition to being potentially. Can we double

Naji Gehchan: click on this because I love how you frame it, human doctors. Uh, I dunno if it’s compared to computer

Dimitris Bertsimas: doctors that something, that’s my that’s what I expect in the future might be at least in assisting doctors. Um, so, okay.

Naji Gehchan: Can we talk about this? Because many times we see innovation, some would see innovation as, you know, disruption, or like the end of.

Certain type of jobs. So you shared the complexity of it. Like, what is your vision about it? Shouldn’t be afraid as healthcare professionals, uh, from the technology or embrace it. What is your

Dimitris: view on this? We have seen disruption innovation in many industries over the centuries then. So it’s definitely the case that the type of jobs change, but humans are not replaced.

Take for example. Doctors, the medical education in the world has not changed primarily since 1920s. When John Hopkins introduced the care and structure of training doctors, the appendix, the append, this type where data doesn’t play a significant role. Um, this is, uh, I think in my view, this is about time to change because it makes good sense, given that the technology has now advanced, it might be not yet at the level that we can trust it a hundred percent, but it’s definitely has improved dramatically to train doctors in this way.

Therefore, it’s not that we’re not going to have human doctors. Of course they were going to have, but they are going to be in my office. Uh, the doctors of the future will be drained, trained differently. They are trained today in addition to anatomy, in addition to, um, do what they learn at the moment. And the experiential aspect is very important.

I think understanding. Uh, data and their exploitation using machine learning AI, I think it will be part of the story and programs in digital medicine. I, I already observed them reluctantly being in some universities, but I believe it was. Main stream in the years to come. And if you train young people in this way, this will take a generation.

Don’t take me wrong. It’s not going to be simple, but I have little doubts that in 10, 15 years, uh, the experienced patients will have in visiting doctors. In assessing, um, what will happen to them from a healthcare perspective would be quite different from what is today. But I do not believe that this would replace humans.

It will just be an adaptation of what the doctors do as opposed to replacing them.

Naji Gehchan: Well, you shared a in the class, I had the opportunity and pleasure to be in, uh, in, in your classes. Uh, great examples on how data and AI really transformed, uh, some of the care for patients, uh, and things you worked on. I would love if you can share one or two of these examples to give tangible.

Dimitris Bertsimas: So, um, I have a long collaboration with Hartford hospital. Um, hospital in connected cars and have for healthcare in that we have implemented, um, and, and, uh, machine learning, AI approach that, um, predicts for every patient. The length of. The probability of mortality, the probability of, um, going to ICU, leaving the ICU.

So in other words, for every patient in the hospital, based on the data they have, based on who is updated regularly, because there’s new information, the hospital, we basically can, um, make predictions about. The future and why this is relevant. Suppose you observe a patient. As we have that. The, the mortality probability we used to be, let’s say 2%, 1%, two days ago is now 3% today, 5% tomorrow.

So even though these are still small numbers, In the scale of things, the fact that our increasing might reveal and condition that human doctors, it’s hard to, it’s hard to observe. And in fact, in this particular case, this particular person developed, uh, an infection that was slowly developing. And the fact that we’re able to observe this, the album picked up the increasing probability gave you opportunity to doctors to actually attend to this.

Uh, even though the algorithm in other words was not designed for this purpose, the fact that you can use it in this way helped the outcomes. That’s one example. Here’s another example. I have been involved for a decade now in a company called benefit science that you mentioned its objective is to design healthcare policies for large organizations in the United States, but also around the world.

Healthcare is primarily the responsibility of the employer. So the employer typically provides the funding provides healthcare and they typically self in soar in that, but they also have to decide what type of plan. So rather than basing, only on demographics benefit science looks at actual data to design.

What is the best quality of policy of a policy? What combination of health savings account, um, PPO plans, HMO plans. To maximize quality subject to a budget. And we have found that, um, the companies, um, save money, but the quality also increases. Another example is another company that you mentioned, Maya health, my analytics health, that takes the perspective of not the company, but the patient.

So, so let’s say you are, um, you have a health savings account. So what is the best way from a to. Um, to monitor and optimize your health. For instance, if you want to do an MRI, what do you do the MRI? If you, because the price is very, very significantly, the quality of care at various places for various specialties also, uh, significantly changes.

Data provides you an objective view of reality. Data can allow you to, um, to basically take the bias out and make more objective and overall better. So this is an example from hospitals to two companies to patients. And it’s really endless. I could go on give you many other examples. Yeah. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you for those.

You said data gives you an objective way to look at things I want to, I want to get into more leadership, uh, discussion. With data. And my first question on this would be when you shared the example, for example, uh, on, uh, on the healthcare, uh, hospital or the institution you worked with, uh, we always see reluctance from healthcare providers from experts.

Uh, whenever there is data saying something. And we don’t really believe or buy into, right? Like the model is wrong. No, it’s different. You know, we even see it in our industry is when we talk with different countries, like data shows something, but you always have, oh no, we are an exception. It’s different here.

How do you deal with this? Have you seen this and how do you deal with

Dimitris Bertsimas: it multiple times? There is skepticism that comes from culture, but also sometimes correctly. I mean, you deal with significant decisions about patients, life and death, this situation sometimes. So it’s appropriate to be skeptical. So in this particular experience with Hartford is I was fortunate to have met, um, two people.

Uh, there were four men, executive MBA students. I met them in the classroom. Uh, who have leadership positions in the organization? Um, Barry Stein and RJ Kumar, both of them are in the leadership of the Carrefour healthcare hospital system. And, um, I had the opportunity therefore, to be introduced to them and at least start in a relation of trust with these two gentlemen and over time, because I started working with people.

And then so forth. Um, there, the level of trust increased dramatically, a particular important moment is that I gave a class to about, it was just before COVID. It was 2000, January, 2020, just before March. Uh, and I gave a lecture, a set of lectures, um, to about a hundred professionals about the art of the.

We are the other possible in healthcare and this educated many people at the senior level physicians, nurses, administrative personnel, um, about what can be achieved using data and analytics and this open the door. Even for example, we, we developed a model for COVID, uh, for trying to help, uh, hospitals.

Size their ICU needs given that you don’t know how the, how the disease will develop. So the fact that they were already seen the benefits and the realities of analytics. Mainly leaders in the hospital to at least approach it with more trust. Of course you have to verify, but, but the door was open and therefore the method had an impact in the hospital.

It allowed them. Two sides. The ICU is not only my main hospital, but the eight hospitals of the, of the system, uh, and the rest was relevant. And the trust is not only at the leadership level. Healthcare is local, no matter what the CEO of the hospital says in the end, the decision maker is the nurse and the doctor who, who are, who are in, um, Near the side of the patient.

And if they go and that’s what you’re going to say, it doesn’t matter who supports. So my experience therefore, is that, um, the, the literacy aspect allows. The missile contact, but then we, we, the way we developed all these methods is that even today on a weekly basis with various groups, with the patient, the doctors that attend to the patients, the doctors that attend, um, surgeries, uh, surgeons, nurses, and so forth, we have weekly.

So as a result, when somebody asks, I don’t explain, they explain and it’s much more effective if your colleague who is, of course you have a decades relations whom you trust say something, it has a different gravitas. And, um, I have found that, uh, Understand, you know, understanding the culture of the environment and gaining trust, not gaining trust by, by basically demonstrating to people that we, first of all, you, you trust their opinion.

For example, if the algorithms benefited from their comments and if this, if this happens, it’s not anymore, the album I developed is the algorithm that we have. And that’s how it is presented. So I would say this is a combination of leadership from the top, but also literacy from the base. Uh, and in some cases, one is much more effective than.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, that’s that’s great. Um, you, uh, well, we had Barry in one of our episode, various time for the listeners who want to know more about his story, you shared Demetrius about, uh, all this power of data and really how they impacted lives and the most recent example with COVID, as you said, Um, there’s all this informed.

Decision-making also that as leaders we can do now, even better with all the data that we can, we can process. How do you see leadership? In fact evolving? Based on those data analytics algorithm that we can use. Do you see it changing or will it change? And what is the role of leadership overall and this a

Dimitris Bertsimas: massive word of that to set an example from yes.

So yesterday, one of the largest, um, Italian companies contacted me with the idea to they, they decided to increase, uh, the digital, uh, aspect in their company. So the use of data throughout. Right. I mean, they have no groups, but they have this desire to do it. So they are asking me very detailed questions about my experience on that.

So here’s a company that is not really not. It is not, I mean, yet they are thinking about, and this is of course the story of many other companies. It’s not that this is an exception. Um, I expect it has already been happening. It’s not even if this is not even a prediction, I’m probably stating a fact. Um, it is already today, but I think it’s going to increase in the future that I’m a chief digital officer.

It’s if analytics officer, there are multiple names and so forth, we’ll, we’ll be at all that many companies already have, and we will be fulfilling in the future. That would be the accurate reporting to the. Which means if, you know, typically a CEO of a large company has 10, 10 direct reports, um, you know, 10, 15, no more than that.

And I believe that one of them would be that that officer, it already is happening in many companies. I know. So it is my. And this is also by the way, through the hospital systems that I collaborate people that have responsibility on, on data and analytics report to the hierarchy of a company, the highest echelon of the company.

So it is my view that this is already happening and it’s going to increase as a result. Another instance of that. Is this access that the master of business analytics program that I started 2016 has had over the years. So currently the program has of, uh, maybe this year 1600 applications for 80 positions.

That’s a 5% selectivity. There aren’t too many places at MIT that have that level of applica application. And I would expect that in years to come, um, the demand for MBA. We’ll be lower than the demand for people with that. This experience has already happened in many places, not at MIT yet. So currently we applications for MBAs, roughly double, maybe 3000, 3,500 versus, um, 1600.

But, but I think this gives will meet as they have met before, because there is a high. I observe and I don’t observe it now. I’ve been observing it for decades. That’s why we started the analytics program. Uh, I have been observing it and in healthcare, I would say definitely I see the need. I see, uh, places, some of the major hospitals having one or more analytics group.

So it’s definitely, this revolution has started.

Naji Gehchan: I know, not to jump into a section where I will give you one word and I want your reaction, a word or a reaction to what happened to the word that would mention. Uh, so the first word is leadership.

Dimitris: Commitment is the word that comes to mind, um, and understanding.

Naji Gehchan: Can you tell us a little bit more, I’d love to hear a definition

Dimitris: from you. Yeah. Um, I believe that, um, the way I see it is that I better like the work on analytics, which is the science of using data to build models. That make that lead to decisions that impact the world positively data models, decisions, value, uh, AI is nearly a synonym in that it also uses, um, data sources, not traditionally utilized.

For example, computer vision. Um, languages, language, you know, answer actual data, but, um, the process, which I believe is our future, our collective future, using data to make decisions that impact the world.

Naji Gehchan: What about personalized medicine?

Dimitris: Personalized medicine is, is, um, also, uh, a very bright, an aspiring future.

If you can, only medicine is by and large, not personalized. This is what, one of the major reason in my mind that we haven’t been in cancer yet. Um, so if you look at how, um, one of these major killers in the world cancer is, uh, I lost my father to that is being treated it’s more or less a size 50. I had this, you, you, you diagnose somebody with cancer.

You give them some protocols that has been, uh, have been developed for, uh, for everybody, not the personal, uh, human, a significant human. We observed very different outcomes. In my personal case around the time that my father was diagnosed with, with cancer, gastric cancer, there was a lady friend of my father who was diagnosed with exactly the same disease and, um, sees a, to.

Um, and see what’s the same way, but it worked for her. It didn’t work for my father. So it is if there’s overwhelming evidence that, um, personalization mothers, I mean, we already see, I mean, we observe that some women, for example, have mutations that lead to development of breast cancer very early in their life.

Uh, at least in this case, we have taken action, but it’s hard for me to believe that cancer is not one disease. It’s multiple diseases who have an composite in one, in one name, and then they meet personally. The attention. This is not only about cancer. I mean, you know, think about, um, think about impact of COVID.

There are many people have COVID very few die, but, but, uh, clearly there’s personalization aspects. I mean, humans are different. They have different genomes. They have different. Even cultural components. They have many different things, diabetes. I, who do I start? I mean, you know, I, I think medicine, when I talk about this is all medicine and personalized medicine.

Uh, these are medicine can lead to personal life.

Naji Gehchan: And we’ve been, we’ve been hearing a lot about personalization in medicine, but yet it’s, we’re seeing a little bit more personalized care. Uh, but what do you feel is in the way, is it truly time technology and time that will get us there? Or do you feel like there’s something else?

Dimitris: I mean, um, the key aspect is education. Thinking about how we educate our doctors. We have not changed the education of our doctors since the 1920s. It’s a century ago. If you look what people learn, um, then, and how they learn it, you know, Does not play a significant only vis education. So when you educate young people, very talented, the doctors are fantastically talented people.

I do not believe they are appropriately educated at the moment. So as a result, you have to educate them in the art of the possible of personalized media. We have some successes. If you, if you educate a large collection of intelligent people, um, so that their mind goes into that, they start doing research, they start doing developing new methods.

Personalized medicine will be a reality, but you have to start. And I would say the key is, in my opinion is education and it’s starting, but you know, it takes as everything in life. It’s not. It takes some time

Naji Gehchan: and it’s, but it’s definitely a future we should aspire for. The last word is spread love and organization.

Dimitris: And organizations you would like you ask, you want to ask do as my reaction, you know, I, you know, in my view, uh, love is this most significant aspect of human happiness. Um, so specifically I say to my, uh, to my students that the two most important aspects of life is to find somebody to. And to find something that you love to do.

So love is in there in the definition of happiness. So spread love is in a way, um, aspires the way I understand it to increase the overall happiness of receivers. As well as givers of love and my, uh, I mean, in a way, one of the reasons I, um, I mean, there’s no security. I love working with my doctoral students.

I have a sizeable group of very young, very, very talented young people. Um, and the big aspect of our relation, at least on my end is luck. So, um, And as I mentioned, um, it increases my happiness increases. There’s

Naji Gehchan: any final words of wisdom? Uh, Demetrius for healthcare either is around the word.

Dimitris Bertsimas: The only, uh, the most significant in my opinion is, um, to, to make change. You have to have. Um, sometimes you enter an unknown, you know, utilizing data. You never know what you’re going to find. You might actually find that one or one of your departments using data.

It’s not doing a good job, but on the other hand, if you don’t know it, it still does it not a good job, but you don’t know it. But if you allow open your mind, And, uh, allow data to enter over time. Fantastic things will happen to patients, which is our ultimate objective as, as health professionals, but also to ourselves, to the hospital, to ourselves.

I think our life would, um, would be, I would say in a higher plane.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much. Uh, the interest for being with me today and this amazing.

Dimitris Bertsimas: Thank you. Nice to be with you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this special episode in partnership with MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Conference, an event that brings the Healthcare Ecosystem Together. I am joined today Assaad Sayah, President and CEO of Cambridge Health Alliance. Assaad was named CHA’s President and CEO in January 2020 after serving as the interim CEO since June 2019 and chief medical officer since 2013. Before that, Assaad served as the chief of emergency medicine and senior vice president of primary care. In the Emergency Department, he led tremendous advancements at all three CHA hospitals, resulting in enhanced efficiency, quality, volume and patient satisfaction. He spearheaded primary care growth by more than 50 percent, expanding CHA’s access in underserved communities and integrating primary care and behavioral health services and systems to address social determinants of health. Assaad also plays a key role in CHA’s commitment to the communities it serves, including his tenure as the co-chair of the Cambridge City Manager’s Opioid Working Group established in 2018 to develop recommendations for strengthening the city’s response to the opioid epidemic. Additionally, Assaad is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. His research and publications focus on operational efficiency, improving the clinical environment and patient experience of care.

Assaad – I’m humbled to have you with me today!

Assaad Sayah: It’s a pleasure, Naji. Thank you. It’s, uh, truly an honor being here.

Naji Gehchan: Before we dig in, value-based care, the topic of your panel at UH, S H B C, I’m eager to hear your personal story. What brought you to Medicine, er, and now running Cambridge Health Alliance and having such a tremendous impact on the communities you serve.

Assaad Sayah: Well, I appreciate it. Um, um, and, and, uh, it’s a long story, but I will keep it abbreviated. Uh, as far as medicine, um, this is, uh, calling, uh, I, as far as I can remember, I always wanted to be a doctor even before I knew what doctor’s all about. Um, I am the, uh, first, uh, college grad in my family. Nevermind, uh, a medical, uh, uh, professional.

Uh, and, uh, I have the, uh, truly the, the, the privilege of, uh, of representing, uh, my community and, and my ethnic background. I am Lebanese in origin, um, in the, in the greater Boston area. Um, medicine, uh, to me is, is truly more of a calling than, uh, than a profession. And, uh, what, what got me into emergency medicine?

Is two reasons. One, um, I am an adrenaline junkie by, by nature. So, uh, uh, anything, uh, that, that, uh, that’s up and running and, and exciting, I’m into it. And, uh, the second and more important thing, um, it is truly doing the right thing. Cause historically and even, uh, currently the emergency department is the only place where anybody can get care, regardless of their ability to pay 24 7.

And, uh, you know, this is a place where you get care and then we ask you for your insurance card versus anywhere else. Uh, as far that I know, you, you have to present your insurance card before you get your care, uh, for whatever it’s worth. That’s what brought me into, into emergency medicine. Uh, what got me into, um, Uh, into administration is curiosity and, um, uh, my, uh, difficulty in accepting things, not working very well around me.

So I always ask the question, how can we improve things? How can we do things better? And when you ask those questions, people say, well, go at it. If you can do it better, go ahead and give it a try. The more you try, the more you do, the more people ask. And one thing led to the other. And here I am, the c e o.

Wow. Thanks so

Naji Gehchan: much for sharing. Uh, let’s start now with value-based care. Uh, how would you define

Assaad Sayah: this? So, uh, value-based care, um, is, uh, is the combination or the formula that combines. Quality and cost. So if you, if you wanna say value equals quality over cost, the higher the quality, the better the value, the lower cost, the better the value.

The worst situation is an environment where you have low quality and high cost, no value at all. So you wanna improve to the best that you can, to the best you can, the level of quality while managing the cost. And, uh, the difference between, uh, Current value-based care and other attempts at managing healthcare cost is, is the equation that involves quality before.

Because if you go back to the nineties, uh, during managed care, it was only managing cost and there was no alignment of incentives. And with value-based care, one would think that the incentives are aligned between the patient who want the best quality. The organization that wants to provide excellent quality and get the best reimbursement and the payer that wanna manage cost.

And hopefully that combination is the magic sauce that will lead to the best work and the best healthcare environment.

Naji Gehchan: So you’re touching, uh, you touched upon those, um, the key players. So can, can you frame specifically who are the key players and what really needs to change today for us to be able to achieve?

High value based care.

Assaad Sayah: The, obviously the, the, the, the, the three major players in healthcare. I mean, there’s a lot of players you will add the government and policy makers and communities, et cetera. But the, the, the three big buckets are one, uh, the consumer, that’s the patient. And that’s the most important piece of all of healthcare.

We are all here for the patient to do the right thing. And the patient, what the patient wants is great quality and the best experience possible that is timely. Um, and that there’s a level of commitment and trust. Cuz trust is absolutely critical in healthcare. What the provider wants is, uh, the appropriate resources to provide.

The needs and meet the need and exceed the needs of the patient in an efficient way. And that requires funding and the right policies and the right pro, et cetera. And the right training. And what the payer wants is a partnership with the provider where when they give the provider the resources, cuz the payer doesn’t, uh, practice medicine.

The payer is basically the vehicle between the patient that’s paying premium. And the provider that’s providing the care, and they wanna make sure that as the care is provided, provided, it is provided at a good, qu good cost at the good price. The new paradigm is adding quality to the equation, is putting certain metrics, uh, that are reportable, that are measurable, that at least directionally define the level of quality that is provided.

Naji Gehchan: So do you think we’re well equipped? As a society to get there and, and really I would love your thoughts on health equity within the scope. Yeah.

Assaad Sayah: Um, we still trying as far as value-based care and in my opinion so far it is the, the best formula that has the highest probability of success. Um, Believe it or not, healthcare, uh, in general in the United States is all still, um, fee for service, which means you do something, you get paid for it.

Just like, you know, when you, when you call a plumber or electrician to your home, they come, they do the work, you pay them, they’re done, but you don’t know, you can’t evaluate the quality of their work. It could be great for the first day, the first week, the first year, but it could falter after that. And that’s basically fee for service.

There’s an hourly rate. You get paid for it. The incentive in here historically is the more you do, the more you get paid, but that’s not good. At the end of the day. You wanna make sure that you get the best quality, the best value for that job that you are giving to your plumber. Let’s, let’s say that. In the value, in the, in the, in the value-based care, basically, you get paid a certain amount to provide a certain amount of care at a high quality.

So the best way to cut down the cost is provide less. Care or enough care, but with the highest quality possible. And that’s how you manage the level of the cost of healthcare. That’s really going above and beyond. It’s always almost 30% of the G d P today, and some reports say that it’s higher than that.

So it’s gonna break our society if we really don’t manage our cost. Now, when you add the, the equity to the form, the equity piece to the formula, And as a healthcare organization, we are the only public hospital in the state, and our mission is to serve a, a safety net, uh, population historically and continuously.

And that population historically has been underserved and, uh, under-resourced at all levels, including with healthcare, uh, because one. The, the demand is greater. Uh, this is a patient population that has a lot of complication, whether it is mental health or social determinants of health, food, transportation, housing, you name it.

A lot of this patient population is, um, first generation immigrants. Many, uh, they don’t speak English. They have issue, issue with housing density. Many families are, are living in very small sh very tight knit, tight quarters. So there’s a lot of challenges in here. They’re all working, uh, difficult, many low paying jobs to really make ends meet.

Which complicate things. They complicate the ability to get healthcare. They complicate their ability to get, uh, to be transported there, to make certain appointments, to take time off of work. Uh, when they get there, their ability to communicate, understand, and follow directions, ability to get medications and follow medications.

That patient population is very complicated anyways. Not only the immigrant patient population, but also. Uh, the, the patient population that, that is, um, uh, less resourced from multiple ways, whether it’s financial, societal, uh, education wise, or even their ability to have access wide. Um, that’s what equity, uh, uh, plays a big role because historically, uh, we have not invested as a society.

In improving the condition, the, the living condition of, of that subpopulation so we can provide them, so we can keep them healthy and not only care for them when they’re sick.

Naji Gehchan: So can we double click on the, on this, because I know you’re doing a huge work, uh, and impacting those underserved population and you, you shared about social determinants of health.

So can I, can I get your view about this and how you have been leading your organization specifically to improve healthcare delivery for those underserved communities?

Assaad Sayah: Uh, one is you have to identify that community. So we are in the community. Uh, we do have, uh, um, 12 clinics out there all embedded in, in our communities.

Um, All our clinics, uh, have, um, primary care and behavioral health, and to a certain extent even dental involvement. So we can provide comprehensive care to the patient when they get care, get their, not start sort of shuttle them all over the place. Um, we have, uh, invested in, um, in our, um, Uh, multicultural department and, and that’s a department that is for the community, by the community that provides not only, uh, interpreter services, uh, but also support in multiple ways, uh, uh, speaking over a hundred languages, uh, out there, available in person and, um, uh, um, sort of virtually, uh, in our, um, Our ambassadors are not only there to interpret when the patient shows up, they’re also there to support the patient in their community.

So, um, you know, if they need their medication, they’re connecting them with the pharmacy, finding ways to get the medication at a discount, uh, or for free, uh, linking them to certain, uh, resources, um, and grants so they can get appropriate support, not only in healthcare. But in housing, housing, food, social services, et cetera, uh, going with them to follow up appointments, uh, you know, advocating for them, uh, when it comes to immigration, law, et cetera.

So they’re involved at all levels, not only to support that community, their community, cuz they come from that community, uh, uh, in only in the interface with healthcare, but in general to make their, uh, their environment more conducive to being healthy. I

Naji Gehchan: love that being, being there with them. It’s, it’s powerful.

I will now give you a word and I would love your reaction to it. The first one

Assaad Sayah: is leadership. Uh, leadership is, um, setting a strategy and creating a team, uh, that is committed to this strategy and to the work that needs to happen.

Naji Gehchan: Tell us more about it. I’d love to hear your story and how you do it with your teams, cuz you’re, you have a large team committed and I’m sure you’re, you’ve gone through a lot, uh, with, with pandemic and even today with everything’s happening around you. So I’d love, uh, to know how you keep your people engaged towards this purpose.


Assaad Sayah: I mean, uh, the, the, the most important, um, Role of of A A C E O and I call it be being a cheerleader. Uh, you have to be positive. You have to smile, you have to be a resource, you have to be available, uh uh, and you have to make sure that. Uh, you’re surrounded by people that are smarter than you, uh, and that I believe in, in the mission and the work that you’re doing.

Uh, because one person cannot change the world, they cannot, you cannot do the work yourself. You have to provide the environment and the resources for the people to do the work and the space. Uh, for them to do the work. Uh, it includes trust, which is the most important element in a team. Uh, and it includes clarity, transparency, and accountability.

Uh, and it’s a two-way street. Um, you know, I, I work with my team as a family. Uh, God knows we spend more time with each other than their own, their own, our own families. And, uh, we rely on each other, uh, good, bad or or indifferent, uh, every day to really do the work and make sure that we are, um, uh, maximizing and optimization, optimizing the resources we have, the opportunities we have to better serve the community and support each other.

I love it. What about care delivery? Um, care delivery, you know, I, I, I don’t like that word, to be honest with you, that, that, that terminology, uh, because it’s so narrow, believe it or not. Uh, but, but in general, uh, care delivery is, uh, um, meeting and exceeding the expectation of, uh, of the patient in the communities.

And, um, going above and beyond, uh, the healthcare system can do so much and has the ability and resources to do so much, unfortunately, that is not matched with the needs and it’s not matched with the expectations and the knowledge of, of the patients in the community. So we can do, we can do a lot more than than, than we do and, uh, and we should be able to do a lot more than we do.

So, um, care delivery is, Traditionally is the organization that provides care to the patient when they’re sick, when they need it. In my mind, uh, the best way to improve care is to, uh, provide, uh, what’s needed, what’s necessary for the patients to remain healthy in their communities and not need. Prevent them e every time a patient comes to the hospital or most of the time they come to the hospital, it is a failure of the care delivery system in my mind.

So the ultimate success is be out of business, believe it or not, and, and decrease the gotcha the needs, the traditional needs of the patient to really consume the amount of care that they consume.

Naji Gehchan: So true. You’re touching on prevention, how we do it, health

Assaad Sayah: education, absolutely. All of the above. All of the above 80% of people’s health or over 80%.

Happens outside the traditional healthcare system. It is what happens at home. It is the habits that happen at home, whether it’s, uh, smoking, obesity, you name it, drugs, alcohol, psychological issues, uh, food, transportation, you name it. Uh, that’s what influences people’s health. You know, there’s a, there’s a piece that’s related to the genes, what you’re born with, and there’s a piece that’s related to everything else we do to keep you healthy.

But the big chunk of it, uh, is what you do every day. And that’s what we need to invest, where we need to invest in early prevention, in screening, in early childhood, uh, screening and prevention in education of the families and the kids. So they have, uh, healthy habits so they remain healthy. So the third

Naji Gehchan: one is health equity.

Assaad Sayah: Um, health equity is, and this is not equality and this is not, it is basically, um, be thoughtful and purposeful in defining and bridging the gap. Uh, in the gaps in our society between the, um, safety net and the rest of the population, the population, that that has a gap. And so it’s not giving everybody an equal amount, it’s defining the gap and providing extra resources to bridge that gap at all levels, whether it is in healthcare or you name it.

There is equity in the, the digital divide. There’s equity in finances, there’s equity in education, there’s equity in healthcare, there’s equity in culture. I mean, you name it, there’s a historical gap, uh, that happened over decades and hundreds of years that, uh, The only way to, to, to, uh, mitigate that is to provide the appropriate resources to bring, to narrow that gap.

So the amount of growth and the amount of resources has to be exponentially greater here, so we can make up that gap with time. Otherwise, if it’s equal, there’s always be gonna be, there’s always gonna be a gap. The last

Naji Gehchan: word is spread love in organizations.

Assaad Sayah: Um, As I, we talked about trust. We talked about working as a family.

We talked about, uh, approaching things, uh, the way you wanna approach things, the way you should be approached things. And, and I have, uh, certain, um, rules that, that I live by. Uh, one of the rules that you hear about is, um, uh, you know, treat people as you wanna be treated. And, and that’s not my rule. My rule is you gotta treat people the way they wanna be treated.

Uh, because there’s a big difference. You can assume. How you wanna be treated. And, and that may not be satisfactory to others. And I think that’s a very important piece in love because you cannot, when in love, you cannot project your own definition. You have to project the other person’s definition of what love is about because that’s what matters is to the other person, is what they define it, not how you define it.

And that is true across all our society. Uh, and, and, If we approach things the right way, the way we conduct and live our life, not only professionally but with family and neighbors and society, I think that’s what matters is treat people the way they want to be treated.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom has had for healthcare leaders around the world.

Assaad Sayah: Um, do the right thing. That’s another, that’s another piece. Um, and, you know, you’re always cha uh, seeing challenges and, uh, always facing issues that sometimes are insurmountable. But at the end of the day, we are all judged based on the work that we do. And, uh, at the end of the day, uh, the best way to be judged is for doing the right thing and sometimes.

Um, it may not be the most beneficial thing or the most lu most lucrative thing, uh, but doing the right thing always at the end of the day will lead you to the right place.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much. I, I can talk with you for hours, but, but I know you have to go and it’s been a really, an incredible pleasure to have you with me today.

Thank you so much for joining me.

Assaad Sayah: Pleasure Naji, and good luck to you. Thank you very much.

Thank you all for listening to Spreadlove in Organizations podcast! More episodes summarizing the MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Conference are available on spreadloveio.com or on your preferred streaming app. Follow “spreadlove in organizations” wherever you listen to podcasts and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement our World so desperately need.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this special episode in partnership with MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Conference, an event that brings the Healthcare Ecosystem Together. I am joined today Andrew Plump President of Research & Development and Board Member at Takeda. His career spans nearly 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry and academia. Andrew has been recognized for his contributions to the healthcare industry, education and the arts. He serves on several non-profit boards including the Board of Trustees for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation, the Biomedical Science Careers Program and as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the PhRMA Foundation. Prior to Takeda, Andrew served as head of Research & Translational Medicine, deputy to the president of R&D at Sanofi, based in Paris, France. Prior to Sanofi, he served as worldwide cardiovascular research head at Merck. Andrew received his M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), his Ph.D. in cardiovascular genetics and his B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in medical genetics at UCSF.

Andrew – I’m humbled to have you with me today!

Andy Plump: Hello Naji. And, and thank you. Uh, thank you so much for the privilege of joining you on this terrific podcast.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you. Before we dig in, challenges in scaling biotech innovation, the topic of your panel at, uh, S H P C, uh, I am eager to hear more about your personal story, really what brought you to medicine than pharma and now leading R n Z at Takeda.

Andy Plump: Well, it, it just so happens the timing for that question is impeccable because this past Sunday I gave a talk, something I’ve never done before. It was actually a mentorship talk to a group of. Emerging diverse, uh, scientists and clinicians and organization called the Biomedical Sciences Career Program or B S E P, I think you mentioned.

I sit on the board of this, this organization, and it’s an organization that’s existed for 30 years. Has about 10,000 members, incredible individuals. Many come from underprivileged or marginalized beginnings, so motivated to, to grow and to make the world a better place in, in life sciences. So I had a chance to give a talk and I was able to unpack some of my beginnings.

And so, so I thought through this and. This is audio so nobody can see the picture. But I had a slide that had a picture of me in my 1970s plaid bath, you know, bath ba bathrobe, um, with my mom at the age of four. And then a picture of me in, uh, uh, tuxedo actually as I was getting married in 1992 with my dad.

And, you know, and I think back, it’s, it’s a large measure to my parents and to my, my upbringing when I start to think about my journey. And there’s one piece of my childhood that was enabled so wonderfully by my mom and my dad that has really carried me through these many years, and that’s curiosity.

I’ve always been so interested and curious in what’s happening around me. And the two stories I told at the conference, which I’ll share with your, your audience, Naji are my mom at the time that I was four years old, maybe three, three and a half, with, in that bathrobe I was the third born. We ultimately had five of us in the family, but the twins were, you know, unexpected.

And so I was meant to be the youngest child of, and I had an older brother and sister who were five or six years older than me in school, and I would just, Follow my mom around everywhere and ask her question after question after question, and finally she looked at me one day and she said, Andrew, It’s time for you to go to school.

And the other question that you know resonated was I told, took my dad aside very earnestly one day and I said, dad, you know, if you could bring the person who had all the answers in the world and give me that person for a full weekend, I still wouldn’t be able to ask as many questions as I have. So curiosity has been what has propelled me.

Naji Gehchan: But thank you for, for sharing, uh, Enzi and I, I love how you’re bringing it, uh, with the fact of being curious. And, you know, I, I was thinking as you were saying this, how many times we actually as parents make this mistake of stopping our kids from asking so many questions. And I, I’m, I’m sure you, you throw.

By asking questions and learning. So now if we go into really the challenges in scaling biotech innovation and what you shared, uh, during the conference itself, I would love first your view on the most exciting current innovations in biotech. How do you define those? How do you look at those personally.

Andy Plump: Well, I, I, we’re in a golden era of healthcare, and if we get it right by the end of this century, we, we can have a, um, a therapy, maybe even a cure for every disease that’s, that’s known to Man. There’s no question we have all of the tools and foundationally there are, they’re the three pillars that allow us to be so bold and aspirational.

Our human genetics, we learn so much. But by dissecting the human genome in terms of target identification, in terms of somatic mu mutations that affect cancers, that’s one. The second is tried and true mechanistic biology that typically occurs in academic laboratories. So thinking through what it takes to generate a hypothesis and test that hypothesis in unraveling biology.

Our ability to do that at scale. And it’s not systems biology. Typically it’s an individual student or a postdoc, really thinking through the details of a, of a problem. That’s the, that’s the academic medical system that exists today. And then thirdly, this explosion of modalities that has come about over in principle in, in particular, over the last decade.

When I started in this industry, we had 90 plus percent of the molecules in pipelines were synthetic small molecules, natural products, or vaccines. Now if you look at the aggregate pipeline across our industry, those three form the minority. We have recombinant proteins, we have genetic therapies of multiple flavors, and we have cell therapies.

And so our ability to put these three together allows us to have the courage and boldness to think that we can tackle any disease. And in fact, the last 10 to 15 years has, has told us that, that with this toolbox we can, we have the potential to do anything that. That we can now, there are forces that work against us.

You know, one, one are intrinsic forces to our industry and it’s greed and avaris and, and behaviors that damage our reputation because we’re a highly regulated. Industry, what, you know, what we do really matters. Not just, it’s not just a business. There, there it, there’s a right to healthcare. And when we are, when we’re egregious in our pricing, when we, um, fail to abide by the compliance and quality codes that countries ask us to abide by, we’re damaging ourselves.

That’s our own intrinsic potential roadblock. But extrinsically, there are many roadblocks and we’re seeing this with. Regulatory agencies, which, which move up and down in terms of their conservatism. And we’re moving today towards a much more conservative regulatory landscape, particularly in the us. Um, there’s reimbursement policies, you know, especially in, in Europe, it’s, it’s very hard to demonstrate in diseases where you have existing therapy, um, that you have a better therapy that, that deserves reimbursement.

Because, because it’s impossible to show oftentimes in head-to-head studies. Um, that you are better and, and that’s what’s being asked of us. And so, so there’s, there’s, there’s this, um, the, the, this tunnel vision, I think that’s happening. We saw this with Ira, was having conversations recently, the inflation reduction act.

There are elements of IRA that make a lot of sense. We need to reduce costs in the US for patients, but there are a lot of elements in the I I R A that will squash innovation. So huge potential, but also, uh, huge, huge headwinds. So let’s

Naji Gehchan: double click, and I love how you framed it and so agree with you on the interest intrinsic, uh, roadblock that that we bring and those external ones.

And when we think about those innovation biotech, we’re frequently think about those nascent biotechs, those startups who are trying. To nail down one of like the most challenging targets, the most challenging technology science. Whe when you think of those, wh wh where do you see the biggest challenge for starting a biotech?

Like if, I want to think from those startups, what are the main challenges for them in 2023 after probably a boom in the last decade? How do you see those these days?

Andy Plump: Well, it, it’s, it’s a terrible time right now for, for the biotech, uh, ecosystem. And the, the, the challenge is getting funded right now.

There’s, there’s, there’s still a tremendous amount of venture capital available, but there’s a, there’s a, uh, fear a bit in, in the market, and so there’s been much less investment in new ideas. Now than there have been in the past. I, you know, we’ve seen cycles like this before, so I’m, I’m convinced that we’ll cycle out of this and that we’ll end up in a better place.

I don’t know if that’s gonna take a year, three years, or five years, but we’re in a particularly depressed market. So funding for biotech is, is taking a, a really big hit. But I think there’s a more fundamental concern, which gets back to my comments earlier around some of the extrinsic headwinds that we’re facing.

It’s just, You know, when you’re, when you’re dealing with more conservative regulatory agencies, more challenging reimbursement, um, environments, when you have the country, the country in the us which is responsible for 50% of reimbursement on our industry starting to really limit, um, access and, and price, um, that’s a problem for biotech because it all.

You know, it all cascades downward. And the starting point for most innovation is biotech. You know, two-thirds of what any pharma company will ultimately bring to a patient in the marketplace starts in laboratories outside of our own. It starts in biotechnology laboratories and academic laboratories.

And so if we’re not funding that and supporting that early innovation, it’s going to greatly damage, uh, access for patients.

Naji Gehchan: So I’d love to double click on the access piece because as you said, breakthrough innovations, uh, and really in a global environment that is becoming more and more challenging to bring those innovations, not only from an r and d standpoint, but once they are in the market to patients across the globe.

How, how do you think about this in a global aspect, again, of those breakthrough innovations for. All patients who need that.

Andy Plump: Yeah. And maybe I’m not using the word correctly. Cause when I’m, I’m talking about for biotechs, it’s not about access, it’s about actually being able to make a medicine, having it approved and having it reimbursed at some level.

And that doesn’t, that’s not, you’re right. That’s not the same as access. And in fact, when I think of access, I think about it in the context that you’re articulating, which is access to the seven plus billion people across the globe. But even within the United States, you know where you have 300 plus million individuals and you have marginalized and underprivileged groups who have poor access to many of these medicines, and we saw that in during the Covid Pandemic.

When you looked at the groups that were most affected by this lethal virus, it ended up that many of the more marginalized, socioeconomically depressed groups were much more affected. So we have an issue here in the United States that we have to get on top of. Of course the issue on the global scale is, is much larger.

You know, many companies have, global pharmaceutical companies will have marketing presences in 30 or 50 or 75 countries across the world. And so more than 50% of countries are not actually represented by commercial organizations. And that’s a real problem. It means we’re not developing, studying our medicines in those other countries, and we’re not bringing our medicines to those countries in in a systematic way.

Um, I think, I think we’re, we’re up and down in, in access, you know, one area where we’re, we’re, we’re driving immense accesses in China. You know, where you have, you know, one point, what is it, 1.4 billion people, which means 1.4 billion potential patients. And you know, What, what the Chinese, the C D E, the C F D A, the regulatory equivalents in China have done over the last eight or nine years.

China has made it a mandate that we, China wants innovative medicines available for its population. And so they’ve overnight, it feels like they’ve changed the regulatory policies to enable development in China, and they, they’re stimulating innovation. So an example, the c d E, the one of the, the F D A equivalent essentially had listed a couple of years ago what they consider the top 50 most innovative medicines.

And they said, we know we, we want you to be developing your medicines in Chinese patients, so we understand how those medicines perform in pat in patients in China, but for those 50, let’s just register them and then you commit to a phase four study to study them after they’re registered because they’re just too important not to be available to patients.

So that’s a great example of a business model for companies. Company stepping in and, and a government really opening up the for, for those individuals. But we have a long way to go. I agree. We have a long, long way to go to, to achieve access at the scale that each of us would, would truly want. Now thanks

Naji Gehchan: for this example.

It really shows this collaboration of stakeholders at the end. And if we really can work as partners, uh, the, you know, co every time I think of this, I think of Covid and how we developed and brought innovation with speed, like vaccines, treatments, et cetera. Cuz we were all together. Uh, As key stakeholders of the healthcare for the patients we serve, keeping the patient at the heart.

You talked about funding. I would love to hear your view about not only funding for biotech, which is a ch obviously one of the biggest challenges, but what is the role of leadership in building up and scaling biotechs?

Andy Plump: Leadership in, in what context? Within the companies themselves? Yes. Yeah, in the ecosystem.

Oh, well, I mean, everything is about leadership. You know, I, and, and I can take, I I’m asking for you to qualify the question because I can take it in so many different directions. You know, I think it starts with policy and how we, as we’re talking about and how, how, how, let’s just focus on the United States, how we create policy, regulatory policy, reimbursement.

Policy pricing policy, that’s leadership, and there’s a trickle down effect if we’re too shortsighted about some of the decisions we’re making. I mentioned the inflation reduction Act, where there are many provisions that are absurd and will destroy innovation. I’ll give you one example, by the way, which is that there are provisions in ira, which allowed.

The cms, which is the kind of federal agency that manages pricing for Medicare and Medicaid products. There are provisions that allow CMS to step in and to negotiate price with a sponsor. That’s okay and and there as long as that’s managed correctly. But that timeline for when C M S can step in and negotiate is different if you’re a recombinant protein or a small molecule.

If you’re a recombinant protein, they can step in at 13 years, and if you’re a small molecule, they can step in at nine years. Why? It makes absolutely no sense. In fact, it should be the opposite because it’s much harder to make a generic version of a recombinant protein than of a small molecule. But the reality is both can be transformative in terms of their potential for patients.

That’s an absence of leadership. That’s, there’s, there’s something behind that. I’ve actually spoken with many former, former officials in the, in the government, several ex FDA chiefs, to try to understand where that’s coming from. And the only answer I can get is there’s, it’s politicized in some way, in ways that I can’t even begin to, to understand that’s poor leadership.

So leadership is important at, at all levels. There’s, there’s also, there’s also something about our business, which I find quite interesting, which is that, Our business is somewhat stochastic, right? You can be, um, you can have poorly run organizations and toxic organizations that can do quite well for a short period of time, and maybe in your career you’ve been in bad situations that you were just not happy as an employee for where a company has done well.

It’s actually very hard in most sectors to sustain yourself for any period of time when you have a toxic culture. In our industry. You’ve had many companies that have been able to do that. Now, of course it’s, it has a runway. If you have a toxic culture, bad leadership, you will. You will Peter out. But in our industry, because our life cycles are 10 to 15 years, if you have a Keytruda and you’re America, not suggesting that Merck is a toxic culture, but that can propel you for, you know, 10 to 15 years and give you an immense amount of funding for that period of time.

And so you do have organizations where you have bad leadership, where you, you see stochastic breakthroughs. Oftentimes they’re not because of brilliance or because of luck, and that happens in our business, and you can sustain those environments, but I’m not advocating for that. But really, if you wanna be successful in the comp, in the environments that we work within, where the, the competition for talent is so intense, especially in your area, Naji in oncology where everybody is in oncology and there’s such a talent, a dearth.

If you’re not leading, if you’re not creating cultures that are positive cultures, you’re gonna, you’re gonna lose there. There’s a great line that now I think every biotech c e o uses, which is, excuse my language, but the no asshole culture right now. But, and actually that was something that 10 years ago, I don’t think anybody was really that concerned about.

Cause everybody was so caught up in that stochastic luck process. But now everybody tries to create a culture that’s strong and, and leadership is the foundation of all of that.

Naji Gehchan: This is a great segue to the next section where I would give you one word and I would love your reaction to it.

Andy Plump: So the first word is leadership necessary.

So I, did you want a one word reaction or did you want a Uh, you can give more. Well, I mean, I’m just shaking my head because it’s very interesting. I’ll take an aside here. Cause you’re, you’re, you’re, you know, you’re, you’re kind of, um, rattling you, you’re sha you’re shaking me, and then you’re, you’re hitting a chord.

So, so one, one of the things that struck me in r and d in our industry is that oftentimes the leadership within r and d organizations, Is more variable than what you see in in other parts of, of our organizations. You know, for example, to be a commercial leader, you obviously need to be smart, you need to be accomplished, but you know, you, you’re often selected more on your leadership.

Whereas in r and d organizations, especially in in highly technical areas, you know, where the pool size of individuals gets to be quite small. Where accomplishments and intellect and technical expertise tend to be valued more greatly, let’s say, than leadership. You’re often seeing organizations promote individuals based on their technical merit merits in intellect accomplishments rather than their leadership.

And so many r and d organizations are mismanaged with, with poor leaders. And, and actually it kind of makes some sense because you’re. You’re, you’re we’re dealing with people who have trained as physicians, who’ve trained as scientists and as engineers and have never really thought about leadership. So I think it’s abs it’s an absolute necessity.

And one of the things I’ve done, you know, I we’ll see if this will work out at Takeda cuz, cuz our we’re judged over a long period of time, is I’ve first and foremost emphasized character and leadership. Technical excellence expertise is a necessity, but you can’t be on my team unless you have strong leadership chops, uh, and strong character.

The next word is health equity a problem. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s a challenge and actually, um, we come out of covid. And there’s the, you know, the, some of the silver linings that come out of the pandemic are a recognition of the inequities that exist in society and what, what make, what’s quizzical about my saying that is, why should that be something that we’re, we figure out in 2022 and 2023, this has existed for decades and centuries.

Um, you know, hopefully these realizations will stick and something that I’ve really. Um, become more and more aware of and more cognizant of my, my privileges as a white male and my responsibilities in terms of being an ally and stepping up. Um, we have a long way to go and, you know, fundamentally it starts within r and d, certainly within our institutions, ensuring that we’re creating cultures that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

And all three of them, not just diversifying our, our population, but ensuring that we’re listening and being truly inclusive. That’s really requires learning, education and growth. Um, but then as we start to think about the patients that we’re aiming to serve, you know, if we’re not studying the effects of our experimental therapies in diverse patient populations, we’re doing.

An injustice to, uh, to those patients and, and not contributing to health equity. And so it starts early on in the process. And when you look at, um, when you look at industry across the industry and you look at clinical trials, they’re still nowhere near where they need to be. I think we’re on the right track.

You have guidances coming out of, you know, f FDA for example, and other organizations. So I think we’re all moving in the right direction, but it’s something we all have to own. And I still don’t see that ownership as. Uniform is, is what it needs to be. Even within my organization where we have, you know, there’s a huge foundation and focus on health equity and clinical trial diversity, I sometimes listen in meetings and, you know, it’s not oftentimes the first thing that are, it’s brought up when we’re talking about our program.

I think if we’re really equitable, we’re really thinking about health, equity and access. It’ll be the first or second thing that comes up in almost every conversation, and I just don’t, don’t see that we’re not quite there yet. I love

Naji Gehchan: it. I can’t agree more with you on diversity. Not only it starts internally, as you said, this is parts we can influence immediately, but definitely clinical trial diversity is a big, is a big topic we need to be

Andy Plump: focused on as leaders.

No, on this point I was, I mentioned this talk I gave on Sunday, which is a very, Powerful talk for me. It took a lot of time, a lot of preparation, and I thought a lot about it. It was not an easy talk to give, but my second slide after my title was two people sitting on a couch and in between the two people was a big elephant.

And I said, here the elephant in the room is here I am a 50 something white male. Talking to a group of 500 diverse, aspiring, um, healthcare and life scientists. You know, but, but the elephant, so what can I tell you? How can my experience help help you? And so my, my, my theme was that there are, there’s a perspective that I have that that can be helpful to anybody.

And there’s also a recognition that I have that we all, we all have our identities and our identities will shape. Our, our lives and our career, and for some of us, we’re able to be more opportunistic because of the color of our skin and our gender perhaps. And for others, we just need to be more purposeful.

But it’s not, it’s not incumbent. On just the diverse, marginalized individual. It’s incumbent on all of us to step up and to ensure that we’re helping create more, more equity in the world. And that’s where I think my, you know, my responsibility is as someone who’s actually experienced so much and through a life of white privilege.

The third

Naji Gehchan: one is, uh, symphony Orchestra.

Andy Plump: It’s, I mean, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. So even more specific. Yes. Are you, are you musical naji? Are you musical yourself?

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Yeah. Guitar and piano.

Andy Plump: Well, so, okay, here’s the story. I went to school, uh, pointing this way cuz Mass is right behind me. And m i t is right after the road. I went to school at m mi t as an undergraduate, and I’m not particularly musical, but when I came to Boston, it was a town.

I mean, it’s, it’s changed so much. It was a town with m i t and Harvard and then Townies, you know, and it had a very unique kind of small town culture, but there was one institution. That was that, put it on a world scale and that was the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And so I, I loved the institution. Um, six or seven years ago, uh, I, we, we actually at Decat became sponsors of BSL because we were trying to, we were trying to imprint ourselves in, in Boston and nobody knew who we weren’t, right.

And it was trying to hire and build an r d organization here. And I would talk to people and they would say, Taketa the airbag company, like, no, no, Takeda. So we needed to, to, to, to market ourselves a little bit. And so we had two opportunities. The Red Sox, the Boston Red Sox, or the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

I’m a New Yorker. I could never, I could never promote. And I’m a big fan of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And so we became involved and then I got involved in some fundraising and some development efforts, and I realized how how distanced the life science community in Boston was from this iconic institution.

So you had to me, now today in Boston, there are two defining elements. There’s BSO and there’s the life science community. And so it felt like a match made in heaven and I was able to help to catalyze, um, that that match and. A couple years ago, they asked if I would be willing to step up and serve on the board of trustees, trustees, which of course, I, I, I’m more than willing, and it’s been an amazing experience.


Naji Gehchan: the last one is spread love at organizations.

Andy Plump: Well, I’m looking at you and I’m, I’m, you know, I didn’t, I have to be very honest. It’s one of my Achilles heels. I didn’t know about your podcast or your, your group until I was a, until I, I met your colleague. What was her name? Z. Z Zena. Zk. Zano, yeah. Z.

After my, after the panel at m i t, she came up to me and, uh, we talked for a few minutes and she asked if I would do this, and she told me a little bit about it. And, um, you know, I was more than, more than pleased to step in and, and I love what you’re, what you’re doing and reaching in and helping the, our community grow.

And asking the kinds of questions and that many people don’t ask. I never get asked about the Boston sy new orchestra. I get asked about leadership, but it’s not the most common thing I get asked about. And so the way you’re approaching this and the way you’re opening up our community to, to unique perspectives, perhaps from standard people like, like me, I think it’s really terrific.

So thank you for doing this and congratulations.

Naji Gehchan: Oh, thank you, Angie. That means, that means a lot. Any final words of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the world?

Andy Plump: Well, I’m an internal optimist, you know, and I, I, I have to be in our business, as you know, Naji, cuz a lot of what we do doesn’t work. And so you need to really be optimistic, um, and.

You know, as I said earlier, I think we’re in the golden era of, of healthcare and I, I, i, I, I don’t know if our, if these decades will be remembered for life science or for computer science, cuz both are making huge headways. Um, but okay, but I’ll, I’ll tell you a bit of an, an analogy. So in, in, in history, there are dark periods of time that are often characterized by war, by pandemic and by social injustice and unrest, and we’re just coming out of one with covid.

If you look back in history, there are many very similar examples that are characterized by that same triad of, of darkness, always. These dark periods are bookended by greatness, and typically that greatness is scientific or technological. You go back to the 19 early 19 hundreds with Albert Einstein, for example, world War I, and then some of the work that came after World War I was Sir Arthur Edington.

Um, you go back to the 1960s with the difficult period. Bookmark by greatness in our in space exploration. And if you come to today, we’ve established a left bar benchmark in my mind of this dark period, and it was the work that came out of Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuel Chappen with crispr. What we can do in terms of genetic manipulation is just amazing, and the potential for disease is just incredible.

I don’t know what the right bookmark of this dark period will be, but the people who are listening to your podcast will be defining it, and I have to imagine it’s gonna relate back somehow to our ability to manipulate our genome and create good.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much, Andy. It’s such a great way to finish up with an opening on hope for after all the darkness, as you said with the triad we’ve been going through.

Thank you so much again for being with me today. It’s been a privilege. Thank you.

Andy Plump: Thank you very much. Naji.

Thank you all for listening to Spreadlove in Organizations podcast! More episodes summarizing the MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovations Conference are available on spreadloveio.com or on your preferred streaming app. Follow “spreadlove in organizations” wherever you listen to podcasts and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement our World so desperately needs.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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, joined today by Mike Ullmann. Mike retired from Johnson & Johnson earlier this year after over 33 years with the Company.  For the last 11 years, he served as a member of the J&J Executive Committee and the Executive Vice President, General Counsel leading a global organization of over 2,000 employees in 60 countries encompassing Legal, Government Relations & Policy, ESG Strategy, Intellectual Property, Corporate Governance, Data Privacy, Compliance and Security.  As General Counsel of the world’s largest Life Sciences company, he successfully guided JNJ through high-profile and high-risk situations, while helping to grow the business to annual sales of $94 billion, increase shareholder value and maintain its reputation as one of the most admired companies in the world. 

Mike – It’s a pleasure to see you again and have you with me today!

Michael Ullmann: Oh, thank you, Naji. It’s a pleasure to be here, and thank you very much for inviting me.

Naji Gehchan: Can we first start with your personal story, the in between, the lines of your journey to the exec committee of j and j and the inspiring leader you are today?

Michael Ullmann: Well, look, you know, I, I like to say Naji, that, that first and foremost, um, I’m a husband, a father, a son, uh, a grandfather, uh, a friend. Because I do think it really starts, um, with who you are as a person. And I think that, um, leadership really devolves I think from that, that individual level. And I think one of the things that we’ll talk about today is that balance between the individual and who you are as a leader and leading a large organization.

Uh, because to me, Um, in particular leading an organization of several thousand people, um, you always have to make sure that, that people see you as a person, as an individual, and that you’re not just a figurehead or you’re someone up on top of an organizational chart. And so I would always, um, in any of my conversations in, in any time I talk with people, Uh, would let people know what was going on in my life, and not, not to the extent of just talking about myself excessively, but just acknowledging, Hey, this is, uh, this weekend, uh, we had a, a birthday party for my grandson, and then I, I played golf.

And so, you know it just a little bit about who you are as a person. And so that’s what I like to talk about. Um, when I start off. And then look, I think that, uh, my story as a leader, uh, probably like many leadership stories is not a straight line, or certainly not like a straight upward line. Uh, you know, there are some twists and turns along the way and, you know, I, and I think, uh, happy to, you know, talk about that, uh, just to kind of trace my journey.

Yes, I’m,

Naji Gehchan: I’m

Michael Ullmann: eager to hear more about that. Yeah, well, look, you know, I think, um, to some extent I think my, my leadership journey was somewhat unexpected. And, you know, I, um, in fact, uh, when I was in my twenties and early thirties, um, I don’t think, uh, in fact I know for a fact that people that knew me, uh, did not expect for me to end up where I did.

Um, I, I wouldn’t say that I was a slow starter, uh, but I certainly was not like a shooting star and a wonder kid that everyone thought from, uh, day one in the workplace that I was going to be super successful. Um, and I think what I’ve learned was that, um, you know, for every person, there’s a, there’s a right environment, there’s a right role.

There’s a right company or organization. And so I didn’t really change as a person, but I changed jobs, I changed roles, and then eventually, um, I think I found the right environment and the right role where I could flourish and achieve my potential. And, and so, you know, part of why I like to focus on this is that.

Um, I’d like to tell people, look, if you don’t feel like you are achieving your potential in your environment, yeah, it may not be you, and it may not be the environment or the company, right. It may be that this is not the right match. And don’t, don’t be afraid to, to make a change. Don’t be afraid to do something different until you find the right, the right company, the right match.

Um, because you’ll hear people say, oh, well, like, that’s a really good company, or That’s a bad company. And I think it really depends upon, you know, what’s the right fit. Now for me, the right fit was eventually when I got to Johnson Johnson and being able to fill a multitude of roles. But then secondly, I think the second part of my, uh, leadership journey.

Was that I was not particularly ambitious. And you know, that’s probably not what you hear from many of the leaders, you know, that, that, that you talk to. But I was very happy with my life. Um, you know, my wife and I had been married a few years. Uh, we had three kids. Um, I lived close to where I worked. I was, you know, focused on trying to be a good father.

And, uh, and I loved my job, so I was certainly working, but my feeling was, Hey, I wanna do a good job. I’m in healthcare. And we can, we can certainly talk more about being in healthcare later on. Um, but it was, look, let me, uh, let me find that right balance, uh, you know, work life, home life. Um, but I think because I was not overly ambitious, What I focused on at work was helping other people succeed.

It was, you know, how do I help, uh, the people I’m working for succeed? How do I help my, my colleagues succeed? Uh, you know, at the time I wasn’t managing people, so it wasn’t helping people, uh, you know, that I was managing. But I was really, look, let me, uh, do what I can to make the company successful, to make my colleagues successful.

Um, ultimately that was recognized and appreciated and that began my journey as a leader, I think, in part because I was perceived as someone that was, um, you know, looking for the success of the organization, not for my own success. And then I think ultimately that kind of transitioned into the type of servant leadership.

That, you know, I have always been a proponent of and as I’ve moved up in the organization, tried to follow.

Naji Gehchan: I love that. And thanks for sharing first and really, you touched on incredible co uh, concepts. I would like to go and dig a little bit deeper. I loved what you said about the fit and this is why I was smiling, cuz even, you know, we’ve seen people who were, who are unhappy or performance is not there, and that’s one of my beliefs.

It’s probably the casting. And as leaders, we have responsibility for our people to, to share with them this, because every time we talk about servant leadership, people mismatch performance. Like how do you deal with performance? Actually, if you really care about your people and they’re not performing, you’re gonna tell the person.

Help them out find a better fit if it’s really a job fit as you shared. I, I, I love this part too. Um, I, I’m sure it’s hard to kind of summarize 33 years of, uh, of your experience at, uh, at j and j with one leadership learning, but I would love to kind of go there if there is one. What, what is the biggest.

Leadership learning during these years, that is also what you would like to transmit for, uh, for leaders moving forward?

Michael Ullmann: Yeah, look, um, there are obviously many, uh, learnings I could share, but it, but if I had to pick one, I think it would be, um, a sense of humility, right? Meaning that, um, I, I never felt that I had to have all the answers.

In particular because I, I was fortunate enough to lead a, uh, very large, you know, organization in many different areas, but I always felt that my job was not to be a, a superstar. My job was to, you know, be kind of, uh, the person that would motivate, empower other people. And I think if you surround yourself with good, smart, hardworking people, And you, you trust them and you give them the, the latitude that they need.

That that’s really the, to some extent, the secret sauce of leadership, at least in a large organization. And you know, to some extent, well, what I’m about to say is not very humble. And so when I talk about humility that may, it may not quite sound that, uh, I have humility, but I do think that. That, um, that level of humility that I had, which is, look, if the, if it’s the people around me who are shining, like I don’t need to shine as the leader, uh, because they, if my organization does well and we are accomplishing even more than what’s expected of us, then that will reflect well on me as a leader.

And I, I think that, um, That sometimes is counterintuitive to people who feel that if I’m a leader, I, I need to make sure that the most senior management, you know, sees me as the critical part, the critical hub in the wheel, that I’m the one that’s really making everything work. And I was always very comfortable just kind of, again, I have, I’m not a wallflower.

But I was very comfortable making sure that the people around me had that opportunity to make decisions to, to show what they knew. And then frankly, if you do that, you attract better talent. So it becomes somewhat self-serving because you know, good people want to work somewhere where they’re gonna get recognition and they’re gonna be respected.

And they’re going to get that type of exposure that they want.

Naji Gehchan: So Mike, I’m obviously a big believer of what you’re saying and and truly thank you for highlighting those important pieces. You know, I can, but think about some of the leadership today and some of like those who are in big lights. With quite the opposite actually of what you’re describing.

Like those who want to be in the light and reading dark organizations. And I, you know, I don’t want to go into politics also, but it’s those type of leaders obviously that you’re reading a lot about. Uh, and, and sometimes we’re discussing about kids before I’m, sometimes I reflect on this and why are those leaders having most of the lives?

While we both know the, the negative effect of this type of egocentricity, I, I’d love to get your reaction, how you think about these pieces and if, if you’ve ever been challenged about the way you lead people. You talked a lot about humility, shining through others, putting the others in the front, helping others be successful.

Have you ever been challenged on, on your style of leadership being too nice too kind? Several people I talked to, they would tell me. You know, I’m considered too kind. I’m too nice. What, what, what would be your reaction to this?

Michael Ullmann: Well, you know, naji, um, kindness is one of my favorite words. And, and I think it is underused in our society.

And, and interestingly enough, um, you know, I, I would use the word kindness to describe my leadership style. Now, I think that kindness though sometimes is, um, Is misinterpreted, right? Kindness doesn’t mean that, you know, every employee gets an A plus, right? Kindness doesn’t mean that, um, everyone is wonderful and does great at their job.

To me, what kindness means is treating people with respect and trusting people. Um, but you know, there are times where. Um, you do as a leader have to make tough decisions. Uh, and even there, you can do that with kindness. Uh, you can do this in a respectful manner. Um, so did I ever get challenged in my leadership style?

Yes, I did. Um, you know, and usually it would be that, uh, there was someone that maybe wasn’t performing. It didn’t happen a lot, but. Someone wasn’t performing well and I’d get push, uh, pressure, like move that person out or take action. And my feeling would be, look, let’s, um, let’s give this person a chance.

Let’s, let’s make sure there’s appropriate feedback that someone has the opportunity to kind of correct. Um, and sometimes that works, sometimes it didn’t. But it does get back to, I think something you said earlier, Naji, which is. What’s the right environment in the right role for people? And you know, it doesn’t mean if someone is not succeeding, it doesn’t mean that they’re a, they’re not smart.

It doesn’t mean that they’re a bad performer. What it may mean is that they’re not in the right role in the right organization. And I think, you know, I would say almost all the times I had to deal with that, um, the person realized that, and, and the person kind of welcomed that feedback. Because no one, no one likes to be unsuccessful in a role, right?

No one doesn’t wanna perform well, uh, but sometimes there’s inertia. And so I think if you treat people with kindness and you, you make that effort to help them succeed, even if at the end of the day they don’t, I think people kind of realize that, you know, things worked out for the best, and I think that’s important.

But I would say on the whole, you know, over 95% of the time, I think that people accepted my leadership style or my, the senior most leadership did, in part because my organization was successful. And I think that there was that realization that, look, you know, I, I, in fact, my, our c e O would say this sometimes, you know, Mike, you have your way of doing it.

It’s not the way other people do what their, their duties is manage, but you have good results. And so that’s okay. And look, frankly, I think it, it says a lot about a C E O and, and people at that level. Uh, and I try to do the same with my own organization, which is recognizing people have different leadership styles and, you know, as opposed to I’m the leader.

And you’re all going to manage in my way. I think another key part of leadership is recognizing and respecting different people, manage in different ways and lead in different ways. And as long as they’re creating the right culture, you know, as long as they’re treating people with respect and uh, and, and making ethical decisions and, and achieving results.

I think as a, as a senior leader, um, you, you do have to allow people to manage in style that’s right for them.


Naji Gehchan: Mike, uh, as you are, were working in j and j. You obviously took the company also during the last 11 years to a multi-billion, uh, successful company and serving so many, uh, patients and, and consumers in healthcare across the globe. Uh, you also went, uh, through developing a Covid vaccine and literally j and j single dose, uh, COVID vaccine.

Help humanity get out of, um, of the pandemic. So, uh, uh, can you share with us this particular journey you’re learning, leading those teams? In unprecedented times, delivering with speed, integrity, high quality. Also diversity. You worked a lot on how to make sure that you, you are representing the, the populations, um, when obviously all humanity.

What was watching you and you did it, you delivered. I’d love to, to hear the story behind the scenes and your

Michael Ullmann: learning. Sure. Um, well, look, I, I think there is a lot of pride there. Um, you know, the fact is while in the US the, the change hit Covid vaccine is really not being used. Uh, it still is in many of the developing parts of the world still being used, um, frequently in Africa, in other areas.

Uh, because it is one dose requires regular refrigeration. Uh, so there is a lot of pride in the fact that we continue to have an impact now to go back to really three years ago exactly to 2020, um, look, it was obviously a very difficult time for everyone personally as well as professionally. I, I think that to some extent the, um, one benefit that we had at Johnson and Johnson was we had a purpose.

And whether you were working on the vaccine, but really everyone in the organization, even if you were, you know, working on the Tylenol brand, you were working on other healthcare products because the need for oncology products and immunology products and surgery, it didn’t go away because we were in a pandemic, right?

The, uh, the healthcare needs of the world were still there. Um, and so I think that when people went home in March of 2020 to work, It really helped, um, our people because they actually felt that, um, rather than being bystanders to this pandemic, that we were working to make a difference. And, and I think that as a leader, that was very important.

And the message that certainly that, you know, I really took from there was when people feel they have a purpose in what they’re doing. They will work, um, very hard. They will work very passionately and they will really care about what they’re doing. So I think that then the next balance that I would say I, I found as a leader during the pandemic was, um, the importance of optimism, right?

That I would do meetings almost every day and I would do webcasts and zoom meetings. And I think people want their leaders to be hopeful to be optimistic. We’re going to get through this, you know, this is the worst, you know, health crisis of our lifetime. But, you know, with people like us working on this, you know, there is a, a way out.

Um, now you have to be realistic. It’s not like next week the pandemic will be over, but I think that element of optimism is very important in leadership. With that, however, I would say also came a, um, the importance of being openness, right? I would, uh, in, in all of my meetings and webcast, you know, I would talk about my own vulnerability, right?

Here’s, you know, I’m worried about, my mom is 90 years old, you know, uh, we worry about her. Um, you know, Thanksgiving, uh, first time I haven’t been with my children, you know, since they were born and, and things of that nature where, That balance. And I think, you know, Naji, that’s something as a leader that, um, you kind of have to work on developing.

But what is that right balance between being optimistic and being hopeful, but also sharing some of the, the challenges that you’re facing? And I, I think based on the feedback that I got, that that. That was effective. It was genuine. You know, there’s a lot of talk nowadays about authentic leadership. Um, I don’t know if I really was thinking that way, but I think that’s the way it came across.

And then I guess a fourth thing I would say about, um, leading during the pandemic was, um, the importance of being able to trust and delegate to people because it wasn’t like, you know, Pre pandemic where you might gather everybody in a room and, and make a decision that people, especially the people in my organization working on the vaccine, um, they had to make real time decisions.

And if you were working in Asia, like we didn’t wanna wait 12 hours every day for someone, you know, here in the US to make a decision. And so it was very much about, you know, Come to me. I mean, the, the, the message that I had was, you know, if you need more resources, if you need more money, you know, if you need more time or people let me know.

But other than that, you know, or if I can be of any help, you know, because you want my advice. But other than that, like you decide, you know, you’re qualified, you decide, you go ahead and make those decisions. And I think that following the pandemic, um, I, I, I won’t say that. Uh, I think we have made improvements in that.

I think we have continued that. Maybe not as much as we did during the pandemic, but I do think I see a bit more willingness to delegate and let people lower in the organization, make, make decisions. I love those

Naji Gehchan: and, and I hope we, as you said, we keep some of the, if we can say positives of the pandemic, but really in the leadership style, in the managerial Yeah.

Way of how things were handled and the, the pace, right. Uh, that we developed innovation for patients. Um, You, you mentioned it, and this is why I always like to take this pandemic, cuz as you said, I think it really brings this idea of we’re all here for one purpose and overworking. And I remember you shared an anecdote about relaxing afternoon where Yeah.

Where you were sent back to work. Like even from family standpoint. Uh, if you wanna share this for sure. Um, But the, I I’m, I’m interested also to hear, you know, without the pandemic, so after it and before it, how did you make sure that your people constantly think of this purpose and have patience in mind when taking the decisions?

This is where sometimes I feel it’s hard, right? Like each of us running through operations, leading organizations, Our, our team sometimes can be in the small details that we forget this big picture of patients. So I’d love to hear from you how you managed to keep this after the rush of adrenaline in a pandemic or even before

Michael Ullmann: that.

Yeah. You know, Naji, I would, I would say that that to me, um, was always, I think one of the biggest challenges of my role. And in particular because, you know, I, I’m not a scientist. I’m not doing, uh, research and the people in my organization, you know, were not developing vaccine. You know, they were not actually working in the labs, developing the vaccines, creating new cancer drugs.

Uh, there are people in functional roles working at a death and so, You know, how do you inspire people and how do you make sure that people understand that they have a purpose? And so I think what helped is even before the pandemic, way before the pandemic, um, that was something that I always worked at.

And frequently it would be when we would do, um, webcast, uh, getting patients, people who had benefited from our products, getting doctors, people who use our products, but. Making sure that the people who were sitting in the company headquarters of the desk had line of sight to what, you know, what is actually happening in the real world, and what do people look like?

What do patients look like? What did doctors look like? Hear them talking about our products. That was always very important. And then frankly, it really was, I think. What I always tried to do when I talked to different groups, and let’s suppose I was talking to a, a group of, you know, paralegals, which is just making them understand is that, you know, any pharmaceutical company, you know, it, it’s like being on a sports team, right?

Not every position is a glory position, but you need people in every role. And so, uh, a pharmaceutical company, Needs, uh, a, uh, an intellectual property group and they need, uh, patent lawyers and they need patent paralegals. And, you know, while it may not look like your job is a glory job or that you’re actually impacting patients, the, the people that are developing the next line of cancer drugs, they could not do that without you at your desk doing your job.

And so, That was always part of my talk track. Uh, and I think very important because again, when people realize that their role is critical, they will, they will go through walls. They will work as hard as they can. And that to me is a leader, is really what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to inspire people to be their best.


Naji Gehchan: Mike, now I’ll give you a word and I want the first thing that comes to your mind.

Michael Ullmann: Okay, so the first word is leadership. Uh, responsibility. Uh, do you want me to expand or just give you one word? No, you can expand. Yeah. I mean, responsibility, leadership is, um, whenever I would talk to, you know, people earlier in their career, like, what are your aspirations?

It’s like, well, I want to be a leader. I wanna manage people. And it’s like, well, why? You know, and it’s, uh, you know, I think that to me, um, the, the larger your organization is, the bigger leadership role, the greater responsibility that you have is, and so to me, the one word that leadership is, is it’s about responsibility to other people.

What about E S G? E s G is a critical, okay. One word, uh, future. Um, and I would say that, um, you know, we had spent quite a bit of time over the last four or five years on E S G, but the reality is social responsibility has been, um, part of the ethos of Johnson Johnson going back over a hundred years. Yeah.

We have, uh, like pictures. Of j and j products being delivered, uh, in the San Francisco earthquake of, I think it was 1908, uh, but part of the culture and the, the history of the company is being at disasters, being in times of crisis and, and being in healthcare, being able to play a role. So yeah, where we are today in E S G is somewhat of a, it’s a progression.

But I think that to me it is you’re constantly working on and improving not only your company, but the world around us for the future and for future generations.

Health equity. Health equity is, I think, uh, boy, one of the critical, critical unmet needs. Right now in our society and, and health equity, certainly just in this country where, you know, we have embarrassingly high infant and maternal mortality rates. I mean, among the, uh, the highest rates in the Western world, uh, where we have, you know, people that don’t get appropriate, healthcare is frankly inexcusable.

And I think even on a global level. Where, you know, the, the unmet healthcare needs around the world and the variations and life expectancies in a world like Earth is, uh, is very hard to justify. And so, look, I know from my perspective, um, you know, you, you can talk about large issues like this and it’s almost like boiling the oath, right?

Which is. Health equity, how, how are we going to self health equity? Um, what I tried to do in my organization was to, uh, you know, come up with projects, right? Like four or five projects. They’re not gonna solve health equity in the world or in the United States, but, you know, can we help? One project we did was in public housing and asthma, and that, the, that the fact, a large number of children, Living in public housing have asthma because of poor environmental conditions.

So we had a group of people in our organization work on public housing in Washington DC. So again, it’s, um, I think as a leader, when you talk about big issues like this, um, it, it’s helpful to say, okay, what can we do on a bit of a micro level? And again, you’d love to be able to solve the issues of health equity around our country, around the world, but let’s, let’s try to at least have an impact

Naji Gehchan: that’s, that’s super powerful and really thinking about local impact that can happen and make it, and make it happen.

The last one is spread love in organizations.

Michael Ullmann: Well, I think that, uh, look, the way that you spread love and organization, it starts with kindness as we’ve talked about, right? It, it talks about as a leader, um, what’s the culture you’re creating? And that to me, um, as a leader, probably the most important role that you have. And in particular, you know, in a large organization.

Is, you know, you can’t impact. I mean, to some extent, as a member of our executive committee, I was leading an organization of 140,000 people, you know, 2000 directly, but, uh, company of 140,000. So you can’t touch, you can’t touch that many people individually. You can’t touch 2000 people individually. What you can do as a leader is create a culture, create a culture.

Where you can, um, really demand kindness. I was going, I wouldn’t say just encourage, but ensure there’s kindness. Uh, ensure there’s ethical leadership, that people are making value-driven decisions, treating people in an ethical way, uh, looking out for patients and consumers in a, uh, values-based manner.

And so I think that by creating that culture, That’s how you spread love in an organization.

Naji Gehchan: Any final words of, uh, wisdom Mike for healthcare leaders around

Michael Ullmann: the world? Yeah, look, I think that it being in healthcare is really a privilege because we do have the opportunity and the responsibility, um, to impact healthcare, um, and impact the lives of people and.

You know, I think that it is so gratifying on those occasions when, you know, I, I meet people, I talk to people and they will say, oh, uh, Johnson or Johnson Johnson, like, uh, yeah, my mom was on your cancer drug. Or, you know, my dad takes this product and, and it’s made a difference in his life. And I think you realize that that ability to actually.

Help people live happier, uh, longer and healthier lives. Uh, I can’t think of a better field to be in, a better industry to be in. Um, it’s why I gravitated to healthcare. It’s why I stayed there for almost 35 years. And in fact, now in a nonprofit way, I continue to remain involved, uh, working with the, uh, the global healthcare ngo Americas.

Um, where I’m on their board of directors, but so I continue to be in healthcare. I always will be in healthcare because again, it is, uh, a privilege and, uh, it just, it really makes you feel that, that you can’t spread love around the world and really help make a difference in people’s lives.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, uh, Mike, it’s definitely why we wake up every morning in this industry, uh, trying to make life better for patients.

Yeah. Thank you so much for being with me today. It’s such an honor and, uh, great chat. Thank you.

Michael Ullmann: Well, thank you Naji, and, uh, I really, I love what you’re doing. I love the whole concept around spread love because I think it really is such a critical message. And Naji, you’re doing a great job. So thank you for what you do.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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, joined today by Dorota McKay a creative problem solver with a passion for finance and personal development. Dorota is currently a Vice President Controller and Chief Accounting Officer for Vapotherm, Inc., a publicly traded medtech company that develops innovative, comfortable, non-invasive technologies for respiratory support of patients with chronic or acute breathing disorders. Dorota holds active CPA, CMA and CFE designations. Prior to joining Vapotherm she was a Controller for Decibel Therapeutics and a Finance Director at Oxford Immunotec. She is also corporate trainer and coach certified in Canfield Methodology and a Certified Culture Transformation Tools Practitioner with the Barrett Values Centre.

Dorota – It’s a pleasure to see you again and have you with me today!

Dorota McKay: Thanks, Naji. It’s great to be here.

Naji Gehchan: Let’s start first with, uh, your personal story. What brought you to accounting specifically in healthcare, and what’s the story behind the great leader you became today?

Dorota McKay: Yeah, so, so it wasn’t a straight path for me. Um, and I think an important part of my identity is, uh, being an immigrant.

I was born in communist Poland under martial law, and I, uh, lived in communist Poland until. At the age of seven, that’s when communist fell. And um, I still remember that moment actually. It was, um, extremely important for us. And I, I remember the, the shortages of those years. Um, and I remember our neighbors actually hiding in our apartment for, from the militia.

So, um, was definitely a, a very different reality from, uh, where I live today. Um, and my parents were both teachers, uh, when I was growing up in Poland. My dad w is a linguistics professor and my mom was a high school teacher. And so when I grew up, I decided to follow in their footsteps and also become a teacher myself.

And I studied English studies and I got, um, masters in American literature and American Studies. My masters was on virtual and real in, uh, American science fiction. So very different from what I do now. And, um, after graduating from, um, a university in, in Poland, I decided to, uh, pursue doctoral studies. So I became an academic teacher and, um, I was also an exchange student in the summer.

That’s how I ended up meeting my husband, um, in Maine of all places. And, um, after a couple years, we, we decided to get married and I, uh, moved to join him in the, in the United States. And, um, I continued to work on my doctoral thesis, uh, remotely. But in, in 2009 during the great recession, my husband lost his, uh, job and he worked for a nonprofit on the, on the coast of Maine that provided us with, um, our only source of income and our source of housing.

So when he lost the job, Uh, we basically ended up with nothing. Um, and, um, that was a pretty difficult time in my life. So I was, uh, new to the country. I didn’t have a, a community, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t have a job. I was working on a, on a doctoral thesis, uh, remotely. And, um, I remember having, having, um, a very difficult time just adjusting.

One day I ended up walking down the beach and, uh, just crying. I f I was feeling very miserable and, uh, and very, very down. And I, um, as I was walking down the beach, I tripped and I fell, um, head first or face first into the sand. And as I was, um, as I was, um, you know, on the ground, I saw this little piece of, um, uh, seaglass.

On the ground, and it was just beautiful and, and, and, um, very blue and, and this like, colorful thing in this very, very depressing reality. And it allowed me to just take a pause and think to myself that in every hard situation there was something positive. And I got up and I decided to really change things.

Um, so the, the transformation just took place in that very moment. And so I decided I was going to quit my doctoral studies do something different to better adjust to, to the reality and help my family become, uh, financially independent and, and successful. So what I end ended up doing is I, I quit the doctoral program and I went and got a job as a waitress at a local Olive Garden restaurant and I enrolled in a, a community college.

Um, and from there I did really well. Ended up going to, uh, state, uh, university. Uh, getting a degree in, in business ad administration, becoming a cpa. Uh, I got a job with a local, um, public accounting firm. And then from there I moved to, uh, the big four, uh, firm in Boston. And things just started happening for me.

And so while I was at, at, at, uh, Ernston Young, I worked with a, um, a large pharma company, and that’s kind of where I, uh, really, uh, started. Appreciating the, the pharma, biotech and medical industries and, and felt that I wanted to pursue a career, um, in those industries. Um, so after, after spending about four, uh, four and a half years in, in public accounting, I wanted to really, um, go and work for a business just to go really deep and, um, and help grow a business as opposed to just being a generalist.

And so, um, my first, my first job in medical device was, um, was actually, um, with Oxford Immuno Tech. And I stayed there for several years and, and grew my career there. Um, and it was a company that made, uh, tuberculosis tests, um, and really, um, very patient-centric, um, that, that, um, Allowed me to grow my career from, you know, a manager position to, uh, to a director.

Um, and what I would say is coming to the us, you know, starting in a, a completely different country and then basically start starting from nothing in the US and getting to where I am today, which is, uh, you know, a vice president of a publicly traded company. Um, For me, it’s proof that the American dream still exists and, and you can still be successful, um, if you really devote yourself to it and, and work hard.

And if you’re also fortunate enough to have the mentors and, and help that I had. And I think for me as a leader, it’s important to give back to others what I’ve received on this, uh, journey.

Naji Gehchan: Wow. Thank you so much, uh, Dota for sharing, uh, with us, uh, this, this journey. Uh, it’s powerful and inspiring, uh, for sure.

Uh, and you shared specific moments, uh, a as we call them, sometimes crucifix or other peak experiences. Uh, I’d love you to, to kind of share with us a little bit more, uh, on how you take these into leadership. You shared about, uh, the early moments in your life. When, uh, in, in Poland and then coming to the US and then the crisis in the US and several others, uh, I, I’d love to know how you took those, and you obviously reacted to them in a way that brought you, uh, where you are today and being this incredible leader.

Uh, can you share a little bit more this, those, those moments and what are the key leadership learnings that you’re taking with them, from them, with you?

Dorota McKay: Yeah, I think definitely, uh, starting, starting my career in the service industry in the US was, uh, was a really great experience. I think it learned me, it, it, I think it, I learned the respect for, for hard work and also the, the humility.

So I think the advice I would give to others is just be humble. Be open to opportunities. When things come your way, just say yes. And I think. My success has mostly been because I said yes to new assignments, new opportunities, um, and I, I definitely worked very hard, uh, throughout the years to, um, to advance within the various companies that I worked for.

But, um, I think just saying yes to new opportunities and often being uncomfortable was what got me to where I am today. So you’ve led

Naji Gehchan: teams and organizations in a very specific domain of the company. Uh, you’ve done auditing, uh, finance, financial controller, and accounting. These are usually functions, uh, that are challenging, uh, internally.

Uh, I, I don’t know. You might disagree with me, but I, I actually would love, uh, we’d love to hear from you how you approach those roles. Internally because they are crucial roles, but again, sometimes might be perceived as challenging or controlling, et cetera. I’d, I’d love to

Dorota McKay: get your thoughts about it.

Yeah, it’s definitely a challenging working in an administrative and support function in healthcare because you, you don’t really deal directly with patients all the time and you don’t necessarily deal with customers all the time, but you have internal customers and I think there’s also a sense of mission, um, especially for a company that might not yet be profitable.

Where you know that the, the financial results, the financial reporting that we deliver to our shareholders is basically what helps the company survives is we get additional funding to help us continue going for, for a couple more years until we show profitability. So I think, uh, my team has definitely had a sense of mission and, uh, working at Vapotherm specifically.

A company that makes devices that, um, you know, help address respiratory distress. It’s been an extremely interesting experience, um, and challenging during the pandemic because we, we literally had to do everything we could to make as many devices as we could and deliver them to customers because it was a life or death situation.

So I think in that way, it made it easier for my team to have that sense of mission and just work through, you know, long hours. Um, Constant deadlines. It’s something that we definitely deal with. And, um, I struggle sometimes with, uh, staffing as well because as you know, uh, usually in support functions there’s, there are budget concerns.

So I think it’s very important as a leader for you to fight for your team to make sure that you have adequate resourcing and that people are, you know, not working 70 hour weeks, uh, or 80 hour weeks. Um, cuz it’s just really, as much as we’re mission driven, it can have a negative impact on, on people’s wellbeing and, and health.

Um, and so I always, um, I always make it a. Make it a point to, um, to tell my team to, you know, recharge after periods, which are usually very busy for us, which is quarter ends, year ends, audits, things like that.

Naji Gehchan: Can I double click on, uh, the mission? As you shared, it’s important. Sometimes you feel you’re a little bit more, uh, like far from the patients and the impact you have, even though it’s a great example of what you’ve done and the impact.

You obviously help actual patients, uh, through the pandemic. How do you make sure that this stays alive daily with your teams these

Dorota McKay: days? Yeah, it’s, it’s, um, definitely been very different for us. After the, the pandemic ended, um, we we’re focusing now on a different subset of patients. Uh, so we’re focusing more on C O P D patients and our more traditional, um, kind of patient groups.

Um, for example, um, you know, patients who, um, Come down with the flu or RSV or, or similar respiratory conditions. Um, but I think what has been, what has united us together is after the pandemic ended, our company has been through several restructurings. So, you know, during the pandemic we worked extremely hard to make sure that the patients were served and, um, Our sales were really booming.

Then when the pandemic ended, the market has really been saturated with, uh, um, respiratory support equipment. And so we’ve seen a, a really pretty steep decline in our sales in, uh, 2022. And the company went through, um, you know, downsizing, uh, twice last year. And for my team, uh, it’s been especially challenging because we get to see all those changes, uh, firsthand.

And, um, I think just working together as a team and focusing on the, on the wellbeing of the company and helping the company as a company survive that, that difficult time has been what kept us together. Uh, cuz we. You know, have a lot of influence on, we’re watching budgets, we’re making sure that, uh, um, the financial resources are being used, uh, responsibly.

And, um, and we’re also responsible for, um, we’re helping with fundraising and we’re helping with reporting that, you know, uh, helps us, uh, continue as, as a business and as we’re retooling our business and making a lot of changes in it, we’re also expanding globally. We’re hoping that we can come out on the other side stronger.

So there’s, there’s still a lot of, there’s still a lot of patients who need our help and something that really drove it home for me is I visited one of our clinics, um, at one point that was serving C O P D patients. And I heard firsthand the patient who was doing the rounds around the clinic and how difficult it was for him to breathe.

No, I think. After hearing that, I feel like our mission is as much alive as it was during the pandemic. Not being able to breathe is one of the, the worst feelings in the world. And um, you know, as long as those patients are out there, we’re gonna be there to serve them. Oh,

Naji Gehchan: I, I love it. And really the centricity around patients right there is the urgency that the pandemic brought.

But at the end of the day, what we do, what you do, what what I do every day is really trying to improve life on patient at a time, at a time, make their life better. Uh, tell us, you touched it a little bit, your, your. Growing your team, you’re dealing with uncertainties, uh, with several different transformations.

Also business transformations growing, uh, you know, uh, funding, et cetera. Uh, and you have a passion for cultural transformation. Can you share with us a little bit more your learning as a practitioner, uh, and how to make sure that those transformations are

Dorota McKay: successful? Yeah. So, uh, so, uh, for me, uh, the culture transformation is really about understanding your teams and your own values and translating them into the ways that they, they map onto your organization’s values.

And so the first step you need to do is, you know, identify the values that you have, and there are various tools available for that. Uh, that I’ve worked through with, with my team. And then you also map the, the company’s values, which usually have the mission, the values that’s, that’s stated, and then compare it to what the company’s actually doing to see if it’s living those values.

And then if there, hopefully there’s an overlap bef between the two. And if people understand that overlap, it’s easier for them to bring themselves to work because. You know, their own values are aligned. So for example, if somebody’s value is, uh, family and wellbeing, you want to make sure that the organization is also providing them with time to, you know, devote to their family and wellbeing.

And if there’s no overlap, then you’re probably, your people are in the wrong organization, or the organization needs a lot of work. And usually what we do, um, as part, as part of the cultural transformation, it’s just showing whether there’s overlap and if there’s no overlap, what can we do to bridge that?

Naji Gehchan: I want now your first reaction that comes to mind when I tell you a word. So the first word is leadership.

Dorota McKay: Okay.

I think, uh, service is what I would say. Women

Naji Gehchan: in tech.


Um, can be more than a word.

Dorota McKay: Can be more than a word. Yeah. It, it brings, it brings to mind. A little bit of oppression, but then also examples of some really amazing, uh, tech leaders. So I think maybe, uh, future, maybe hope. And

Naji Gehchan: if I go down this one, is there a specific advice you would tell yourself when you started your career in MedTech that you would now take and give it to other, uh, brilliant

Dorota McKay: women?

Yes. I would say, um, I would say, um, don’t be afraid to take risks and, um, always ask. Ask for opportunities because as women especially, I think we tend to, uh, just expect that people will notice us. And, and you know, if we’re doing a really good job, somebody will come to us and say, here, how would you like to be promoted?

Or, how would you like to try this new opportunity? And I think we’re sometimes afraid to ask for things. And if you go to your leader, mentor and say, Hey, I’d like more exposure to new opportunities. How about this role? Do you think I could be good in this role? Uh, they will often say yes. And the worst that can really happen is they say, no.

And you’re exactly in the same place where you started. So I think always ask, ask, ask, because you might actually get what you want.

What about Six Sigma? So, uh, six Sigma. I’ve worked in, uh, in a, in a couple manufacturing, uh, type, uh, companies. So every medical device company has, has a manufacturing function and I was fortunate to work for companies that, um, were very keen on process improvement, uh, lean and Six Sigma. And, uh, the companies that I worked for actually put.

All of their employees through the process, uh, through training when they started with the company. And, um, really Im implemented this, um, need to, to improve processes and understand processes, uh, from day one. And that was really helpful for me as a leader in the finance function. You know, you might think that this is very different.

It’s not a manufacturing process, but it’s a process. You know, there are inputs, there are, there are steps in the process. There are bottlenecks and there are outputs. And so I’ve fled, uh, several kaizen, um, process improvement events with my finance teams at various organizations. And we always find that that.

Brings the teams together. And it also makes their jobs more fulfilling because they can see exactly how their, um, job and what they do interacts with other parts of the process. And, um, we often discover that. People sometimes don’t talk to each other and they just don’t know that something that they’re doing really hurts somebody else.

And so when you bring the team together, you actually take that time to put them in the room for a couple days and, and walk through the process. And then maybe have, you know, couple fun events, um, like, like a dinner or, or some sort of a, a team bonding game that really, really, um, helps improve the day-to-day.

And, uh, we see a lot of, uh, benefit from that. Love it. You’re

Naji Gehchan: combining cross-functional work with fun, with a purpose. I, I love this. The last word is spread love and organizations

Dorota McKay: spread. I, I really love this, um, the, the premise of this entire podcast, and I, I think we should all be doing that. Um, so I think. The way, the way I like to spread love in organizations is by helping other people learn and grow. I think, um, it really makes me happy when I can coach somebody and, and provide them with opportunities for advancement.

Sometimes it’s hard because that also means that they might leave your team or they might even leave your organization. But I think as a leader, you, you have to be, um, Happy with that. You have to really be happy, uh, with the fact that somebody might develop so much that they will no longer, you know, be satisfied with, uh, with either your department or, or your organization.

Um, and I think, um, I think also as a leader, you know, it is a bit of a cliche where, where, uh, people say leaders take all the blame and give away all the credit. I think it’s very, very, Needed, um, because you need to provide psychological safety to your team. So people need to be, um, confident enough to be able to make mistakes and they need to know that if they falter or or if they make a mistake, um, there will be somebody there standing up for them.

And so, I would say that whenever something an issue happens in, in our team, we try to focus on the solution and not point out, you know, who did it. We might, we might, um, investigate why something happened, but it’s not a people problem. It’s usually a process problem. And so that makes it a lot easier for us to, uh, to proceed and it’s, it helps people come to you as a leader and bring up problems instead of try trying to hide them.

Well, thanks

Naji Gehchan: for sharing this. And it’s, uh, you’re bringing powerful concepts around psychological safety, about recognition, teamwork, and obviously, uh, another point for your incredible leadership, uh, grounded in resilience as you started, uh, this podcast sharing about, uh, your story. Any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with, uh, healthcare leaders around the world?

Dorota McKay: Yes. So my words of wisdom for healthcare leaders probably especially important for finance leaders, but I think for, for everyone is if you are ever in doubt, always choose integrity and follow your moral compass. I think your, your reputation is more important than any kind of short-term gain. You take it with you everywhere.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much Tta for, uh, for your, those final words and for being with me today, uh, and all this incredible chat. Thank you.

Dorota McKay: Thank you so much. My pleasure.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 today, having the pleasure to be joined by Melanie Ivarsson Chief Development Officer at Moderna. In this role Melanie leads the Clinical Development Operations department and delivers with her team all clinical programs within the Moderna portfolio. Prior to joining Moderna, she was Head of Global Clinical Operations at Takeda and spent 9 years at Pfizer in Clinical Development. Melanie also held roles within the early clinical development group at Eli Lilly. After receiving her PhD from the University of Bristol, she completed postdoctoral research at Lund University and New York University. Melanie also holds an Executive MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.

Melanie – It is such an honor to have you with me today!

Melanie Ivarsson: Thank you so much. It’s great to chat to you. The honors is mine.

Naji Gehchan: I would love to hear first your personal story what brought you to pharma in the first place to joining a month before the pandemic was declared one of the companies that helped humanity be out of the pandemic with vaccines – what is in between the lines of your inspiring journey?

Melanie Ivarsson: Absolutely. So, um, as you nicely summarized at the beginning there, um, I started off in academia as a neuroscientist and did a couple of postdocs. Um, and I’ve really enjoyed. So how that helped my brain be trained to think, to deeply analyze problems.

That was an amazing training for me. I’m a systems neurophysiologist by training, so I’m thinking big connections, big picture. And that actually is really the arc of my entire career. It’s the building, the big picture, how things connect together is what really fascinates me. Um, so during my academic career, I realized sitting in the lab at two o’clock in the morning that I actually didn’t have any interesting questions to ask about that were narrowed, that I wanted to ask the big questions.

Um, and that made me start to think that maybe, um, research grants and very focused academic work. In that discipline wasn’t the right place for me to be. And so I started my career at Lilly, um, in their clinical pharmacology department and spent, you know, 20 years moving through very large pharma company where you get to talk about very big problems.

Big organizations that are connected together in lots of sort of different ways. And you get to ask those big questions. Um, and I went all the way through Lilly, then Pfizer for nearly a decade, um, Shire, which then got acquired by Takeda. And in the last couple of years of my time in the sort of Takeda um, era, I was also doing my executive m MBA at M I T in parallel.

And that really gave me a different way of looking at some of these big picture problems, how to build organizations, organizational processes, strategy, how to put teams together. And it was at that time that I thought to myself, I could go. You know, do approach this differently, these learnings. Let’s don’t go and do something different.

And Moderna reached out to me looking for a, a new chief development officer. It was a newly created position at the time. Clinical development had 30 people in it. And they hadn’t even done a large scale clinical trial, and they wanted somebody who could come and build their organization slowly over a couple of years, a nice slow build.

And I thought, well, I’m never gonna get an opportunity like this. Go and build it the way I want to. Slowly. Over time, thoughtfully, carefully build out an organization that can deliver its first sort of phase three study in 18 months from now. Wow. As history shows, that isn’t quite what happened. I turned up on the 3rd of February as we all were about to get sent home as the pandemic was being declared and the weak Moderna decided that they were gonna go and develop a Covid 19 vaccine.

And so my nice gentle build, um, Uh, literally had to take place in days and weeks rather than the years that I thought. Um, and, and you know, the rest is history. We went off and developed our Covid 19 vaccine, um, in partnership, um, with, with the government and, and many others, uh, that enabled that. And, and it was an incredible experience, not what I was expect.

Um, but just an incredible experience and I learned so much about leadership and building teams. Um, and now where we are today, um, we, we are at again, a yet another inflection point. So, uh, an amazing leadership journey.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much for your, for sharing it and, and I, I’m gonna go and dig into this a little bit more from a leadership standpoint and, and your learning.

So you obviously led team as you said, like you thought you had 18 months to build and scale up and growth. But actually you did it in a couple of months in a crisis mode where not only in internal cr like the word was o obviously anxiously waiting for you to bring us hope, and you did. So what is the key leadership learning you took with you from this experience?

Melanie Ivarsson: So it is all about the people and how they make decisions together in a, in that moment of, In that moment, um, I think what I learned is that I absolutely did not need to be the smartest person in the room, but I needed to enable everyone else to talk to each other and make the right decisions and move things forward and put things in place, have the right conversation, and that’s a time when a leader has to actually lead from behind or, or take a step back and look at the full extent of the.

Of the problem ahead of them. So I’d never developed a vaccine before. That was not my expertise. It wasn’t a case of me turning up in Moderna and going, this is the way to do this. There were many better people who had all the right expertise. Um, we asked ’em to come on the journey with us and through our own team.

We have an incredible, very small, nimble. That this was their reason for being, this was the public health crisis that they hoped they would never have to live through. But for all people who develop vaccines, this is what they’re actually trained to do. That one day, a rapid vaccine response is going to be needed by the world.

Um, and this incredible team of people came together to do this, and my job was to not get in their way, get out of their way, enable them as much as. Get them what they needed. Um, open doors for them, wipe away their tears, be there for them late at night, early in the morning, um, and help get them up this incredible hill that we had to climb up together.

Um, and that took many different forms from going into really quite controversial and difficult conversations in the early days, trying to work out who was gonna do what and how. Thinking through, can we do this to, um, sending, you know, when everybody had to work through the weekend, um, sending everybody, you know, a, a nice food package so that they could just put things in the oven and not have to worry.

You know, it takes many, many forms to keep a team going through all those different times. Um, and my job was to just enable and not be in the way.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. Like I said it several times, enabling others and not getting in the way to do it. And, and as you said, there was this, I love how you framed it, right?

Like there was this big purpose that is so important and everyone was waiting for it. Uh, would you have a story or an example because you shared some of those, and I think in those moments of crisis, um, you, you always have ups and downs. Like there is this big purpose, but there is also some time.

Negative news that you get and you have to help the team go through it and keep on going. Like you have stories and examples on how you lead teams, specifically in those highs and valleys that they go through emotionally also in development. Any example on how you’ve done this for them to keep having the faith to get to the

Melanie Ivarsson: result?

Yeah, and I, well, I think it’s. One of the greatest challenges for all of us during the pandemic was leading when you couldn’t be in the room together. So there is a, particularly in a, in a small biotech, there’s a lot to be said for just getting in a room. The leadership at Moderna historically had been very in person, and so they walked the corridors.

I turned up at the beginning of February and we all got sent home within six weeks. So most of us had never met each. I had to hire a team almost entirely remotely. We all did. Um, and that team, um, needed to find a way to get to know each other virtually. You build a lot of trust through that sort of personal connection.

Being in a room with somebody shaking their hand, um, taking a few moments to sort of, Have the kind of conversation that helps you build stronger, uh, professional connections that is incredibly difficult over a Zoom call. And, um, that’s also very difficult when time is of the essence. Not only did we have to do that within ourselves, but we also were under operation whoop speed.

We were working with government partners, we were working with a network of investigators, um, that we’d never worked with. Everybody had heard the call to action. Everybody was there incredibly well intended, wanting to do the right thing. And you have this bringing together of private public partnership.

The government, the n I h uh, academic trialists, this little tiny biotech that had never done this before, that had. Technology that was full of hope. And then we also had to partner with other companies that were in the race as well. We all had to get out of each other’s way. We, the collaboration there was extraordinary.

So, you know, everybody was so well intended, but there were days when you just had to remember that because, You know, everybody was used to doing things a certain way, and so you bring all those people together, you can’t get them in a room. Um, you’ve just got to kind of cut through it. We threw time at it.

Time was our most important resource, and so we made enormous amounts of time for each other. Our friends and families really suffered during this period, but it was the most extraordinary experience of all our careers. So if you needed to be on the phone at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning or a Sunday morning, To have the right conversation with someone.

You did that. And so making enormous amounts of time for each other and also carving out times in the day where you’d say between six and eight, go be with your families. Have dinner. Take some time away. Let’s all get back in here at eight o’clock tonight. We don’t. We have to rest as well. And so finding that balance of being there for everybody, asking them to do this exceptional.

And then trying to preserve some sense of sort of wellness and rest, um, and making sure that people were actually able to sort of physically and mentally cope, um, was really, really essential. And as a leader, you’re going through it yourself, and you can only see people from the shoulders up, right? You can’t see.

How, how they’re really sitting. You, you’ve got to become this incredible good reader of those little small signals. Um, and I, after a while, I started to, uh, feel that I could read people, um, through their emotions, through the Hollywood, you know, the Hollywood squares on the, the screen in front of me, and became very good at detecting that face of that individual that.

They’re not where they need to be right now, and a quick follow up call. Everything okay? How are you feeling? What’s going on? Um, so emotional intelligence had to become a finely honed skill in a completely different medium. Um, and so I would say for leaders, um, nothing prepares to you for that kind of experience.

Um, but we all became very good at, at doing it. I.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thanks for sharing this. And uh, Mel, during, as you were, as you were talking, obviously what you’ve done, what other, uh, pharma companies stood up for the execution and did was something we all hoped for, right? Like you talked about this multi-stakeholder partnership and speed to get to a solution, uh, in on percent time.

And obviously this is what we all hope for. Doing all the time. Right. But obviously you cannot operate as we operated during Covid and like relentless hours, et cetera. But at the same time, there’s other people who still are waiting for better treatments. Mm-hmm. In all different diseases. So I’m wondering what are the key learning that you’re taking with you that we can implement at healthcare leaders?

In a more normalcy word, but we’re obviously speed and impatient for patients Yeah. Is still so important.

Melanie Ivarsson: It’s, it’s such a good question and, and one that we are, we’re all grappling with as an industry now. So what made. Covid such an exceptional time for our industry is that the entire ecosystem became focused on one thing.

So companies themselves didn’t compete with each other. We knew that we had to make enough doses between us or successful vaccines for the world, so we became. United in that mission, regulators, um, ethics committees, clinical trial sites, suppliers, CROs, vendors, labs, everybody. Um, were prepared to prioritize the vaccine and therapeutics work above all else.

And I think that is the reality is how much of that machine it. To deliver on really what ended up being just a few successful vaccines, um, and a few successful therapeutics at the end of the day. Um, so when you then try to, um, you know, bring that out into something like cancer or Alzheimer’s, what it would take to deliver the same focus, that becomes incredibly challenging.

Do what I hope it also does though. Recognizes, helps companies recognize what parts of their process they don’t actually need. Um, it’s very easy to believe that you need to go through number of steps to get somewhere, and it takes six weeks when at a time like that you can do it in a day if you can get the right people.

At the table, the virtual table in our case, to do it. And so I think, um, Moderna had never created any of these processes, so we were creating them as we went along for this development plan program. And now that we’re scaling up to doing so much more work, um, we are trying to recognize what got us there and what we can.

Where do we need to create more process, and where do we just always want to be this nimble? So strategic decision making is an example of somewhere where you really want to be very crisp and nimble. You don’t want to have teams having to wait weeks and months to go to governance and have to go and do all those pre-meetings and navigate all of the, you know, the different opinions before they go into the room.

You’ve got to decide what to your culture going to be of decision making. How are decisions going to be made? Are you then prepared to operationalize and execute on those decisions with great speed? And, and how quickly can you do that? Um, and sort of hold onto the core of that incredibly nimble pandemic, strategic and execution capability.

That we developed. And I think, um, I remember talking to one of my peers who was working for a much larger company, one of the big giants that was, um, in the vaccine development space with us. And I was. Talking about the need to get something approved and having to sort of hunt down two people to do it.

And she said, well, I have to get it through about 600. Right? And that’s the difference. I know she was being, you know, a little sarcastic probably in her comment, but I think she was trying to say the point that. Um, you know, everybody has, wants to have an an opinion and then that’s when you start to realize how important it is, how you structure your organization and the processes you put put into it.

Um, and when you start to feel that things are really slowing down because you need to go and gain yet another opinion on something, then you probably need to kind of sit back and go, okay, if we got this right, because we didn’t need all of that last time on, what’s changed?

Naji Gehchan: I love it. It’s reminding me about organization, lab, and, you know mm-hmm.

All the design work we need to go through. It’s, it’s, yep, totally. Uh, if I, if I double click last question here on, now that your adrenaline cutoff is going down, how are you making sure that your team and how can we make sure as leaders, uh, that our team constantly think of the purpose and why we do what we do after the adrenaline rush?

Melanie Ivarsson: Yeah. Again, another fabulous question. Um, you know, one of the things that we grapple with here all the time is how do you pull that culture through an organization and how? Um, how do you do that when you scaled so quickly? So I’ve, in the last three years have done a 20 x build. So I started with 30 people.

My organization’s now about 600 and it will grow again, maybe nearly double, um, again within the next year. That’s an extraordinary build because actually, I used, I’ve gone from knowing everybody’s name and knowing them reasonably well to not, and, and that’s difficult for any leader. And so you need to disseminate out, um, the culture and what’s important and be visible and contactable.

Um, we had a lot of people in the pandemic wherever they were. And so we’re not, it’s, we can’t even just bring everybody back into the office. I think the whole industry has grappled with virtual ways of working. So we’ve created, hopefully an environment that is much better for people’s own wellness, lifestyle, work life balance, because they can work where they’re at and they can fit in other important things in their lives much more easily.

Um, but at the same time, Cultural core of an organization. And that purpose of, of what’s important is becomes very dispersed in that. So we created, at Moderna, we created something called the Moderna mindset, and they, these are 12 mindsets that cover many of our, the ways we, we think about things. Um, it’s.

We pursue options in parallel, we pivot fearlessly in the face of new data. We’ve, we obsess over learning. These are just examples of some of them and there are way of speaking to each other in our own language, um, to make sure that we’re asking each other the right questions. We’re challenging each other the right way.

They’re, they’re sort of path, our cultural core and that really helps us. Move programs, move our work forward together because we, we have a very strong culture that everyone’s bought into. Um, and it allows us, I think, to have the right conversations. We’re always learning. Um, and as we evolve and grow, we’ll probably think differently about this and evolve and, and grow.

But for now, Those mindsets, that understanding of how you shop together every day and bring people together has been an incredibly strong, um, and effective, uh, mechanism for us, I think. So I would

Naji Gehchan: love to give you now a word and I looking for a reaction to it. So the first one is

Melanie Ivarsson: leader.

And you want me to tell you what I think when I hear that word? Yeah. Yeah. I think leadership is, is for everyone, right? Leadership, everybody in an organization, um, has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership. But I’m gonna react with a word that may surprise you, and that is, I strongly believe that leadership can be kind and there is nothing wrong with leadership taking the full picture into account.

Um, and so I’m gonna react with the word kind.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. It’s, it’s all my podcast co with the mission of spreading love and leadership. So I totally by kind the second word is impact.

Melanie Ivarsson: You want me to react with one word or a sentence?

Naji Gehchan: We can do a sentence.

Melanie Ivarsson: So I think, um, an Im, again, impact is, um, can mean very, very different things to different people.

Um, we. Had the opportunity to have enormous impact on the world. Not everybody gets an opportunity to be part of something like that, and it will define them. I, I see that in my team and my colleagues and the people around me that, that, that, that experienced be defines them to a certain extent now and something they’re rightly incredibly proud of.

Um, but impact can be something. Different. And for me now, it’s about enabling others to be the best that they can be. So the impact I would love, um, to leave is my impact on others to amplify what we’ve done and what we believe in. Um, and to, to go on to amazing things. Um, and that’s part of the legacy. So if by working with.

Um, my impact on them is something around the way we’ve done things together and made decisions and the, the joy they’ve taken from that and they carry that forward. Um, I would be very happy.

Naji Gehchan: What about health equity?

Melanie Ivarsson: Oh, that’s an incredibly important topic and one that we all became so aware of during the pandemic.

Not only. Disproportionate impact of covid itself on people from different backgrounds, but then access. Um, and so health equity, um, is something that we built into the way we have done things. So, you know, people are possibly aware that we actually made the, uh, very difficult decision halfway through our clinical trial to actually slow down enrollment.

The white population because we actually had a largely white, um, Number of clinical trialists, and so we actually stopped enrolling white people into our clinical trial in order to give access to people from different communities the information to make an informed decision about whether to enroll in the trial.

We thought that was incredibly important thing to do and it allowed us. To go out and build relationships with the different communities. Um, and we built, um, a diversity and inclusion board with a number of health equity experts, and that was probably one of the most single, most important and informative things for me personally that we did.

This was something that, like the rest of the industry I knew was important, but had done very little about person. And now it has become incredibly important to us. And so we now move forward with all our development programs With this in mind, um, And that is very, very important that you not only health equity starts with the way you study a new vaccine or treatment.

Um, we, 20 years ago, we talked about the fact that we didn’t have women in clinical trials, right? That everything was just studied in healthy, young, mostly white men. We’ve, and that then meant that all prescribing information and access actually was only fit for purpose for one small part of the popul.

Um, in order to make sure that there is access for all and equity for all, we’ve actually got to start by asking the right questions for all of mankind, and that starts with the basic clinical research and this topic I’m very passionate about getting right.

Naji Gehchan: The last word is Fred Love and organizations.

Did you say gridlock? Spread love. Can organizations,

Melanie Ivarsson: oh, spread love in organizations. Yeah. I, I, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think, um, people give their hearts and souls to their place of work. Um, they, people in healthcare are just the most incredibly dedicated, passionate, and committed, uh, people in the industry.

Unbelievably altruistic in the way they will put, um, The, the, the project they’re working on, um, above all elses for them. So I think we should thank them by making sure that we know that we want them to look after themselves. Um, wellness is incredibly important. Um, and we strive always to make sure that people take care of themselves first.

And it’s something I always say to people. I do a new high coffee connect once a month for all the new starters into the organization, and I go, Put yourself first, work out what it is that you love and who you love, and put them at the top of your list every day. Um, because nobody should be sacrificing what they love.

Um, for this place, one of the little anecdotes I would, um, share with you is we offered some clinical trialists, um, a a a token of, of appreciation. And they could, um, either exchange it for, um, something for themselves or they could exchange it for a charitable donation. It was extraordinary, the incredibly high number of people who’d not only gone into a clinical trial and dedicate, dedicated their time and effort to the advancement of science, but then when, um, offered.

The opportunity to sort of take a token of appreciation, chose to then even give that to charity. Um, I thought that was, uh, remarkably, uh, interesting about true altruism, um, and how it sort of works in in healthcare.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom, Mel, for healthcare leaders around the world?

Melanie Ivarsson: I think, um, We are so blessed to have the opportunity to work in the sector of the industry that we do. Um, hang on to your, um, your true self through all of this. Um, I’m not ashamed to talk about the fact that as a leader, I believe kindness is incredibly important.

That’s who I am. Don’t try and be somebody else. Don’t try and emulate a leader. That you see somewhere else and think, I need to be like them. Be yourself. Whatever is important to you, show up every day. Be principled. Bring yourself to work. Care about the people in your organization. Enable them the best you can get out of their way.

That’s something I spend a lot of time trying to do, um, and, and enjoy it. It’s a real privilege. It’s a real privilege. And one day. You’ll be sitting on a plane next to somebody who’s had their life changed because of something you worked on or developed. Um, in our case with the vaccine, it happens a lot.

Um, it’s incredibly rewarding. Um, but yeah, just look after yourself and look after each other. Wow.

Naji Gehchan: What, what an amazing way to sum up this discussion. Thank you so much, Mel, for being with me today and this incredible chat.

Melanie Ivarsson: Thank you. That was wonderful to meet you. Thank you so much.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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, joined today by Sema Sgaier CEO and Co-Founder of Surgo Health, a healthcare technology company developing a revolutionary socio-behavioral analytics platform and generating novel, real-world data designed to inform and improve health equity and outcomes by enabling a greater understanding of the complex factors that influence how individuals engage in their healthcare. Sema is a serial entrepreneur with close to 20 years of experience in healthcare. She co-founded and led Surgo Foundation and Surgo Ventures, where she led the development of analytic products that solve health problems with greater precision. She was Initiative Lead at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she brought innovations in data, consumer insights, and product introduction into large-scale health programs globally. She has over 60 publications and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and prestigious media outlets. She is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Washington. She completed her fellowship in Genomics at Harvard University, Ph.D. in Neuroscience from New York University, and M.A. in Neuroscience from Brown University. Sema is a member of the Board of Directors of the United States of Care. She was selected as a rising talent by the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society.

Sema – It is such an honor and pleasure to have you with me today!

Sema Sgaier: Such a pleasure to be here, Naji. Thank you for inviting me.

Naji Gehchan: Can you share first with us your personal story from genomics to development and now being the CEO and Co-founder of Sergo Health?

What’s in between the lines of your inspiring journey?

Sema Sgaier: Sure. Um, my personal story actually starts, uh, during my childhood. So I was born in Libya to a Libyan father and a Turkish mom. And I was born in a, in a, in a country where healthcare was actually really challenging to get, and I, I had a, a condition that required, um, advanced care.

And so my family, um, had to take me abroad. Uh, and I spent a good chunk of my childhood in hospitals and a good chunk of my adult life having to get. Um, but that really got me inspired in, in health and it got me really inspired and really, um, bringing health to a lot of, uh, people. I was also, um, you know, uh, very interested in science and so that led me to a career, or I started my career, I should say, in genomics and, and neuroscience.

But very quickly, um, missed the, um, the needs or, or really missed working with people and communities. I’d grown traveling all over the world and, and, and really missed that. So the journey started with moving to India. Uh, and starting on the ground, uh, developing surveys in communities, in villages to really understand their needs when it came to help, uh, you know, going door to door, asking families, asking mothers, asking husbands, asking children.

Uh, and that was really the beginning of understanding the power of data, uh, and the power of the human voice in being able to. Not just governments in terms of what the gaps are, but really inform all sorts of activities in communities, um, by companies, et cetera. Um, so, you know, long story short, I won’t, I won’t, uh, describe every step, but I ended up, uh, then eventually joining the Bill and Mill and the Gates Foundation.

Um, in India and lived there, um, for seven years working on, uh, an H I V prevention program. Again, working with communities. Um, and then from there, moved on to work on h I V prevention in Southern and Eastern Africa. The key part and the crux of, of really what I do, um, and I’ll, I can dive deeper into this.

The key part of my, what I learned and all of that work is that we really need to understand what people need on the ground and what. What is behind, um, their actions, their decisions when it comes to how they interact with healthcare, uh, and you know, how they consume healthcare. And, and for me, the really big question that we need to answer is the why question behind people’s behavior.

Um, because we often don’t approach healthcare, uh, you know, by un trying to understand the why. We start with what’s happening in the ecosystem. Um, and so. The three organizations that I co-founded and, and I’ll, you know, I’ll go of course into more details. Sergo Foundation, Sergo Ventures, Sergo Health.

Really the core mission of all three is bringing a big data approach to answer that question for every single individual so that we can inform, um, healthcare in a way that’s personalized to everyone.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much for, uh, for sharing part of your journey, and this is really a great segue. My question, actually, the first one was the mission of Sergo, uh, the different entities and, and really if you can tell us a little bit more your vision about data and how you’re gonna be able to answer those, uh, health issues.

Sema Sgaier: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, let’s start with just thinking about each of ourselves, right? You know, uh, and, and the people that we know. So we know that what people believe in, uh, what they, who they trust and, and, and how they trust, um, you know, the various barriers they face in the ecosystem, whether it’s the time, uh, whether it’s the transport, um, really.

Um, you know, how, how they interact with the healthcare system. And so, but when we look at the health ecosystem today, there’s a lot of data. There’s no lack of data. We’re actually swimming in billions of data. But a lot of it is really telling us, uh, as I mentioned, what is happening so we can map, for example, in the US the complete journey.

You know, which providers that they would, did people see, what were their diagnoses? What medications did they TA take? So that really tells. You know, that pathway, but if you were to ask me, okay, so, so why did this person living in this community not see a provider in the first place? I would be hard pressed to find that data, you know, readily available.

And so really the mission of of, of Sergo, you know, when we started Sergo Foundation, it was, it was really an operating foundation meant to incubate an idea and it was really meant to incubate this idea of how can we bring a big data approach. To really understanding people. So not beyond doing focus groups and having conversations, but how do we generate this data at scale and, and more importantly, and, you know, how do we analyze the idea?

So what are the innovations in the analytics space, and then how do we make it actionable for, for various stakeholders. Um, so Server Foundation, um, again, was really meant to. Demonstrate, incubate this idea. And we successfully did that in various programs actually in India. Um, and then let that led to the spinoff of Servo Ventures and from their um, servo health, which happy to go into the why behind those spinoffs.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, I love it. Before we go into the why of the spinoffs, can we double click cuz you’re, you’re talking really about something that means a lot to me. Insights, right? Like you’re looking into, uh, patients insights, customer insights, to understand the why. Uh, can you share with us some specific example of how do you see, how do you gather those insights at scale?

And then mm-hmm. How do you run those analytics for us to be able, uh, to solve problems, as you say, with precision? I like this word. So how, how, how do you do this practic?

Sema Sgaier: Yeah, there, there are many ways to, to gather data, but I think fundamentally where you have to start is what is it that you wanna collect?

Uh, and I think, um, one of the things we learned very, very quickly is that, um, stepping back and, and really being clear what are the variables that need to be collected to answer the why question is really an important part of the equation. And so, We’ve built, um, over the years, um, a team of, a multidisciplinary team of actually, um, scientists and I would say behavioral scientists who come from various disciplines, right?

So when people approach human behavior, they approach it from a, from various disciplines, right? You have the behavioral economist who are really looking at just biases and heuristics. Uh, you have social scientists who really emphasize the, the social, uh, ecosystem in which people live. But in reality, all of these things really matter.

And so the approach we take in, um, in designing these data collection efforts in, in stepping back and saying, you know, beliefs matter, biases matter, heuristics matter, social norms matter. Um, and then in the context, the laws and policies matter. The systems matter, the access. Influencers, media, all of these matter.

And so we really need to be comprehensive in what we collect and, and so that we can get a complete picture. And so the first, the first step is really making sure that you have a good sense of what you wanna collect. The second step is then, of course, figuring out how, how you, how you collect it. And we have various methodologies.

But one of the things that we do, um, to get scale is a, is actually design a large scale survey. So we collect data in, you know, in the thousands, tens of thousands and, and sometimes hundreds of thousands depending on what platform we use, whether it’s, um, whether we, um, you know, use some of the social media platforms in, in way to get respondents or whether we use panels.

So that gives us the first scale. And then from there we apply our machine learning, um, analytics or predictive models, approaches to be able to then predict that for, you know, all the people that were not part of that initial data collection effort. So there are various steps in this journey. Thanks for sharing

Naji Gehchan: those.

Uh, you, you know, as I was looking, you’ve done incredible work, obviously on several different disease states. H I V you shared about, I saw your work where on Covid 19 and, and the CDCC is taking it. You know, I kept thinking data, precision science, really in an era where I’m like, many times I’m feeling misinformation.

Uh, like wrong theories, hate populism is somehow ruling, sometimes policy actions, but even like people’s actions towards their health that is actually harming them. So since you’re collecting those, Data, are you seeing this trend? Is this something real that you’re seeing? Is this something that is coming out?

I, I would really love your thoughts about precision in data and then actually what we’re seeing that is more fictional, I would say.

Sema Sgaier: Yeah. Um, yeah, unfortunately we are, and, and during the Covid pa pandemic, we, we did see, and in fact we were one of the, the, the first and few who tried to really measure some of this misinformation.

Particularly we measured conspiracy theories, uh, that people were believing in. And, and so we really looked into, What are those theories and actually went in and measured those and, and when I say measured, really tried to understand what percentage of people, for example, believe that, you know, government is using covid to control people, you know, are implanting chips.

Like there’s all sorts of conspiracy theories. And so we wanted to see not only how often, but really who specifically is believing these conspiracy theories. I think when it comes to misinformation and, and, and you talked about data, you know, people at the end of the day believe in. Uh, it’s not about the data, it’s the story and the power of the story.

And, and even as scientists ourselves, you know, what’s really on us is when we want to communicate our data, the, you know, quote unquote, Real true data, we really have to put effort in, in using stories to tell, to tell that so that people can really align to that emotionally. We’re emotional beings. We’ve learned to, you know, listen and hear stories, you know, from thousands of years ago, and that’s what resonates.

And so I think. Storytelling is, is really an important part of, of this equation. And Naji, I don’t know whether that’s the answer you’re looking for, but, but I think that’s really important as scientists and data scientists who sometimes can seem very boring and just crunching numbers.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, no. Well, actually that was my question and I think you answered it.

The, the next one was really from, because you look from a customer, uh, lens, uh, on, on those data. So my question was, is data enough to convince? But I think you, you said it beautifully, it’s really about the story and how to shape those data in a language that is emotional enough for, for patients, for customers to change behavior.

Uh, I’d love if you have some specific example where actually. Because you talked about the actionability of what you do. So I’m, I’m intrigued and interested to, uh, to see how you turn those insights into actions to improve at the end patient’s health.

Sema Sgaier: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll g I’ll give you, uh, I have two, but I’ll, I’ll start with one and then, uh, happy to move on to the site.

And so the first one actually goes way back when I was working in India, uh, on h I V prevention. And there we were working, uh, with high-risk groups. And these were, um, sex workers, injecting drug users and, and men who had sex with men. And actually what was really interesting about this program was that community members were the, um, were people that were leading and delivering this program to their peers.

Uh, and so here you had, um, sex workers who had to go out to the community to be able to provide the services, and so it was very important for them. To know where these members were. And it was very important to them to know, for example, where the nearest clinic healthcare clinic was, where the nearest police station was, where the nearest safe house was, et cetera.

And so while the, um, you know, the, the scientists were collecting this data to put in the hands of this community. The question was how do we communicate this data in a way that they, you know, that, that they could use? And what they came up with was, was so interesting was, um, drawings, right? They, they took this data and rather than having these like sheets of like line items of here’s, you know, here’s where this person is and their address, they actually did these beautiful hand drawn, um, kind of, um, diagrams where they actually mapped locations and, you know, there were, there were like these children’s maps, but they showed where everything was.

And so this was. For me, it was an incredible example of taking hard data, right? Transforming it in, in, in, in a visual story and then putting it in hands of, um, actually people who deliver health so that their day-to-day healthcare delivery was, was, you know, effective. And, and, and it was, you know, we, we had a lot of evidence that this worked.

Naji Gehchan: I love this. Can you share the other, other


Sema Sgaier: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. The, the other example goes back to Covid. Uh, and again, you know, we all lived Covid and we also know that it was, it was, um, bombardment of information for all of us. Uh, and one of the, one of the approaches that we took during Covid is, uh, actually.

Data visualization and, and, and really, again, bringing art to telling that data story. So, uh, we, we had this amazing, we did these amazing stories with the New York Times. And so one of the stories that we did was a, was called Find Your Line in Your, find Your Place in the Vaccine Line. Uh, it was, I think one, it was the top red story of the New York Times that, that year or something like that.

But it, but it, you know, I don’t know if you remember in the early days, we were also concerned, when are we gonna get our vaccine shot? How long were we gonna wait? Now it’s a very different world. And so the, and we had that data. So we, we actually, um, were able to, um, show which group was gonna get their vaccine when across the United States.

And they did this beautiful visual where you could go in and put a few of your details, like your age, where you lived, and then they would draw this, uh, visual line and they would tell, You know, you’re gonna get your vaccine in 300 days or so. I’m, I’m making this up. But it was such an impactful way of actually communicating, um, you know, this notion of there’s, uh, an order at which these vaccines are going to be delivered.

You know, there’s certain priority populations that need to get it first. Um, and it, it was, it, it was, you know, so well read and people resonated with that. People understood it. They understood that whole vaccine delivery schedule, right, that we had in the early days through, through data and story.

Naji Gehchan: I love it.

What, what you’re talking about is just, it resonates so much, right? Like from, from really data, it’s all about data, right? But from data generation to understanding the why, not only the what and and what’s going on, but also on how you tell and how you share the story to make an impact at the end on, on people’s lives.

I love this. I wanna pivot though to, uh, to a question more on leadership. So you’ve had several experiences, uh, obviously in in non-profit, uh, with, uh, the Gates Foundation. You’re a serial entrepreneur. You’ve also founded a profit for-profit, uh, company recently. Uh, I’d love to, uh, to get what are your key learnings from a leadership standpoint, uh, that you are taking with you today from all those experiences and running, uh, your.

Uh, endeavor as a c e O.

Sema Sgaier: Mm-hmm. Um, Being a leader is, is, is an, uh, you’re always learning how to be a leader. I, I, I think it’s every day you’re, you’re, you’re going, you know, two steps forward, five steps backwards. I, it’s, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s a never ending, I would say, um, learning process. Um, and, and I, you know, I certainly have a long ways to go in, in, in that, in that place.

Um, so what are some of my learnings, you know, Several, but one I would say, um, is that leadership, um, in many ways actually, um, has to be adapted to the culture and context and environment that you’re in. Um, you know, I I, I worked in many different countries and many different types of organizations, but one of the.

I’ll give you an example. So when I first started my, my job in India, that was kind of my first job outside of academia. And I was, you know, leading, um, you know, these research groups on the ground. You know, really my first job managing teams, or I should say big teams. And I would, you know, show up into these trainings and, uh, you know, day one people show up.

Day two people showed up. And then day two before they started, like falling, you know, Two people were missing three people. And then one day I was just so down and I went home and, you know, I had a roommate, she was, uh, from India, and I said, what is going on? People are not showing up. And um, she said, you know, you have to adapt to the culture.

You know, you have to, you have to lead in a way that resonates to them. And so that led me really to introspect and, and to really adapt. And so, and, and that was really true across right From there, then I moved to, um, you know, the, the India Office of the Gates Foundation, which was a small team of 15 people that was led by, um, the ex country head of McKinsey, India that everyone else was, was ex McKinsey.

And that was a totally different environment. My point is that, uh, when you are leading teams, The culture can be so different depending on what country, which country you are, and what type of organization you are. And so in many ways, you need to adapt your leadership skills, um, you know, to that. Really, that was one of my, my key learnings.

Um, the second one I think is, is, is really being authentic, right? I, I think in the initial days I was thinking, well, how do I become like that person or that leader or, you know, people that I admired and, and. Quickly learned that that’s, that’s a bad idea. Um, you are who you are. You, you cannot change who you are, but you can adapt.

Um, but you really need to be au authentic as you know. And you need, you need to be, um, honest and, and, you know, and, um, you know, be who you are in, in that environment. Um, so those are, for me, the, the key learnings. I have many, but those, I would say stand top for me.

Naji Gehchan: Thanks, Sarah, for this. Uh, I would give you now one word and I’d love your reaction to.

So the first, the first one is leadership

challenging. The second one is women in science. Inspirational. Can you share a little bit more? I know you’re, you’re passionate about diversity and, and women in leadership and

Sema Sgaier: science. Um, I, I’m, I’m very inspired by, um, well, first of all, I’m a scientist and I think, uh, women in science, uh, are, are really phenomenal and, and we need way more of them.

Uh, and I find it really in. Inspiring, uh, to actually coach and develop and, and have women in science grow. And, and I’ve actually dedicated a lot of, of, of my, I should say, leadership, uh, you know, skills to that as well. So, so I, I, I find it inspiring seeing more women in, in science.

Naji Gehchan: Can, can you tell me the number one advice you give to, uh, women and uh, and young girls that are in science or want to go there?

Sema Sgaier: Uh, be bold. Uh, you know, go for

Naji Gehchan: it.

The third word is health equity.

Sema Sgaier: A must the, I give you a two word answer.

Naji Gehchan: Give me more. I, I wanna hear more about how you look at equity, because I know it’s, uh, one of the core values of, uh, of also sergo.

Sema Sgaier: Yeah, I think we look at equity as something on top, right? Like something else. Something in addition.

Equity to me is everything. It’s core, right? Equity. To me, equity is everyone. Equity means that, you know, every single person needs to be part of that. And, and that’s really equity, right? It’s, it’s not about like, There’s, there’s the core and then there’s another group. You know, it, it really, if you have equitable healthcare, essentially what that means is that you’re making sure that the barriers to, um, you know, living a healthy, happy life is for all.

Uh, you remove the barriers for all, and those barriers are exist for all. And they’re very different for all right? For you and I, it may be a time issue, but it really is a must and, and that’s something we should all strive for, uh,

Naji Gehchan: for. The last one is spread love in organizations.

Sema Sgaier: Oh, amazing. It actually reminds me, uh, if you don’t mind, Naji, since you brought, uh, you brought this, um, I, it reminds me of love languages, and this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, you know, talking about leadership. One of the things about leadership, I think that’s really important is, um, how to motivate, you know, knowing how to motivate different people, uh, and understanding that different people are motivated by, by different reasons.

And it was really interesting. One of, one of my, um, one of my colleagues, one, you know, during his first week shared his love language with me just out of the blue and said, you know, my love language is words of affirmation and I. Okay. You know, I was like, that’s weird, you know, sharing your love language.

Uh, that was first week, but then, In retrospect, it, it is actually we need the, our professional love languages, right? We, we need to understand what is it that really motivates us, or what is it that really, um, gets us, you know, to, to be loving. Uh, and I, and I, and I think that’s really important, right?

Whether, whether it’s words of affirmation, whether. You know, it is the outcome or you know, whether it’s quality time or, you know, you can, you can translate it to work. But, sorry, the, when you said that spread love, I, it reminded me of the love languages and, and I think it’s a, it’s an important piece of the puzzle.

Naji Gehchan: It certainly is, and it’s a great reminder for all of us. Any final word of wisdom sum up for healthcare leaders around

Sema Sgaier: the. Um, I think this is, to me, it is the most important, uh, one of our most important topics of our time. And I, I would say that for everyone, be bold, uh, step up and, and really go after big ideas.

I think we are at a time where we have the opportunity to actually take a lot of big ideas forward and, and make this something for, you know, health for all. It’s, it’s really important. So, really go for it.

Naji Gehchan: This is such, such an amazing charger leaving us all with. Thank you so much, uh, SVA for being with me today.

Sema Sgaier: Thank you. It was an honor. I appreciate it.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this episode, joined today by Amy Kimball an Executive & Leadership Coach and former biomedical research CEO. Prior to launching her coaching business in 2022, Amy had been coaching professionals on the side for 15 years, while she held leadership roles in academic biomedical research. During her tenure as CEO of a midsized biomedical research institute, she led a turnaround to rebuild a culture of excellence, high performance, and people-centered service. Prior to that, she held research administrative leadership roles at large, Boston-based academic medical centers. Amy holds an Executive MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and has completed Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching program. She coaches CEOs and other leadership positions that feel “lonely at the top;” mentors and advises start-ups; and serves in peer coaching roles within the helping professions community.

Amy – so great to have you with me today!

Naji Gehchan: Can you share with us first your personal story and what’s in between the lines of your journey and the inspiring healthcare leaders you are today?

Amy Kimball: Yeah, so it is a bit of a story. I think there’s sort of two parallel paths to follow in this. So, um, the first path would be my pathway into biomedical research, and that actually goes back to, um, a thread that’s tied from growing up, which is growing up with undiagnosed A D H D and really struggling in school, um, having a very inconsistent experience.

And I poured my energy into persistence, grit, hard physical work. Um, instead of really finding a way to navigate the academic system that worked for me and I was actually not planning, I didn’t think that I was college material, so I wasn’t planning on pursuing a higher ed path. Um, but I was fortunate. I had a guidance counselor who invested deeply in me and basically made it his personal mission to get me into college.

And he did. So I went to, um, undergrad, just loving science and medicine and math, and wanted to pursue a pre-med track. But found out early on in my first semester during cell biology that I just couldn’t process the learning, um, in a way that made any sense to me. And I flunked out of that intro class.

Um, had a conversation with my advisor and basically it was made very clear to me, this is a four year track. You have to keep up and because you’ve already flunked the first class, there’s no way you can pursue this major. So I switched over to an English major. I struggled to stay in school. Honestly, I had a very low GPA initially until halfway through.

Yeah, again, just through sheer persistence and grit, keeping myself going halfway through my college experience, I got this sort of earth shattering, um, awareness of what A D H D really was about and got my diagnosis and treatment. Um, so I graduated with an English major. Which I really felt opened every door for me.

It was not restrictive. It was something where I could take communication skills and good research practices and really defending a thesis towards anything. And when I came out of college with, by the way, a, a pretty high GPA in the end, because of this turnaround that happened with my, my diagnosis and treatment, I was just eager to get in the workplace and get doing.

So I chose, I moved back home to the Boston area and I chose to look for just any general admin job in a hospital setting so I could be close to healthcare because I was still very passionate about it. And I found myself in a biomedical research setting within a, a teaching hospital. Um, I noticed early on that the labs were engaging in sort of, um, a very science centric only approach, and then there was this administrative sort of divide happening, the rules, the compliance, the, the black and white thinking, and I was in administration.

And I was really unsatisfied with that divide. I just didn’t understand why it had to be that way. So I took a, a deep interest in the science to try to understand what that world was like. And in the process of, of talking with folks and going to scientific talks, I learned a lot about the science that I wasn’t able to learn in that college setting.

And I started to really understand what was going on and have a deep appreciation for the work. Um, and so what I did was I basically said, look, I’m interested in everything. Give me anything you wanna give me. I’ll take it on, I’ll figure it out and I’ll try to make your life. And of course people loved that.

They jumped all over it. Um, I was given a lot. I became sort of the resident problem solver and my goal was always, how can I make science easier and less friction and more successful? Um, so I, I kind of quickly rose through the ranks within that organization and, and other organizations in town. And basically built a career on the basis of this creative problem solving.

And after a few years I, I was able to see a shift in perspective where it was moving from no longer me, the sole doer of problem solving, but really into investing in teams of people who also were interested in this problem solving and helping to lead that and cheerlead on behalf of the organization in leadership roles.

To get things done better and to. Deliver that customer-centric service to making research thrive. Um, in 2017, I became the c e o of a mid-sized organization, biomedical research organization, and through that investment in our people and in our processes, but really through their eyes. What’s the work you are doing?

What’s working? What’s not working? What would you like to see? How can we better serve our customers? We, as a team, were able to drive a very significant turnaround of an organization that wasn’t working well and that had some divides with its own customers. To an organization that helped the science thrive and really was able to advance things forward in a productive way, and also a culture that people love to be a part of where they felt valued and individually invested in.

So that’s the, the thread of biomedical research, but ending on that piece where people felt valued and invested in, there’s also this thread of my executive coaching. Which goes back about 15 years and started because people would just start approaching me in systems initially within my system. And talk to me about potential leadership development.

Um, what they were observing was something really common in systems, which is managers and leaders were getting promoted on the basis of skills and e. And like many systems, they just hadn’t been invested in in terms of their own leadership development or management development. And they didn’t know how to let go of the doing and the skills and that deeply embedded work.

And so it was frustrating for members of teams to, to live with that and feel like they couldn’t progress. So they would come to me. And the beauty of it is, you know, I think a lot of people think they want to trash talk the situation, but it wasn’t about negative talk about managers. It was about. What do you want for yourself and how can we help you get there?

And that’s coaching. So that work continued to expand on the side. Um, people just kept, kind of kept coming my way. And that work expanded beyond my organization into other organizations and higher levels of leadership. Um, and when I had completed the turnaround as C e O, I started to think to myself, you know, I’ve achieved my career goals faster than I thought.

What’s the thing in my life that really brings me the most fulfillment that I wanna invest in now? And the answer was such an obvious, it’s this executive coaching work, it’s human and people development. And, um, I took this bold risk of quitting my executive job last year and going full-time dedicated into this private practice that I started.

And I’ve absolutely loved the work completely. Thanks so

Naji Gehchan: much, Amy, for, for sharing, uh, part of your story and it’s, uh, incredible how you’re framing both of them. Uh, I’d love to start, you know, before going into your current company that you founded on your current practice, uh, you’ve been, uh, really in several leadership roles in academic and nonprofit, biomedical research organizations as you shared, uh, I would love your thoughts about leading nonprofits and.

Learnings along the way when you compare it to executives you coach in the profit

Amy Kimball: sector. Yeah, so this topic has a lot of misunderstanding surrounding it, and I’m glad you asked about it. So one thing is that people often feel that there’s a very big difference between for-profit and nonprofit work, and that can be true, but not in all cases, especially in biomedical research.

I found. Most people on the surface wouldn’t have known we were in the nonprofit sector. The only differences were, instead of shareholder value, we were focused on stakeholder value and reinvesting our profits in our programs so that we would continue to advance them. And the other thing is just simply how we derived our funding, which was a lot of federal grants and industry contracts.

Um, but day-to-day, You know, the practices are the same. And if you, especially if you’re a mission-driven leader in any sector, it’s all about thinking about the mission and perpetuating the mission’s advancement. So when I work with, and I typically do work with in my coaching people who are very oriented, I feel no difference.

And I’ve never, no one’s ever really cited a difference from me either. And, and I would really like to, People understand that there doesn’t have to be a difference, right? It’s especially in healthcare, like we’re all servant leaders and we’re all dedicated to terrific outcomes for the people we’re caring for.

Yeah, I, I’d

Naji Gehchan: say we all should be, you know, servant leaders and I think we, we’re trying, we’re trying to get there and I’m sure with your coaching, it’s something you’re focused on. So let, let’s go to the specific example that you gave about, uh, what the time when you were the C E O. Uh, and did a huge turnaround.

Uh, you talked about helping sign Thrive and the culture you created Drew and, and you rebuild this culture of excellence, high performance, and people centered. I’d love to know how you did this, because it’s usually with turnarounds, uh, it’s tough moments, tough decisions to be made, and then creating this culture.

Of people feeling safe and thriving. You used the word servant leadership. So I, I’d like to hear from you how you did that and how you’ve put all this together for its work.

Amy Kimball: Yeah, and it wasn’t easy and there were a lot of moments that were very, very lonely at the top. Um, which by the way does inspire my coaching work because, um, it’s a way to allow leaders to not be alone.

What happened was, so I came into an organization that, um, on the surface what I knew about it was that we were relying on business walking in the door and being handed to us. And I, I just, that didn’t sit well with me. I felt like no matter the circumstances or how needed we might be, we should be earning our business and we should be doing that through relationships and through our ability to serve our clients in a useful way that adds value in their life.

When I started to uncover what, what had gone on, I found more and more that just this culture had been created that represented sort of a div again, the divide in practice administration versus science. And I, I had been there and I thought, we can break these barriers down, but we have to all be in as an administrative team.

We have to all value that and care about that and want that. And it couldn’t be all but one of us. It had to be every one of us united in that mission and in that way of viewing things. So initially I started by engaging in working with the team in just talking and listen. Asking questions, asking them about their experience.

Um, why do you work here? Why do you like working here? Why don’t you like working here? Um, what’s most fulfilling in your work? What’s least fulfilling? What’s most frustrating? And we uncovered a lot of common themes between us around some of the things that, you know, that that really worked well and didn’t.

And we started to find over time. That a lot of our frustrations were the same, which is really interesting because people don’t talk about their frustrations. And I think that these subtle divides start to emerge around like, it’s your fault. No, it’s my fault. No, you don’t understand me. I don’t understand you.

How could you prioritize that? I’m prioritizing this, and it feels like they’re in competition. But when we started to openly. What’s frustrating to you? What would you like to see improved? There was more common ground than anyone realized, and then, you know, I think people would’ve ever believed. So the first moment of magic in this turnaround was when everyone, we did an exercise where we just simply listed out the things that were Bo, that were worrying us and shared it with the.

And, and we did it on individual post-it notes. And when the same theme was brought up, we would layer it on top of the Post-It and people got to see visually, whoa, there’s a lot of layering going on on this one theme. Wow, we’re actually sharing the same worries. It’s not about you versus me, it’s about us.

And then from there we started to invest in, from a bottom up perspective, what would you like to. To solve you. And I said, as leader of the organization, I said, you are closest to the work. You know it, what would you like to do to improve this situation? And that was very empowering because it had been a, an organization of these are the rules and people were very afraid to cross those lines.

So that, that energized the team around like, oh, great, I get to do something here. I get to have a say and a stake in this. And they really designed amazing solutions that, that worked for them, those the people like in the trenches doing this. Um, that we, we had to have the discipline to do in a very incremental way so that it could be sustainable.

Um, so a big, I would say that the majority of the transformation was culture. And when the cultural stuff started to come into place, the structural stuff quickly followed.

Naji Gehchan: I love this. You talked about listening, you ask questions, obviously, uh, a lot, and you listen to the answers. And it’s really about you’re bringing this idea of cowork and practically co building and let people who are operationalizing things.

Think about it and cowork and cobalt, the culture you want to create. This is, this is really great. Um, anything you would have done differently leading such a major organization? Uh, organizational change when you think of it? Oh,

Amy Kimball: I’m sure there’s a lot of things. Um, there were, you know, I, I guess I started the story by saying it was lonely at the top, and I always felt very supported by my team and by my board.

Um, they were just wonderful, wonderful colleagues, um, who were truly lifting me up in the process of lifting ourselves collectively up. But there were probably moments where I turned a little bit too inward and a little too isolationist because I felt like the world was on my shoulders alone. Um, and where I, where I could and would invest in the team.

There were these moments where I just thought, no, I can’t drag them into this. This is mine to resolve. And I just would say that’s kind of a red flag for our, our own thinking. If we think that we own a whole problem and its whole solution alone, that’s probably a trigger to start thinking how might that not be true?

And what else could we. That’s a great watch

Naji Gehchan: out. Uh, as you coach today, executives in different industries, I assume, what’s your number one capability you urge them to nurture or to develop

Amy Kimball: introspection? So it’s, a lot of people come to coaching thinking that it’s about skills building and concrete skills when it always ends up being.

Self-development looking deeper what’s going on below the surface. And it hearkens back to the earlier point about people love to, they find relief, I think, in complaining about their surroundings. And you know, my manager’s not fair to me, they’re not investing in me. But that doesn’t get anything done.

It doesn’t change circumstances. So how can we flip that into, well, what’s going on with. What do you notice in yourself whenever you get into these common patterns that make you feel really awful afterwards, what can you notice? What are the trends and how are you handling it now, and how might that be perceived by others?

And we explore all of that, and then we talk about, all right, well, what do you want for. And I think it just opens this world of, wow, I have a choice in this. You know, there’s actually some levers I can pull and things I can do differently, even though my circumstances aren’t great. That can influence outcomes in a way that’s much more values aligned for the person and also can create a new dynamic.

Naji Gehchan: It’s, can we double click on this because obviously there’s a lot. Coaches, I’ve been, you know, as, as a leader manager, obviously it’s one of your biggest job to coach people as you’ve done for several years before getting into fully your business, now being executive coaching ca, can you share a little bit more and help people understand what it, what is it about?

Because there is so many, like the coaching industry, I feel is kind of exploding. We’re seeing so many people starting to be coaches. I’d love, Kara, what is your take about coaching and how do you approach it, uh, with executive.

Amy Kimball: So I approach it similarly to what we talked about with the team at the beginning of any engagement is about me listening and learning.

So I like to get to know someone, hear about their background, hear about their story, and some of the things that have shaped them. And I think that serves a dual role of me gaining understanding about them, but also them releasing some understanding about themselves and connecting some of those dots around.

Oh yeah, this is something that really shaped and influenced the way I show up in life all the time, including work. And from there we start to talk mostly about, so in a session, someone will bring whatever’s going on in their work right now that’s frustrating them. And through some introspective questions that I’ll ask them, we’ll start to talk about, well, you know, I can understand how frustrating this situation is.

Um, what can you notice about. And so it really goes very quickly into that introspective place, and I, I believe that that’s the role of executive coaching. There are other forms of coaching that can be very skills development oriented, and there’s a great place for that. Um, but executive coaching, people who have risen to these levels have the skills they have.

They’re incredibly smart, incredibly driven, incredibly skilled skills, is not the problem. If there is a problem, it’s about have you been able to look deeper and, and by the way, the higher up you get, the less direct feedback you get from people around you. So have you been able to look deeper and think about and process what could be going on that you can do something about rather than just the external environment?

Naji Gehchan: I would give you now a word and I’d love a reaction, uh, that comes to mind. So the first one is,

Amy Kimball: So I think leadership is about an ability to make decisions under uncertainty that are for the collective good and the collective whole. So moving beyond yourself and what benefits you to, what benefits the whole system.

What about mentorship? I think mentorship has a really important place in this too. I think mentorship is more around being a direct sponsor for someone and serving as a role model. Um, and that’s where some of the life experiences and the shared approaches and exchange of ideas really comes in more directly through mentorship.

And that’s about enabling yourself to learn from other people’s experiences. And help shape what decisions they wanna make.

Naji Gehchan: What about lonely at the top? And you said it a couple of times.

Amy Kimball: Yeah. Um, I think lonely at the top is in inevitability in some ways. Um, there is a lot of weight on the shoulders of leaders and. There isn’t a lot of direct feedback. Um, there are a lot of resources and there are a lot of support structures, but there isn’t a lot of direct feedback, and I think loneliness at the top involves not having a, a real sounding board.

And I think that’s another role for executive coaching is just having someone to air some of these challenges that you really can’t bring the whole system into in a safe, confidential space. The reality is while you’re working through the ambiguity, there are moments in time where you just can’t bring the team into every single level of that ambiguity.

Once it’s ready in some way, I believe in sharing some of the uncertainty and being very honest about the way things are, including when they’re not good. But I do think there’s some working out that needs to happen, and that’s part of that loneliness at the top.

Naji Gehchan: And does this, uh, touch all the part of like, being supported?

There’s, you know, I, I had the pleasure to talk with several, you know, coaches, thinkers, and even executives who share, uh, you know, like, I, I don’t wanna use the word mental health, right? But it’s, it’s somehow the loneliness that you feel leaders. We don’t take care of ourselves enough. Sometimes we are really thinking about others organization.

To, to a point where unfortunately sometimes it’s a little bit too late until we realize we need to take care of ourselves. Is this something in the lonely at the top that you think of or you discuss with, with executives and leaders?

Amy Kimball: Yeah, that’s such a good way to put it, naji. It’s, it’s so true. Yes. It, that has been a universal quality that I think every one of my clients has felt and expressed, and as you said, we aren’t taking care of ourselves, so in many cases, I think it takes us a long time to even realize and be willing to admit to ourselves that it’s true.

Because I think that in our drive we have so much ambition and so much passion that we just put ourself and self-care and self-compassion, not even on the back burner, but not on the burners at all. Um, and I’ve noticed this correlation between. Highly driven people who have really risen to the top and a desire to please and a somewhat of a perfectionistic tendency that we often break down and challenge and talk about.

Um, even just exploring how has the path that’s led you here changed who you are today and how is who you are today? No longer needing to be anchored to the way you were, because that’s another point that a lot of people sort of have a hard time realizing, like, I’ve crossed the threshold that I’ve driven my energy towards all this time.

Now, what do I want for myself?

Naji Gehchan: The last word is spread love in organizations.

Amy Kimball: I think it’s really great what you’re doing with this. I, I couldn’t agree more that love needs to be spread in organizations. Um, it’s what it’s all about. You know, we, especially when we’re thinking of concrete skills, we could apply our concrete skills in just about any setting.

What makes us wanna stay with an organization, hopefully is the culture and part of that culture is. And is finding joy and mission and passion in what we do. And I, I hope that we can do more, finding that love and that more leaders can really lead with more heart, so that we can all just feel human in the place that we’re giving most of our energy too.

Naji Gehchan: I couldn’t agree more. Amy, any final word of wisdom for leaders around the world?

Amy Kimball: Oh, I love that you said leaders around the world because it really is a global community. Um, global is a small community in so many ways, and we’re so interconnected. Um, I just hope that we can keep working to break down these perceptions of competition and divide and just think about what are our common goals and how can we lift ourselves?

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much for being with me today. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.

Fail up – Rebecca Yeung

Fail up - Rebecca Yeung

Today we welcome Rebecca Yeung, Corporate Vice President of Operations Science and Advance Technology at FedEx Corporation, and she is one of fourteen C-Suite leaders who sits on FedEx’s Strategic Management Committee, which sets the global enterprise strategy. In her current role,  she leads FedEx’s innovation strategy. She has focused on onboarding advanced technologies, like robotics and electric vehicles, on solving some of the enterprise’s most pressing business challenges.

Today’s episode of OneMoment connected one particular moment when Rebecca was a teenager in China. If this moment had not happened, she likely would have never ended up on a path that has allowed her to rise to the highest levels of corporate America and realize the American Dream.

Rebecca let’s go to that moment… You were 15 years of age and the moment has to do with an exam you took… What was going on in your life and in China at that time? What was the exam and how did it impact you?


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 for this podcast joined today by Ashoka Madduri. Ashoka grew up in a small village in south India. After completing his undergrad and masters he obtained DAAD matching scholarship and moved to Germany. He completed his PhD in Organic Chemistry from University of Groningen, Netherlands, where he worked on anti-cancer complex natural products. He performed his post-doctoral research to understand pathways involved in multi-drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis at Harvard Medical School. Over the years he has worked in multiple biotech companies and developed expertise in business development & corporate strategy. He received his Executive MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management. Currently, he is a Blavatnik Entrepreneurial Fellow at Yale Ventures providing strategy & enabling multiple early-stage life science startups. He’s a Co-founder & CEO of TargetSite Therapeutics, a Yale spin-out, and Partner at Vestra Associates where he advises biotech companies on strategy and partnerships.

Ashoka – it is so good to have you with me today!

Ashoka Madduri: Thank you, Naji . Pleasure is all mine.

Naji Gehchan: Can you share with us, uh, first your story from growing up in a small village in India to Germany, Netherlands, US, and practically always being passionate about healthcare?

What’s, what’s in between the lines of this incredible story? Sure.

Ashoka Madduri: Uh, nai, it’s a long story. I think, uh, I will start, uh, my, uh, in a story from, uh, the s I grew up in South. We were, uh, we were a farmer’s family. My mother passed away when I was around six years old, and it was a really tough time for me and my dad.

My dad left us and, uh, remarried and left the villas. Uh, my, uh, my aunt, my dad’s, uh, sister took me in, uh, special woman who changed my life forever. Uh, so we used to, we used to form together to sustain. So we grew rice, cotton, vegetables, flowers to sell raised buffalos to salt their milk. Uh, so I couldn’t go to school full-time.

Uh, I had to work in a farm and take buffalos for grazing. Uh, so fetched, uh, drinking water from over two kilometers while, while I’m growing up, and sometimes the pot would break halfway. So, uh, so now your water is gone and your pot is gone. You can start all over. That is, that is really in a nutshell, my story when I’m growing up.

So, so basically, uh, uh, with that, uh, uh, growing up story in small villages, uh, I somehow finished, uh, uh, my childhood and my thought, uh, before I leave, I left my village right to bigger city to continue my college education. My aunt, the special woman in my life, taught me hope, optimism, and patie. That is, that is really, I took that to heart and I, wherever I go in my journey, I took it with me.

And that really helped me to, uh, you know, to be where I am and also spreading to the community I’m in, family and also industries. So, uh, I, I think, uh, uh, after I left my villages, uh, we, uh, I moved into, uh, town where I finished. My undergrad, my undergraduate, and also my master’s. So, Another religious during this time, another religious, my mom’s brother took me, uh, took me to stay with him, uh, for college.

Uh, it was totally different world in the city. I studied for Bachelor’s in science. Uh, the books were in English because, uh, in, during my villages, uh, my education was in, uh, local telegu medium. So I never exposed to studying textbooks in, uh, in English. So I had no idea what was written in them. So I purchased the same books in.

Local language and studied both books. Uh, side by side. The relative supported me temporarily. Even families can’t even make ends meet during this time. Even the small amount of Lao they showed. Done miracles in my life. So imagine if we can get even more in our families, industry and communities we are living in.

So that is something, uh, I always, uh, go back and remind myself, uh, how much, uh, smaller, uh, affection and, uh, care and love had impact in my life. So that is, that is my college’s life. Uh, uh, na you know, once I finished. Undergrad and masters in chemistry. I took, uh, my first flight to Germany, uh, by obtaining a dad matching fund scholarship.

Uh, so, uh, uh, follow following that, I finished my PhD in university, uh, CRO Netherlands, where I met, uh, uh, my wife, uh uh, my wife. Life, life law because this theme of your podcast is Lao, see Changed over my life Forever. Forever from there. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a ki kind of big memory for me. Like during that time, I’m also discovering myself, uh, there is education part and also I’m also discovering myself, um, and found this, uh, law and, uh, spreading throughout, uh, in my college education and also meeting the communities, uh, under, under the impact it has, you know, in my, on myself and also the communities.

Uh, I’m, I’m, I’m living, I’m living at the time, so, uh, Nai, I’m sorry. I, I think, uh, I’m thinking, if you don’t mind, can you pause this? Sorry.

Uh, thank you nai, uh, that is, uh, really a, you know, uh, a heavy question because I, I see this in a couple of parts. Uh, so one is a hard work education, uh, discovering. Family, friendship, work on giving back. So I will, I will, I will, uh, touch base, uh, e each, each segment one by one. So I grew up in a small village.

We were a farmer’s family. My mother passed away when I was around six years old, and it was a really tough time for me. My dad left us and remarried, left the village. My aunt, my dad, sister took me in special. Women who changed my life forever. We used to farm together to sustain us. We grew rice, cotton, vegetables, flowers to sell, raised buffalos sold their milk, so I couldn’t go to school full-time.

I had to work in farm and take buffalos for grazing, fetch drinking water from over two kilometers, and sometimes the pot would break halfway. So now water is gone and the pot is gone. So we, uh, so we can start all over. That’s, that’s, uh, my life in a nutshell. Uh, during growing up in a small village, during this all the time, my aunt taught me hope, optimism on patience.

I took this close to my heart. Uh, I always take this, uh, wherever I go, and I always try to cultivate this, uh, hope optimism patients in communities, families and industry. Wherever I worked, I’m applying to, uh, work going. So this is, uh, my childhood. Uh, now the released by me goes to City. Somehow I finished school and, uh, another lady, my mom’s brother took me to stay with, with him for college.

It was totally different world in the city. I studied for Bachelor’s in Science. The books were in English. I had no idea what was written in them. I purchased them same books in my local language and studied both side by side. Uh, the relatives, uh, supported me temporarily. Even families can’t even make Smit during this time.

Even the small amount of Lao they showed. Done miracles in my life. Imagine if you can get even more in our families, industry and communities we are living in. This is, this is really something, uh, uh, that really reflected on my life. Uh, imagine the small amount of care and love and affection changed my whole life forever.

Imagine. We can spread this throughout the communities and families industry we are living in. And, uh, what, what are the things we can change under the impact we can have in the. So, uh, uh, after, uh, uh, finishing, uh, my undergrad, uh, in the city, I obtained a spirit of, uh, excellent scholarship and, uh, completed a master’s in chemistry.

Following that, I obtained a prestigious, uh, dad matching funds fellowship, and moved to Germany. Uh, that is, was my first flight to flying to Germany. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Uh, so following that, I finished my PhD, uh, from, uh, in west of Krogan Netherlands. Uh, I found my. My wife, I fell in Lao and that changed, uh, my life, uh, uh, forever.

Uh, as this, uh, podcast theme is Lao and that is one of the important component, um, of, uh, finding Lao not only in families, but also in communities and also the education, the place you are in. Uh, so, uh, following the, finishing my PhD, uh, I crossed the pond once again, moved to hardwood medical school to finish my postdoc.

Continued my professional journey, uh, in, uh, in, in, in the, in United States here. Work in small and medium sized biotech companies. Uh, built teams. Started as a, uh, head of r and d research and development built teams from scratch. Uh, uh, continued my, uh, professional journey into business development, corporate strategy and consulting.

While I’m doing this, I also finished, uh, my, uh, m mba, uh, from m I t. Uh, currently, I’m, uh, also working as a blaa entrepreneur fellow helping faculty. To, uh, you know, helping faculty on, on strategy help, uh, strategy to take their companies to next level. Uh, so I’m also, uh, uh, running a, a small company that’s a el startup is target side therapeutics.

It’s a small team, uh, but still in, even in a small team, the. Care, nurture, uh, em, uh, empowering people is very, very important because we are building from scratch that set the tone for our next generation of, uh, employees that are going to come into the company. So I’ll stop, uh, here. Nai, you know, uh, uh, I’m, I’m happy to continue if you have any other questions on this.

Well, thank you

Naji Gehchan: so much for sharing. It’s just such an inspiring story. Um, and thanks for sharing openly, uh, all, all you’ve done and, and your leadership and beliefs, uh, that I definitely believe like you and, uh, can you share with us? You’re learning specifically on being an immigrant, like there is more and more discussions about the immigrant mindset being an immigrant and you know, entrepreneurship, et cetera.

I’d love to, to see if your story of, you know, immigration moving those countries, uh, with the hardship that you shared, has this impacted at all your entrepreneurial journey and how you lead teams?

Ashoka Madduri: Excellent question, naia. I think, uh, totally, totally right. Uh, for me, I see entrepreneurship as, Is, uh, rewarding, but first of all is a really high, highly risk taking.

So I think, uh, coming, coming back to, uh, my personal story Rise, uh, and also, uh, it, it, it’s, uh, same story for any immigrant, right? Living their, uh, country taking risk to go to different country and new environment, new people, new language, uh, until, uh, uh, really. Kind of being com being comfortable learning that stuff, uh, and producing that is required.

Uh, you know, to sustain your life is not easy. Actually. I think that same thing you I’ll see in entrepreneurship too. It’s risk taking. It’s a lot of risk involved. Uh, so I think as immigrant, uh, I think it is, becomes a. Second nature to you to take that, uh, uh, risk and, uh, really build the companies.

Actually, I think, uh, that is the reason I see, I believe that, you know, um, uh, United States become United States just because that, uh, uh, you know, uh, risk takers like immigrants, people who come here and build this, uh, country, what it is now today. So

Naji Gehchan: you’ve been working in several biotechs and you co-founded one.

You’re running it as, as the chief exec, uh, officer. Um, and you’re also mentoring along the way, several other founders, biotech founders, life science founders. What, what is your key advice when you talk to founding teams starting life science companies?

Ashoka Madduri: I think, uh, the key advice is, uh, uh, I think of course we are in a very highly technical industry, right?

Science needs to be there for sure. I think, uh, more than science, right? I think, uh, building right team, right team is really important. Uh, I think, uh, Really, you know, last, first three or four people who are, you are really hiring, nurturing them, empowering them, and they’re the ones setting tone for your company’s growth, actually.

So I believe in really building team now, along with the, having a strong science foundation. So I think that’s where, uh, I, I, I put a lot of emphasis actually, you know, and this advice I’ll give to any entrepreneurs out there. Planning to build their company from scratch. Look for that, um, right. People actually who shares the value and to nurture the people, uh, that they work with.

Uh, that, that’s going to set the tone for the, uh, for the development of the company. So, so can you share,

Naji Gehchan: uh, with us a little bit more like those leadership skills? And how do you look at this, uh, in a founding team? Is it complimentary? Is it specific leadership skills you believe foundationally they should have?

I’d love to get your thoughts because specifically on this team, as you said, like this is the biggest piece. There’s science and team. Uh, how, how do you look through this and what are the skills and capabilities you

Ashoka Madduri: look for? I think, uh, uh, plus for sure, you know, Any, any, any team you’re building initial, right.

It’s always good to have complimentary skills. I think that is a, uh, uh, that is a given, uh, you know, uh, the, besides having complimentary skills, right. You know, I think, uh, people need to understand the vision, uh, vision of the company in, uh, in two ways. I see. One is really from technical point of view where we are.

Where we want to go in few years. And second thing is, uh, what kind of team we would like to build. So that’s where I really focus emphasis on actually whenever we are hiring, uh, new employees want to make sure that they share the same vision. For the technical side as well as for non-technical side, how to really build the teams and the company as a, uh, as a, as a, uh, as a, uh, you know, in, in small institute Right.

You know, ourself to nurture each other. So, so I think, uh, the important focus is really what values they share and, uh, uh, and, uh, whether they, they, they, they share the common vision with us to really build these teams, uh, uh, to take this.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. You mentioned a couple of times and you touched it on culture that this team is trying to build.

So there is the values, shared values, a shared purpose, uh, as, as you’re building this, especially when you’re a small team. Um, and then there is what you’re trying to build as a culture. And you said the first hires are key. Can I double click on this and ask you, what are you trying to build as a culture?

For example, if you take your, your venture now as a ceo,

Ashoka Madduri: I think, uh, culture is the key, right? Know, uh, na you know, the couple of reasons for this, right? Uh, you know, you attracting talent in this competent environment is not easy. Uh, you know, there’s plenty of options for, uh, People who are just coming out of school, uh, you know, they can choose to work in different companies, uh, in our at any time.

So keeping the talent in in-house or, that is very key actually. What it starts from is culture. It’s having the really culture actually, and the, uh, trust teacher there. And you empower each other and really having a, that, uh, caring affection love. I think that is very, very important at this stage actually.

I think, uh, money component is there. Some people really get motivated by money, but I think a lot of times I’ve seen is actually having that culture, care and empowerment and love, I think, uh, keeps the people together for longer time. I think that’s, that’s what, uh, for me, culture means. Actually. I think people who share these values and believe this is.

Way to go forward. That’s, I think, for me, the culture actually. I think, uh, this starts from first few people actually that you are in, in our company that is, I believe this is like, uh, uh, what’s your cycle? If you have three people and the share same values and you keep moving actually with the, with the team you build going forward.


Naji Gehchan: So this, this is, this is very powerful and obviously I’m, I’m biased. I’d love to know how you do it in a, you know, in a small team to show this. Because culture, you can, you can say, I want this, but obviously it’s the perception of what’s going day by day that is making it lived or not. So I, I’m intrigued, especially in a space where, You’re fundraising.

It’s tough. Science is tough, and it humbles us every day in drug development and discovery. You’re talking with VCs constantly, and then you’re coming with like, I have science and I have a team, and I have love and passion. I would love to know how you’re.

Ashoka Madduri: So I think, uh, there’s no magic bullet. Uh, na you know, I think everyone knows, you know, fundraising is hard, uh, and also, uh, being a c for a startup company, right?

It, it is also highly risky job. It’s not fun too. You know, there is a lot of things can go wrong. We are, we’re trying to get the data that required to raise the funding. You may not even get it actually. So I think, uh, the one way I’m keeping, uh, all the things together, uh, I’m also learning from each other, right?

Not only me actually also looking to my early employees point of view, what they see. What the issues we’re facing actually. So learn from each other actually, and also at the same time, right. Understand being a good listener, actually. So I think a lot of, uh, uh, times I see in, uh, early CEOs, right? You know, they do have some kind of idea how to run the company, but I think they’ve, uh, failed to listen to the.

The early stage employees actually who are key instrument of the company. I think listening, I think this is very, very important actually. That really solves majority of the issues, uh, that early stage companies are facing. So that’s something I cultivated. Uh, na or listen to your employees and, uh, and uh, and see what they’re saying, uh, and act according to that.

That, that going to solve really a lot of issues. So I think that’s something, uh, you know, like cultivated in our company. And also second thing is, uh, having that bigger vision, actually, yes, you do have upside downs. Maybe things won’t work out the way you want. Uh, maybe even raising capital takes more than time required data you are looking for.

It may not get actually, but I think, uh, having that bigger vision, right, that belongingness like, okay, we are here for each. We can support each other, we can get through this. Actually having that kind of mindset, you can, you know, that can sustain you for a longer time. So certainly, and

Naji Gehchan: you mentioned a key, a key point, which is belonging.

Uh, and, and I think focusing on this can solve a lot of issues on retention, feeling part of something bigger as you already shared, be before. Uh, if, if I ask you a question more, Technical practically. Now, you’ve, you’ve been helping so many biotechs and you’ve been on the edge of new technology. I’d love to get your thoughts on how’s the biotech environment in 2023, since we’re the first couple of months of the year, and what’s your take on it moving forward for this year and

Ashoka Madduri: next one?

I think a, for sure, right. You know, public markets, as you can see, uh, uh, is, is brutal right? Environment. So I think. Just because there have been plenty of money already being raised in Covid time. That disruption happened during Covid, so so. So basically a covid taught us so many things, right? You know, especially biotech, a pharma industry, even though as much as they allow, it’s still a conservative industry compared to other, other, other, uh, industries.

We have a lot of regulatory environment here. We need to follow certain rules and regulations, you know, to really keep this industry moving. So I think, uh, uh, coming, but again, I’m really optimistic actually. So I think it’s kind of, uh, I believe in, uh, Uh, blessings, uh, uh, in disguise. Disguise, sorry. Uh, disguise in blessings is, uh, sorry.

Nazi. Uh, can, can I pause here? You, if you don’t mind. Can I take that question again?

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Do you, do you want me to say it again?

No, no, no worries. Drink

Ashoka Madduri: water. Yeah, maybe I can start the question maybe again. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Sure.

I can, I, I know the question actually, so,

Naji Gehchan: okay. So gimme just two seconds for us to be able to edit it. Yeah. So we Pause two seconds and then you can start again. Okay.

Ashoka Madduri: Yeah.

Got it. So I think, uh, that’s a great question. Uh, NAZA, you know, Covid, uh, really disrupted biotech industry a lot. Uh, I think, uh, in 2023, uh, we, we is still seen a lot of headwinds in, uh, in, especially in public markets and also some in, uh, private markets. But I’m really optimistic in, uh, uh, uh, the lessons we learned from, uh, COVID, right?

How to be flexible. You know, how to be resilience. I think that, that these are the lessons actually very, very important for biotech industry. How, how we can be more flexible and resilient in this changing environments. So I think the hybrid culture is really going to stay for a longer time. Uh, there is something, uh, you know, industry.

Never thought is is going to happen. I think this two years kind of, uh, accelerated almost like 10 years of a life, uh, lifetime in biotech industry. So, uh, I think keeping this in mind, right, hybrid environment and also technological, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, evolutions that happening, especially in gene cell therapy and also mRNA, uh, the industry is, uh, good to do, uh, more things, uh, that, that.

Kind of can’t imagine actually 10 years ago. So that I’m, I’m really optimistic for this industry and, uh, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m going to play one of the small company c e o key role going forward actually to really bring a transformation therapies actually that much more safe and focus for patients. That’s


Naji Gehchan: And we, we, we need so much of all the innovation we are all working on, uh, patients actually cannot and should not wait. So it’s, um, thanks for all you’re doing with, with your new adventure and also advising all the other biotechs too. I would give you now a word and I would love your reaction to it. I’m, I’m sure you were ready for this section.

Sure. So the first, the first one is leader.

Ashoka Madduri: So for me, leadership is, uh, all empowerment. You know, uh, expand on that, you know, especially after Covid, people gone through so many transformations, being hybrid, uh, I think empowering, empowering is, uh, is kind of undervalued actually. So I think I really touch base on, uh, you know, any leaders out. Empower people around you.

I think even the small change, the small, uh, you know, feedback, the positive feedback that you, that you give to the person, that changes the life, that per of the person tremendously. So I think for me, empowerment, leadership is always empowerment. What about health equity equally? Health for all. That, that is, that’s what comes to my.

But, uh, is it really truly happening, uh, in our, the country we are living in? It’s still far away. Hopefully as a leaders, we collectively find the answers to make that, uh, e equal to all happen soon. The third one is

Naji Gehchan: fireside shots.

Ashoka Madduri: It’s scary. So, uh, but I think, uh, It’s scary. Uh, but if, if you, if you take that, uh, you know, moment to think about it, what kind of impact it can have, the organically sharing your story and genuine to and truthful to who you are, I think, uh, that can change your, and also that can change a lot of people life actually.

And I have a, in a positive way, having greater impact. Uh, it, I totally support, uh, five set charts in. There is something, you know, you won’t really see that you see normally, uh, you know, in other stories. So, uh, highly, highly recommend that you know any, any entrepreneurs, leaders, how do themself and also ask other people to do this.

Actually, that’s the only way we can, we can build a strong community.

Naji Gehchan: Just as a background for our listeners, the fireside chats are actually moments where we share our stories and we, we, I, I had the opportunity to be in the same program as, as you Ashoka, this, it’s really those moments where you have the opportunity to share your story and tell it.

Um, and it’s definitely. Powerful moments as you did today, sharing your personal story with, uh, with all of us here. Uh, the last one is spread love in organizations.

Ashoka Madduri: So it’s a, it’s, it’s a continuous, right? It’s a journey. So I think, uh, as someone said, life is a journey, not as a, not a destination. I totally believe save.

Same is true for Lao. Love is a journey, not a Destin. The reason I say this is, you know, you can even in a family’s right? You know, he found Lao, he got married. That is not enough. Same thing I see in industry and communities. Once he found Lao, you need to not share, uh, Look at the, look at the issues that you are saw, uh, going to stop, solve and facing every day and find solutions.

Actually, I think, uh, I feel this law is a journey. It’s not a destination and we should keep, uh, uh, cultivating this culture throughout our career, not only industry, also in family, and also in communities we are living in. And we’re

Naji Gehchan: trying here to do our part, bringing incredible leaders like you who believe in this.

And hopefully we can keep growing this, uh, this journey together to, to lead from a place of love for us to be able to execute and deliver for the patients we serve. And all the stakeholders. Any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the world?

Ashoka Madduri: Empower people. Uh, empowering people is, uh, one of the thing, uh, I take, take very close to, uh, my heart, uh, uh, na, you know, uh, and what you are doing, uh, through your podcast, uh, you know, spreading Lao, I, uh, I love the theme. And this is, this something, uh, hope many people, many leaders will spread the law and empower, empower their people and, uh, empower their people.

Uh, this is, uh, this is, uh, you know, this is the way we can build a stronger communities and we can have a greater impact, uh, on society as a whole. So. Well, thank you so

Naji Gehchan: much, uh, Ashoka for being with me today and for this incredible chat.

Ashoka Madduri: Thank you, Naji. what you’re doing is great, and, hopefully, you continue doing this and spread love across the world.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this episode from our new series focused on us as leaders. I’m thrilled to be joined by an exceptional MIT professor of Management, Operations Research, Statistics and Operations Management: Georgia Perakis.

Georgia teaches courses and performs research in analytics, optimization, machine learning with applications in pricing, revenue management, supply chains, transportation, energy, and healthcare among others. I had the privilege to be her student the past semester, and not only I learned about data, models, and decisions, but I learned about leadership from her as much!

In her research, Georgia investigates the theory and practice of analytics and its role in operations problems.. She has received numerous Awards and have several prestigious publications. Currently, and Georgia serves as the codirector of the Operations Research Center and on the council for the College of Computing, and faculty director of the Executive MBA (EMBA) program at MIT Sloan. I’ll never be able to share all her incredible work and impact so I’ll stop here and listen to her!

Georgia Perakis: Hello, Naji. Thank you very much for inviting me. Nice to see you.

Naji Gehchan: Georgia, before going into the world of data and leadership, I really would love to learn more about your personal story and journey to becoming the great MIT professor you are today.

Georgia Perakis: So, uh, I was actually born in the south of Greece in the island of Crete. I came from a, what I would call a very academic family that starts from my father who, uh, arrived before the second world war started. He was in Switzerland, uh, doing his master’s degree in civil engineering and studying airplanes, unfortunately, because of the war he had to come back and he had to serve the army for five.

So the dream of he used to pursue graduate studies did not work out. Uh, but as a result, uh, both my brother and I, uh, he basically instilled in us the passion to basically study and be academics. Um, and so both my brother and I are professors in the us in different universities, myself in, uh, what I would call applied math in business or analytics and my brother and sister.

So I, I would say in short, I’m trying to say that this is all because of how our father inspired.

Naji Gehchan: Oh, wow. That’s a, that, that’s awesome. Uh, and I’ve, I’ve seen you, you’re talking about how you get into MIT, academics, uh, and well, all the amazing work you’ve done so far and still doing there. Uh, and, and before going, you know, more into the data, I I’ve seen you leading your team, the PhD team that you have during the, you know, the sessions that we had, uh, and the course, uh, and it was really amazing to watch you like truly how you led the team, how you value them, how you brought them in front of the class.

Uh, Yeah, for me, I really felt it’s practically a real team. It’s one, it’s a one team that has, that is doing this. So can you share a little bit your leadership beliefs and your leadership journey and how you ended up in academia and building really strong teams with your.

Georgia Perakis: So how I ended up in academia, I already mentioned, and I came to the U S from graduate school.

I felt that I was just going to finish my master’s and PhD and go back. But of course, many double digit, won’t say how many I am still here. Am I teasing and incredible? Uh, it’s, I call it like a huge candy store with grape candy that it’s hard to choose from. But what I think is extremely unique are the students that we have at MIT, whether there are people like you, the MBA students, or whether there are PhD students, like the ones in the operations research center, which, where you’re doing.

So I consider myself very, very lucky to be able to interact and basically be among people like them and you guys. And so basically my goal is what I would call enabling these people to bring back back, to bring out the best of them. And that’s kind of my core belief actually in everything I do. Bring in enable the best in other people.

And so I know I have the luck to be among incredibly talented people. So bringing out their skills and enabling them is what I believe in doing in everything.

Naji Gehchan: Well, this is such a powerful, uh, such. Powerful word, you know, for a leader is right. Enabling others and making sure the environment and tries to return a lot about what is the environment that you’re creating for us to enable, uh, enable people to be at their best.

Uh, you know, um, I’ve seen all the work and the word I’ve seen all the work you have done with your team, and it’s also part of leadership and how you pivoted, I think with your team. The round. COVID try. I know many don’t want to talk about it, but it’s important where it’s still somehow in a, uh, can you share a little bit with us?

How, how you took your team into modeling all that was happening in COVID and ultimately the impact that you are having on, on policies, uh, now with the data and model, I think it’s a beautiful example on how you can. Take data and do something actionable about it. And it’s a, it’s a great. Leadership lesson, I’m sure you had, as, as things were, uh, on feeding during the pandemic.

Georgia Perakis: So I would say basically that, uh, when the pandemic started and we all had to go very quickly virtually, uh, the first thing that I wanted to do is to create community actually with my. And we have been working on many different types of algorithms. We sub groups of my students. So I thought in order for them to not feel isolated and so forth, it would be great to create community and see how we can do something.

Good. Everything we were doing that where, for example, for the retail space or somewhere for basically other healthcare applications, and that’s how this journey actually got started. Um, we, we tried to basically find data sources and. And actually there was an MBA student at the time, at the time, uh, that also was involved in the team because he talk to me and she told me, Hey, uh, I would like to be involved as well.

Um, so that’s how the discussions got started. The next step it happened. And since we were doing this, uh, and we then got contacted by MIT quest for intelligence, which is sort of the air over my. That sits, you know, it brings together many parts of MIT as it comes to AI. And they notice that we were starting to do this work.

And so they said, well, maybe you can help us because we are trying to understand how cases, how deaths and so forth will evolve. And that will also help us to reopen them. So now, you know, what was just about community building and about let’s make our work mean something, it became something that was sort of more tangible.

It was like, okay, let’s see how we can have on it. Understand how the evolution of cases, the evolution of deaths in different states and counties in the United States and in particular, Massachusetts. Because if we understand what’s happening in Massachusetts and my ticket now make decisions about different measures they could impose in order to make things work.

Because as you know, MIT believed that we in-person experience is something very important. Everybody knew that this is not going to be perfect, but it’s better than just being all virtual with no in-person component. And so we thought it would be great to basically help them do. It was a lot of hard work.

And again, I give all the credit to the students because they work tirelessly and very excited. They had ownership of this. This was their baby, and I was lucky to be part of that conversation. And then we decided, well, we actually maybe can help a little bit more at the national level. So, um, Contacted Fox from the CB CBC.

And then we started actually submitting our models. We are still doing this every week, uh, for predicting for the next week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks ahead, how cases and deaths are going to evolve. So that’s kind of the summary of a long journey.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, well, wow. And again, like it’s, uh, you, you always told us data is better than nothing.

And then the ultimate objective is making decisions, right? So it’s, it’s really impressive. And w before going to data machine learning, I want to ask a question on this, but before that, I really want to summarize, you said things that are super powerful. You, you started by, uh, creating a company. Doing something for good.

Right? And then you go into ownership, empowerment of your team, enabling them to be at their best. And honestly, what a humble leader you are, because again, you say it’s your team, but I’m sure without her leadership, you wouldn’t have, they wouldn’t have achieved what you guys have achieved. So, yeah. Thanks for giving all those dealerships tips for all of us.

Georgia Perakis: I think of my team, some amazing students. I honestly believe that at all. And I consider myself very lucky to be part of that environment. Uh, and so I believe success of people is by understanding the abilities of others and helping bringing them out. So, and then we all look good. They do. And actually, so do I find it a bit selfish?

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. I so agree with this. Um, well you mentioned words, right? Data models, machine learning, it’s such trendy words, right? So I would love to get your take on this. I had the opportunity to hear you about it for many hours that I enjoyed. I would love to hear your take on those and the most important advice you would give us for leaders who either are talking about it or dealing with it and our organizations.

What are your, what is your take about all

Georgia Perakis: those strategies? Right. So, first of all, understanding what data we each have in our organization, how we can use them in a good way, how we can use them to have a competitive edge. Or realizing the limitations of our data, maybe what we do not have and we could have, uh, and how, what we don’t have, we can actually collect and use it to do better things.

That’s sort of the first step, basically, uh, understand what is your data environment? Where can you get it and what can you not get? But you could potentially. The second, also an important thing is to understand what you could do with it, potentially what are some areas where analytics and in analytics, I put machine learning, AI optimization, how analytics could actually improve the way you are doing things in your organization and recognizing those opportunities.

And recognizing areas that my lead picks can have a first order effect as I call it. It’s not just a small parentheses. Uh, and so, you know, recognizing what are these areas also extremely important. And then flowed that I wanted to do with the class that I was teaching is to make sure. And I’m not sure if I should use this word, but, and maybe I have not used it, but that nobody can, uh, talk another person.

Nobody can be as you.

And that, you know, and so I’m proud whenever I hear, uh, people, uh, who took my class, that they go in meetings and they recognize, and they ask questions and, you know, people, don’t not trying to pull a fast one over them and that’s extremely satisfying.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Yeah, you definitely, you definitely helped us see this for your, you know, for those of us who deal with data constantly and those who don’t, but it’s important to kind of think of it that

Georgia Perakis: way.

And I would say that this past month I was contacted by two former students of mine that graduated one maybe three years ago. And the other two years ago, Sort of talking to me about problems that they had in their organizations and recognizing how some particular tools that I taught them was useful.

And so that happened to me twice in the last month. And, um, even asking me to, to remind them of what software had I recommended back then and so forth, and that’s extremely satisfying, then I feel okay. Yeah, I did something.

Naji Gehchan: Oh yeah, no, definitely. And there are many who don’t come back to what are actually doing it.

So that is for sure. What is the last question on this? Uh, since you’ve worked a lot in academia, but you obviously work it out with companies, right? You mentioned retail and healthcare and many others. Uh, what is the most challenging? When we touch those, you know, machine learning, AI, all those concepts and organization, what is for you?

The most challenging piece a leader should start with if we’re launching this type of projects or transformation.

Georgia Perakis: So I would say first understanding what are the problems that the organization have? What are the right questions and what are the limitations also that they have? What are they capable of?

And then they towel. So because, you know, everybody talks about big data and I say a far more important thing is what happens when I have little data. When I have missing data, actually I would say this is hard there. I’ll talk about big data. Let’s talk first about little data missing data. So I would say those three and in that order first.

Okay. What is that? I problem for me, is it. But maybe by using ethics, I could make a difference for somebody.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. I will always take this. As you mentioned that many times, right? What is the problem you’re trying to fix? And this is usually the toughest question to ask because yeah, we can have data, but you know, what are we trying to fix and which type of data we need, and then try to deal with this.

So I, I would, uh, I would be moving into giving you one word and I would love to have your reaction to this word, uh, in a sentence or more, right? So the first one is leadership.

Georgia Perakis: So, um, my action is empowering others actions.

Oh, my God. The extremely important having diversity in an organization is what brings power to the organization.

Naji Gehchan: Okay. Can you share it a little bit more because I know you’re passionate about it, then you’ve done a lot of work within MIT on DNI. Can you share with us a little bit more, you know, from beta to auctions and thoughts on,

Georgia Perakis: right.

So a couple of things, the first is that by recognizing that if you bring a lot of different voices, You know, my analogy to data would be if you have different and diverse sources of data and even methods that you can buy, you will actually have a much more powerful outcome. In fact, what we did in our algorithms to predict was exactly the principle of diversity.

We basically developed a lot of different and diverse. Algorithms that capture different aspects. If you like, we brought different voices and by ensembling them together, we created a much more powerful. So it’s almost like taking the model of diversity and putting it in an algorithmic setting. And that’s one example, but I believe it in everything I do and I see it in my group and I see that MIT and I know now.

And in general, MIT takes this very seriously. We can do much better, but you know, recognizing this is the first step to success, I would say.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, no, I love it. Well, recognizing the problem right

Georgia Perakis: then,

Naji Gehchan: uh, I have to ask this many of the listeners won’t know where it is.

Georgia Perakis: Data models and decisions, how you go from data to recommending good decisions that will bring value and value. Doesn’t have to be just revenue profit. It can be improving the world in some way.

Naji Gehchan: Awesome. This is one of the best courses in this ever programs.

Uh, the last one I’d love your reaction on is spread love and organizations.

Georgia Perakis: So do you need one word or Western, whatever

Naji Gehchan: you want,

Georgia Perakis: you don’t spend? I would say basically feeling compassionate and trying to understand. Other people in your organization so that you can embrace others and you can embrace the diversity or the lack thereof of an organization, and then bring diversity to the organization.

And by sort of having that empathy and compassion with others and spreading it is what would make the organization successful. So, as I said before, in a way it’s kind of understanding and enabling and embracing others.

Naji Gehchan: Awesome. Uh, Georgia, any final word of wisdom for all the leaders around the world.

Georgia Perakis: So I would say one thing, which is extremely important to me and I will put it in mathematical terms, what I call the law of large numbers and what I mean by that is persist and look at the long-term goal.

That’s what I learned in my career. And, you know, things didn’t just come on my plate as I went along in my career, but, you know, uh, I try to focus on the end. I’d rather have a look at the failures that I had right in front of me. And I call that the law of large numbers that if you persist and look at the future, long-term it will work out eventually

Naji Gehchan: the “Love of large number.” I love it. Thank you so much for your time today.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast joined today by Paul Hartung, a longtime life sciences and technology executive with a proven track record in launching successful startup businesses and leading Fortune 500 organizations. Paul currently serves on several Board of Directors including Leuko and Verisense, he mentors at MIT VMS, MassBio MassCONNECT, and The Capital Network, and serves as a judge for MassChallenge. He served as President & CEO through successful Phase II of Cognoptix, which has developed an innovative eye scan for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Paul also founded Sonivance, and has held senior management roles at 3Com, Summit (LASIK), Trumpf, Laser Fare and GE.  Paul graduated with honors from MIT with an MS Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is an active speaker, author and inventor on a number of patents.

Paul – it is an honor to have you with me today!

Paul Hartung: Well, thank you very much, Naji. I really appreciate the invitation.

Naji Gehchan: Can you first share with us, uh, Paul, your personal story from mechanical engineering to life sciences and impressive entrepreneurial track record?

What’s, what’s behind this inspiring journey you have? Yeah.

Paul Hartung: You know, I, I guess I like to categorize myself as an engineer who loves to make things right. So early on, uh, my research at m i t was at, uh, lab for Manufacturing and Product. . So I got involved in all kinds of manufacturing processes and advanced materials.

And actually some of my work is being taught today at M I T and my research. Um, so I started in the aerospace industry, which is a manufacturing industry. And then I looked around and I, I realized that, um, you know, manufacturing was really changing and I wanted to do something. So one of the things that caught my interest was lasers, and there’s lots of different things you can do with lasers and, and photonics.

I I started looking at, um, industrial lasers, high power lasers, and got a whole taste of, um, the whole process of, uh, mergers and acquisitions of companies. . I, and I had a crash course, uh, in that I, I went from GE to a, a small company. . Um, then another small company that was acquired by a bigger company and merged with another company all in a period of years.

And that’s what ended up being described on my resume as as Trump. But it started as a spin out of combustion engineering, which is an energy company. Um, , but then I, I got exposed to, uh, medical technology first using lasers as a manufacturing tool cuz you know, they’re used to make pacemakers and things like that.

Um, there’s things you can do with lasers that you can’t do with other manufacturing processes. So, um, I went to, I, I spoke at an M D D I conference, which is on medical devices, uh, using lasers and manufacturing tool and. Lo and behold, uh, after a little bit of a journey, you know, through these mergers and acquisitions, I ended up getting a call from a friend of mine who was working for a medical laser company and a startup that was called Summit Technologies.

And, uh, that was a company that developed lasik. So, um, I, you know, made this huge pivot in my. To, to do that. Um, and at the same time as, as developing skills sort of across business, rather than doing an m mba, again, I haven’t, you know, a couple of engineering degrees. Um, I decided to learn different aspects of the business.

So I actually applied to a manufacturing job and this, this startup was sort of expanding. They, uh, wanted to do manufacturing in, uh, in, uh, Ireland. and take advantage of some, some tax breaks and what have you. So, um, I came in to kind of run manufacturing locally and we didn’t have f d a approval yet, so had to go through the whole process of, of, um, getting f d a approval and learned that firsthand and.

You know, I, uh, then got distracted. Uh, I, I ended up doing that for several years and I got a call, um, you know, sort of the whole internet of things industry was starting to blossom. And I got a call from a company called Threecom Corporation, which I hadn’t even heard of at the time, but at, at that time, its bread and butter was connecting everybody to the internet.

I mean, there were basically devices that you plugged in to every laptop to connect to the internet, but the company grew, grew through acquisitions. So every month the company was acquiring another company. So now what our smartphones kind of evolved from something that was called the Palm Pilot. I dunno if anybody remembers that, but, um, these, these, uh, PDA.

We’re, uh, kind of a precursor to smartphones and, uh, Threecom bought the company that makes those. Um, I, I learned, oh, I’m a mechanical engineer by training. I learned all about, uh, kind of software intensive businesses and uh, uh, electrical hardware done at very low cost. And, um, I learned partnering as well, uh, the global supply chain because we had three internal factories.

um, like four subcontractors that we worked with on the outside. And I ended up with this global operations role, figuring out how to make new product, how to design new products anywhere and make them anywhere. So in concept, um, And then I got back into, um, startups. Uh, I, I joined a company called Win Foria that was acquired by Motorola and developed, uh, another mobile technology called Push to Talk.

Um, so after that little diversion into Into Tech, okay, I decided I was gonna do a medical device. And I, um, ended up being in the right place at the right time. I, um, started researching how to kind of raise funny first for startups and went to a little conference put on by a law firm. And, uh, I enjoyed one of the speakers, spoke to him in the hallway and he said, oh, you need to meet.

Scientists who are putting together this, that made this great discovery of amyloid in the eye that, uh, kind of parallels what goes on in the brain with Alzheimer’s disease and, um, you know, your photonics background, you know, working with the eye with lasik. Um, my business background, I ended up at my kind of first, uh, founding c e O job.

and, uh, that was initially named Neurotics, uh, changed its name to Cog Optics at one point due to a trademark thing with another company. But, um, we, it was quite a journey. Um, you know, I, coming from a very successful tech startup that had raised a lot of money from venture capital, , uh, I thought I could, you know, raise money quickly through vent venture capital instead.

Um, I found myself being introduced to Angel financing and cuz it was Alzheimer’s disease was too scary. It, the market at that time was, was very tough. So, by accident I syndicated the first, uh, angel deal in the Northeast because I couldn’t make enough money through, you know, Uh, angel Group. I put four together and, you know, did of financing.

So, you know, I ultimately raised 3 million in angel financing and, um, did the development that was needed to sort of get ready for, uh, venture financing. And, um, what happened? The economy crashed. This was back in 2008. and luckily I was, I was kind of searching internationally for, uh, venture venture funding.

I had a lead investor in, uh, Europe. Uh, and we closed a, a financing in September when the whole US economy had shut down that year already no one was getting financing. So, um, that, uh, helped hurdle me forward and. . Yeah. You know, that that was a wonderful journey for me, uh, that that company, um, you know, we were one of the four leading inventions by, you know, the Alzheimer’s Association.

I do an international conference in, in, uh, 2015. And, uh, really positioned for success. Uh, a real issue was no company had a treatment. And that ended up being a real kinda barrier to, uh, you know,

Naji Gehchan: Well, well, thank you so much for sharing. This is really inspiring and incredible journey, and you shared so many times the word learning, uh, and it seems every, everything job you took was based out of curiosity learning.

So I’d love to double click on this a as you were taking those job, and obviously it’s, it’s risky, right? Like you’re jumping, I imagine what you felt. Also kind of constantly move to jobs, uh, you know, new jobs that I don’t know about. Right. What, what was your backbone, is there like a backbone capability or something within your core or leadership signature that you always kind of relied on or something else that made you, you know, go learn fast

Paul Hartung: and?

Well, something that’s great about m i t is, uh, they teach you problem solving skills. So that’s one thing at the core, you know, uh, kind of being able to kind of step back, be humble, learn as much as you can about a situation before jumping to conclusions and, and, and jumping to the solution space. So, um, again, problem solving is a process.

And I also look at, um, product development, uh, as a process that, uh, translates across industries actually. Um, you know, a lot of people and, you know, a lot of people are very successful kind of choosing, uh, sort of an industry segment and, and role even sometimes, so you know that they’re very effective.

and going very deep. Well, I’ve found that, um, you know, I, I talked about, um, working for a company like ge. Well, guess what? They, they did some military business. It was, uh, it was, um, uh, military helicopter engines was one of the things that they made, you know, where, where we were, which is a regulated industry.

Right? Um, and there were some. Grants associated with the kind of work I was doing, you know, writing and, and supporting grants is kind of a general skill. Um, I, I found that, um, the process of, of, uh, team building. Um, one thing I’m, I’m passionate about is, is developing cross-functional teams and starting having an interest in manufacturing.

there’s this traditional wall between engineering and manufacturing where they used to say that, uh, you know, ideas would be kind of thrown over the wall and manufacturing people would have to figure out how to make it. Well. Over time, we’ve all learned that it’s most effective to, um, bring pe, bring all the stakeholders in early, you know, in, in the process, and, uh, create these cross-functional teams that are very effecti.

So, um, I’ve done that on the level of job functions and more recently done it on the level of complex things like drug delivery, where, you know, you need to have people who understand the pharma side and you also have people who understand the sort of mechanics of, of, of, of drug delivery or, or understand advanced materials.

and, um, you know, it, it, it’s interesting getting a diverse team together in, in the same room and trying to figure out how to move forward to a common cause. Love, and that’s, I love they developed over time. And I, I

Naji Gehchan: wanna go there because I love what you said about the wall, you know, between engineering and or tech and then manufacturing.

And I’m sure you’ve seen another wall once. This is, you know, produced like a wall for marketing and sales to figure out how to sell it, right?

Paul Hartung: Yeah, absolutely.

Naji Gehchan: So as you are building and working those with diverse teams, uh, as the leader of all those teams, what, what, what do you practically do? You said like, put people together in a room.

Uh, in today’s world, it’s. Possible physically. Sometimes our teams are remote, I’m sure. And,

Paul Hartung: and you were the same. So I can be done remotely.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. So I’d love to learn more from you, like what are the tips, how have you done it to build really this cross-functional team that is going towards a purpose, as you said, a common purpose, uh, to deliver on the mission they had.

So how, how have you, how have you done this?

Paul Hartung: Well, I think, um, part of it is effective meeting management. Um, everybody. Gets quickly sick of too many meetings. But if you have, uh, a structure where there’s a periodic team meeting, say weekly, and um, you know, you have to have a manageable number of people.

And that partly has to do with, with, uh, how big the project is and the structure of the team. But if you have, you know, 10 people in the room, let’s. , you give everybody the opportunity to give a quick update from their perspective. And um, also they may have an ask. And, um, at first when you know people are, um, hearing something that’s very foreign to them, they think it, maybe it’s a waste of time or they don’t understand it or whatever, but it starts to sink in.

They start to get an appreci. of all of the pieces of the puzzle. You don’t have to become an expert in everything. But knowing a little bit about, and, and understanding what impacts your fellow team members, um, it’s those intersections, you know, that are, are, that are most important and someone from a completely different discipline may have a great idea or, or great solution for, for one of their team.

So that’s, that’s part of it. I think another part of it is just having really good project management. You know, I’m, I’m a believer in, uh, project plans and, and Gant charts and those sorts of things. And, you know, trying to work to a schedule and if there are delays, figuring out what, you know, what things can be done independently, what what can be done to mitigate, um, um, issues with the.

Um, but yeah, I mean, usually with a complex project, um, the, the solutions may come from anywhere. You know, they, there’s different facets to the project and to work around a delay in one area, um, someone may need to step up in another area.

Naji Gehchan: It’s reminding me of what we also at m i t learned, right? Like all this dynamic work design and, and how to do this.

Have you seen a difference between doing it in startups? So you’ve done like all. all scales of companies, right? Like upside up to, to large corporations. Yeah. Is there any difference, uh, doing it through those? And I, I’d love to hear the cultural perspective as you’re managing those teams and building those effective high

Paul Hartung: performing teams.

Sure, sure. Well, you know, I’ve, I’ve seen, um, speed come from. Almost like, you know, volume. You know, I have a, have, have a big team. Uh, one example was Win Foria. We, we were actually a, a startup, but a very well funded, you know, VC back startup. We had 120 software engineers in three countries. And, you know, having Boston effectively, Madrid and Bangalore, India, we could have software development 24 by.

and, you know, because people are in different time zones and the challenge was kind of knitting together all this work, but, um, you know, in, in contrast and, and that that’s more difficult than it may seem. Right. You know, knitting together work of software engineers, but they’re tools. , right? They’re, um, these, uh, configuration management systems that, uh, knit the software together.

And, um, you can, you know, you set up the proper processes and, um, you can be effective and have good leadership. You know, that’s communicating a across the teams. But, um, I would say that, uh, startups these days and, and. Tics, the example I gave you before the Alzheimer’s thing, that was a complex project cuz we were doing, um, we weren’t doing a treatment, we were doing, uh, a diagnostic, but it did involve a reagent with, which was formulated into an ophthalmic ointment.

So it’s like a, like a drug development project. Not for treatment, for diagnosis in parallel with a complex optical system. You know, the system had, um, six ax axis of motion and um, you know, did a, a, um, measurement in milliseconds and, you know, it was, uh, a fluorescent spectroscopy measurement. It was, you know, quite sophisticated.

We had, um, five people in the. I mean, you know, our, our team was tiny. And how did we do it? We did it through, uh, partnering and we chose really good partners and, and, and the top-notch team. But a lot of it was, um, in a way, you know, project management, it was realizing that we weren’t gonna be the manufacturer, so we had to have a manufacturer that had all the certifications.

Proven track record of doing this kind of complex product on the device side, and we had to separate, right then we had to find, um, someone to make the a p i. We ended up, um, uh, moving that manufacturing to India for cost. , we ended up, um, having a complex formulation. We had searched the world, you know, found a partner in the United States that was one of the only ones that could handle the formulation of our product.

We even, uh, created patents for some of the formulation steps because it was so complicated. And I won’t get into the details, but, you know, um, but we wouldn’t have been able to do it ourselves. We wouldn’t have been able to create our own bricks and mortar and, and, uh, do that. on the development side, it’s, it’s trickier, you know, um, there’s a range of possibilities you can hire, in some cases, one company to do your development for you to do your design work for you, right?

Um, I haven’t been so successful at that. You know, what I’ve done is, uh, tended to. , um, kind of break things into pieces and use a company that’s really good on software development. Use a company that’s really good on, um, you know, say mechanical design. Um, maybe another company that’s really good at, uh, electrical design.

And then, uh, kind of have them work together as, as a team, you know, and, and, and bring everybody.

So Paul, you are heavily

Naji Gehchan: involved in, um, helping ventures, helping startups, founders through the different Yeah. The different work you do. Uh, what, what is the number one device, uh, advice that you would give for founders of startups

Paul Hartung: and healthcare?

Um, number one, I would say,

one, make sure that you’re addressing an unmet need and that people at the end of the day will really care, you know, identify who, who will care, care enough to pay, care enough to utilize care enough. So that exploratory process. Um, and it, it, it, you know, took me some time to learn this. Um, But I’m seeing it more and more.

It’s been formalized in programs like icor, which you may have heard of that. Um, you know, to get an S B I R grant, you have a 40% better chance if you go through this ICOR program. And the principle is you have a great idea. Reach out to about a hundred stakeholders, potential stakeholders, and explore the idea and make sure you’re addressing so.

that’s really a pain point out there because, um, sometimes current treatments or, um, cur current methods aren’t optimal, but they’re kind of like good enough that, uh, having something that’s a little bit better doesn’t move. The bar doesn’t, you know, for one, it’s hard to raise money, but at the end of the day, you can go through all the work and.

you know, it, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s quite a journey. You know, you put blood, sweat, and tears into a, into a program and after several years find out, you know, you’re basically done, but there’s no real market for what you’re doing, or you can’t find a commercialization partner because there just isn’t a strategic fit.

So I’m a believer in working on those issues very. , you also have to make sure that, um, your science is really solid. So I think there are some spinouts that are premature that, um, really need to, um, make sure their, their, their science is very solid. That, um, uh, the way I look at it, data is your currency, right?

You, you, you can tell people that it’s gonna work, but really have to show them data that’s, um, that it’s gonna work because you have to have something that works, that, again, people will care about right’s. Those two pieces,

and too often that, that, that second one of, you know, well, people really care about it. It’s not an easy thing to get to. You care exactly. The, the entrepreneur, the founder, you know, feels passionately about it and maybe thinks everybody else is stupid because they don’t get it. They don’t. , but it’s really important to sort out.

Yeah. And, and you mentioned care

Naji Gehchan: about and willing to pay, like there’s this value, right? At the end of the day, value creation and capture that you need to figure out.

Paul Hartung: Right.

Naji Gehchan: Uh, Paul, I’ll give you now a word and I’d love your reaction to it.

Paul Hartung: So the first one is leadership.

Uh, leadership. Okay. It’s, it’s, um, to me it’s, it’s, it’s keeping a team motivated through the tough times. It’s always easy to, um, stand up and, um, give praise for alls all the successes. But the real challenge, particularly in, in, uh, in a startup. and even, you know, in companies, uh, that are working on, on, on programs that are difficult programs, it’s the hard times in figuring out the Plan Bs and, and, um, I’ve even been in situation where, um, my whole team went off salary for several months because we were kind of between financings and that takes more than just kind of the, the traditional.

Carrots that you hand out in, in, in business, it takes developing a, a passion as a team for what you’re

Naji Gehchan: doing. Can I double click on that and if you can tell us the story and how you develop this passion to make sure that people keep on coming.

Paul Hartung: Yeah. Well, um, I can expand on that particular story. Um, and that that was, um, it was a, a point in, in, uh, Cognos life actually.

I, I, I had mentioned that, um, we were trying to raise money, uh, when the economy collapsed. Well, just before the economy collapsed, I actually had a syndicate of investors ready to invest. And, you know, your board becomes part of. Expanded team of a company. Well, um, the particular group of investors sort of became, in my mind, toxic.

They weren’t working well together and one of the investors was sort of becoming very manipulative. And, um, we thought that we were ready to close a financing. And then at the last minute terms were. . So finally I had to make the tough decision based on the fact that, uh, I would need to live with these people.

You know, they’re not only, you know, giving us money, but you know, the, the next few years of the company, we’d be tied to these people. I, I realized that it wa it just wasn’t gonna work, and, uh, took a big, took a big gamble and tested loyalty of my earliest investors. They came back and did a, a small bridge to keep us going while I pivoted to find a different set of investors.

That’s when I went to international, you know, and, and, and found, uh, um, you know, an inter international lead investor. But, um, the team, uh, had a choice. You know, we, we either continue working. Effectively, we, you know, had to kind of mothball the company. Everyone wanted to keep going. Um, I had actually one, one person leave, but it was actually right before I closed the next financing.

And you know what? Everybody was made whole. Uh, you know, we ended up for that time that people took off. They, they all get. For that time in the end, once, once we, once we closed the financing. Um, so it was scary, but we just kind of put our heads down and, and, um, carried out our mission.

Naji Gehchan: Oh, and I’m sure it talks to the culture you created for people to keep on Yeah. Showing up and, and being here. Yeah. Yeah.

Paul Hartung: The second word is innovation. innovation. Yeah. One of those words that, uh, I love, but, you know, may, may be overused, uh, . Um, you know, I, I guess, um,

there are lots and lots of good ideas that merge every day. Right. Um, and unfortunately a lot of innovations never. Polite of day, you know, people may file a patent. I know that, uh, all of the major institutions have piles of patents that they, they can’t even license out. They, you know, they don’t know what to do with.

So, um, you know, it’s, it’s an issue of, of, um, finding ideas. that actually can make a difference, that can have an impact. Um, and that gets back to some of the things we were saying before, of, of really exploring the landscape, understanding, um, if it’s in a treatment space, understanding the kind of landscape of treatments that are available today.

Really understanding, you know, the, the unmet need, um, before putting a lot of. Effort into your particular in innovation? Um, again, building off something I said before, um, I think some of the more important innovations are, um, based on, um, kind of a combination of things. It’s like a convergence of technologies.

another, you know, overused one is ai, for instance, right? Um, a, you know, ai, ai, everything. But the, um, if you look at, um, you know, advances in materials, you look at, at advances in, uh, nanotech, you know, being able to get down to a, you know, much smaller scale, um, you look at. All of the discoveries around d n a and r n a and and uh, and gene editing and you know where that can possibly go.

Um, and you, you think about the problems of, you know, treating the right individual in the right location in their body that’s affected without creating toxic effects on the re on the rest of the body in an um, , you know, effectively say, monitoring their dosing. Uh, it takes a village, it takes, you know, kind of a combination of technologies.

So I’m a great believer in kind of innovation in these systems that, um, can solve the bigger problems.

What about board of directors? Board of director? , um, you know, board of directors. Uh, I’ve been on some, you know, very effective ones, um, to a certain extent. Uh, you know, that they’re for support and, um, and guidance and, and it kind of depends on the maturity of the, of the management team. Um, you know, sometimes it comes down to kind of advice.

There’s some formalities around, uh, you know, governance and responsibility, fiduciary responsibilities to, to, um, the shareholders and that sort of thing that are kind of the basics of, of, uh, business structure. Um, and, you know, being, being incorporated that, um, you know, you have to maintain. But I’m a believer in, in making sure that.

Management team, uh, feels supported that they have a structure in place for, um, being rewarded and incentivized, you know, and, um, things like stock options and, and things like, uh, uh, periodic review of, of, of, um, the overall, you know, cash compensation plan and making sure that there’s some sort of bonus structure in place.

and, um, giving them support as they’re looking at, um, partnering possibilities, you know, leveraging connections and giving them, you know, some, some guidance on how to even approach that process. Uh, yeah, I mean, I, I kind of wear both the ad advisor and, um, you know, there’s a bit of over. , you know, in the role of, of director and as an independent director, I, I really enjoy kind of helping bridge the gap.

Sometimes there’s tension between investors that may, um, have their own timelines, you know, um, get a little, I impatient about return on investment and the management team that’s doing the best they can to, you know, to deal with some difficult problems and. , I can help kind of moderate a bit there.

Naji Gehchan: And the last word is spread love in organizations.

Paul Hartung: Well, uh, I try to spread a lot of love with my, with the teams I work with. Um, I think it’s maybe part of, part of developing that, um, passion across the organization, if you will, for what we’re doing together, you know, so, , um, I kinda, I kinda lead by doing and, and I try to lead, lead with my behavior as well.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the world?

Paul Hartung: You’re doing important work, you know, keep it up. The, there, there are lots of, uh, big healthcare challenges out there and, um, we all need to be thinking of novel ways to approach them and, and get them to everybody.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, Paul, for being with me today.

Paul Hartung: You’re very welcome. I appreciate it. Thanks

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast joined today by Jason M. Dupuis, a thought leader, speaker and organizational behavior enthusiast who believes in the power of Human Experience as a key driver of organizational performance and strategy. Over the last 20 years, Jason has served as the Chief Experience Officer for PM Pediatrics Care as well as the Administrative Director for Admitting and Emergency Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. Most recently, he joined Fidelum Health as a Consultant and Principal Healthcare Advisor to bring the Human Brand concepts of Warmth and Competence into the Human Experience in Healthcare. As a Core Value advocate and fanatic, Jason has devoted his career to successfully demonstrating that being “human first” and leading with personal and organizational core values can create efficient and profitable operations while simultaneously delivering an exceptional experience for patients, families, and care teams. In addition to his professional roles, Jason is an Adjunct Professor in the Hellenic College School of Leadership & Management as well as recently joining Boston College as an Adjunct Professor in their Masters in Healthcare Administration program.

Jason – it is such an honor to have you with me today.

Jason Dupuis: It is a tremendous honor to spend some time with you today and, talk about leadership. I’m looking forward.

Naji Gehchan: Can you please first share with us your story, how you ended up in healthcare, uh, and now teaching leadership management and being passionate about organizational behavior? I’d love to learn more about that.

Jason Dupuis: Yeah, no, of course. Um, you know, my path into healthcare was kind of an interesting one. So my, uh, it all started because my dad was in the army. And, uh, so growing up as a kid, I moved around quite a bit and, uh, when I was very young, um, my father actually, uh, became a nurse in the Army.

And so as we moved around living on, uh, military posts around the country, you know, they’re very small communities and on, in every one of those communities, they also have a hospital. And so, Uh, you know, I was able to spend a lot of time at the hospital seeing my dad and then my, my mother will also report that I spent a lot of time in their hurt, injured, and, uh, because of the crazy things that I did as a kid.

But, you know, so I spent a lot of time in the hospital and I always saw hospitals as just like a cool place where my dad worked. That was, I was comfortable there. I was excited to go there cuz I got to see my dad, um, you know, during his working hours, if you will. As I got older, I would ride my bike to the hospital when I lived in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and I would go see my dad or we would have lunch and uh, you know, so it was just kinda like hospitals were always this very comfortable place for me.

So when I got to college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, knew I wanted to work in healthcare, but I didn’t wanna be a nurse. Uh, I didn’t wanna deal with any of the, kind of the blood and guts, if you will. Uh, and then, uh, I found a program at the University of Hampshire called health Management, and I was like, you know what, like, This is for me.

So my, my drive to get into healthcare was just trying to bring this idea that I’m very comfortable as a human. I’m very comfortable in the healthcare setting, whether it’s a hospital, a clinic. I grew up around it with my dad, and just saw an opportunity to bring that comfort to other kids or other patients that were going to the hospital that don’t have those feelings of, you know, they have fear and anxiety and the, and I just didn’t have those as a kid.

I, I saw it. Fun place where my dad worked, you know? And so, uh, I kind of followed in my dad’s footsteps, I guess. But, um, but that was how I actually, I really ended up in, uh, in healthcare was, was through kind of being around it as a kid and, uh, finding it to just be this amazing and fascinating place.

Naji Gehchan: Thanks for sharing Jason. And yeah. How, how, how did you end up being passionate about organizational behavior?

Jason Dupuis: Well, I don’t. Maybe watching it, right? We watch enough organizational behavior and, uh, and we become, or at least for me, I just became fascinated. Um, you know, that for me, that really developed during my time at Boston Children’s as I, as I was kind of climbing through the leadership, uh, organizational ladder and just seeing how organizations.

You know, made decisions and how all of the moving parts, like how dynamic, um, the moving parts of, of every organization are. And I just became fascinated by it. And, and what I started learning and realizing, which ties into the human stuff is like the organization. Is gonna do what an organization’s gonna do.

It’s gonna make its decision, set its strategy, create priorities, make goals. But at the end of the day, it’s the humans. The humans underneath it are the ones that you know, you have to understand, build relationships with and grow with. And so for me it was this organ, not just understanding organizational behavior, but understanding really how the humans respond and react to the organizational behavior.

And how can we. Lead through that instead of, um, allowing it to kind of control how we do something, uh, or how we execute, how can we kind of lead, you know, and understand the organization’s behavior enough to understand how to lead in it within it, the construct of the confine.

Naji Gehchan: So let, let’s double click on this.

I’m intrigued, uh, by what you describe as power of human experience. Uh, can you share with me a little bit more what do you mean by that and how does it translate into organizational

Jason Dupuis: performance? Yeah, of course. So, you know, this was a journey for me, and I know a lot are on this journey too, in, in healthcare, trying to understand human experience.

But, you know, I, I can share a little bit about when I, when I started really realizing this, um, and I, if I can, I’ll tell a very short, but a quick story. Um, you know, shortly after the height of the pandemic, I, I was with p m pediatric care at the time as the Chief Experience Officer and right after the height of the pandemic, you know, we started seeing an increase.

In, um, negative events, what we call threatening events happening within our, our sites, within our physical locations, with patient families coming in. And we had this one particular event where, um, we watched video and we saw, um, uh, it was a grandmother and our front desk person getting in. They were in some sort of an exchange we could not hear.

We could only see, and the front desk person, this particular front desk person was somebody that I knew. I had met multiple times. I knew them pretty well, and I saw them kind of just. Like they, they broke down in that situation too. Very heated exchange. The staff person actually had to be restrained, you know, pulled back away from the desk.

And it was in that moment that I realized, hey, listen, everyone is struggling right now. Right? That’s the human experience thing is like, this is not just. An angry parent or an angry grandparent with their kid and and frustrated or what, you know, that they have to go to the doctor. It’s like our staff are frustrated too.

And it was, watching that video was really where I started realizing like, Hey, we’ve gotta start shifting and start thinking about this in terms of not patient experience, not employee experience, but human experience. We need to focus on the fact that at the core, we’re all just humans. Um, and we have certain, uh, and similar behaviors and characteristics that drive our actions and reactions.

But we have to stop separating and say employee and patient. It’s like they’re really going through the same thing. And the pandemic for me was a huge example of that. Like us all going through that no one was immune or right. We, we all went through that together. It didn’t really matter. We all felt it.

We all saw it. Um, and so that was what kind of really got me going and saying like, Hey, We need to start thinking about this differently, but I wanted to go beyond thinking. We need to start looking at data differently. We need to start providing support differently, um, and be more human-centric, or as I like to say, human first, that every decision we’re making, or as we’re doing things, we make ourselves in the mind of a human before we start making strategic decisions or taking direction that we think is a human first.

How would this feel? How will it be perceived? How could we execute on it? Understanding humans under.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thanks, thanks for sharing this. It’s super powerful. And obviously you, you touched on something in healthcare. I was just reading a new, um, uh, article, uh, that, that went out. It seems, uh, it, you know, all the frontliners have been really struggling.

With also, you know, wrong behaviors and yes. And being aggressed. Uh, but, and, and I love how you’re sharing it. Everyone is struggling, right? Like there are both sides. And I think as leaders within organization is taking care of your people. And it’s a great segue to by second question, which is people, uh, you say, Human first.

I was going to say people first because I, I always say this. Uh, you, so I like how you framing it. It’s human first. Uh, so can you, you devoted your career practically to demonstrate that it should be human first. Um, and so can you tell us a little bit more about this? Uh, you shared the story about what brought you to this belief, so can you share a little bit more now how you’re taking this and making it a real practice?

I would say for

Jason Dupuis: organiz. Totally. I, you know, I think the primary thing, um, in as far as bringing it into practice was really reentering and refocusing within the sphere of core values. And, you know, so some of my reading, you know, that I, that I do, I call it for fun, uh, but, uh, some of the reading I do for fun isn’t necessary fun.

It’s actually very challenging and I, I enjoy it. But, um, there were two big books that I’ll mention that kind of helped this and got me onto this, uh, or reinforced rather my, my core values. As being like a true north and like that’s what’s driving everything. The first book was Sapiens, which, um, yeah, it was a book that most people, I think at this point has at least heard of.

Many are afraid to pick it up. Uh, myself was, I was included in that, uh, actually a, a former colleague, a guy by the name of Pat Dillingham, who used to work with me in, in patient experience at PM recommended it to me in an airport and he was like, dude, you gotta read this. It’s gonna be amazing. And it actually blew my mind.

And what it was, you know, what I learned in Sapiens in the first part of it was, Hey, we’re still programmed, like we were thousands of years ago. Yes, we’ve changed and technology has changed, but inside who we are at the core is still the same. And so that to me was very, you know, reassuring about core values of what we look for in other people, how we develop trust.

Uh, and then the second book, um, which is what actually and ultimately led me to Fidel Health and, and working with them was a, a book called The Human Brand, um, which was a book written. Why we love or don’t love organizations, uh, why we interact as consumers with organizations, or we don’t. And in that, uh, the, the author, uh, author Chris Malone and, uh, his, uh, colleague Susan Fisk, actually put forth warmth and competence that humans judge other humans on warmth and competence.

And when I got underneath that and started reading and studying that I saw underneath that, when we think about something like warmth, what does that mean? It means kindness. Do I trust you? And I said, core. Core value , right? These are core values, trust, kindness, respect. Um, and so it was really through kind of combining those together and saying like, at the simplest form, we are just humans.

So are we over complicating this by putting too much process, too much digital technology, too much right strategy? And are we forgetting. Kindness, empathy, compassion, respect, understanding, and it. And so I kind of see it as a back to the basics and that, and that was really how I got on this pathway was core values and reading books that were using science and um, studies to show that we’re still acting the same way we’ve acted for the last thousands of years in spite of her, despite the technology.

Yeah. Pretty wild when you think about it, right? Oh yeah, yeah,

Naji Gehchan: certainly. And this is what actually brought me to love as the name of this podcast. You know, it’s war. I, I call it love by its word. Yeah. So how, how do you ensure this, your daily work or working now with organizations really reflects what, what you like this deep belief of core values, uh, this deep belief of human first, when actually there is a constant stress, pressure on results on how we’re gonna get there.

Uh, and I’m, I’m asking you this question that I. Always receive, right? Like I, I’m a big believer of this, so I’d love to see how you frame it and how you make sure that it’s in daily practice in your organizations.

Jason Dupuis: Yeah, I think the number one thing and um, you know, I just had the fortune. I did a a a a lunch and Learn yesterday with an organization, and it was on, uh, a similar topic.

And what I was talking about with them is that, how it really starts is making sure that we individually share our own core values. Um, that we know what our core values are, and that we’re willing to discuss them and share them. And most importantly, Back them up by living them. And you know, my three core values are passion, dedication, and integrity.

And I always say passion. I love what I do. Dedication, be there, and integrity, do the right thing. And so I have tried to live my life. I have failed many times at all three of those, you know, of, you know, we all make mistakes. Um, but it really, I think, starts at that individual level. So when we say human first, it’s like, okay, so as a human I describe myself as someone who is passionate, dedicated, and operates with integrity.

Um, and I’ve spent a lot of time, or when you’re working with organizations, and I always say, I try not to work with organizations, we try to work with the team because those are the humans. It’s trying to understand what are their drivers, what are their values, what is it that they’re saying to me where I can extract what their value is.

Um, so for example, if I hear somebody saying, you know, Joe’s always. Making up something. It’s like, okay, that person, whoever that was saying that values punctuality and punctuality generally relates to respect. They wanna feel that their time is respected, right? This idea that we. , we’re very good actually as humans at making those connections.

And so I think it all starts with what are, what are our individual core values? Can we quickly create alignment around do we agree that respect is important? Do we agree? You know, I kind, I guess it’s ground rules, right? I mean, that’s what we’re saying is how do we set core value, ground rules? And then of course, it’s always my next layer to that is what are the organization’s core values and are we living them?

Right? And uh, so what are your core values? How do you. You know, is this, do people know them? Are they, are they aware? And again, I I, every time I have a conversation like this, I always say the same thing. I don’t think I’m saying anything novel. I think what I’m pointing out is like, we have removed ourselves though, from the action backing up the words.

And as a result we have a say, do gap. You know, we, we say our core values, we don’t do them. We say them though, cuz that feels good, but we need to do them more. And so as I work with organizations or I give talks or I even a podcast, it’s always, that’s my focus. Know what your core values. Be sure that others know what your core values are and spend time learning theirs.

And in that you will always find alignment, always.

Naji Gehchan: So going, going there. Uh, when you talk about values, so I’m, I’m interested, I, I know you’re teaching also leadership. Uh, is there one or two core values or. It’s very different from capabilities, but I’m intrigued if there are like one or two that you think the leadership of today leader in the 21st century specifically in healthcare, should

Jason Dupuis: have.

You know, I’m gonna be cliche in the first one, and I’m gonna say empathy and, um, and I’m using empathy on purpose, and I know it’s a bit of a buzzword now, right? Brene Brown brought us this idea of empathy and vulnerability and understanding. We all, and everybody knows it, everybody puts out content on empathy.

But, you know, when I really look at healthcare leadership, I see a tremendous lack of empathy, um, for in specifically post pandemic. The insanity that the care teams went through during the pandemic, and I think there’s a huge opportunity to be more empathetic to the struggle, more empathetic and understanding to the burnout, um, and really focusing on riding that ship, um, that has already sailed and is sinking.

And I think that, that, I see that. I read that. I hear that. And I feel that. And I think that that’s, so that’s one of the areas where I say I think empathy has to be in there. Um, and the other from a healthcare perspective has always been, and I still believe in this, is defying the status quo of, you know, that simple acceptance of what the system is.

And our willingness out of fear of change to allow the system to persist is a huge leadership problem. You know, and it’s. , um, you know, you keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result is considered insane, right? Like that, there’s a quote somewhere in that, right? That’s the definition of insanity.

Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. And so I do think that what, you know, the system from a value perspective is starved from, you know, people defying that status quo and not just simply accepting it for the way it’s. Been for the last hundred years, you know, and I think that’s, so that’s two areas in healthcare leadership where I think if, if leaders are paying attention to being empathetic to those in their charge and they are helping the people in their charge also push the envelope of innovation and defying the status quo, that that success will come behind that.

I’m gonna give

Naji Gehchan: you a word, uh, now and I’d love to your reaction to it. The first one is

Jason Dupuis: leadership passion. . I think, um, I think leadership for me is, you know, if you’re not passionate about it, you’re gonna fail. I think it’s not, you know, there’s the difference between managing and leading. Um, you know, the difference between a manager and a leader.

Uh, and I found that out early on, that like, if you’ve really enjoyed the people component of it, You have to be passionate about it. If you’re gonna be successful as a leader, if you’re not passionate about it, everyone sees through you very quickly. And so every time I hear leadership or anything like it, I think I’m passionate about it.

And you have to be passionate, . I mean, uh, because it’s not easy. It is not an easy task. And if you’re, as soon as your passion goes, it’s time to go. I, I really believe that.

Naji Gehchan: The second one is health.

Jason Dupuis: You know, I think for me what comes to mind is my human first statement. That if we, you know, if we really start paying attention to the fact that, you know, things aren’t fair, um, and we start paying attention to the fact that we are all humans, that it helps us.

Shift the paradigm a little bit. Not to separate out groups, but to say, Hey, can we rally around the one thing that we all have in common? And that is human. So let’s be a human first and then start building systems that consider all humans as humans and not build systems here and there and everywhere.

That never takes into considerations. Humans in general. And so, um, yeah, no, that was, that was actually equity, health equity or equity in general. And healthcare has always brought me into my, that human first brain of saying if we can do that really well and treat each other just like humans, we can make a lot of headway.

The third

Naji Gehchan: one is

Jason Dupuis: sis. Homeostasis. You gotta love it. Um, , you know, one of the big teachings of my dad as a, as a kid, uh, and then as a teenager, and then as an adult, and then as a grown man to give him credit was balance and right. The, the definition of homeostasis, essentially balance in a system. And, you know, so anytime that I kind of feel that there is an imbalance in a system, I feel like it is our responsibility.

To not just try to fix it, but to understand it and try to fix it. And I think oftentimes homeostasis in healthcare doesn’t get achieved because we just try to fix it and we don’t always understand the problem. And I think we’ve been action oriented that way by organizational decree, by history, by organizational structure.

And so I would say every time I hear homeostasis, the first thing that comes to my mind is balance. And if you wanna establish balance and you wanna improve, you have to understand the problem that gives you the balance. That true under. Love it.

Naji Gehchan: What about spread love in organizations?

Jason Dupuis: You know, I have been very fortunate in my career, you know, between Boston Children’s and p and pediatric cares that, you know, I’ve worked with extremely passionate people and I’ve worked with some not passionate people, right?

Um, and this idea of being able to spread love to each other inside of an organization is really talking about building community. Whereas, um, as you’ve all would say in Sapiens, you know, building your tribe, um, and when you have love in your tribe, there’s trust, there’s belonging, uh, and there’s progress.

Uh, when you don’t. , you have war and separation and you know, all the other kind of the negative components. And so I hear love. You know, I think organizational love or love throughout an organization is really getting everybody on the same page and believing in each other, which then allows you to believe in the organization.

I, I think very rarely do people just believe in an organization. They believe in the people within the organization, and you can put love into that.

Naji Gehchan: That’s, that’s so powerful and I can’t agree more with you, totally. With this. Any final word of wisdom, Jason, for, uh, healthcare leaders around the world?

Jason Dupuis: Yeah, you know, I would say that, uh, the one thing that I learned, I learned it during the pandemic, I learned it during my time in the emergency department at Boston Children’s, was that the number one thing a healthcare leader can do is. and, um, you know, that goes into my core value of dedication, which translates to me to be there.

Um, there’s never really a reason as a leader that you can’t show up. I think showing up is a choice that every leader makes, and that the best leaders, the most amazing leaders that I worked with were never, ever afraid to show up, never ever afraid to show up and listen, and never, ever afraid to show up and listen.

And, and, um, you know, so for anyone that’s in healthcare leadership or trying to grow a career in, in a career that brings you into healthcare leadership, I would, I would say those are the things I would take away is always showing. Um, it’s, it’s the easiest thing to do sometimes is to physically show up.

Uh, but it matters when you do and everyone notices. It does.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, uh, Jason, for being with me today and for this incredible chat.

Jason Dupuis: Thank you. Unbelievable, unbelievable pleasure. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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.

Naji Gehchan: I am Naji, your host for this episode, joined today by Minette Norman. Minette brings decades of leadership experience in the software industry to her consulting business focused on developing transformational leaders who create inclusive working environments with a foundation of psychological safety. Minette has extensive experience leading globally distributed teams and believes that when groups leverage diversity in all its forms, breakthroughs happen. Her most recent position before starting her own consultancy was as Vice President of Engineering Practice at Autodesk, where she transformed how Autodesk developed software. Responsible for influencing more than 3,500 engineers around the globe, she focused on state-of-the-art engineering practices while nurturing a collaborative and inclusive culture. Minette is a keynote speaker on topics of inclusive leadership, psychological safety in the workplace, and embracing empathy. Named in 2017 as one of the “Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business” by the San Francisco Business Times and as “Business Role Model of the Year” in the 2018 Women in IT/Silicon Valley Awards, Minette is a recognized leader with a unique perspective. Minette has co-authored a book about psychological safety for leaders, The Psychological Safety Playbook: Lead More Powerfully by Being More Human, which will be published in February 2023. Her second book, The Boldly Inclusive Leader, will be published in August 2023.

Minette – great to have you with me today!

Minette Norman: Thanks for having me, Naji. It’s really nice to be here.

Naji Gehchan: Can you share with us first your personal story from drama and French, uh, at school to leading tech and software companies, and now being focused on transformational leadership? What’s in between the lines of this inspiring journey?

Minette Norman: Inspiring an improbable journey, I would say from drama French.

You’re right. You know, I got out of university with this double major in drama in French and wanted to be a professional actor, but realized what a hard life that is and I hated rejection and auditions and so I really fell back on my second major French and I got a job in my mid twenties. At the French trade, or?

Yeah, the French Trade Commission in New York City. And it was at a time when they were transitioning from. IBM electric typewriter on every desk, two PCs. And so suddenly I had this PC on my desk and I discovered I was quite good at understanding the technology and also helping others learn it. And that’s what actually led me into my 30 years in Silicon Valley.

I, I moved. Back to California where I had grown up and I got my first job in tech at Adobe in 1989 when they were developing Photoshop 1.0. And my first assignment was to write the Photoshop 1.0 tutorial. And that was the start of this, this 30 year career. And I loved it and I loved. The technology, but I really liked working with people.

Like even when I was trying to figure out the complexity of some software that I needed to describe, my favorite things were just sitting down with the engineers and picking their brains and trying to understand how can I take this really complicated technology and make it digestible and simple? So I did that for about 10 years as a writer, and then at one point my manager at a different company said, you know, I need you to manage the team of writers cuz I have too many direct reports.

So that was when I went from being an individual contributor to a manager. and I didn’t plan for that. I didn’t aspire to management or leadership. I kind of went in a little bit kicking and screaming that I didn’t think I wanted to do that. But you know, that connection that I loved to have with people was actually what I learned was the most important thing in being a manager.

In being a leader is that I really loved managing people. Cuz it’s all about human connection and it’s all about getting to know people who. Different talents and different backgrounds and different skills. So I, I ended up embracing management and leadership and I just progressed through very, you know, probably, I’m trying to think.

I probably had six to eight different jobs within the same company, starting as that first. First level manager of technical writers. Then I moved into a totally different area. I managed localization, which is getting all of the products translated and localized for international markets. And then finally, my last job, which you actually described was that I ended up as the VP of engineering practice.

And I kind of briefly just tell how that happened, which is that I had been leading a big team within a company and I had really done a big transformation. And then suddenly my boss, who was the VP of engineering said he was leaving the role. and I thought, huh, well that would be interesting. And I raised my hand and I said, you know, I would love to apply for this role, even if I’m not the most obvious person to lead engineering.

And the the senior vice president who was hiring for the role said, you know, I know your reputation. I know you’re good at what you do, but you know you’re not an engineer. , and you’re a woman and it’s such a boys club, so you’re gonna have to break into the boys club. And he gave me a 90 day trial for that role.

And so I was an acting VP for 90 days, which was really hard, and it’s probably another topic for a different podcast. But at the end of the 90 days, I got that job and I did that for five years. And in that time I realized that our transformation wasn’t about technology. , even though we had things we had to do technically, it was really about human interaction.

It was about collaboration. It was about listening to other people who might have great ideas instead of digging in and saying, I have the best idea, or My team has the best idea. And so I really worked on collaboration and trying to get people to listen to one another and inclusion and having empathy for various perspectives.

And I discovered, uh, the whole. Science of psychological safety and all the research on that and realized how critical that was and how lacking it was. And ultimately after five years in that job, loving it, but also realizing there’s only so much I can do in one company. I left and I started my own thing because I wanna really work with many more organizations to help them lead better, lead more inclusively, and really create an environment where everyone can thrive and do their best work.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much mi for sharing your, uh, your story and really those, there’s lot of powerful things you said, so let’s take them, dissect them and, and dig into it. So the first piece is really about this, um, this role you had as a vp, uh, leading this global team of experts, engineers around the globe. So you have diverse people and you said boys club.

So I’m, I’m interested to get your perspective on this too. And really, Delivering this transformation, as you said, through collaboration and inclusion, which is not probably spontaneously what you would think of VP of Engineering. Engineering in a tech company. Right. So I, I’d love to get your story behind this and how did you manage to do it and deliver exceptional results?

Minette Norman: Well, you know, it started with, I kind of got an edict from on high, which was that everyone had to get on a common set of tools. So we were moving from having like 20 different source code repositories to getting all onto GitHub. So that seems like a very technical challenge. How do we get all this code from all these disparate systems into one?

But what I was discovering in the process, cuz I had a great, I hired great people who worked with me and for me and who had very, very technical skills. And what I realized when they were trying to get teams to adopt new technology is that all of the teams were very siloed and they all thought that they had the best solution.

Very smart people, you know, a lot of them had come in through acquisitions and they had just retained their knowledge and cultures from, from the acquired companies. And so what I realized is that, I have people I’m working with who understand all the technical nuance and details. That’s not really where I need to focus.

Where I need to focus is how on earth can we get three more than 3000 engineers in all different countries all over the globe working. Together for com, like actually sharing code instead of rewriting code. How can we do that? And so I started, we put on a big technical summit and I would keynote there every year and I started researching, I mean not doing original research, sorry, reading other people’s research on collaboration and neuroscience, cuz I was really interested in how we work together and how we don’t.

And so I just basically got myself a great education and I started talking about these things. So I would lead meetings. I would give a talk at a conference internally, and instead of talking about how are we gonna get all the code into GitHub, I would talk about how hard it is to collaborate and how we can do better, or how we might have empathy for people that don’t see eye to eye with us.

And that’s how it began. And I will tell you, I felt like I was jumping off this very, very scary cliff the first time I gave one of those talks in front of a room of a thousand engineers. I remember the night before one. Saying to myself, oh my God, you’re gonna get up and talk about empathy to a room full of engineers.

How’s that gonna go? You know, there was a sleepless night, . But what I’ll tell you Naji that surprised me in a really positive way is remembering that we are all human. It doesn’t matter how brilliant or how technical you are, I had people who were some of the most. Technical people in the company come up to me after one of those talks and say, you know, Minette, thank you so much for bringing up these topics that we don’t talk about enough.

We need more of this. And it just reinforced that shared humanity that we too often ignore. And it’s what makes work hard. And it’s ma, it’s what makes people suffer at work because we cut off our humanity and we cut off our emotions, and we think we have to have this f facade of perfection at work and leave all the emotions at the door.

And that’s not how human beings operate.

Naji Gehchan: I so relate to what you’re saying. This is why I was, I was smiling all the time. It’s, you know, I, I had the same feeling, uh, saying that I wanna spread love in the organization, , and with all that comes with love. And, and you had it with empathy, I think. And the interesting piece is, every time I’m discussing with leaders, thinkers, um, like, like yourself, there is always.

Fear practically of talking about this to people and then suddenly the surprise of actually maybe people didn’t know about or it’s great that leaders are talking about it, but yet like we, every time our. A little bit afraid or anxious about bringing those topics to organizations and to people. So thank you so much for sharing this.

Uh, and you touched also on psychological safety as it’s a key component of your leadership and how, how you’ve done it. Um, you even have a playbook, uh, about psychological safety and how we should do it. So can you tell us a little bit more on how we can apply it in our organizations as leaders, and what are your key learnings of actually being a practitioner and doing it?

Minette Norman: Yeah. And you know, it’s, it’s so foundational and, and there’s tons of research out there that shows that organizations that have a high level of psychological safety have better performance and higher innovation and higher employee retention and engagement. And so, you know, honestly I was doing it by trial and error when I was leading teams is like, how can we try to get people comfortable speaking up?

And I’ll tell you what informed. My interest in it was actually being in meetings where I did not feel comfortable speaking up. And that was, I would say unfortunately that was more the norm than the exception. You know, I would be in these leadership meetings and there would be sort of the dominant two or three people that would speak up all the time.

And that’s like, that’s just common group dynamics. And then there would be the others that are just holding back. And I was often one of those others who felt like, Ooh, I have to weigh every word carefully, and especially, you know, Being a woman in tech, you’re definitely in the minority. I was often the only woman in the room, and I felt this burden of, if I say something, it better be the most well thought out, most intelligent thing, and not like just an idea off the top of my head or just, you know, something that’s a half formed thought.

but then I realized like when you think back to the best teams you’ve ever been a part of, and I had remembered being in a team early in my career actually, um, where, you know, we never knew the word psychological safety, but we had this group of people, there were probably eight to 10 of us, and we collaborated in a way that was like every single person fully participated.

every single person’s voice was heard equally. No one dominated. We had fun. We put out a great release and we respected everyone’s point of view. And I’m like, this is possible. I know this is possible. How did we do it? And so I, I worked on, you know, I certainly read Amy Edmondson’s work. I read the big Google study project, Aristotle.

I read everything I could find on it, and then I just started practicing. And by the time. It came to writing this book. I met this, I met this woman in Germany, in in a virtual class, Caroline Hek. And we both were realizing that there is lots of research about psychological safety and so many people buy into the idea that it’s important, but there’s little practical information on how to implement it.

And she reached out to me with a crazy idea saying, why don’t we try to write something? And that was the origin of the Psychological Safety Playbook, which just came out a little over two weeks ago. . But you know, I’ll give you an example of something in there that’s just very tangible that you can do, and especially for leaders.

I tried this when I was leading teams. It’s like people looked up to you. You have this sort of, you know, hierarchical power, whether you want it or not, or whether you believe in it or not, but you do. And people are watching your behavior. And if you say like you’re putting forth the strategy for the quarter, people are not gonna question you on it.

Generally. They might do it behind your back. But, so I wanted feedback and I would say, What am I missing? What have I not thought of? And that’s like one of the first things in our book is that powerful question of what am I missing? Because what you’re signaling, especially if you’re in a leadership position of any kind, is that you are not perfect.

You are not omniscient. You can’t possibly know everything, and you’re welcoming other perspectives. And you know, I know your podcast is particularly geared at the medical community. This is super, super important in a medical setting. And in fact, Amy Edmondson’s original research, you probably know, took place in the medical field and she found.

For example, if people are willing to challenge a doctor, someone who’s not a doctor, challenge a doctor, like, I think you made a mistake in dispensing this medication that can save someone’s life. But if that, for example, if it’s a nurse who doesn’t feel comfortable, challenging and saying, I think you might have made a mistake.

I think you might have missed something. Then, you know, a patient’s life could be at risk there. And that’s what she found in her research. So this is so critical that no matter how elevated your position, that you realize you can’t see everything. You can’t know everything, and you need to deliberately invite other people to call you out on that.

And you have to be open when they do challenge you to not getting defensive and saying, Thank you. I really hadn’t thought of that. And oh gosh, I really might have missed something here. And being open to those perspectives. So that’s one of the 25 tips that we have have in our book as a practical thing you can put into, into practice immediately.

Naji Gehchan: This is, this is great. And, uh, yeah, I had, I had the opportunity to interview actually on the podcast, Amy Edmondson, where, where she shared about her research. Um, and definitely in the healthcare system we see it, we see it everywhere, right? So I think you’re bringing great pieces on, speaking up on being vulnerable also as a leader and humble enough to say, Yeah, sometimes, I don’t know, sometimes I make mistakes.

Sometimes I want, like, I want the feedback, I want it back to me. Uh, so it’s really, uh, tho those are really great practical tips. You’re, um, you’re sharing with us, uh, you know, another piece on psychological safety, I, I never shared, uh, I’d love your reaction to this. Um, I, I was in a team where some people actually, you know, when you get into a managerial position, Again, like people would expect to know, uh, and because of a lack of psychological safety environment, people might keep on doing things, not knowing what are they doing, but just because they are afraid to say, I don’t know, because the expectation of the organization, they managers, they should know.

So this is for me how I started to be even more and more interested in psychological safety. But when I discovered at some point that part of my managers. Really never took a certain training on a specific capability, but actually they were afraid of saying that they never did it because everyone expected them to know.

Also, I think like there’s a lot of things around psychological safety that are super powerful and can be actually risky, as you said, in, in, in medicine where you might end up taking the wrong decisions for the patients you’re serving. If, if we talk about the challenges you faced as you were doing this as a practitioner, and I’m sure it’s in the 25 tips and advices you’re bringing, but what is the biggest challenge you faced as you were building this culture?

As you were building this, um, those really fundamentals pieces of leadership that you believe in, in your organizations with your managers too, who also manage people, uh, and how did you manage this, and how did you get around of those pieces? .

Minette Norman: You know, I think that the, the hardest piece was overcoming people’s resistance and defensiveness when we’re trying to drive change, when we’re trying to get them to work together.

Because there’s, I mean, I think there’s this fear. I, I do think a lot of resistance is fear-based, that if I work. with someone else and their idea actually comes out as the winning idea or you know, we adopt their technology or their methodology, then I will be diminished somehow and my skills will not be seen as, you know, top-notch skills because someone else’s solution one out.

So I think there’s a lot of ego involved in it, and I definitely saw that and, you know, people butting heads and not listening to each other. Just digging in and like, I’m only gonna advocate for my perspective. I’m not actually gonna listen to understand. Your perspective, and that’s why, you know, we have a whole chapter in our playbook on listening, because what I found is people were preparing how they were gonna respond and defend their position rather than truly listening to another person’s.

Idea or another person’s solution. And so that was why I focused so much on collaboration and all the skills around collaboration cuz I found that people would dig in and I think it’s based in fear and it’s based in ego. And even my own staff members, like I had sort of a disparate group of, of disciplines that reported to me and it wasn’t obvious how they could all work together.

So I was saying like if we’re trying to drive the company to work together, then we eight people need to work really closely together. But there was a little bit of like, that’s not my area. This is my expertise and I don’t wanna cross over. So I think it’s just this, you know, It comes back to biology and our brains in some ways, in that we feel defensive.

We go, we feel like if someone’s on our turf, if someone’s attacking our idea, we go into that fight, flight, freeze mode. That’s our amygdala taking over. Right? I think it comes into play. all the time in the workplace because we are feeling attacked in some way. And so what I had to learn, and I had to learn this myself, naji, I was actually one of those people that would, you know, snap at people if they attacked me or if they said, you know, that’s a bad idea.

I had to learn to actually calm my brain. And, you know, take that pause. If someone says, you know, Manette, that’s a, that idea’s never gonna work. Pause, take a breath. And then instead of, Defending or attacking back, just going. Okay. Can you explain to me why? I really wanna understand, you know, and that was a, that is something I’ve had to practice and I’ve had to try to get my staff members to practice.

Um, we, you know, one of the most useful things we ever did as a staff was we, we had someone in our organization who was an improvisation actor, and we did improv training. And it was that idea that let’s not shoot down one of, you know, one another’s ideas. In improv, you have to go Yes. And, and just continue the improv.

And so we put that into practice in our staff meetings. And it was, it was a funny thing, like we did this improv day. It was really fun. And then after that we followed up in our staff meetings. When we got back into those bad patterns of shooting down each other’s ideas or getting defensive, we would just use the phrase yes and, and it would remind.

To keep our minds open and to keep our hearts open. And so, you know, it’s a, it’s honestly an ongoing practice, but I think it’s, it’s super valuable.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. It was one of my best courses, improv leadership and, you know, taking the offer and building on it. So I, I have a follow up question on this cuz we talked about ego, about your idea being taken and obviously as you said, it’s something human, right?

Like it’s ingrained in us and sometimes you can get defensive, but I wanna touch on incentives also and as leaders, how you can build those system because somehow the incentive you bring. . If you’re gonna recognize at the end of the day the idea that won, probably you’re unconsciously creating this. Like you wanna have an idea that wins for you to be recognized.

So how did you think about all this? Like how, how did you incentivize people who idea didn’t won or. Do you even talk about ideas winning or, you know, or more like a we team winning, I’m, I’m intrigued about also the incentives team

Minette Norman: around those pieces. Yeah, we, I actually had to focus, this is such an important question, Naji, because I had to focus on that.

It’s like, what do we reward? How do we reward the behavior that we want to see? And it’s not an individual idea. It’s not an individual. So we actually started to put into place incentives for collaboration. So, and it was, it’s hard to measure this, but we started, so one of the things we would do, like, for example, for our annual summit, we rewarded teams that presented a paper together, you know, where a team from one group would present with a team.

From another on a shared solution. Everyone wins. Everyone is rewarded. You know, I would get up and, and you know, publicize these kinds of wins across collaboration. We started to do something a little geeky, but it was actually quite interesting is that we started to get metrics on. Who was, who was actually using code from another team in GitHub.

So we were measuring poll requests and like, oh, are they coming from other organizations? And then let’s, let’s elevate that and, and celebrate that. So we were finding all sorts of creative ways to recognize and reward. Collaboration and cross pollination of ideas rather than, you know, the brilliant genius who came up with something alone.

And that was not what we wanted. We wanted really, and so that was, we had a different reward center and, and certainly really elevating collaboration and, you know, cross pollination and not celebrating individuals as much.

Naji Gehchan: So what, what would you say for people who think if you don’t have enough competition, In between teams, you’re gonna lose on innovation.

So was collaboration bringing more innovation than putting people and making sure that egos fight and one wins, in other words?

Minette Norman: Oh, that’s so, that’s such an interesting one and I’m probably don’t even have a great, a great answer to that, but you know, I think, I mean, competition is also can be really healthy, right?

We all, I mean, I don. I’m competitive. I, I love games and I love to win games and like, I think that can be fueling good energy, not bad energy, but I think it can’t be based on like one winner and everyone else is a loser. It has to be that our overall goal is really to make this organization successful, make our customers successful, and that it has to be based in.

Bigger aspiration, you know, that we are, we’re changing the world. You know, whether, you know, your, your group’s in through medicine, but ours were through software that was really having very, very positive impacts on the world, and it has to have a greater meaning. So yes, we can compete to come up with the best solution.

It’s not. Because we’re gonna get a big bonus ourselves. It’s because the world is gonna be better. Our customer’s gonna have a new solution that I think can be healthy competition, but it’s not like the zero sum gain of everyone is, you know, someone’s gonna lose here. It’s that we are all working together towards a common goal and a common purpose.

And then competition can be healthy if it’s, you know, I think there has to be an element of fun in competition as opposed to cutthroat. I win, you lose, you know, type of, I

Naji Gehchan: love it. What’s your number one advice today for the leaders and transformational leaders? You are. You are helping out with your new

Minette Norman: organization.

I think the number one thing I would say is that you have to start with your own behavior. Your own self-awareness of how you interact with others before you can drive any kind of a transformation. So start with how are you listening? How are you reacting when people challenge you? How are you inviting, dissent?

And you can do this through little, little changes in in your next one-on-one meeting. In your next meeting, listen differently. Invite the quiet person to speak and. Take that pause if you’re gonna have a defensive reaction and don’t, don’t respond defensively. Just ask a curious question. And I think that if you start every day with this intention of I am gonna have better interactions at work and I am going to invite everyone to fully participate, you can make a huge difference.

And I think it’s a daily practice, honestly.

Naji Gehchan: So Vinetta, I’m gonna give you a word now. and I want to get your reaction to it. What comes first to mind? Oh boy.

Minette Norman: Okay,

Naji Gehchan: so the first one is leadership challenging. The second one is inclusive culture

Minette Norman: required. . Can you say more about it? Yes. Well, inclusive culture, if you, if you want to really benefit from every single individual in your organization, then you need to create a culture in which everyone can fully participate in which all of their ideas can come forth and which.

Each one of them can share their wild ideas and their brilliant ideas and their half baked ideas, and they will not be embarrassed or excluded. So the inclusive culture is what go, is going to create your breakthrough ideas. If everyone can fully be heard and seen and respected, but if people come to work feeling like, sorry, this is, we wouldn’t be well beyond one word , but if people come to work feeling like, I don’t dare speak up.

I’m gonna mask who I really am. You’re not gonna benefit from all the, the magic they have inside themselves.

Naji Gehchan: What about transformational leadership?

Minette Norman: This is still a one word answer.

Naji Gehchan: You can do more . Okay? It’s a two word. So you can do more

Minette Norman: Transformational leadership, I think. coming back to, it starts with you.

It starts with you. You have to be the leader that people want to work with, and you cannot drive transformation without everybody else around you. It’s not a one person job, so you have to be inviting, maybe I would say, you know, inviting is a really important word. You have to invite all the ideas and get everyone marching in the same direction, moving in the same direct.

Naji Gehchan: And the last one is spread love in organizations.

Minette Norman: Yeah. You know, it’s so funny when you, when I saw the name of this podcast, so you have that reaction. One has the reaction of love in organizations, and I would say to me, that’s about care. It’s about caring about every human being as a fellow human being.

So it’s caring. That’s love.

Naji Gehchan: any final word of wisdom? Milad Four leaders around the world.

Minette Norman: I would say that you have so much more power to change the workplace than you know, even if you’re not in the C-suite, if you’re a first line manager or any level of leadership, people are looking at you. They’re watching your behavior. They’re watching what you reward. They’re watching. What you ignore, and they’re watching what you punish.

And so you are in the spotlight whether you like it or not. And so pay attention and become, we say become bravely self-aware of your own behavior and how you’re showing up and show up in the way that is going to be inspiring to others because that’s, that’s what you have. You have that platform. Use it for.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much. That’s powerful words and a charge for us as leaders, uh, as we go forward leading our organizations and improving and changing the word. Thank you so much, Minette, for being with me today and this incredible chat.

Minette Norman: Thank you for inviting me, Naji. It’s been a pleasure.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this episode joined today by Phil Budden Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan focusing on ‘innovation-driven entrepreneurship’ (IDE) and innovation ecosystems. Phil’s approach combines academic, historical and real-world perspectives on how different stakeholders can all contribute to building successful innovation ecosystems. Prior to MIT, Phil had undertaken projects on innovation and entrepreneurship for the British Prime Minister’s office and served as the British Consul General to New England where he had been responsible for transatlantic business issues, including trade and investment, corporate/government affairs, as well as science and innovation. Phil has held several diplomatic posts with the British government:  British Cabinet Office; British Embassy, Washington DC; 1st Secretary and Adviser to the PM. Phil holds a BA and MA in History from Lincoln College, the University of Oxford; an MA in History and Government from Cornell University; and a PhD in History and International Political Economy from the University of Oxford.

Dr. Phil – it is such a pleasure to have you with me today.

Phil Budden: Naji, it is a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for having me on your podcast, and I’m looking forward to chatting.

Naji Gehchan: It’s a really special episode today, having a great diplomat who, uh, I had this pleasure to have as a professor at MIT during innovation entrepreneurship classes.

Uh, can you tell us, uh, Phil, more about your personal story from learning history to diplomacy and now teaching at m i t mm-hmm. . What’s, what’s in between this great, uh, journey you.

Phil Budden: Well, uh, nudge, it’s a great question and you were a great student. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about being at m i T.

So, uh, uh, yes, you went through my cv. I was training to be a historian. Uh, turned out I had a good memory. Um, for historical dates, I was an introvert. I loved reading, and so I wanted to be a historian and I was training to be a historian until history happened, and this will date me. Uh, but the Berlin Wall came down and so I pivoted and said, I don’t just want to study history, um, of the past because history is happening around us.

And so I pivoted to become a. I’d always been fairly international in my perspective. Speak a a few language.

Um, and so I always took a, a, a sort of more global perspective thing, so became a diplomat and had a wonderful 20 year career as a diplomat. Uh, and then had an opportunity to stay here in Boston. And I’m honored to be, uh, a senior lecturer at MIT’s management school. Um, having got a doctorate before going into diplomacy, I was nicknamed.

Dr. Phil, because there’s not many diplomats with doctorates and it seems to have stuck. And so, uh, I am not that Dr. Phil, I’m a different doctor Phil. Um, but that is how you find me at m i t now getting to teach great students like you. Oh,

Naji Gehchan: thanks. Thanks. Uh, Phil, uh, uh, uh, before going into, uh, where your focus is, uh, and what you worked on, you said I was an introvert, so I’m very interested with the past term.

And knowing you, I would have never said you are an introvert, so I, I’m, I’m like, I think we’re pretty similar. I’m an introvert too, so I, I’d love to hear mm-hmm. , why you said I was and did you work mm-hmm. on not becoming one, and it’s definitely not the perception that I think many of us have as your

Phil Budden: student.

That, that’s a great question. Now, Naji, I was and still am, uh, an introvert and it’s one of the things I’ve had to reckon with on my leadership journey when I was going to be an academic historian, it did ma did not matter that I was an introvert and loved research and study. , but through my diplomatic career, I had to, um, develop and evolve.

One of the misconceptions about introvert extrovert, um, comes down to that actually. They’re about the source of where we draw energy and we introverts draw our energy and recovery from stepping back from people and recovering and re. Uh, it doesn’t mean we’re any less sociable. Uh, you know, Naji, uh, and I are both very sociable people.

I’ve seen us at Ember parties, um, extroverts, however, get their energy from being around other people. And so for them it’s hard for them to be alone. So, yes, people are often surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert, but I think it’s important to do that because I think you can lead whether you recharge as an introvert.

By yourself or you recharge as an extrovert for some strange reason, wanting to be surrounded by people. Um, and that’s one of the things, uh, I’ve discovered. So I am, I, I reckon with my introversion, I can get up and I can teach, I can socialize, but then I need a chance to fall back. And often I will reach for a history book and just read about the world and recover in that way.

But I think it just shows that there’s a variety of ways of becoming a. . So true. And I think

Naji Gehchan: it it relates to if you love people, actually it doesn’t, you can be an introvert, love people. Mm-hmm. or extrovert love people. It’s just a matter that you need some time for yourself to recharge Exactly as you said.

Mm-hmm. . Exactly. But the key for, for leaders is obviously caring for others, right. As we’re gonna be discussing today. Yes. So you, you’ve seen and helped with the birth, uh, of several ideas. Uh, some of them turned into startup. Grew, uh mm-hmm. , what has been for you, the key for those who became successful ventures from all those that you’ve seen throughout the past years?


Phil Budden: It, it has been fascinating. I, I worked on innovation when I was in government and at, ill teach about innovation, uh, here at, at m i t and one of the very humbling things is, Just the sheer volume of ideas that people have that they want to take forward. And this is not limited to young male coders in hoodies creating the next digital dance app.

It turns out that people, you know, mid-career, um, who have not had a background in technology can also be great innovators. In fact, often they can be. Because they know the challenges of the world. They know the problems that need to be fixed, and I love being at M I T because we’re not obsessed with just the purely web-based digital apps we have.

Doctors and medical professionals who want to make the world better through innovation in their areas of expertise. We have people from national security and defense who want to make the world a more secure space through deep technology and hard technology. We have people who are interested in the energy transition and achieving climate net zero.

Which you’re not gonna do with digital dance apps. You need people who are going to work on fusion energy and carbon capture. Uh, and so it’s a privilege to be at m I t and just see amazing people, professors, students, the broader ecosystem coming up with ideas about innovation that’s actually gonna have meaning for them, and they will lead that innovation through to impact.


Naji Gehchan: you, you mentioned several times ecosystems and you’re passionate about it and you actually work on it. So can you help us a little bit more understand and share your view about what do you mean by ecosystems that can foster innovation and entrepreneurship?

Phil Budden: Uh, that’s a great question, and I’m drawing on some fabulous m i t professors research in this area.

The ecosystem term helps us to answer a question, why is the world not. You know, Tom Friedman told us 20 years ago, the world is flat. Uh, anything can happen anywhere. And in terms of innovation, it’s not flat. In fact, it’s not fair. There are perfectly good places and perfectly good people that are left behind by innovation.

And so ecosystem is, uh, a model to try to understand why does the best innovation happen in certain places. , um, Silicon Valley, Boston, Cambridge, London, on a good day. Uh, why does it not happen in other places? Perfectly good Places like Nebraska, Kentucky, um, Scotland, Wales. And so the ecosystem becomes our way to both answer that empirical question, but also to give us a framework to take things forward.

And the thing about an ecosystem, rather, like in biology, it’s. There’s a variety of different players and species. There’s a des there’s a variety of different assets and and nutrients. Some of them are in collaborative relationships. Some are predatory. Some are parasitic. But this ecosystem, organic model is something we’ve now taught for a decade based on prior research and seems to help us explain why things happen in some places and not in others.

So can you in a

Naji Gehchan: nutshell tell us.

Phil Budden: Happen. I can give you the framework. So this is where my, his, this is where my history kicks in. Um, and so the ecosystem model helps explain why the industrial revolution and started in England, despite its many problems, why it spread the way it did. And this is relevant today for the 21st century.

And I think really important as we head into the, uh, economic turbulence ahead. So ecosystems, In the places on the planet that do best at innovation, there are five key stakeholders, one of which is the entrepreneur. Then there’s the traditional ones in the so-called triple helix of government, university, and big business.

Now, if a committee of government, university and big business was enough to solve problems, we’d all be rich. The challenge. That’s not enough to have a committee. You need to have the entrepreneur at the table because they’re the ones who are creating the enterprises of the future. And one of the things I’ve discovered in my corporate innovation research and teaching is sometimes big companies find it awfully hard to innovate, even if they came from an innovative startup.

So you do need entrepreneurs to keep refreshing that. Uh, and as you’ll have spotted, there’s a fifth one, and that is what we called risk. So venture capital is a form of that, but also angel investing, private equity, corporate venture capital, the ones who are willing to to fund the entrepreneurs. And so this five stakeholder model seems to apply around the world.

We’ve taught this in an M I T program called reap. We’ve now worked with 80 teams from all of the major continents, from most of the different political systems. The same five stakeholders seem to matter whether you are in Chile or China. Beirut or Paris. And so this is a model that is informed by our research, but also seems to be a framework for those who want to make a real difference and lead for impact in companies and communities that matter to them.

Thanks for

Naji Gehchan: sharing this framework. Uh, what is the role of leadership and all?

Phil Budden: Oh, leadership is key. So the word innovation, people when they hear this, they sometimes think it’s technology that all you need is a piece of technology, and M I t produces lots of technology. All you need is the app or access to the cloud or a fusion reactor.

Well, The M I T approach to innovation is the technology is important, but it’s not enough. You need to have leadership to go from the technology and the idea to impact, because the biggest challenge is not the technology, it’s usual, the people, the processes, and the systems. How do you bring the technology to bear?

Innovation does not happen spontaneously or sustainably without leadership. And so I spend a lot of my time working with executives saying, y Y. You may no longer feel that you are the most entrepreneurial tech savvy or innovative person in your organization, but if you are in a leadership role, Your leadership is crucial at empowering people around you, supporting them to, to spread the love about innovation and make it safe for people to, to innovate.

And so leadership really is the deciding factor within ecosystems, but also within companies and sectors. I love it.

Naji Gehchan: And how you frame that, leadership takes those innovative tech to

Phil Budden: impact Yeah. Out. They don’t get that by themselves. Well, a

Naji Gehchan: totally different question, uh, about diplomacy. I, I, do you miss being a

Phil Budden: diplomat?

Um, it was, that’s a great question. It was a great honor to be a British diplomat. Um, my final job was British Consult General to New England. Um, and especially to m i t. Uh, it was a great privilege to serve my country and my queen. Um, So I miss aspects of that. But the interesting thing is, I, I still find myself performing little d diplomacy.

Um, it turns out before diplomacy had become the action of of nation states, lots of people could be diplomatic. And so I actually think there are lessons from diplomacy, including in innovation ecosystems. You know, the way that an executive from a corporation engages the rest of the ecosystem requires a form of dis diploma.

Um, in the theory of diplomacy, it’s often regarded as the, uh, the mediation of estrangement, coping with differences, and so understanding the differences between a corporate leader at a startup venture between a government official and a university academic. So one of the things I find myself teaching some of the students, though not you yet Naji, is how to take these diplomatic approaches and to think like a diplomat, because it’s not the same as just command and control within a company if people still do that, uh, it’s not the same as, you know, between a professor and a student.

It really does require respect, understanding, and a realization that we sometimes speak different languages when we talk about innovation and technology, even if it’s all in some form of.

Naji Gehchan: That’s, that’s great to, to have this kind of how you’re transfer one part of diplomacy and I agree. Like we’re diplomats talking with people, managing relationship is super important in what we do.

Yeah. What, what, what is your view, uh, I don’t know if it’s a politically correct question, but I’d love your current view on global diplomacy in this ongoing craziness. I would say in the word and unfortunate things

Phil Budden: happening. Yes. , I think it just reminds us that diplomacy is even more important than than ever.

Land war has sadly returned to Europe. Um, and so there’s also a needed for hard edged defense, but diplomacy never stops. And so ultimately we’re still going to be living along alongside each other as nations. And so diplomacy as the way to mediate, estrangement, um, is going to be necessary. And diplomacy is not just with your friends and all.

It’s with your competitors and adversaries. And so I think it’s through diplomacy that we actually need to address these issues, that we need to come to some sort of halt in hostilities in the war that we need to manage the rise of other powers in Asia, respecting differences, but also coming up with some, some basics.

And so I actually think while the focus is on defense and the military, Diplomacy is going to be hugely important, uh, especially in the regions. I’m looking at more now, uh, the Middle Eastern Africa, where I think understandings, conflict prevention, shared prosperity are going to be really important. And I think some of the diplomatic tools, uh, respecting differences, acknowledging that we speak, uh, different languages, even if we’re.

Basically speaking, you know, English or Arabic or French or Spanish. Understanding those differences and managing those differences, I think is gonna be important. So, oddly, at the start of 2023, I think diplomacy is needed even more.

I’m gonna give you now

Naji Gehchan: one word and I would love your reaction to it. So the first word is

Phil Budden: leadership. Ah. Essential leadership is essential. Without it, we don’t make progress. And this is not just leadership. For those who are technically in leadership roles, loads of individuals can show leadership in loads of different ways.

What about entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship is hugely important. It’s not the same as innovation. You can be entrepreneurial with a very low innovation, low tech venture. All of those people who are running corner stores or um, uh, Uh, bread stalls that I saw in Jordan in Egypt, or mum and pop stalls or pizza stores.

That’s a form of entrepreneurship and we should welcome people being brave to be entrepreneurial. We just shouldn’t confuse it with innovation and the real gamechanging changes that we need. The third word is

Naji Gehchan: console.

Phil Budden: Console. I was a console. Um, it means you are operating in a region. You are not the ambassador because the ambassador is the representative to the sovereign country.

Uh, so a console is a form of diplomat and it’s. It was my honor to be a consult for the late, uh, her Majesty the Queen, and it gave me a great opportunity to work with partners across New England, but also realize that I was just one small part of a global diplomatic network. And it was my job to show local leadership, but leadership in support of the wider network’s efforts.

The last word

Naji Gehchan: is thread love in

Phil Budden: organiz. Well, I, I’m British, so, and, and male, so it’s hard for me to talk about this love thing, but I love the initiative that you’ve shown Naji about spreading love because it reminds us that at the end of the day, , it’s about people. You know, we were talking about innovation.

Innovation is more than just technology. Uh, innovation can be of business models or processes and people. And as much as the pandemic had us thinking about technology and being remote and, and it’s great, you know, you and I get to chat and you get to record this, that is lovely, but at the end of the day, it’s about people.

And the diplomat in me thinks it’s about connecting people. And so you need to spread that love and joy and leadership can do. But so could pretty much any member of an organization, some of the most joyful people for me to work with are the ones I stroll in, uh, who greet me at the office and we chat about their lives and, you know, the challenges.

And so I think it’s really important to, to spread love, not least because it reminds us about leadership is about the people.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom felt for leaders

Phil Budden: around the. . Um, it is with considerable modesty that I as a aging white middle class Brit, uh, offer advice in global contexts. Um, but leadership is really important.

Leadership is the only thing that’s really made a difference through history. And it’s not just leaders of countries who are elected or selected. It’s about leaders of companies, leaders of universities, leaders within communities, leaders of families. And so I think leadership is the thing that makes the difference.

So I encourage people to think what kind of leadership could they? Um, respect diversity. Uh, I am an introvert. My leadership is in small bursts, after which I need to recover. Uh, others will be able to show leadership in, in different ways, but be thoughtful about your leadership. Be respectful of the people.

Um, leadership without followership. Is just emptiness. So think about what is AU leadership authentically in your area, and think through to the impact. What, what are you leading towards? What difference are you going to make in the world? Um, how are you gonna make sure that all the right people are involved and that you’re having a positive impact?

Well, thank you

Naji Gehchan: so much Dr. Phil for being with me today. It was an incredible chat. Thanks for being.

Phil Budden: Naji, my pleasure. And I wish you lots, uh, of good luck with spread love. Keep up the good work. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast joined today by Navin Goyal, a physician and entrepreneur who serves as CEO of LOUD Capital, an early-stage venture capital and alternative investment firm leveraging capital, entrepreneurship, and education to grow impactful companies across the globe. Bringing his physician training to do good for people, Navin strives to make venture capital more purpose-driven, inclusive, and accessible.  Before co-founding LOUD Capital, Navin practiced anesthesiology in a large hospital-based setting and was the Medical Director of a community hospital for several years. The beginning of his entrepreneurial journey was co-founding OFFOR Health (formerly SmileMD), a venture-backed mobile healthcare company that expands access to care across the United States with a dedicated focus on lower-income and rural communities. Navin is also author of the book Physician Underdog where he shares more about his story and impact that we will also hear more about today!

Navin – it is such a pleasure to have you with me today.

Navin Goyal: Naji, thank you for having me. I appreciate the kind introduction.

Naji Gehchan: I’m so intrigued by your story from med school to being a clinician and now venture capital. Can you share a little bit more with us about your personal story and what’s in between the lines of this incredible journey of impact you have in healthcare?

Navin Goyal: Yeah, so let’s see if I can do a relatively abridged version. Um, you know, wanted to be a physician, went to med school, became an anesthesiologist, and that was my goal.

And so like many things, when you reach your goal, you’re, you know, uh, it’s great, but it’s not necessarily everlasting. It’s, it’s like, what is the next goal for me? I thought that was it. I was in a great private practice, had great partner. Uh, it was very fulfilled, but over time, um, like many physicians nowadays pretty openly say, you know, there’s a little bit of boredom that happens because you are an expert in your field.

Your learning curve goes a little bit more flat. And we are so used to learning so much information that when that stops, unless you’re doing a lot of other things in your personal life or, um, extracurriculars, um, you still yearn to learn more. And I was no different. I just didn’t know what that looked like.

So I started reading at the age of 30, I started reading books, which my parents told me growing up, read, read, read. I never was that kid. I was like, no, I don’t think I don’t like books. I only will read what I need to for school. So I started leisure reading and the age of 30, I know this sounds funny, um, and I got lost into some fictional stuff, but really got veered into the non-fiction.

Entrepreneurship and inspirational stories about people pursuing a higher purpose, leaving their place of comfort because they felt so strongly about something. During that time, I’m started angel investing, you know, investing in some startups locally here in Columbus, Ohio, where the startup scene was really starting to to heat up, and I got inspired by these entrepreneurs that I was investing in.

So they not only were companies I invested in, they were also now relationships that. Was very curious about, and I was trying to learn as much as I could. So that really opened up the world of entrepreneurship to me. And then in 2014, had the opportunity to start a company with, uh, two other anesthesiologists.

Uh, called SMILE md, which is a mobile anesthesia company. So the anesthesia part, we knew all the business stuff, everything around it. We did not, but it was comfortable enough for us to move forward knowing that there was many unknowns, but we, we had each other. We knew anesthesia and we all figure it out.

And so what I just said is not knowing some things and we will figure it. Is what I have embraced. And I think it’s really hard for us physicians to say that statement and act on it because many of us have followed this rigorous path, but this path was known and by the end of it, you will be an expert if you pass these, if you have some experience, if you do all these things, you will be an expert.

There’s no guarantee in the entrepreneurial world, in fact, most of the world, there’s no guarantees like. So I think it was embracing a little bit of that discomfort, having people encourage each other, learning along the way. And guess what? Now today, the company employs about a hundred people. We’re in several states.

We have insurance companies as clients, and, and, and it’s been nine years, by the way. So this is not something that happened overnight. But how we look at entrepreneurship is we built something that’s now serving kids all over the country. So over 30,000 kids. We’ve, um, done anesthesia on in various practices around the country, and we’re serving kids that were not being served by the hospital or medical systems around.

They’re so backlogged with other types of procedures, so I’ll pause there, but that’s, that’s one way that’s really empowered me in the world of entrepreneurship.

Naji Gehchan: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. You know, I, as we chatted a little bit before, I relate so much to what you’re saying also in the entrepreneurial journey.

It’s, it’s funny, it’s kind of, you know, our company we, we founded some while ago is also nine years. Um, and the impact that you’ve done for those 30,000, uh, kids, as you said is, is really so powerful. So it’s not only entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship with impact, and I think this is something that you’re taking now.

In your new venture as, as a c e o of, of loud. So I, I would, I would like to start with this, you know, every, like those two letters. usually create a reaction. You know, I, I won’t say positive or negative, but VC always has a reaction with entrepreneurs. Yep. And you’re leading an early stage venture capital, uh, firm, really focusing on good for people as I read.

So it’s not usually how the VC word I would say is perceived. So I’m really intrigued about your vision. and what are you doing in, in this VC word and

Navin Goyal: how you’re doing it? Yeah, it’s, it’s a, it’s a great question. And so continuing my story, my lens of entrepreneurship started out with building an impactful company.

So I told you we take care of a lot of kids and these kids, um, Are on Medicaid. So these kids have long waits at hospital systems, nine to 12 months, sometimes 24 month wait to get dental extractions. Okay? And so what our company does is we get that done within a month. We get it done in their community and the office that they were diagnosed in, and we get it done without them leaving their community hours away to a medical system waiting months, months, months, even years.

And we get it done. So, We are saving money on the system. We’re saving progression of disease. We’re saving, uh, time. We’re saving discomfort from the families, and we’re making it all work. And it’s actually an alignment of stakeholders. Insurance companies, patients, providers, physicians, you name it, are aligned.

And so what that does is it creates a light bulb moment of, wait a second, you can create something for profit supported by all these stakeholders. That are in alignment while employing great people, working really hard, purp, it’s very purpose driven. We see the results. So wait, wh why don’t we continue to support companies that are doing this?

And so as I was building, uh, SMILE MD and um, really talking about this all the time, so I would go to work. All I could do was talk about it. And I was also an angel investing. You can imagine people are like, Navine, what are you? . Like we’re we’re, we’re at this practice here, but I couldn’t stop talking and thinking about it.

So then people were like, how do I get involved in your world? How do I get exposure to that? I wanna learn some stuff. I want some energy. Wait, I have some capital. How do I invest in this world? So that’s where in 2015 I started a fund. It was more of an angel fund to invest in these types of companies because again, my lens of entrepreneurship.

Impactful driven companies. And by the way, there are companies that are out there that don’t necessarily move the needle on people or productivity or really solving a problem. It’s, let’s say selling a product that’s a little better than this product. And we’re trying to, um, take market share from another company.

Okay. And there’s opportunity to make money off those. And so what clicked for me is like, Hey, I want to make money. I want people to make. , but let’s also feel really good about it. And that’s actually why I sleep well at night because I am supporting and investing in companies that are doing good things for people like our family and our friends, and people I know, and that just feels really good.

So I just consider it a higher standard that traditional venture capital looks at. How can we make money off these companies? My lens is how can we make money off these companies while. Further supporting the people around us. And it sounds really simple maybe, but it’s not. And it doesn’t happen enough.

And that’s where I think VC gets a really. Bad name because there’s a lot of fuel that goes behind companies that really aren’t adding value, and they might make a ton of money or they might go up bankrupt. But either way, there was no value to society outside of maybe some wealthy investors. And so I want investors to be wealthy, but I also want them to know that their money went towards pushing things that they care about for their own families or kids.

Naji Gehchan: I love this. This is so, you’re saying simple, but as you said, I think it’s really complex and obviously the word is not there yet. So I, I’m intrigued by, you talked about obviously the profit side of things. Yeah. So the timeframe I imagine for those type of investment might not be the same. The KPIs you are looking for might not be similar because it.

only about profit. You’re actually looking on impact, actually profit for stakeholders. So I’m interested, like how do you look at these

Navin Goyal: things? Yeah, actually the, we’re not looking at different metrics in the sense of time to exit or acquisition. So if you think about relevant companies today in 2023, people care now about the purpose behind a brand.

They care about who’s behind the brand, what they stand for, more than ever, right? And so, For me, it’s having a culture and leadership and solving a problem that is relevant to me as a consumer or a customer that doesn’t slow down the process of an acquisition. In fact, to me it elevates it. And so what we’ve seen is we have an accelerated, uh, kind of record.

We have a great track record. We’ve had exits. Our first exit came after, uh, a company of four years. And so investors got, you know, capital back and people are happy. Yeah, I, I no longer have to prove anything with just my words. It’s been the action that we’ve taken. And, you know, today also there’s a lot more of, uh, a movement of emerging fund managers.

You know, newer fund managers, even if they’re operationally experienced or have great entrepreneurial backgrounds, they’re now running funds with more of this thesis of impact. Now impact used a lot, but the way I described it deeply into problem solving, deeply into I, I, I believe in servant leadership.

You know, I believe in investing in people who are gonna treat their own people well, not just the problem they’re solving. So it’s like this whole comprehensive model of supporting good companies, good people that employ good people, that serve people. And there’s money to be made and there’s value to be created.

You’re, you’re

Naji Gehchan: touching on so many incredible aspects, you know, it is really this podcast that’s built on this. So I’m, I, I’m really so honored to have you here and talk about this. You talked about culture. You talked about servant leadership, um, and these are things you look at and the company is really based out of purpose, right?

Like purpose driven companies. Yeah. So how do you put all this into perspective and what are the key aspects? I would say when you’re looking at the founding team and you say like, yes, this is a founding team that has those. and you wanna invest in them. Like how, what, what are the key aspects? You’re looking in the founders and what is the culture Yeah.

Navin Goyal: You’re looking for. That’s, that’s great. And, and it’s taken some time over the years to really pin it down to answer this question. Um, and obviously there’s, there’s, there’s chemistry, there’s ability to work with, with a portfolio company cuz when you meet a team or founder, And you decide to move forward after your diligence process, et cetera.

There needs to be a healthy chemistry to say, we can work together. Cuz basically you’re committing to each other for several years at least to say, we’re gonna be working and building this business. And, and by the way, the, the name loud capital came from being loud and active investors. Not silent investors because even people who write large checks, they’re either very busy or they look at this as a, an investment financially, you know, mainly, , I look at it again as holistically as you’re solving a problem, how can we help and, and, you know, knock down some obstacles alongside you.

So our, our team and our culture is very entrepreneurial. Um, and that’s what’s exciting that we, we, we don’t look at it as just an investment business. Um, and so in doing so, there’s, there’s a chemistry. Um, there is a humility that needs to occur. So really, if you think about really, really ambitious, intelligent, and capable people, Right.

If they have all that without humility, then they, their learning journey will not be as great. Uh, they probably won’t attract, um, as many people as they can. They probably won’t attract the right people, I should say. Um, there’s something, that connection that we have in our team, the chemistry, keep talking about, we are attracted to that humility because no matter what we do, our team members, like I have partner.

Hear at Loud that are brilliant. Like they, I, I’m, they inspire me and they teach me so much every day, but they have a humility to them. And I think that is a necessary thing to have in founders and teams. And by the way, there’s been some groups or some teams who we’ve realized don’t have that level of humility and they’ve come into problems because of that.

And sometimes it’s really hard to, to, to pinpoint what it was. But my, you know, after processing a lot of things for a while and we have over 70 portfolio companies now, and, uh, I’ve co-founded three, uh, four now. Um, you just learn a lot and you learn a lot about the people that run into more problems than others.

Now, because of the market, now because of your industry, I really think there’s a level of humility that’s needed to really excel, um, really in life. But I’m talking specifically in this.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thanks for that. Um, I’d love to learn more about, you know, you’ve been a clinician, you’ve done med school, you told us your story, and now, now in vc, is there kind of a common thread or common learning that you took with you throughout your journey that you would never change, or it’s something that now is part of your signature as a leader?

Navin Goyal: That’s, that’s interesting you say that. I just had a discussion for an hour before this, um, before getting on a call with you. Um, I believe I’m an empowered individual and when I reflect on the things I’ve done and the things I’ve tried and put myself out there, um, I’m empowered and I. . I am privileged to have had that early, and right now I’m trying to figure out how to pass that on more to other people, including my own kids.

I think when you’re an empowered individual, whatever situation you’re in, you have this hat on that says, I’m gonna try to figure this out, and I’m, I’m the one that can do it. I’m not gonna rely on someone, Hey, I can use help. I can ask for help. I can do all these things, but I can. and imagine empowered kids around the world this moment if every kid was empowered.

Um, how really these small things can, you know, largely change the world. Lar largely change what we think of ourselves and what we can do in our capabilities. And even if we fall flat, right? Like, that’s okay. I learned that I’ve fall, I’ve fallen many times, but I feel like the pressure we put on ourselves to not fall.

Is is silly. It should really be the pressure of staying down, right? We’re gonna fall, but don’t put pressure on yourself of, you know, Hey, I just fell. Well, let’s not think about it. Just get up and let’s keep going. So, , I think empowered is the word that has been with me, and I am grateful for it, and it’s taken me a while to really process it.

Uh, but my goal and, and even doing these podcasts, to be frank, is, is to talk so people hear this and feel like they can do it too, whatever they want to do. Small or big.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you, Navine. This is, this is powerful and I think it’s inspiring for, uh, many of, uh, our listeners. I, I would give you now a word and I’d love your reaction to it.

The first one is leadership.

Navin Goyal: Yes. Serving is, is what it, what comes to mind. ,

Naji Gehchan: can you tell us a little bit more how you would define

Navin Goyal: servant leadership? Yeah, yeah, and it’s probably interesting to give the context of that’s a, that’s a changed attitude for me. I thought leader, especially when I was transitioning out of my medical job into running loud capital, I really thought I had to know.

more than everyone else. I had to kind of walk into a meeting and really set the tone. I like. I had this pressure on myself of a leader being more of a top-down approach. Now I look at leadership as it’s really now about me. What I know, it’s really about the people that are in the room, what they know, and trying to aggregate that or accumulate that into.

Common direction. And, and in order to do that, you have to listen more, speak less. You have to be able to accept that more people around the table might run the meeting and talk. And you are sometimes chiming in and learning. You’re constantly learning. So I think, and then the other thing is serving, which, which is going to each individual in your organization or your leadership team if you’re a larger company.

And ensuring that they have all the tools, they are empowered and that they’re being heard so they can be optimized, content and fulfilled. And if they are, that will, that will increase their obviously fulfillment, but productivity, right? They’re at your, let’s say company, then they were, they are optimized and that will optimize their teams under them or around them.

And what that does as a leader, It optimizes you. It fulfills you. It be makes you become more productive. So it doesn’t start with you. It actually ends with you. And so in a line, I’m not the front. I’m the last. That’s why I think about serving.

Naji Gehchan: This is, this is really so great, you know, and as you were talking about it, I’m thinking like this transformation, right?

And when you get to transformational leadership, uh, as, as, as we grow, and I love going back to physician, right? I think mm-hmm. , sometimes as a physician, everyone looks at you and say like, you should know, right? Like, you are making decisions, you’re diagnosing. And suddenly here as a leader, I love how you framed it.

It’s about. Not what you know, but rather what people in the room know and how you’re gonna foster this and empower them to, to a better outcome for, for the company and the group. The second word I have in mind is health equity.

Navin Goyal: Yes. Um, health equity, what comes to mind, um, is the opportunity to be healthy for all.

And so, What I’ve realized is how much of a kind of privileged situation that I’ve grown up in even the hospital system. Um, I’ve seen a lot of variety of cases. It’s a very large hospital system, but what I didn’t know is how many people weren’t able to reach even the hospital system I worked in. And so one of the things that opened my eyes, um, Two is is, is health equity, where when we were building SMILE MD and we’re serving a lot of kids on, on Medicaid, and I would hear about these long waits and at the same time my, my two girls who are now 14 and 12 were young.

Um, I have private insurance and if they, something happened dental wise, I could probably get that done within a week by making a few phone calls because I had private insurance. And I was like, wait a second. What are the parents thinking right now of that child that’s waiting 12 months of this kid being in pain?

And they can’t do this. They can’t do the same thing. They can’t call someone and say, let’s get them in. And so to me that’s what health equity is in a very real practical level. We’ve been in so many, um, meetings where we’re building this company and we have to remind ourselves what we’re doing for these kids.

And I constantly think about my own kids and I’m like, why me as a parent? Why do I have a different avenue and accelerated avenue than other people? And you know, you apply that to so many things. Access to care in general, access to basic fundamental things of, uh, a safe home, nutrition, all these things that, that are contribute to health, mental health.

Um, that’s what health equity means to me. And I’m. Grateful to be able to participate in some of the change, but obviously we need more people and more eyes and more knowledge, uh, that the health equity spectrum is so bad. I can’t

Naji Gehchan: agree more with you. The third word is

Navin Goyal: innovation. Innovation. So it’s kind of a funny word cuz it’s used so much now.


I would say what comes to mind is fearless, so not having fear of trying something new, not having fear of breaking down a system that’s not serving us or serving the people We initially. Started this system for, um, and not being afraid to listen to everyone, because I feel like sometimes when it comes to innovation, there’s a circle or panel of experts , and who determines that?

We probably do, okay, you’ve done this, you’ve done this. Like for example, there might be someone out there one day that calls me an expert on something. As soon as they plant that label on me, I’m screwed. That’s, that’s not true. Like I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still one person with a bunch of silly ideas.

But, so as a, a 10 year old kid with a bunch of silly ideas, let’s put it on the table and see what sticks and try it out. So, so those are some things that come, uh, to mind with innovation. The last one

Naji Gehchan: is spread glove and organiz.

Navin Goyal: Spread love in organizations. Ugh. I love it. Um, so I believe in leading with love.

And so when we’re talking about, um, the example I gave you where I’m talking to someone in my company and I’m listening and I’m, I’m seeing how can they be better? How can you know, how can they be fulfilled? Like that is love. And if you apply that to everything, to organizations, to people you work with, to your employee, To, to people at home when you come from work that is leading with love, so that that’s what comes to mind.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom, David? For healthcare leaders around the world.

Navin Goyal: Yeah. So I think when we, um, talk about healthcare leaders, we immediately go to the vehicle of clinical and hospital systems. But when we talk about the health of people, right? There’s so many factors there. And I’m gonna give you one example and, um, you know, there was a, uh, a panel I did for a group of college student.

Um, and one of the things, uh, it was a, a great discussion and I was a young lady who came over to me, uh, she was a first or second year in college, and she said, you know, I really love your story. I want to be a doctor. Um, you know, I, I love, just would love some encouragement. And I said, oh, that’s great. I’m like, you know, why do you wanna be a doctor?

And she said, well, I grew up really poor and my parents didn’t have great access to. So I want to be a doctor because I wanna help my family and I wanna help people like my family. And I said, that’s amazing. I’m like, going down the route of becoming a physician is not easy. It takes a long time, but you want to help families like yourself, like what you grew up in.

You know, there’s other ways to help people. Right? What about being an entrepreneur and building companies where you. Uh, deliver services. Take great people in hospital systems and go to your home. Um, improve the quality of, I mean, let’s talk about, you know, wifi, right? The internet and because there’s so many houses that don’t have it, have an electronics to be able to access care, access Telehealth.

Right, so my, my point is there are so many ways to help the health of people. It doesn’t need to be in a clinical vehicle. And so I encourage healthcare leaders to think that way, where if you can get a leadership role that doesn’t necessarily have to do with only clinical, you can positively impact. A more holistic picture, and that’s kind of what I talk about with venture capital and all these other businesses.

It doesn’t have to be clinical and the fact that we went through medical school, or let’s say we’re talking healthcare leaders in general, the fact that you have some clinical background to take care of people, apply that in other vehicles, right? You have that intention, you have some experience. Now expand that application to a much broader, in to much broader industries and corporations and organizations.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much, Navin, for being with me today and empowering us through your great words and experience. Thanks.

Navin Goyal: Thank you so much for having me.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast joined today by Semyon Dukach, Managing Partner at One Way Ventures, the venture capital fund backing exceptional immigrant tech founders who are building great companies like Brex, Momentus Space, and Chipper Cash. Semyon is a refugee from the Soviet Union and formerly the Managing Director of Techstars (Boston). Prior to Techstars, he was a prolific angel investor and a friend of the startup community. Semyon has made over 100 angel investments, including early investments in Quanergy, SMTP.com, and Wanderu. Xconomy lists Semyon as a top angel investor in New England. His philosophy has been to focus on helping his founders at all costs. Prior to becoming a full-time angel, Semyon co-founded several technology companies including Vert and Fast Engines. Fast Engines was sold to Adero in 2000. Beyond startups, Semyon is known for leading one of the MIT blackjack teams in the early 90s to beat the casinos. Semyon earned his B.S. from Columbia University and M.S. from MIT, both in Computer Science.

Semyon – it is such an honor to have you with me today.

Semyon Dukach: Thanks for having me.

Naji Gehchan: We would love first to hear your incredible personal story from immigrating to MIT beating casinos in blackjack and now being a VC focused on impact investing in exceptional tech immigrants. It feels like a full circle, but we’d love to hear more about t from you.

Semyon Dukach: Yeah. You know, I, I started some companies and then I gravitated fairly early in my career towards investing. I realized, Uh, the customers I wanted to serve were the startup entrepreneurs and that I enjoyed being involved in multiple things in parallel, um, and was also fairly good at the, actually making money at it.

Uh, so, uh, I basically started gradually investing, um, more and more of whatever money I had. And as I started doing better as an investor, I had the exits and I rolled it all over. Um, to where, yeah, eventually, uh, maybe, um, 12 or 13 years after I started move, being an investor, I was like one of the most active people, uh, in the part of the world in New England.

But then actually I didn’t just immediately go to the venture fund. I was recruited to run the Techstars, uh, accelerator here in Boston. Um, uh, which at the time was quite early, but it was still already very successful. Had a great track record. It was a much stronger program than other programs like it.

and I was, you know, surprised cuz I’ve never, never had to work within any larger organization. But it was a little bit of a franchise and that, like the Boston group, uh, operated somewhat autonomously at the time. And, um, I took that on. And so that was actually my first kind of semi institutional investing experience we had.

I, I guess I ran four, uh, four groups, um, over three years. Um, A total of about 48 or 50 companies. Um, and those have done well as well. And there I really learned more about like, mentoring not just individuals, but doing groups of CEOs, working with the venture capital investors and connecting, you know, people making it more likely that they can tell a better story and raise money they need.

Um, and, uh, it was a little bit of a public facing role. Now there’s demo days, you know, it’s, it’s a large, large gathering of the whole community, uh, every year. Um, so, you know, it was fun. And that’s when I first dabbled a little bit with, uh, not just taking local companies, but bringing some companies over from Europe.

Um, which had mixed results, I would say. But after doing it for a few years, I, I felt it was a little too comfortable for me. It wasn’t as challenging, you know? Um, I wanted to do something of my own from scratch, something more global or something with a, with a mission and impact that I really cared about.

Cause I think, I think any kind of investing organization like any other startup needs to have some purpose other than how much money it’s gonna make. I think it’s really, it’s a good thing to, to have, it helps motivate your team. It helps keep people, you know, going through the hard times. . Um, and um, ultimately if you really believe in what you’re doing, you’re probably gonna do better than than folks who lack that belief, right?

You’re gonna work harder, you’ll be, you’ll have an easier time recruiting, you’ll have better deal flow. So, ended up, uh, picking this, uh, focus on immigrants because, I mean, I am, uh, an immigrant, or at least my parents were, you know, I was young when I came here. We were refugees. Um, I found most of like, um, most of my friends, but also a large number of the startups I invested in as an angel had immigrant founders.

Anyway. and, um, it just seemed like the right time. I mean, Donald Trump was just elected and, um, there was a bit of a backlash against people coming in. Right. So it, the time seemed right to, to make a stance and to say, you know what, we’re only gonna invest in immigrants cuz immigrants are more likely to build big unicorns than.

People ho born here, right? It’s a very strong filter. When you’ve gone through what you’ve gone through in order to move to another country, learn a cultural language, you know, rebuild your network. It’s predictive of resilience and future success. You’ve gone through more than someone in an equivalent position with an easier path who was already born here.

Um, in a sense, you know, immigration is almost like your first company. It’s like an entrepreneurial thing, right? Like getting yourself re-situated is, is quite a task. Um, and so yeah, we, we built the whole fund around that concept. We raised, I left Techstars, we raised, uh, first 28 million was the first fund, and we invested that and had a bunch of interesting outcomes and were able to raise a second fund that was twice as big as 57.

Um, and we are about halfway through investing that one at this point. So that, that’s what I did today. I, I typically, like the angel phase is long over. I, I don’t write angel checks. I’m full-time capital investor, uh, right now.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much, Samuel, for share sharing, uh, your story with us. Uh, I I’m gonna double click immediately on the VC impact and specifically for, um, for immigrant exceptional immigrants as you.

You shared a little bit about the philosophy behind it, so I’m interested if you can give a little bit more, uh, your, your words insight, how you ended up really thinking immigrants, and I can relate. Um, you know, I’ve been immigrant couple of times, so, uh, I’d love to get your insights on this. And really when you started and had this idea where you said, I’m gonna move and only invest on immigrant startups and entrepreneurs, Uh, you, you said you had good funds, uh, joining you.

Was it hard for people to believe it? I’m interested in the reaction about this, because you said you went through the stance in a moment of even like some tension, you know, politically or beyond, so I’m interested how you managed to convince people around

Semyon Dukach: it. I, I suspect it was probably easier because the, the people who didn’t.

What the administration were doing felt angry and they felt strongly and they, they, uh, knew that America was built on immigrants really. And what America’s success at attracting people from all over the world is largely, uh, related to, to how, how wealthy and successful America is today. Right. Um, people know that.

And so, They were frustrated and I think it was easier to get their attention. But at the end of the day, like we decided not to make an impact fund for the purpose of helping the people we invest in, right? Like of course we help because that’s what we do as investors. We help the companies, we give ’em money, you give add value, so they pick your money and not someone else’s.

But, um, and because that’s the fun part, but the act, the selection itself, the act of writing the. It’s fundamentally not a philanthropic exercise for us. Like we are not a fund that, uh, invests in people because. They’re under capitalized because they have trouble raising money from others. We’re not there to help people who struggle struggling with fund fundraising.

Right. Uh, on a contrary raising, think, you know, we have our beliefs, we have our passion. We love investing in immigrants. We wanna see a world that’s more open. We ideally want to see that any person, regardless of where, wherever they happen to be born, should be able to like switch their passports at will and join whatever country they want to be a part of.

And all countries should be open to everyone. Uh, I mean, obviously not the people who come and, you know, commit crime or whatnot, but you know, you could, you should be able to police crime the same way for new arrivals. As for existing, uh, people like it. I, I would like to believe. The random paperwork that you happen to have received when you were born is completely outside of your control.

Just like your, your race or gender is outside of your control. And so opportunities should be the same for everybody. And so, you know, we don’t like the idea of asking, uh, whether these tech immigrant founders are good for America because they create a lot of jobs. Just doesn’t interest me at all. Like, I, I, I don’t actually care about the fact.

These immigrants create a lot of jobs for America. I mean, it’s nice. It’s good that the jobs are created, but that’s not an argument for why we should allow them to enter the country. The reason we should allow them to enter the country, in my view, is because we believe in the quality of opportunity. We believe in human rights, and who the hell are we to ask whether the arrival of this person.

Gonna benefit us economically. It’s their right to come and do whatever the hell they want. As long as, you know, they’re not harming as long as they’re building, creating, you know, working like everyone should have the same rights. It shouldn’t matter where you’re born, right? Because that’s outside of your control.

That’s, that’s a core part of what we believe. And then we think globally, of course, in general, uh, we tend to, you know, our companies tend to have offshore development because they have come from a country where they understand the culture and it’s easier for them to set that up. Um, and there’s a lot of other, uh, advantages to it.

Um, but basically we have, you know, with our philosophy, uh, we were able to attract some really top immigrant, uh, talent, uh, like top founder. Uh, became part of our deal flow. Like the people sent us really interesting companies, even the ones, you know, the ones that maybe the immigration experience was some time ago and maybe they’ve already had a successful, uh, outcome and they’re like in hot demand and everybody wants to invest.

And often we get allocation in those rounds because we are the only fund who who is defined around this concept. And, you know, a strong immigrant founders just love, they remember how hard it was for them when they first. They love the idea that, that there’s a fund for immigrants, right? Like that they boldly state that like immigrants aren’t just as good.

They, they like better, they’re significantly better. They’re the single strongest group, right? Uh, for the purpose of determining your probability of building a unicorn, you know, really outside success, which is the only way to get good receiver returns is to invest in those unicorns, right? So, um, it’s, it’s been, you know, a really fun journey.

Um, Uh, you know, I’m sure some luck was involved as always, but, uh, I think, um, I think the mission has been really important. Like our founders are more likely to help each other because they all share this mission. We have a lot of limited partners. We, we didn’t go to institutions. We raised money from like, basically entrepreneurs who had exits, who had money because they sold their companies.

And we have 230 of ’em altogether. Um, . So that’s a pretty strong network of people who, many of whom, if not most of whom are pretty engaged. They wanna meet the founders, you know, they want to like us. They want to get excited about, you know, , high energy, younger people who are super smart, who are changing the world, who are very passionate, like doing something interesting.

Like it’s, it’s really fun to be around, uh, the kind of startup CEOs that could race sizeable rounds, right? Um, so it’s a fun job and it’s a fun community to be a part of. And so that’s, that’s what we do with one.

Naji Gehchan: and with high impact, and I really love how you framed that opportunity should be the same for everybody.

You know, like some would call it the genetic lottery, uh, actually where you get born and how, and, and what you’re trying to bring is really, really this equity or ac at least equitable access, uh, for people to be able to thrive wherever they were.

Semyon Dukach: Yeah, and you don’t do it, but like, just giving the VC check to every immigrant, obviously, like we, we look for extraordinary people who are building large in disruptive businesses.

Most of the companies we invest in, like their competitive rounds, and they could, they could get their money anyway from someone else. Uh, not all, but most of the time. Um, So

Naji Gehchan: I wanna, I wanna double click on this savian, because you, you talked about, uh, obviously, you know, immigrants, the grit. You talked a lot about resilience as an immigrant already, and this is kind of why, why you define those as your top, not top-notch entrepreneur.

Uh, I’m intrigued. What else do you look at and do you look for, in f in founding teams when you are ready to invest, uh, is there any key leadership trades capabilities within the founding team or the lead team of those companies that you really look for to

Semyon Dukach: make your final call? Well, of course, I mean, you know, there’s no shortage of immigrant at startups.

It’s just a, it’s just an initial filter for whether we’re gonna take the meeting, um, or even look at it. Like we don’t take, we only take one out and 50 meetings that come at us, even from immigrant founders. Right. And then we invest in one of 20 of those or whatever. Um, so one of the things we look for, it’s, it’s similar to what other investors look for, the seed.

We have seed investors. It’s usually the second round, like there’s a pre-seed round and then a seed round. Sometimes we do pre-seed. Um, at that stage, the, the CEOs, by far the most important factor, right? Like it needs to be a large market for sure has to be a large opportunity. Uh, hopefully in market that’s, it’s not too, too difficult to, to grow quickly in.

But then, uh, we really. The kind of, uh, leader who has a vision of the future, who has a thesis, has a belief, a strong belief about how to serve their customers, how the world will change, what their customers really need. They care about their customers, and they care about their team. and, uh, they’re able to articulate this belief, like explain it in a way that could make sense.

And, uh, when you challenge them, they listen pretty closely to your questions. They don’t agree with most of what you say, but they, uh, show you how they think. And how they take that stuff that you’re saying into account. Hopefully they, uh, usually they know much more about their business, their space than, than we do.

Just by definition, even the spaces we focus on, we still don’t know as much as a person, you know, spending all their time on one business. . Um, so we have these conversations we look at and then we look at the team, we look at who they’re able to recruit. Like we expect people to, to bring on like incredibly strong talent.

You know, the kind of people who could themselves be c e o and raise money from other VCs. Not the kind of people who just have like high paying jobs, but like really strong people. Um, and that those people wanna follow. This leader just for equity. Um, this usually minimal salaries in the beginning stages, you know, there’s some, but um, so this ability to inspire others right is, is really important.

And the ability to maintain a, a real vision while also like listening to skepticism and. And processing it and under, and like taking it into account, like not having a blind vision where you just don’t really want to hear anything where you think you know it all already. Like you have to be cognizant of what you know and what you don’t know.

So those, those kinds of characteristics. And then sometimes when it’s like a full sea round, sometimes there’s already some revenues, there’s always some customers. Even though there’s no products, no revenues, there has to be customers of course. So we talk to the customers when we are leading around and we, these days, we usually lead, we we wanna speak to the customers and try to understand, you know, how big this could be.

You know, how big a need is it? How many other people in the industry might need it in the way that they do. Uh, just get a sense for, is this gonna be a venture scale story cuz like, at the end of the day, right, like, uh, very few companies actually appropriate for, for significant venture capital. And while I found the small, the model is to, to back unicorns, which usually means that they’re gonna raise very large rounds from other people later.

So we do need it to, to be, you know, Defensible. Like ideally there should be some, some ip, some founder market fit, like the founder in addition to just being great has to be somehow a good fit for what they’re doing for the space that they’re in. Um, yeah, those are some of the, some of the factors look at.


Naji Gehchan: Thanks for that. Uh, I, I’m gonna take you back in time if, if we can talk for a couple of minutes about blackjack. Uh, I, I’m, I’m intrigued and interested. Uh, you know, it might have been like cut off your, one of the first entrepreneurship journey you had and you’ve built company yourself, uh, obviously as, uh, along the way.

Uh, is there like a common thread or key learnings from those experiences that you took with you? as you build companies and as a leader today within your

Semyon Dukach: vc. I mean, of course women Blackjack was my first company. It was also my first fund in a sense, cuz we, it was more like an investment fund, right? We had investors and then players who kind of managed that.

Uh, we had to keep track of stuff. We modeled probabilities, we generated results. Uh, we, we had. Pretty good, you know, returns, it was like around under 50% a year kind of returns in blackjack.

Naji Gehchan: Wow. Can, can you give maybe our audience who don’t know you much, like a little bit of a backstory of the blackjack we’re talking about?

Semyon Dukach: Yeah. I mean, it was the, that was part of this m I T team that figured out how to beat the casinos of the game and made a few million dollars around the world. I ended. Uh, leading one of the two teams who split off into a couple of groups. And I, I was sort of the defacto president of one of those groups.

Um, learned many, many things, uh, that applied to my later, later funds, uh, how to work with people, teams, how to keep people motivated, you know, how to think quantitatively for sure. Like, I think I have a pretty, pretty quantitative way of approaching most decision. For example, when we, usually, when our companies raise later stage rounds, we usually, you know, co-invest for our pro rat rates.

We’ll, you know, either out of fund reserves or we run PVS when it’s larger checks. But even though we usually invest, I always, every, every single time I actually consider selling rather than buying to me, it’s almost, you know, it’s almost like I should be doing rather than other, I rarely wanna maintain my position.

I either wanna buy the sell. So I’m trying to like, uh, be a little bit more, uh, objective and less emotional. , the initial decision is quite emotional cuz you have to decide if you trust the, the founder too. You have to decide, you know, uh, the gut. You often have to listen to a gut. Um, but, uh, over time, you know, uh, thinking Ally is very helpful I think.

And also I think blackjack taught me. You know, very few things are impossible. Like even if conventional wisdom says, you know, you can’t beat the casinos, obviously, like that’s a known fact. Well, we could, we could, if we, if we can prove why we can, if we can write a simulator and show that it could work well, it can actually work no matter what it is.

So when a founder tells me, um, uh, that’s something, you know, they can do something that everyone else says can’t be done, and I have some initial reference calls. , you know, this cannot work. It’s the physics, it’s not gonna work. It’s impossible. It’s bullshit. And then, you know, I’m like, are you sure? Why don’t you, why don’t you actually talk to the founder?

Like, just double check and then turns out that there is a way. Um, so just thinking that, that this first principles kind of thinking nothing is impossible unless you can prove it’s impossible, right? Actually the master will prove, um, and I’m sure many other things, um, Uh, we even had investors like it was a fund in the sense that there were investors who were just investing.

There were people who managed it. There were people who actually played. So it had all those attributes. And, um, yeah, I think, uh, what it didn’t have, like, it didn’t really create value. Like we, it was more of an arbitrage. Like, we beat money, we beat the casinos for money, and we spent the money and like it was our, like, we didn’t.

The casinos never thanked us for meeting them, right? We didn’t have customers for whom we created value, so we were more like, like traders or like some kind of hedge fund in or whatever in that sense than than tech investors. So it’s much more gratifying, of course to invest in companies where you can actually help ’em with advice.

So connections and whatnot, and you feel their gratitude and you feel a little bit. Of the responsibility for their success. Of course, 99% of it lies with the, with the team and not the investor. But still, um, you can make a meaningful impact sometimes, and that’s a very good feeling. Um, but yeah, it was my first, uh, my first company and my first fund.

And then, you know, I’ve done okay with my companies. I had like a pretty reasonable exit that got me started in invest. But, uh, I did way better as an investor than end of the day. And, uh, you know, basically when you all on all like 15 years of Angel, I was doing like, I dunno, 35, 30 8% per year returns in terms of actual exits, you know, like cash and cash returns, which for a long period of time, you know, was difficult to pull off.

And so far with Techstars, with the, with one way, I believe I’m maintaining that rough level, which, you know, it’s challenging. You can’t, you can’t take that for granted. Evaluations go up like crazy. Now you have wonder if it’s gonna work anymore. Well, now I’ve gone back down. So that concern is out of the way.

But, um, you know, it’s an, it’s more of an art in the science for sure. The venture capital. It’s a, it’s a craft and it does, I have to say, I got, I think I got pretty lucky a few times in the beginning because, um, it, it takes years and years to really know if you’re doing the right thing. Like, cuz the company can take, uh, more than a decade to actually.

Generate true value. Like there’s early indications, they might raise a bunch of money from someone else, but that could just be a fad. And you know, you only really know when you return capital to your investors or to yourself if you’re an angel. And that’s just with that delay, you sort of. You know, you gotta lose for 20 or 30 years to have a couple of cycles of feedback really.

So, I mean, I, I know some people are natural, some people are younger and they’re still able to have this amazing, uh, sense for it. Um, but generally it’s, uh, It’s a very long, it’s a long game. And building a venture capital brand, like one way, you know, it’s not, it’s not like a lifestyle kind of fund that’s like, me and my partners wanna run it, and then it’ll land when we get old.

That it’s really important to me that it succeeds, that it grows, that it becomes like a globally, like well known strong fund. Because I, I want, I want people to know that by investing in, I. we got, we were able to build a large fund, have above market returns because I think that could be an argument in, in discourse everywhere about, uh, how open should borders be about how welcoming countries should be, uh, to others, right?

Like, uh, I want our success in and of itself to, to, to make, uh, potentially apolitical point. Um, but yeah, meanwhile we are just focusing on, of course, generating the best possible returns for our investors and, you know, investing in, in the very, very, very best immigrants and not, not necessarily the ones who need our help, but also like, I guess I mentioned that a couple times now.

So I do wanna say that, uh, there’s a place in life for, for, for like helping people who need help. Specifically. Venture capital is not it, in my view. Um, I. Do have a, um, charitable foundation that, um, I’m a part of that, I’m on the board of that. My wife actually runs full-time and right now it’s focused on refugees, uh, outta Ukraine.

but in general, it’s gonna be refugees. I think in other parts of the world, people who fled from wars and, you know, people like that, they need help. You know, we don’t invest on them. You, you just give them money and, um, hopefully not for too long so they can get back on their feet. But, but there’s, there’s an aspect, there’s a place in the world for, for just philanthropy and, and helping people who need a hand.

And sometimes immigrants do need an extra hand, but one way ventures isn’t that it isn’t. Yeah. Well

Naji Gehchan: thanks for kind of separating and really differentiating both and, and what you’re doing with your, uh, VC and investment fund is really also, I, I love how you’re framing it towards this bigger purpose of, of really showing the word, this purpose that you have on, on immigration.

Um, and I love your leadership, how you’ve put things. Into contrast like quant, but also some, you know, gut taking decision, uh, some luck leadership vision, but also like going with the flow. You talked a lot about your, so it’s really great learning and I’ll, I’ll give you now one word and I would love actually your reaction to it.

And the first one

Semyon Dukach: is leadership.

Um, leader. Well, uh,

effective leader, someone who inspires people to be better than they otherwise would be. You know, the people want to follow a leader because following that person makes them be better people. Right? Um, people want us inspiration. Um,

I mean, a leader has to have strong views. They have to have vision, and they have to listen to the people. So for following them and stay in tune with ’em. And not lose them. What about equity?

Equity? Uh, like as in, in, in companies and, or you mean like equity, like fairness or equity? Like equity, like fair. , like kind of equity? Um, I think there should be equity of opportunity. I think people should, uh, be, shouldn’t be limited, uh, from doing whatever they can effectively achieve. They should be judged based on their.

They’re their results. Um, you know, there’s obviously other fault, prejudices of in the world, and generally I feel that, um, you know, we need to overcome them by, by letting people do what they want, not, uh, and not necessarily in other ways. Um, , you know, I’ve already spoken about, about borders. Uh, of course you have to come in peace, you know, having been very involved with the war in Ukraine.

The last thing I wanna suggest is that like Ukraine not have any borders. You know, with Russia, like clearly they need much stronger borders, but like much bigger walls, uh, you know, people are gonna come in and roll their tanks in and, and, you know, rape and murder people. But, um, but as long as people. Um, want to, uh, you know, interact peacefully, interact in a way, uh, that benefits everybody.

That’s, that’s based on freedom and, you know, voluntary contracts. Um, I really think everything should be, should be open. Um, And as far as equity, uh, the other equity, I don’t know. You didn’t ask about that one, but you know,

Naji Gehchan: as I was asking, I was sure your VC mind will, will go into equity, so I’d love to hear your thoughts

Semyon Dukach: also on it.

equity versus death. I mean, I think. . Um, the best part about when work, when it works well, the Capitalist Society allows for easy formation of new businesses and people who work with big companies and don’t really own them, they just get cash bonuses or whatever. At some point. There’s nothing like owning something, nothing like being ultimately responsible for success and getting the full benefit from its success.

it’s very motivating. I think generally people, uh, do best when they act as owners of whatever it is that they’re involved with. So I, I certainly believe that new companies should spread that ownership broadly, that like probably ev every serious employer of, of a company should have some equity, some stock options, some way to, to benefit from, from the real upside.

I think it’s very important. . The third

Naji Gehchan: one is Breaking

Semyon Dukach: Vegas.

Breaking Vegas. Well, I don’t know if we actually really broke it. You know, I think we just nibbled the edges a little bit. You know, I mean, we won a few million bucks, but like they make billions every year. Like it wasn’t that big a deal. Of course they hated us cuz they, it humiliates them to think that someone can actually beat.

But, um, did,

Naji Gehchan: did they do a good job relating it in the movie

Semyon Dukach: for you? No, the movie was, the Kevin Spacey movie was quite fictionalized, but there’s, uh, not other films in the history channel that are more accurate. But even the Kevin Spacey movie, well, the characters have all changed. You know, it captures the essence of what it felt like for.

It definitely captures, you know, the sense that we are doing impossible. We are a team, we are the good guys, they’re the bad guys. Like all of that was definitely part of it and I’m really glad I did it. It was an interesting experience. I. Kind of regret spending three or four years on it. I think it’s would’ve been a better three or four months experience in my life.

Just cuz you know, it was cool, it was neat, I learned something. But there’s more interesting things to do in the world, like built tremendous value for your customers, uh, than just, uh, you know, proof, proof that you was smarter than a bunch of casino people who are particularly smart, right? Like, yeah.

Naji Gehchan: And, and the team, like follow up question on this, I, the team has all ended up being successful entrepreneurs, right? Like there’s always this entrepreneurial spread within what

Semyon Dukach: you’ve been doing as a team. I, I wouldn’t say all of ’em, uh, but people are in different walks of life. You know, one woman is a tenure professor, one, a couple of people are still playing or whatever, like, but the, the number of like very, very successful entrepreneurs that came out of the team.

Is impressive. Like I’m not the most successful person that, you know, I’ve done really well, but like there’s people who’ve done better. Uh, there’s people like John Husick who started some very, very large successful companies like SolidWorks, like I don’t know Chen. There’s a few of these people who just built really big businesses.

Um, but I think, I don’t think any of ’em are really regret doing blackjack. I think they all felt like they learned a lot and had fun and, you know, it was teamwork. So. .

Naji Gehchan: Uh, and the last one is, uh, spread love in

Semyon Dukach: organizations.

No love makes the world go around. Uh, you know, uh, yeah. Organizations are to consist of like, you know, ties between people who deeply care about each other, who, who, um, you know, bond. Not indifferent if people shouldn’t be totally formal. I mean, yeah, you can keep your, your friends social circle separate from your work circle if you want.

But, but the work circle should also have, have, you know, real emotional, personal meaning to you should, you shouldn’t be indifferent to the people with when you spend much of your life, uh, and you got a love your customers, I mean, you’re not gonna really ever get anywhere if you don’t love your customers. They can feel.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom for leaders around the world?

Semyon Dukach: The leaders don’t need any of my wisdom and the people who, who are hoping to get my wisdom to become leaders are unlikely to, to transform themselves into leaders. I think some of it just comes from then, um, I mean, there’s obvious advice. Like, you know, you don’t want the, the, in the, in the military, the, the leader is in the front, not in the back.

Right? Like the leader, the leader leads and, and inspires and does, doesn’t just stand behind and tell people what to do. But I think those, those little cliches at this point, um, so, you know, I think you have. Figure out what’s important to you and what you believe in and sort of run with it and, and sometimes the leadership just naturally happens.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, Semyon, for being with me today and for this incredible chat.

Semyon Dukach: You’re welcome. It was nice being here. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.

Political Impact Entrepreneur – Emily Cherniack

Political Impact Entrepreneur - Emily Cherniack

Today we welcome Emily Cherniack, Founder and Executive Director of New Politics. Founded in 2013, New Politics is focused on revitalizing American democracy by recruiting, developing, and electing servant leaders who put community and country over self.

Today’s episode of OneMoment connects one particular phone call Emily made in 2012 which led her to formally launch New Politics. Let’s go back in time to that moment when Emily made the call…


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 for this podcast joined today by Dave Noesges a retired pharmaceutical executive with Eli Lilly, where he spent 31 years in sales, marketing and general management roles in the US and abroad.  He spent much of his career leading sales organizations in both the Neuroscience and Diabetes therapeutic areas. His last role was to lead the Lilly Diabetes sales teams of nearly 2,000 people as Lilly reestablished market leadership in diabetes over a 10- year period, and launched several best in class medicines. Dave is a 1984 graduate of the United States Military Academy and served 5 years as a combat engineer in the US Army, most of that time in West Germany.  After the Army, he attended the Wharton School of Business where he graduated in 1991, joining Lilly immediately thereafter. Dave has been married for 35 years and has two grown children. He devotes his time now to caring for his 90 year-old father, spending as much time as possible with his wife and daughters and engages in many charitable endeavors through his church.  He and his wife also travel extensively working on a long bucket list of international destinations.

Dave – it is such a pleasure to have you with me today.

Dave Noesges: Thank you, Naji. It’s great to be here with you and kind of get reacquainted, uh, from our lily time together. .

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. I I wanted to start, uh, first by this, I’m biased here in this discussion as I had the privilege to be in your team, Dave, uh, in the US and really see the incredible impacts you have as a leader and the culture you’ve built.

Uh, so before going there and how you’ve, you’ve done, you’ve done the sculpture. Uh, I would really love to hear more about your personal story from serving in the US Army to business school and then pharma. Uh, what can you tell us a little bit more about this inspiring journey and how you ended up leading large teams in the pharma organization?

Dave Noesges: Sure. You know, it’s, um, probably like many of us, um, um, so much of who I am as a result of, uh, my family upbringing and my background. And I, I think it’s, um, um, both the, the, the strengths and the development area is probably a result of that. But I, I grew up really in, in a. Family of fairly humble means. My dad was, uh, the first in, um, and only person in his generation to be a college graduate.

And so it was a very blue collar environment. Almost everybody I knew was, um, in the family and friends and kind of the, my parents’ social circle were, um, um, steelworkers and working and working class people. And uh, um, and, uh, you know, my dad was a bit of an outlier. Every, everybody else, the college graduates I knew were all teachers as my dad was.

And so that was kind of, The environment I grew up in, and it was, um, uh, a very family oriented environment. It was kind of small town America in a, in a steel town in northwest Indiana. And, um, um, you know, people looked out for one another. It was a very strong community. Um, um, it was a very Christian-based community, and certainly that’s a big part of, um, uh, of what motivates me and guides me.

My faith is very important to me. It was to my parents. Um, but I, I, I think it. My parents taught me more than perhaps any other attribute, the importance of humility. And, uh, and, you know, we can talk some more about that as to how I, it’s influenced me and how I think about leadership. But, um, you know, I like to say, especially my mom was always proud of me, but never impressed because the only things that ever impressed my parents were if I was a good father and a good husband, and, uh, uh, and taking care of the things that were really important.

They were intrigued by, uh, My ambition and, uh, my, um, um, competitiveness from my career standpoint, but it wasn’t, uh, uh, wasn’t who they are and what was most important. Uh, and then, then I think, um, so that’s the background. So you said that doesn’t sound like somebody who’s, uh, with that background that’s gonna be ambitious and wanna grow and take on leadership roles.

That’s where I think West Point really began to, to shape me. And, um, um, I, you know, I saw. A big world out there with lots of opportunity and so much that I could do, and to be able to live overseas and to be on the east coast in college and to be probably the first person in my high school to have gone to West Point.

And so all, all of that kind of opened my eyes to all this opportunity that I wanted to be a part of. It just was exciting to me. And, uh, um, but I, west Point also was foundational to me in terms of, um, my leadership journey and, uh, I think that, You know, there’s probably a lot of baggage, especially in the business world about what comes with military leadership.

It’s seen as very, um, uh, very structured and top down and, uh, and there’s some truth to that. And then, you know, this, it goes back, um, almost 40 years when I went to West Point. So it was a, you know, it was a different generation and, uh, there was kind of a, a bit of chauvinistic kind of approach to leadership.

But, um, but when you. When you really, uh, immerse yourself in leadership as, and West Point was trying to transition at that time and what they were teaching, the, probably the fundamental, uh, principle that I took away was, uh, one of leading by example. Um, the best military leaders in spite of the command and control mindset in that, um, put their soldiers first.

Um, You know, it was kind of, um, drilled into us from our early days that the leaders eat last. And if you’re in the field or you’re in the most difficult circumstances, you feed everyone. You take care of everyone before you take care of yourself, which is probably not what people think of the military.

But, um, you know, when you’re preparing people to, to lead folks in combat, which I never had the. Fortunately, never had to do. It’s, uh, um, you know, the command and control starts to, you want the discipline, but people aren’t gonna follow a leader into dangerous space unless they really trust them. They think that you have their best interest at heart.

And so those were the most important things that I took away, um, from, uh, my experience, uh, at West Point. And I, I think over time, Came to learn some of the blind spots that military leaders had. We, um, um, it could be very structured. We kind of looked for a leadership model that looked like ourselves. And, you know, I, I think my time in business school started to open my eyes to, um, uh, to very different constructs of leadership that, uh, made me kind of rethink as there, you know, what probably was a kinda single-minded approach to leadership in the military that I needed to open my mind to, and that began to help me evolve.

But, um, uh, maybe one of the most important parts of my leadership journey though, was to meet my, uh, my, uh, now wife of, uh, of 35 years. We met in West Germany. She was a, an American expat working in the airline industry for twa. And then, and, uh, Just a completely different perspective on, uh, on, uh, she, she was my mentor in the business world.

She’s the one that suggested business goal to me. She was the one that helped me to figure out how to, how to adapt my military leadership in a business environment and to probably soften the rough edges a little bit. And that was a really important part too. But I, I think those are the, probably some of the milestones before I got to Lilly that really shaped who I am and how I think about leadership.


Naji Gehchan: thank you so much Dave for sharing this and it’s, um, it’s already profound things that you shared that we will dig a little bit more into, uh, as we discussed. Uh, I would love to know why pharma. and how you started and you ended up staying for, for all your career in the

Dave Noesges: pharma world. Yeah, it’s a really, everybody asked me that Cause it’s not logical at, at, uh, first glance.

I mean, I was an engineer by training and a combat engineer. I was a civil engineer and you know, it, it. Um, um, and a lot of the career advisors when I was getting out of the military were suggesting that sales is, and marketing was not the right space for you to do something in operations. And, you know, that’s what a lot of my peers and colleagues did.

But, um, I, um, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to, um, uh, you know, I had learned in my time in the military. I, I, I really, um, um, Leadership opportunities and having a team, uh, was really important to, to, um, to, uh, what motivated me and inspired me. But, uh, you know, how I was gonna accomplish that, uh, outside of the military, I mean, I knew nothing about the civilian world.

I, I didn’t, uh, understand how businesses worked. I hadn’t had a single business course at West Point. I had lots of other yeah, courses, but, uh, uh, you know, I didn’t understand the profit motive. I just didn’t know what the opportunities were. And that’s where Mimi, my wife, really guided me. Business school is a good place to ex where you could explore that, where you could figure out what you wanted to do.

And as I got to business school and started to see the opportunities, um, you know, I, being at Wharton, which is a finance institution and a lot of ties to Wall Street there, um, uh, there and, and Wall Street has, has. Had a strong pull for mil former military talent. I think they got part of it because it can make you cannon fodder.

You can, these are people that are used to uh, uh, sacrifice and hard work and long hours and doing whatever you’re told. Wall Street culture and uh, and I was intrigued by. Wall Street opportunities. But, um, I realized though, as I was exploring those opportunities that I just couldn’t get excited about.

And as important as Wall Street is, and I, I’m a capitalist, but I just couldn’t get excited about what, to me seemed, at its essence is buying and selling money. It just wasn’t, uh, the purpose I wanted. And I realized that what I was going to miss from my time in the military, uh, , uh, was the purpose driven culture.

We had a clear mission. It was important. We believed in it, we could all rally behind it, and I needed to to find that. And it was, um, probably, certainly somewhat cer serendipity that I found in the pharmaceutical industry. But I started to explore that because I thought that’s something I could get excited about.

Um, Breakthroughs that are gonna save lives and change lives. And, um, the serendipity was just that I happened, there happened to be a recruiter, uh, coming on campus for the summer internships at Lilly, who’s, uh, I learned later her dad was a retired, uh, colonel in the Army. And so my, uh, resume caught her attention in a way that it probably wouldn’t have most others.

And, uh, she encouraged me to think about Lily. I didn’t, you know, even though I’d grown up in northwest Indiana, I didn’t know much about Lily. And so I. Planning to come back home. My wife’s from Philadelphia. We figured our life would be on the East Coast. And, uh, but I came for a summer internship and I, I, it, uh, I knew this was, Lilly was where I wanted to be because I, I felt like every person I met believed in the mission.

They believed in what we were doing at Lilly. Uh, they were good people trying to make a difference in people’s lives. And that was really important to me. If I was gonna, um, you know, hopefully someday be a leader, was to have a mission that I could really get behind and. , and this is,

Naji Gehchan: uh, this is exactly what we do right?

In the healthcare and biopharma industry. Yes. And why I wake up every morning and you’ve touched so many lives by, by doing what you do with your teams. Uh, Dave, uh, so, and you have led team in different geographies, large organizations. Uh, as I shared la the latest team was more than 2000 people across the us.

Uh, what, what has been your recipe? for leading successfully, and I should say consistently high performing teams.

Dave Noesges: Well, I, you know, I, I, um, have reflected a lot on my leadership principles and what I think is really important, and I, I think that. I mentioned this from my West Point background. I think what is foundational to being able to be a successful leader is to have a, um, a, a belief in, but also to walk the talk around leading by example.

I, I think that, um, we spend way too much time as leaders talk, talking about what needs to happen and what our communication’s gonna be and, and not enough time about, um, How are we gonna lead from the front? How are we gonna show people, how are we gonna teach? How are we gonna, um, live the, um, um, the standards that we were ex expressing people to have?

So I, I think it’s really important to have a, a clear vision, uh, clear direction. I, I believe in, um, clear standards and accountability. But, um, um, but most important in that is that, um, the people who. who, who hopefully are gonna trust your leadership, know that, um, you’re not gonna ask them to do anything that you don’t do first, and you don’t step up from the front.

And it’s, you know, it’s probably cliche, but I, I really believe that, um, um, you know, leaders need to, to internalize and take the blame, but give the credit, uh, externally and to mean that when you do it. And, and that’s probably foundational. Uh, um, I also am not, I think that, um, one of my early. Earliest in lingering leadership learnings was, um, um, That I needed to be more humble and, uh, I think I’m generally a humble person, but the leadership construct, especially 20 or 25 years ago in the business world, was very much, um, confident leaders, strong.

That was the military ethos. And the, uh, extreme of that though is that you believe you have to have all the answers and you need to project that. And, um, you know, I found over time, and it sounds silly when in h. But, um, if I thought I had all the answers, I was the only person in the room that I thought I had all the answers, and I can stifle others kind of coming forward and stepping forward.

You have to admit ex mistakes. You have to be willing to, um, to admit to the people working for you that I don’t have the answer. And, and sometimes to say that I, I, I tru I believe you have the have, are more likely to have the answer, to have the innovation than I am because I know you and I know what you bring out and to pull that outta people.

But, um, you have to be humble to do. Uh, and, uh, exude that humility, I think. And, um, if you do, I people will rally behind you. Uh, uh, and I think that what many of us as leaders are afraid of is if we show humility and we kind of show our weakness and, and what we’re not good at, that people won’t trust us as leaders.

I don’t think that’s the case at all. Not have that has to be coupled, but confidence. But I, I think that’s the. Recipe for success, uh, for a leader is humility and confidence. Uh, I think more often than not run together. You show me a, a, um, an arrogant leader, and I’ll show you somebody who, um, uh, if you really get to know them, they have some deep-seated insecurities and the, the arrogance is trying to compensate for that.

And so I think humility. And then the last thing that. I think it’s really important if you’re gonna rally people behind you as you, you have to know them and you have to be able to help tie, um, their motivations and their beliefs to the broader organizational purpose. And that means you’ve gotta get really close to people.

You’ve gotta disclose to them, you’ve gotta open it up by. You know, back again to my early years of leadership, I got a, the worst advice I got from a lot of leaders in that generation where you can’t get too close to your people. You need to be able to hold ’em accountable and fire, and fire. And, um, and it created a leadership construct of distance between leader and people.

And, uh, I think that’s just exactly wrong. I, I do, there’s. You’re too close to your people. If you can’t make a tough decision and make a tough business decision, you can’t, um, um, that can include downsizing and, and hiring and firing and making those decisions, but, uh, as long as you, um, Can make the tough calls on behalf of the business.

I don’t think you can ever be, uh, um, I don’t think you can ever be, uh, too, too close, uh, to, uh, to your people and, uh, um, and, uh, um, you know, they’ll draw the line. There’s a place where everybody has, wants to be private and don’t want you involved, and I think you have to stop as a leader there and accept that.

And, uh, but up to that point, uh, we, uh, um, and we’re getting better in the business world and we’re comfortable with that. Uh, and I, I think it’s just so important. You, you

Naji Gehchan: really gave three key recipes, uh, living the standards that transfer people to have humility and confidence and get close to your people.

And as you were sharing, I’m, I’m intrigued to get more into how did this, how did you transform as a leader towards this? Because as you said, Military leadership potentially is different. Also, leading was kind of command and control top down, right? Like, it was not this type of organization we talk about today, like more, uh, you know, more inclusive, more degraded.

Mm-hmm. . So I, I’m intrigued as you grew, because there is some leaders still leading in command and control. They believe this, they believe leadership by fear. and you potentially came from this and totally transformed into servant leadership and leading with care and with love for people to deliver on the purpose.

So I’m, I’m really intrigued. Like, is there a story or an experience behind why you changed? How, how did, how did this happen? Yeah. It’s,

Dave Noesges: um, I’ve reflected a lot on this and I, I think there were three events that. That, and I won’t go into too much detail, but, uh, I’ll briefly describe that we’re really foundational and really kind of, um, caused me to, um, reflect more and to think more and to be open to growth in this area.

Um, and then a lot of it’s just incremental after that it’s experience. But the first one was, um, my first, um, Leadership role. I was a first line supervisor with 12 salespeople and an oncology Yep. District manager position. And I was going through that annual review process and um, I had a young woman who was about as different from me as, uh, somebody could possibly be who was on my team, but she was very confident.

She was, um, she’s what people would’ve described as a punk rocker in terms of her look. And she liked that kind of, From that time, and that was something that I could not relate to at all. But she was a great salesperson. Better than I could ever hope to be, I think. But we, I’d finished her performance review and she was really a good performer.

And at the end of that, I kinda asked what used to be the throwaway question, do you have any feedback for me? And especially in those days at Lilly, people tended to say, oh, I’m so lucky, so lucky to have you as a coach and , and it was kinda a formality and, and she said to me, there is one thing that I wanted to share with you.

And she said, I don’t, I know this isn’t your intent, but you are more comfortable with the men on the team than the women on the team. And it makes us feel excluded. And, um, and it’s mostly in a social setting. At dinner, you’re comfortable talking to the guys and that’s who, where your background is and, and, uh, um, I was devastated by the feedback, um, because it’s not who I wanted to be and half of my team were women.

And, uh, um, I went home and told my wife I got the feedback and she kinda laughed and said, well, yeah, no kidding. Duh, you up in the military yet. I mean, in the military it was a combat unit. At that time there were no women, so I had never led women, I hadn’t interacted with a lot of women in my professional life, and I had a huge blind spot.

Had she not shared with me, I never, I, you know, I, I look back on that sometimes and say, what, where would I be now? And I not gotten that feedback. I think that’s the single most important feedback anyone has ever given me, uh, in my professional life. And it, it, um, It’s not who I wanted to be, and it, it just opened my eyes to a blind spot.

And, and then I started to explore what, what my i, my other blind spots be and, um, and how can I grow from there? That was the first thing. The second thing was, it was the early days of Lilly trying to, uh, um, to be serious about diversity and inclusion, and we had started an African American foreign forum for our African American employees, and I, I was.

Invited by, uh, a colleague in Pier who was, uh, who was African American to come in. I was one of the first, uh, I think, and I was in middle management at the time, one of the first kind of white leaders to go to the forum because it started out as kind of a form of African Americans talking about how do we thrive at Lilly And um, It was a very uncomfortable experience because I was immersed for the first time in my life, probably in a culture that was different from mine, and I was the minority, at least in for a snapshot in time.

And, uh, um, I, I, I went, uh, every year after that for probably 25 years at Lilly to the African American Forum and just decided and realized then how much, if you wanna be an inclusive leader, you’ve gotta immerse yourself in. In other people’s world as much as you can to understand them and to be uncomfortable and ask uncomfortable questions that sometime are inadvertently offensive because you’re trying to understand and they will give you a lot of grace.

And it, um, uh, it gave me courage to say, I gotta try this again. And I’ve gotta get more comfortable and, and, uh, and learn and to, and to, to realize how much that must be getting in the way of me being able to connect with people and to be a leader. But, uh, the last thing was, After my first daughter was born, I had, um, Lily was reading this book called The One Minute Manager, which was, uh, the, I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, Naji, but it’s, it was an old throwaway book, but it was a guy who used these simple little anecdotes to talk about what coaching should be and how we’re getting it wrong in corporate America, but.

The one that got my attention because I had a young daughter, was he had this, uh, analogy that he shared about, uh, his, his assertion was that we are all at our very best, generally as coaches, uh, uh, in, in how we, uh, how we raise our children. And the best example of that, he said of what we should do, uh, whether you’re a parent or not, you think you can relate to this, is the experience of a child learning to take their first steps.

And it just had a profound impact on me and, and every instinct. Almost every parent, unless you’re just an awful parent or, uh, a cousin or an aunt or an uncle, or anyone else, when you see a kid, take that first step is to, uh, is to celebrate the victory, to be wildly enthusiastic. Um, and if, if you think about it in the context of, um, coaching in a corporate environment, those first steps are clumsy.

They’re, they usually end up in failure. They fall over and they land on their face and they wanna cry and they look up to see how mom and dad, uh, are reacting and. Almost in every case, a young child like that gets re positive reinforcement that says, oh, you’re the most special person in the world because you’re learning to walk.

And uh, and it has a profoundly positive impact, impact on a child’s, um, uh, confidence, uh, their wellbeing, uh, their self-confidence, and. You know, most kids who don’t have that environment, they’re going to learn to walk anyway because we’re pretty resilient, uh, as human beings. But I, it, it caused me to pause and think about a, a leadership construct that was pretty prevalent at that time and still lingers, I think.

And we spent an awful lot of time as leaders in corporate America. Criticizing people for their mistakes, fixing what’s broken, um, making sure they know that they got this wrong and they need to get better and they need to raise their standards. Um, and, you know, I, it’s, um, um, raising children. I mean, you know this n naji, you’ve got young children as well.

Um, you have very high expectations for your kids, probably higher than you have for just about anyone else because you love them. But it comes. Positive reinforcement and care and compassion and wanting them to do better. And, uh, it, it really caused me to realize how much that wasn’t what I was doing, and I needed to do more of that.

And I, I think I’ve gotten better and better at that, at realizing that this isn’t a Pollyanna, you need to be a cheerleader. You still hold people to a high standard. But, um, the vast majority of people who work with us, Are trying to be successful. They’re trying to deliver on the mission. They care a lot and, uh, uh, it makes no sense at all to spend so much time trying to fix what’s broken in them, but rather to take what they’re doing well and encourage them and, and help them believe that they can do more.

And so I, I think that that, uh, was really an important, uh, insight for me. That’s, uh, that’s guided me for the rest of my, uh, leadership.

Naji Gehchan: Those are incredible stories Dave. Thanks for sharing them. It’s, and it’s powerful and I can atest because I lift this leadership when I was, when I was in your team. And again, I think it shows really those stories shows your humidity, uh, and also your vulnerability.

Accepting them, living them, and, and transforming. So, thank you. My, my other questions was on something you really touched heavily on in those examples, which is diversity, equity, inclusion. Mm-hmm. , uh, I know you’re passionate about this. Uh, you’ve done a huge, uh, strives to, to make changes that matter. You know, not only leading by example, you led by example and you made sure.

Each of us is making, uh, you know, those moves for a more equitable, uh, teams internally and externally. Uh, and, and you, you’ve done it obviously across talent management across a very large organization. So I’m interested to know how did you make sure you create this caring culture throughout your leadership team and also across the all organization that I can say at some point became a community.

Really a community where we cared for one another and we had the sense of belonging. How, how did you do this and how did you make sure that it’s lived throughout the years you were there?

Dave Noesges: Yeah, it’s a good question. Naji and I, I think that, um, it’s, um, it starts with, um, real accountability. I think when I, when I, um, um, really got serious about having a more diverse and more equitable and inclusive organization, I, I think that the foundational step is to be very clear that, um, you’re going to build the diverse organization that we’re gonna break down barriers to that, um, If somebody claims they don’t have a blind spot or that, that, that we don’t have an unlevel playing field, that um, you know, I’m gonna show ’em the statistics that suggests otherwise and we’re not gonna accept that.

And it’s just, uh, there was a pretty kind of tough, clear accountability. And, um, when I really started with my team, uh, especially in the diabetes organization on this journey, it started. Um, with data that showed that we were falling short, that showed that, you know, minorities and others were, um, uh, were falling behind and were having the same level of success.

And even going back to, to look at resumes and say they had the same credentials, the same, uh, uh, they should be doing as well. And there’s the, if we’ve gotta look in the mirror and say we’re not doing well enough, but then to establish very. Milestones and accountability and to treat it, um, not like a kind of soft and squishy people issue, which is what we sometimes do in a corporation.

But, um, this is a business accountability and, uh, uh, and so that was the most important first step, I think. Uh, but I, I think you can only get to, uh, An equitable and inclusive organization if you, uh, uh, if you improve your representation, and it gets to the point where it really, where the, the leadership team looks like the, the, the population of people who are, uh, reporting to us and looks like the communities that, uh, in our case, in sales that we’re interacting with.

And so you’ve gotta get the representation right first. Um, but then you have to explicitly hold leaders accountable to, uh, And to measure it. And you know, I think we’ve had some good systems at Lilly that weren’t mine that I applied though that, um, uh, 360 feedback and concepts that are, you know, everybody tries to use, but you have to make it real.

It’s, uh, and you have to avoid, the temptation is very strong to, uh, forgive a leader who’s not very, Who delivers a couple of years of over, over, uh, uh, performance and kinda squeezes the results out of people, you know, they’re not gonna sustain that. But it’s, uh, it’s very easy for a company to reward that.

And then you lose credibility. And so you have to not accept that. And it means that you’re gonna, in some cases, uh, um, Not promote someone who’s got delivered great business results cuz they’re not developing people and they don’t have a, a track record. A track record of talent development. You’ve gotta couple it with that.

And so I, I think it um, um, and one of the things that I think is really important that, um, You know, for you and others who are in senior leadership positions now have to realize though, is that um, you need some longevity in a role to really change a culture. And in our construct, at least at Lilian, I think in many companies is a lot of rotations.

And, and, uh, you know, I spent the last 13 or 14 years and of my career in one role, which really allowed me to kind of shape a culture and build an organization. And I realized the degree to which. You know, for many years as a top talent, uh, by Lil’s standard, I was two or three years in one place, and you go to the next place that can create a temptation to, uh, take shortcuts and to have the overwhelming pressure to deliver a short term result and not be paying attention to the longer term of people development.

I, I think it’s a challenge that, um, um, you know, companies in healthcare and everywhere else have is how do you, how do you find that balance? Because I, I think it, it takes a, a sustained effort if you’re really gonna influence. Build a culture.

Naji Gehchan: Thanks a for that. And I, I love this concept that you brought and like always focusing on it.

Behavior is right, and recognizing behavior is even above results at some point. So if it’s good results, bad behaviors, you’ve always, and, and one of the behaviors and culture is obviously inclusion that you were focused on. I would give you now one word and I would love to get your first reaction to it.

What comes to mind. Okay. Okay. So the, the first one is leader.

Dave Noesges: I’d, I’d start with, um, humility. I, you know, I, I think that’s foundational to everything. Um, um, humility allows you to be a coach that people wanna follow. It allows you to make connections so people will trust you. It, it, um, allows you to, um, recognize mistakes so you can change course when you need to.

I, I think humility’s the, the most important, uh, and probably underappreciated attribute of, um, of leadership. , what about success? Success. I, that’s an, that’s an interesting one. It’s, um, you know, in the business world it tends to be, So we tend to bring it down to the essence of, um, of earnings and sales growth and, and quota achievement.

And those things, those are really important. I think you’ve got to have, um, and, um, and care about and have a central focus around, um, uh, around the specific business objective. Uh, I mean that’s, uh, what we’re about. But, um, but, um, if that’s, That’s the only definition. I think you’re gonna fall away short.

Nobody’s gonna wanna be a part of that team cuz you can deliver business results year in and year out and have a group of people who are dissatisfied and, and um, and uh, not rewarded in their careers. And so that, that’s why I think that success successes got to include. Helping people understand what really matters to them and what really motivates them, and being able to tie the business objectives and the success of the organization to what motivates individuals and motivates pe um, uh, teams.

And, um, you know, when I, I learned that about myself, that, um, The most important thing, what energizes me, what gets me up in the morning, what, uh, uh, makes me feel successful is to be a part of a successful team who have a shared purpose, who are attacking that purpose, who are working together, who have each other’s back, and, um, that feeling a team and being a part of that and wanting to accomplish the goals.

Um, that journey was way more important to me than actually the business result. But it was a means to an end and it got to the business result. And when I realized that, I knew that’s what was gonna drive me. And, uh, I think. Um, it’s gonna be a little different for other people, but I think most people wanna be a part.

Um, especially if you’re choosing a business, uh, career. You wanna be a part of a team that’s doing something that matters, uh, to you. And, and, uh, if you can, uh, if you can rally that together and define success that way, I think the business results will come. What about

Naji Gehchan: leaders eat last?

Dave Noesges: Yeah, it’s um, It’s the military’s, uh, way of describing servant leadership.

And, um, it, it, um, um, I, I think it’s so fundamental and so foundational. If, um, uh, if you wanna be a leader who people want to follow, um, you have to eat last. And it comes in every respect. They need to know that, um, you’re willing to make a sacrifice on their behalf, that you’re willing to go to bat for them if, uh, if they feel like they’ve been mistreated, um, that you’re gonna be an advocate for their career.

Delivered, um, that you’re gonna forgive them and help them overcome it if they’ve made a mistake, even if it’s a pretty significant mistake. And, um, that, um, if you’re giving someone really tough feedback. It’s, um, uh, it’s not because you’ve got a big ego and you wanna just be, you know, and prove who’s the boss, but it’s because you just wanna make them better, and they’ve gotta believe that.

So I, I think that, um, yeah, it, it’s, um, servant leadership means everything to people. I mean, I, you know, I’ve often, as I talk to young leaders and at Lilly and. and in other organizations now, um, now I always ask them, um, what do they want in a coach? And what, what may the think about the best coach, the best leader, the best mentor you ever had?

What were the attributes that they brought to, uh, to the table? And, uh, it’s, they may not say that Leader eight lasts, but they’re gonna describe all of those attributes that come from, um, putting others first and, and being a servant leader. And, uh, Uh, and caring about them and making them better. And often it’ll, it’ll include some really tough feedback and real challenge.

And they stretched me and sometimes I couldn’t stand them cause they just kept pushing me. But I always knew, uh, they were doing it because they wanted me to be better, not because they were trying to be better.

Naji Gehchan: The last one is spread love and organizations.

Dave Noesges: Yeah. It’s interesting. I, I, um, it, um, The idea of spreading love in an organization was uncomfortable for me.

Um, and, and probably, um, till very late in my career, if you’d said, how do you spread love? I would’ve been like, well, there’s, that’s not what we do here, Naji. This is work. And it’s, you know, it’s supposed to be tough and it’s, um, but you know, it, um, so much of what we’ve been talking about is about. Caring deeply for other people and people who are different from you and trying to help them be better and some self-sacrifice and, um, um, it, it’s, um, I, I think spread love in an organization is not about, uh, intimacy and the, the feelings that you have for a spouse or a family member, but it is about, Deep caring for other people and wanting to see them succeed and rallying behind them when they have, um, a difficult c circumstance, whether it’s in their, uh, in, in their business life or in their personal life, and caring enough about them to be there for them.

And, uh, you know, it, it, um, People will, um, will, will run toward a leader that, um, is there for them, uh, when they need them the most and when they didn’t expect it and run from a leader who’s not there for ’em, uh, under difficult circumstances. The challenge for organizations, uh, uh, and a healthcare company is how do you.

um, how do you as an organization demonstrate to people that, um, that you care for them and you, and you love them in, in that sense? And, uh, um, and, you know, organizations don’t love people, but, uh, I think the recipe there is you’ve gotta hire leaders at every level, and especially at the most senior level, who, um, lead by example in that way and really put their people first and.

um, and, and are willing to exemplify that in the most difficult circumstances. And, uh, um, there’s, uh, probably precious few companies that, that, uh, um, that most of their people feel like that’s what, what their leaders look like and how they operate. Well, thanks

Naji Gehchan: for that, Dave. What, what a great way to sum up and really.

Define what, what, what we mean by love. Also on this podcast, it’s really what, what you’ve shared throughout. So you are definitely spreading love in the organization as you’ve built those teams. Any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the world?

Dave Noesges: You know, I, um, One is, uh, um, you know, as I see the political world now, an increasing challenge and there’s a lot of suspicion of, uh, of healthcare and, um, um, and, uh, y you know, a lot of, uh, I think, uh, public policy challenges that are, um, That have the potential to undermine innovation, it’s gonna take a lot of courage and a lot of, um, um, uh, just stay with it and tenacity to believe in the mission to, uh, to continue to innovate and what may not be the most innovation friendly, uh, environment from a.

Kind of geopolitical standpoint. And that just takes a lot of grit and a lot of tenacity and, and a lot of belief that we’re making a difference. Um, when you may have a lot of people telling you, and a lot of people telling your, your young people who have a, that, you know, this is a greedy or, um, um, Kind of, uh, institution and you can’t be trusted.

But, um, there’s so much good that’s coming outta biotech and healthcare. We’ve gotta believe in what we’re doing. We’ve gotta be humble about how we share that. We’ve gotta challenge ourselves and realize when, um, when our medicines truly are unaffordable and, uh, what we’re gonna do about that. But, um, it, it’s, uh, uh, if we’re gonna continue to have future generations that have longer life expectancies and we have, um, we, we’ve got to live our mission in, in healthcare, um, The other thing on a more personal note that I’ve, as I’m retired now and in a different phase of my life, that I’ve, um, um, wish I had.

Uh, been more thoughtful about when I was, uh, going through my career journey is to enjoy the journey. Um, the journey’s way more rewarding than the destination. I think so much of career steps were, when’s the next promotion, when’s the next success? Are we gonna make plan or not? And, um, I probably didn’t stop along the way and, uh, enjoy the moment enough and, uh, and enjoy that to what I.

Um, uh, was my why, which is with a great group of people pursuing a goal and the pursuit of the goal is much more exciting than achieving the goal and for me at least. And, and then the, the last thing is when you reach that retirement date and you look back on it, at least for me, I realize that, um, people to me, weren’t the most important thing.

They were the only thing that matters. When I look back at my Lilly career, the people that impacted me, the people that mentored me, people who I were, was able to mentor and grow and develop, and who I know appreciated that. Uh, it’s, uh, uh, all of my fond memories of, you know, 31 years at Lilly are about people.

Um, and that not about the business. And I think there’s a probably a lesson in that for all of us.

Naji Gehchan: Wow. Thank you so much again for those precious words of wisdom and, and incredible advice. Uh, again, it was an honor to be in your team and really honor to have you with me today. Thanks for joining me.

Dave Noesges: It’s my pleasure, Naji. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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’m Naji your host for this podcast, joined today with Dina Sherif, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, and executive Director of the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship. Dina is also a founding partner of Cairo based, Ahead of the Curve, which is the Arab region’s leading firms on issues related to sustainable business growth and impact-driven entrepreneurship. Most recently, Dina joined Disrupt Tech, Egypt’s first FinTech focused venture capital fund as a partner, pursuing her passion and building a fund that will support technology being used as a critical tool in creating financial inclusion for a largely unbanked population, most specifically women. Formerly Dina was a senior advisor to Ashoka, helping them reimagine new ways to identify the world’s leading social innovators. She was also the founding director of the American University of Cairo Center of for Entrepreneurship. Gina has several publications, multiple recognitions and words, and is currently a member of the Special Presidential Advisory Council for Economic Development reporting to the President of Egypt, a global advisory board member, and the Eisenhower Fellowships, a member of the board of Kala, uh, holding a member of the Board of Smart Medical Services and a member of the Board of Educate. Beyond old. Dina is an incredible leader, an incredible human, and I am so honored to have her with me today.

Dina, it’s just a pleasure to see you again live from Cairo. I think today.

Dina Sherif: Yes, live from Cairo. Thank you Naji for reading out my full bio. It always makes me pause and feel very, very old. .

Naji Gehchan: No, and, and I didn’t, I didn’t treat all of it, actually.

It’s way longer, but I wanna hear all about it from you and so please, if we can have a little bit. You know, the, between the lines of your story, your personal jour, uh, journey, uh, would love to hear more about what brought you, where you are today and, um, the inspiring leader you became.

Dina Sherif: Hmm. Uh, I think what brought me to where I am today, um, is a general philosophy that I’ve had, uh, or that I applied to my life really, which is what I like to refer to as the law of two.

In other words, if I am, uh, doing work where I am adding value and extracting value, um, in a way that is feeding my soul and in a way that is really contributing to, um, the, the, the growth and development of a particular organization that I’m working with, then I keep my feet firmly there, but, I am no longer adding value in contributing to the growth and evolution of that organization.

And if I am, or if I am no longer receiving, um, value that is adding to my own personal growth and evolution, then I have a moral obligation to take my own two feet and walk elsewhere. And I think that has really served me well over the years, um, in terms of career decisions and. , uh, when I have moved from one place to the next in my professional career, um, you know, oddly enough, it’s also served me in my personal life.

I think, uh, I, I, I, I think that everything in life has an expiry date, and I think that that philosophy has really helped me, um, identify quicker when that expiry date has.

Naji Gehchan: I love this philosophy. Uh, um, it, it, you’re saying expirated, but it’s true, like knowing when you have to leave, you know, before actually you’re just. Have to leave, right? Like having this courage to go, having this also that of doing the things that you like. I, I love how you framed this philosophy. So tell, tell us more along the way and along the journey, uh, how, how did you move from, uh, I think you started studying, uh, political sciences.

You’ve done several other things and now you’re. I don’t know in how many different industries and how many different countries I’d, I’d love to learn a little bit like the common thread, uh, that took you into, um, all those different, um, yeah. All, all the different adventures and, and really focused on social entrepreneurship at the end on social impact.

Dina Sherif: Uh, yeah. I mean, I think when I, when I went to college, I went to the American University in Cairo, and I think, you know, one of the first. You know how in life you have all these defining moments, right? As you, as you go through your, the everyone goes through their individual journey. There are these moments that are just clearly defining moments that kind of dictate.

How the rest of your life will evolve. When I was studying at a U C I, I think one of those defining moments was, um, when a u C was still based smack in the center of Cairo and Tahari Square. Uh, I used to take either the metro I lived in, I lived in Hilo, so suburb in Cairo. I used to either take the metro or I would take, um, the, a public service bus because, you know, my father, even though I went to, you know, an elite private school, Believe that you have to use public transportation and find your own way around the city.

Um, uh, and so I, I, I used to, uh, interact with, with so many different kinds of people, um, as I was commuting from Hill, uh, to, to, and then one day. I don’t know what happened, but I ended up getting off a little earlier, um, on Ram in Ramsey Street, and I decided to like just walk the rest of the way to Tahari Square and I ended up in front of this church called St.

Andrews Church. And this is where I think, you know, fate tends to step in and I, I, I saw like there was a sign. Outside of the church that they were hosting refugees from different countries in Africa. And, and I walked in into the church and then I, I realized that the church was really, had really just been transformed into, um, More of a place for refugees from different countries, from all across Africa to come, uh, with their children, specifically mothers and children, um, where they could learn different, uh, skills that they needed so that when they were sent to, um, their final destination or final host country, they’d be.

Able to speak English or the children would be able to keep up with basic subjects like math and science and different things that would allow them to go to school. And it was kind of my first introduction to a politics and the reality that, you know, I think refu, all issues related to refugees are product of politics and poor policy.

Um, but also that the fate of these particular refugees, Uh, was really being determined by. Whatever anybody was willing to give to them out of the goodness of their heart, because the Egyptian government wasn’t really providing them with much. And so I walked away from that experience with a couple things.

One, um, you know, a desire to understand a lot more about Africa and why Africa is the way it is and what, what this whole economic development aid, um, industry looked like and, and why it was. There were so many refugees on the continent, how they ended up in Egypt, and why the Egyptian government was taking a particular stance and so forth and so on.

But I also walked away thinking that I as a citizen, had a moral obligation to also do something. If I could. And so I decided throughout the years of my university that I would volunteer my time there twice a week to work with the refugee children there. And I ended up over time bringing in a, a group of friends who also from from college, who also did the same.

And I think a lot of that, you know, really stemmed from the fact that, um, I always, my mom always taught me that if, if it’s in your ability to help and give back, then you have, you have to do that. But I think the entrepreneurial part of me was trying to figure out ways to, um, scale that help and mobilize other people and, and, and see how I could do that more efficiently and more effectively.

Right. . Um, so I think that was just the beginning, that that was the defining moment that led me to really, um, commit myself to, you know, what we wanna call, um, creating prosperity or sustainable development and so forth and so on. And so I graduated from college and I really, I said that’s, that’s the space I wanna work in.

And so I’d, over the course of the years, if you look at my resume, you’ll find that I have always, um, no matter. Which sector I’m in, whether it be public policy, civil society, private sector. The focus is how can I increase impact and prosperity for all. Um, I have firmly landed over the past 10 years in this 10 or over 10 years now, um, in this space of entrepreneurship and innovation because I have this deep belief that entrepreneurs have the ability to solve complex.

Challenges at scale in a way that, um, not-for-profits don’t. That’s not to say that we don’t need not-for-profits. And you, Naja and I have had this debate many times, , but I think we need not-for-profits, but I think. Innovation driven entrepreneurs, they have the ability to create business models at scale that can really, um, be financially sustainable and not dependent on, um, philanthropy and donor driven aid.

And I think also there’s something about entrepreneurship that really gives agency back to the citizen to create change and to solve their own problems. Um, and so that’s, Go ahead. Yeah. Yeah.

Naji Gehchan: And specifically this, because that, that was my my second question. And thank you for sharing, uh, this, this big, uh, experience that you had, uh, and powerful that led you to have so much impact across the world.

And, and now we work a lot with social impact and impact driven entrepreneurship. Like we, we are hearing a lot about it, but you are obviously super involved with, with those entrepreneurs. How do you define it? Like how do you define someone? Building a company that is an impact driven entrepreneurship organization.

Dina Sherif: I think, I think over the years, I’ve come to shy away now from the term social entrepreneurship or impact driven entrepreneurship. I think my position is if, uh, if somebody is coming to solve a. Complex challenge that impacts society. So whether it be education, um, transportation, healthcare, energy, you name it.

I mean, we, we don’t have a shortage of complex challenges in today’s world. You know, quite the contrary, we have a plethora. But if, if, if you have an individual and they. Coming in and they are coming up with a solution to this challenge that can be scaled and they’re, um, you creating a business model around that, that is scalable, then I think that is what impact is, right?

You’ll be solving a complex challen complex challenge at scale. You’re going to be creating jobs and generating wealth, so you’re creating multiple layers of value and I. For me when. When I talk about entrepreneurship, it’s always been important for me because of the different layers of impact that entrepreneurs have the power to create, right?

So if, if we take, you know, where we come, the Middle East, come from the Middle East, or if we take Africa larger, if we take Southeast Asia, if we take Latin America, you know, uh, Everyone talks about the need to create jobs, and we need entrepreneurship because we need to see economic growth and we need to create more jobs for the, for our local population.

For me, that’s just one aspect of it, that job creation, wealth creation piece of it. But the other part is that, you know, when you think about. Hal. For example, Mo Rahim, when he brought telecom uh, to Africa, he was the first person to start a telecom company in Sub-Saharan Africa. What he was doing is he was creating multiple new markets.

I think that is impact. that he was an impact driven entrepreneur because he knew the minute that he gave access to the, the majority of the population of Africa to a mobile phone, that this would unlock huge opportunity. Hmm. Uh, and it did. Right? Um, the same goes for example, um, you know, if you think about Uber or if you think about em, in the Middle East, and obviously these are companies that have done really, really well for themselves.

Em has done really well for themselves, but they’ve also created job opportunities for a lot of, uh, people who wouldn’t have had those job, job opportunities. But if you take that, that’s just a narrow scope of it. But if you think about the layers of value that they have created with that business model, , for example.

Um, in our, in our part of the world, you know, Uber solved a huge can. He solved a huge problem for women and mobility and getting from point A to point point B. Um, it, it, you know, it, I think, I think all of these different business models. Provided that they’re solving a real societal challenge, at the heart of it is going to be impact, and it will be.

And you will find many, many layers of impact that you can peel, peel back. I, I

Naji Gehchan: love, you know, this perspective and Yeah. Well you obviously work in this field. You’ve done research, you were part of a book, charity to social, uh, change. I’m, I’m feeling like there is a thin line right from. Being a company and saying we have a, an impact, right?

Like you gave example of great companies like Kareem Healthcare. Practically all of us in healthcare are trying to make life better for patients, right? And obviously having a social impact, but, but then you have like all. You know, other stories like, uh, shareholders value generating this. I’d love to get your views because I’m feeling like, and you can’t take rim as an example, as you said, like they made a lot of value for the, for the company and shareholders too, but yet they managed to impact socially.

So where do you, is there a line to be Joan or is it just Every company at the end of the day has a social responsibility? and they should

Dina Sherif: abide by it. No, I think it’s a really good question, and I think ultimately for me, the differentiating factor is always intentionality, right? What is the intention of the entrepreneur starting the venture?

Um, did that entrepreneur start that venture? with the sole purpose of solving a particular challenge in mind? Or was that entrepreneur starting a business because they wanna maximize profits and generate wealth? Because those are two very different things. And if we take, like, let’s take some examples.

When I think about, say for example, um, if you look at my country, Egypt, uh, healthcare is a massive problem. Access is a problem. Quality, uh, the quality of healthcare provided is a problem. You know, I would argue that healthcare overall, globally we’ve seen the, the, the. Extreme dysfunctionality of healthcare as a system.

Um, and I think the incredible misalignment of all the dis different stakeholders that exist in the health healthcare space around purpose hasn’t, has become extremely evident like during Covid and post covid. But if you say, for example, you know, in Egypt, public healthcare is. Extremely problematic. If you wanna get any, any kind of, I would say, semblance of quality healthcare, you have to go to a private healthcare provider, which is also very problematic because if you say, take one of our leading private hospitals, say Cle Cleopatra Holding, which, which is now like a group of private hospitals, well, the reality.

these hospitals are functioning to return maximum profits to their shareholders. Their purpose was never to deliver high quality healthcare to patients. If, if it was, they would be making decisions very differently. So the intention, right, was never about the patient or the end user or the quality of the healthcare provided.

And so, Decisions are made very differently. Now, if you think for example, um, about. Uh, an entrepreneur like amta who started smart medical, um, smart medical care, which is health insurance provided to at an affordable rate, to middle, middle income, to lower middle income citizens in Egypt. The intention behind starting that business was always how can we provide.

Health insurance at an affordable rate to those who don’t have access. Because if you look at small and medium enterprises in this country, it’s very hard for them to pay for, for the very acce, very expensive health insurance plans. And so this entrepreneur was trying to solve that problem and wanted to create better access and provide your average Egyptian citizen with the kind of infrastructure needed to.

And navigate the healthcare system. Now, the intentions behind that business were really to serve the end user and to make life better for the average Egyptian citizen. And so his decision making process is very different. Now, when people come and tell him, when his board comes and tells him, you know, you need to be, uh, generating more profit.

You need to be working on your exit. You need to be talking to, you know, this big health insurance company and find a way to get acquired. You know, his responses are always, um, no, no, no. Because that will take away from the overall intention of why I created this business. See what I’m saying?

I totally

Naji Gehchan: see it and I love it. And that was my second question that you partly answered. It’s because I love how you framed it into intentionality is the key, right? But then there is this piece where there’s funding and obviously you’re in impact investing too, where exactly what you said, the board at some point, or the company when the company scales, right?

Because there is the founder, but then when it scales, you know better than me. There is more than the founder, obviously, and sometimes even the founder, and ends up leaving the company at some point. So how, how do you combine this? Do you have any strong stories about The intentionality was here for the founders and it keeps on being here as, because I’m hearing like, this should be your true north.

If your true north is this, you, you should making long-term bets rather than saying, okay, I’m gonna make more profits on the immediate term. Yeah. And really stick to. .

Dina Sherif: I think this means this. This requires alignment around purpose, right? So if the entrepreneur is truly driven by particular intentions around a, a purpose or the desire to solve a very complex challenge that touches the lives of many people, that same entrepreneur has to go through the effort of aligning.

Shareholders around that purpose of aligning their board members around that purpose. Um, because if people are not constantly aligned and grounded in that purpose, then you’re going to, you’re gonna find yourself having to deal with kind of different. , I would say conflicting tensions of where our business should go.

And that’s where you start seeing people say, oh, where are the short-term gains? You know, the, the, the ability to wait to be a little bit patient for what is to come requires that all the different stakeholders involved be grounded in one purpose. You defined in one purpose when that alignment isn’t there, that’s where you start seeing.

I would say adrift. . Um, and I think truly, uh, I would say mission driven entrepreneurs or impact on driven entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs. You choose whatever term you want, but those who are really deeply, um, grounded in that purpose, they will go to great lengths to align people around that purpose and the urgency of solving the problem.

Um, and I think anything that solves a real problem will inevitably make. for shareholders. There is no, no such thing as conditionality. I think if there is conditionality and you have to sacrifice purpose for, for, uh, social benefit, then maybe the problem wasn’t as relevant as we thought. But if you’re really solving a problem that is relevant to people, they will pay for that solution and you will generate wealth and solve the problem at the same time.

And there’s no need to s. . Yeah.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And, and certainly aligning this purpose with the people you’re hiring with, how you’re doing your bouncing team, your management team, and for the legacy to continue. Uh, I, I will move now to a section where I’ll give you word, uh, I’d love to reaction to it. Sounds good.

All right. . The first one is leadership.

Dina Sherif: I think leadership is an activity. I do not believe in leaders. So I do not identify as a leader. I think there are times where I step up and I exercise leadership, uh, and that’s when there, there’s no real known answer or known solution and it requires that somebody step up. But I do not believe that we are.

you know, just cause I hold the title of an executive director or a partner in a fund or a c e o, that that automatically makes me a leader and makes me somebody with authority, um, who has a title. But what identifies somebody as a leader is, is that moment where they have to step up and mobilize people to move into the unknown and really evolve and charter progress.


Naji Gehchan: it’s, uh, it’s my belief Two leaders are known for their actions and not their titles. Right. Titles, uh, is, is more authority or whatever, you know, it can gives you, but definitely not being a leader. The second one is inclusive society.

Dina Sherif: Wow. Naja, you really go for the triggering words. Um, I think for me, inclusion. Inclusion is a very, uh, has been a very important word for me as a woman. Um, a woman from the Arab world who really had to kind of fight and push forward to have a space here. But I think, um, and to have a career in the Arab region, but I.

inclusion has come to mean so much more living in America as being perceived as a woman of color. Um, and I think that has brought all kinds of, um, I think has just been a, brought a lot up for me when it comes to this idea of what it means to truly be inclusive and to create spaces where, Different viewpoints, different work styles, um, different, uh, different cultures.

Um, it’s so much more than color of skin, right? Color of skin for me is a very narrow, easy way to define inclusion or along the lines of ethnic ethnicity or religion. But it’s really so much more. It’s, I think it’s the, the willingness and the ability for. Uh, different opinions and styles to be allowed to be allowed to have a space to be accepted with love and kindness and compassion.

That’s not to say that we all have to agree, and it’s not to say that, you know, um, we can’t disagree. We absolutely have to disagree, right? That’s what diversity leads to. But I think there’s something very healthy when, when there’s a space that allows for the tension that can exist within differences to evolve into something more beautiful.

This, this is

Naji Gehchan: so powerful, uh, how you, you said something, you know, diversity leads to disagreement. I, I, I agree. And this is what you look for. obviously, and creating this space where disagreement is okay for us to grow and learn and innovate is, is really crucial. The third one is social

Dina Sherif: innovators.

Yeah. So like I said, I, I, I shy away now from using the word social because. , I think it has a lot of baggage. When we say social, you know, investors immediately switch off and they say, oh, okay. If you’re a show social innovator, then you’re not going to be rigorous about having a, um, financially viable business model.

And so, you know, your, your world is only to go to the philanthropists and, uh, I think, I think it’s led to a lot of kind of misunderstandings. Um, but for me, I think the world really genuinely needs innovators who are driven by the, the desire to create a more sustainable, inclusive, um, and prosperous world.

And I. Inevitably that is social because what is social? Social is everything that impacts us as humans and business. Every business will have some impact on us as a human, and if we don’t really. Own that and embrace that and stop shying away from it as being, you know, too soft or too fluffy. But the reality is, it’s not.

We all exist in this world as humans. Uh, we are built for human connection. Everything we consume and use and products that are offered are meant, uh, designed for the human. And so that is social. Um, and we need to have more innovators who are willing to step up and own the fact that innovation should, um, and can, uh, lead society to a better place.

And that better place has to be sustainable, and it has to be inclusive, and it has to have very much embedded at the very core, um, compassion and love and kindness. Right. ,

Naji Gehchan: you said it many times and it’s also a word we shy away from. So that’s my last one. Spread love in organizations, .

Dina Sherif: Yeah, I mean, you know, this has never become more important to me.

I, I think you and I had have had conversations about this since, since I met you. Um, but it’s become even more important to me because I think. In a post covid world than in a world where all of a sudden there are all these conversations around diversity and equity and inclusion and, uh, we see world, a world where there’s a lot of polarization and a lot of ugliness and a lot of, uh, othering and.

Um, words that have a lot of hate and unkindness in them. I, I think organizations, all organizations need a lot more love. And in that love needs a lot more patience and understanding and compassion and empathy and real, true kindness, right? Uh, kindness in the sense that. Really give people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best in people.

And that’s not to say that people are necessarily coming with the best of intentions, but I feel like when you create a space where, or a work culture where that assumption is there, you’re, you’re lifting up the bar and you’re asking people to show up as the best versions of themselves. Um, and I don’t think we.

Enough an organization. So I think we absolutely need to see, uh, I think now more than ever, just more love and kindness in, in how we show up for each other in a workplace. What

Naji Gehchan: an, an amazing way to sum it up. Uh, any final word of wisdom, you know, for leaders

Dina Sherif: around the. . Yeah. I don’t, I don’t know if I have words of wisdom, but I think what’s been top of my mind lately is that, um, we spent so much time, or we’ve spent so much time talking about employees and work-life balance and the wellbeing of employees throughout C O V D and the pandemic and, um, how, how can we create better workplaces for employees?

And I think. , we don’t spend enough time talking about what it’s like to be a person in a position of authority through very difficult times. And I think when times are uncertain, where times are difficult and decisions have to be made, and there’s a lot of pressure and you know, for a lot of people who have been in positions authority throughout the pandemic and now going into a global recession, life has been really hard.

And they’ve been, you know, I would say it’s been, it’s probably lonely. I don’t en envy anybody in a position of authority these days because they’re the first ones to be scapegoated. They’re the first ones to be blamed. They’re the first ones to not be at the receiving end of kindness and compassion and benefit of the doubt.

And I get that. That is the reality of what it means to be in a position of authority, but we just don’t spend enough time talking about. , the difficulties of that and the scars that people incur when they are forced to step up, forced stop forced, but when the circumstances dictate that they need to step up and lead.

And a lot of that puts, that’s a, puts you in a very vulnerable position because it really opens you up for a lot of, um, scapegoating and blame and undermining and alienation because nobody likes change. and when somebody is stepping up to create change, it’s going to be tough, and I hope that we can also talk about what it means to show up with love and kindness for people who are actually stepping up and having enough courage to lead people to a new or a different possibility.

Naji Gehchan: This is definitely another topic. I will, I will have someone, I’ll actually, because it touches so many different aspects for leaders and moments of crisis change. Uh, and, and exactly what you said, like it touches mental health for those leaders. Several times we just. Don’t even consider it. We don’t talk about it.

So I have someone where we will talk about this, who’s a specialist in mental health at some point also, and, and leadership, and we will talk about it. I, I love this opening. We can go on Dina as every single time. Uh, but again, thank you for being with me today. We probably will do another, another episode specific on leaders and, uh, and how they do, do, how much do they receive love.

Also as, as leaders, we can definitely do it. Uh, I would love that. Awesome. Thanks again for being with me, uh, today and looking forward to seeing you in person again in Cambridge.

Dina Sherif: Thank you for having me.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this episode joined today by Cathy Nolan, an experienced international business executive. Cathy has spent over 23 years in the pharma and biotech industry, including Eli Lilly, and more recently Aimmune Therapeutics. As a leader, Cathy consistently created value by building and developing diverse talents globally and delivering highly successful launches and growth strategies in Big Pharma, niche and non-conventional biotech. She has extensive experience across US, UK and Europe including multiple launches in Neuroscience, Oncology and Immunology. Cathy is from a large Irish family, and grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland. She likes to spend time with her family and friends, stay fit and active, read, and watch movies. 

Cathy – it is such a pleasure to have you with me today live from Twickenham, I believe? South West London.

Cathy Nolan: Thank you, Naji. Nice to see you, .

Naji Gehchan: Great. So first, Cathy, I would love to hear your story, your personal story from Ireland to leading global healthcare teams. What’s in between the lines of such an inspiring journey?

Cathy Nolan: Well, thanks, Naji. Um, yeah, I mean, I, I have a very humble story, I would say in some respects. I, I started off as a, you read out in the intro, I grew up in the west of Ireland on a farm, the oldest of five kids, um, four girls and a boy. Um, and then when I went to university, I studied business, um, and really had a.

You know, gained a passion for marketing, I think from the very beginning when I started to study marketing as part of my business degree. Um, and then I think what really drove me in terms of joining the pharmaceutical industry, um, in Dublin with Lilly was really that kind of passion for understanding people and patients and their experiences with conditions I joined.

Lily on the Schizophrenia Zyprexa brand team. And what fascinated me about Zyprexa and, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was the experience that patients go through. And I, I was really drawn to that, to understanding that in more detail and then understanding how medicines can, can make a difference and change the lives of, of people who are suffering with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.

So that started my journey and I joined. Eli Lilly in Dublin and spent five years there, um, really getting to know the pharmaceutical industry, I would say, and, and really loving and thriving in, in that industry. And then I took a career break for six months and went traveling by myself and. You know, took advantage of getting a career break from Lilly to really explore the world a little and then came back to Eli Lilly in the uk and then, um, was involved in various other brands, um, in psychiatry, um, and then moving on beyond that to Indianapolis, um, with my husband who I met at Lilly.

And so we headed off to Indianapolis and then had an amazing experience in the corporate center. I think from a career perspective. A real, uh, milestone moment going to the corporate headquarters and being part of, you know, the, the nerve engine, I would say, for the organization and really getting a sense of how great an organization Eli Lilly is and the, the different opportunities that there were to grow and stretch and develop both professionally and personally within the organization.

So I got many opportunities in, um, Lilly in Indianapolis, um, leading brands, global brand director roles, and then working with the chief marketing officer, Rob Brown at the time as his chief of staff, which really again, was an eye-opening, um, experience looking at the organization as a whole and working with some of the more senior leaders within the organization and addressing board questions, et cetera, and working with Rob on that.

Then, um, we had two boys, uh, Lakin and. They were both born in Indianapolis and we decided to move back to Europe to be near a family as we were raising our boys and wanted to be closer. So we moved back and then I was doing some leadership roles in Europe, um, in oncology, and then ultimately back to the UK business heading up.

Um, the business unit for the specialty portfolio and the chief marketing officer role, which where we worked together closely when you were in France. Um, I then, I loved Lilly and I had an amazing experience there and. You know, thrived, I would say, and grew up with the company. But after 19 years, I just wanted to try something new and different and challenge myself in other ways, and decided to move to another opportunity within a small organization.

So going from the big, big pharma to small pharma and joining a biotech called Immune Therapeutics. I had an opportunity to lead global marketing commercial capabilities from London. Um, the, the business was based in Brisbane, California, so it was a real unique opportunity to do that. So I took the opportunity and then we were acquired by Nestle a year later.

So we had another amazing experience of going through the acquisition and the integration and. Building the global organization and uh, and really learning so much across multiple areas and building my expertise and capabilities. So, yeah, and I’ve felt very fortunate Naji over the years. I’ve had lots of really strong mentors and advocates, to be honest, um, who really pushed me to kind of think bigger than, or go further than I thought.

I. Um, and with their backing, give me the confidence to just go for it and usually it, it ended up in success. So, so yeah, that’s kind of my journey thus far.

Naji Gehchan: tha thanks for sharing this. It, it certainly did go into success and yeah, we, we’ve worked, so I’m, I’m biased. We’ve worked together and, you know, I’m a big fan of yours, so, uh, be before jumping into the learnings, as you said, from, you know, different, different geographies.

You had different teams, you worked in different companies. I’d ask a more personal question, uh, about really juggling careers. You touched it a little bit, uh, having both of you and your husband both have careers, growing careers. You had kids living abroad, going to your country. Like, how have you thought through all this?

I know many of us go through it or are going through it, so how, how did you manage this? Um, uh, going. Any advice

Cathy Nolan: of us? Yeah, I mean I, and I think like many of us, you know, through all. Inspiring career opportunities we have. The biggest job we have is, as you know, the biggest role we play as, as a mom or a dad or as a partner and managing through life.

But yeah, it, it definitely comes with challenge, but I think, first of all, I’m fortunate to have a spouse that’s been very supportive all the way through, um, our relationship together, um, before kids and, and after kids. So he works in the pharmaceutical. As well. So to some degree we understand each other’s jobs as best we can.

And so we know where the give and take might need to be for each other at various times in our career. Um, with the kids, you know, it is about flexibility for me. I have the two boys are eight and 10, and flexibility is key to me now to be able. Do a good job in the way I know I can do a good job, but have the flexibility to be there for the kids as and when they might need it.

But we also have the support network around us. Um, you know, we do have some childcare support when we need it because otherwise it just doesn’t work. Somebody did once say to um, my husband, um, John Banford, I guess, you know, and, uh, a lot of people lil would know him, but he and his wife were, you know, big careers at Lilly and he gave John and I advice out when we started to have kids in Indianapolis.

And he said, you know, at some point you both will think you can’t do it. That one of you has to take a step back or one of you has to stop working because it’ll become too much. And at that moment you must put the resource around you that helps you continue on because you can. But you’ve gotta give yourself a break and understand you can’t do everything.

And you might need to have somebody look after the kids in on an evening or pick them up from school and you might need to get cleaners and you might need to do some of that support network, have that around you, but do it. You can both still achieve your ambition and your potential. You just have to not try and do it all.

So we’ve really embraced that advice. I would say and, and do kind of make sure that we’re giving ourselves the support to help us achieve that. But it’s an ongoing balance every day, every day. So, yeah, I haven’t got it fixed. .

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Yeah. And, and it’s continuous, but, and it’s a great advice, uh, obviously, um, you’ve led diversity as you said, across the globe, uh, in different cultures, different geographies, and you brought innovative medications, uh, to patients.

Uh, do you have a secret recipe for doing that successfully?

Cathy Nolan: for doing launch or for managing diverse teams and geographies? Yeah. Leading,

Naji Gehchan: leading, uh, high performing teams. Um,

Cathy Nolan: I would probably, so one of my. Career highlights, I think was when we launched, uh, Laval in Europe. Now, Laval ultimately was a, a treatment for a soft tissue sarcoma that was approved on, um, conditionally on phase two.

And unfortunately, the phase three data didn’t pan out. But at the time, in phase two, we thought we really have an innovative treatment here for patients with sarcoma who’ve had no innovation for 40. And we built such a cool, dynamic, energized team across the different countries in Europe, Germany, France, uk, Italy, and Spain.

Um, and I was part of the lead team for Europe, pulling our team together. I think the secret recipe is to all understand what you’re trying to achieve together. So clarity of vision. Where are we? , what do we want to achieve? And does everyone understand that first and foremost? Secondly, giving everyone a voice on the team and a role on the team.

So we had different personalities on the team and some people brought different things and giving everybody a role in that team to bring their best self and fu fundamentally move the team forward. So that was a key part of our dynamic where. Knew each other enough to know who brought what to the table.

And thirdly, I think we had such fun , we laughed. We, we got together, we had some downtime together. We were, we were launching in very, very quick timeline. We had like nine months to get ready to launch, and often they say you need three years. And we didn’t have that. So we knew we were gonna have to work fast.

And it was gonna be manic and it was gonna be a lot of pressure, but actually we got a lot of energy from that. And we made sure we’re only gonna do what’s most important here. We’re not gonna do all the other stuff. We’re gonna focus on the fundamentals. We’re gonna do that well, and we’re gonna have each other’s back and support each other through that journey.

And so I think some of those things, just being human and having a bit of fun along the way made a big, big difference. So some of. Most, uh, fun times. I think we’re in that team, even though we were under a lot of pressure to get a lot done in a short space of time. But that’s some of, I think what I would

Naji Gehchan: aim.

And how so, so let me double click on this, uh, cuz I love it. You said curtail vision, giving everyone a voice and having fun as we go through it. Uh, how, how did you manage if there was some tensions to make sure. Because you’re touching, I think, to the trust also within the team. Like you were all, yeah.

You said everyone has the others back. How did you build this, uh, as you were going through it to make sure that it’s a team that trust one another to, to be able to deliver on, you know, the men’s task that you guys had? Well,

Cathy Nolan: I think we, we built trust because we helped each other. . You know, we, we weren’t, you know, Germany weren’t on their own getting ready to launch.

We were all getting ready to launch in Germany cuz they were the first market to go. And you know, we all, Stephan was the brand leader at the time. You know, the rest of the team, whether you’re in France or uk, so you’re Spain or the European team. We were all in it for Stephan and his team to get this right.

So I think demonstrating. We were there to support and be part. It was as much our success. The German launch as it was gonna be anybody else’s was really important. Any tension. You know, there are obviously going to, there’s obviously going to be tension when there is a lot to do in a short space of time, but I think it was about, you know, having those conversations if there was tension and not waiting and letting things fester.

You know, having side conversations but then, you know, being transparent and open and tackling them head on and not pretending everything is fine when it isn’t. Um, and then being able to move on and just being respectful for people. I think tension comes if people are suspicious of agendas or you know, people are in an environment where they’re not honestly being authentic and genuine, but we were all just being who we were.

Good, bad, and ugly. Bringing it to the table. We were, we liked people for their good things as well as their, you know, eccentricities. And, and that was just what, what you need to do to build that trust. This is who I am. I’m not trying to hide anything and we wanna just get the job done and do it well for patients.

So that was, that was the kind of real big piece that we needed to focus.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. This is super powerful. Uh, and you touched something like, my next question would be more about you and your leadership style. We talk, we talked a lot about it, both of us. Um, and you talk, you talked here about authentic leadership, uh, being who you are.

So how do you define your leadership signature?

Cathy Nolan: Yeah, a la large part of my leadership signature is, is, you know, I, uh, I may be a leader, but I’m still like everyone else. I would say . I don’t, I don’t lean into I hierarchy. I, I wanna support my team regardless of where they sit in the organization. Everyone deserves to be heard, um, and everyone’s as important as everyone else from the top to the bottom and back up again.

So, you know, fairness, equality. , um, listening. Being, um, empathetic to people’s situation, but I’m also, I also like to achieve. I like to achieve, well, I have high standards. I, I want us to be successful as a team because I think that’s where, you know, a team gels most when you’re, in good times and being successful and achieving good things together.

Um, but a big part of my leadership style is, is authenticity, I think. And also being direct and forthright. I mean, you know, again, no agenda. This is what I think , um, and this is why, and let’s, sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong and let’s have a chat about it. And I love to debate and discuss and be open in, in, in how we, we manage through, um, problems and, and, and build things.

Naji Gehchan: Did this evolve over time? Did your leadership evolve over time or, and was it the same, for example, leading global team in a large organization and then leading, you know, in a biotechs motor team?

Cathy Nolan: I would say that I was always started out as being pretty up. I mean, that’s just who I am, I think is more upfront, direct.

and authentic. I, I’m, you know, I, I am who I am is my kind of thing. I think as I became a leader midway through the last 23 years, at some point I started to doubt that. I started to say, well, as a leader, do I now have to put on a face? Do I now have to pretend that I’m something like, because this is the way a leader should behave.

And then I think through the last number of years, I’ve come out the other side to say, I am who I am. I’m here because of who I am and what I can bring. I sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong. . And, but that’s okay. And I, I now, I think, have come to a realization that authenticity is actually key.

So I would say I’ve, I’ve evolved, but come back to the point that I just wanna be who I am and be true to myself and to others, and do good work with good people. And, and that’s, that’s kind of, you know, as I see myself moving into the next phase of my career, what’s important to me. .

Naji Gehchan: Well, thanks for sharing this.

And I, I would add also vulnerability. You’re sharing vulnerably those things. And ma many of us, I think doubt, ask questions, you know, about ourselves as we go through it. Uh, and it’s, um, it, it’s super powerful as you’re sharing it with vulnerability and also authenticity. So thanks for that. Uh, Kathy, what is your, if you have one advice you would give yourself, , uh, as you were starting your career in healthcare and pharma, what would be that advice?

Cathy Nolan: Um, I mean, I would still give myself advice over, even 10 years ago, not even at the start, you know, the, the learnings trust yourself. Trust yourself. Have confidence and trust your instinct. That’s what I would say to to myself back then. You know, I, I believe I have good instinct, but I sometimes lack confidence in that, and that’s where mentors have been hugely helpful to me along the way in my career, and I can’t overemphasize that enough.

They’ve helped me. See beyond the limitations I may have placed on myself, because I may have lacked that confidence or didn’t trust my own gut instinct. So I would go back and say, just trust yourself. You know, stay true to who you are. Lean in, don’t be afraid. I mean, I’m not, and now I would say I’m not fearful and I will take on any challenge and what’s the worst that can happen, but I’ll give it my best.

Sometimes fear along the way can stop us, stop us doing things that we know we can do. We just don’t maybe have the confidence to kind of embrace that. And so I would say to my younger self, you know, be confident. Don’t be afraid. You know, go for it and you’ll learn something along the way, whether it works out or not.

So that’s what I would probably say to myself.

Naji Gehchan: I’d love now to move to a section where I will give you a word and get your reaction. Okay, . The first one is Leadership Powerful. What about diversity? Essential, I, I know you’re passionate about it, so you can say more than one word. For this one, I’d love to dig a little bit deeper.

Cathy Nolan: Ping pong. Yeah. Diversity. . Yeah. I mean, you know, group think and all same people have the same idea. It doesn’t get you to a better place. And I, I think diversity is what makes for amazing conversations and fascinating ideas. I think it’s. challenging sometimes to create diverse teams because you have to embrace difference.

And not everyone can embrace difference for various reasons. Either they don’t know how to, or they’re not in a place in their life career to be able to do so. So, you know, it takes openness of mind to be able to embrace diversity, but it is essential because it, it brings different perspectives to the table, um, and ultimately gets us to a better place.

Naji Gehchan: The third word is Chief

Cathy Nolan: LinkedIn,

Chief, uh, well, I’ve just joined as the founding member in the uk, an organization called Chief, which I’m super excited about actually. So it’s just a network of female leaders who, from all industries, um, who get together and support each other. Various professional and, uh, personal, I think challenges. I, it’s, I’m starting out on this journey, so I have my first core session next week with a group of female leaders, none of which are in the farming industry.

So I’m, I’m excited cuz sometimes. For me, I was in the one company for 19 years and then I’ve been in another company for the last three years. So, you know, I honestly feel like my, you know, my lens is kind of narrow and I wanna broaden that, and I’m really excited to do so with, with a group of powerful female leaders and learn.

Naji Gehchan: and there is still so much to be done, obviously for, for women in leadership. I, I’d love like your view about it, anything you’ve seen that has moved further better and things that you would really focus on, uh, now within this organization, or even in life as, as a, as really a role model for several women, uh, what would you do or what would you focus on?

Cathy Nolan: I think one of my, um, how do I say acknowledgements? Observations in the last number of years as I moved to a pretty senior position in the latter number of years when we were at Lilly, there was a a journey customer journey work done for female leaders within the organization. I dunno if you remember that, but when it got to VP or SVP level female leaders, that was the toughest phase of most female leaders careers.

Now you might expect that because they’re big roles, but you also would expect that that should be exhilarating and exciting to be at those senior leader, leader levels. But actually it was really, really challenging and I felt that myself. Um, I think you doubt yourself for some reason when you get to that level cuz you know, who am I to be at the senior level?

You don’t bring as much confidence again as you might see other male leaders have at that level for whatever reason. Plus, it’s demanding on time and some of the responsibilities at home With the best balance between partners and spouses, possible females still do tend to take slightly more of the burden of managing life at home, as well as then trying to manage a career.

So I’ve observed that dynamic that I saw and observed in this journey work years ago, and now I. I would say it in the last number of years. It’s tough. My advice, I mean, my reflection now is it’s okay that you can get overwhelmed in big roles, and that’s normal. And actually the biggest thing you can do for yourself in that moment is take a step back, just metaphorically.

Not necessarily leave, but take a step back. and gain perspective because you don’t have to be perfect . You don’t have to have it all sorted. There is a wealth of people around you to support you. , you can talk it out with somebody in the company, in the industry, in your team, in your mentor network or outside, such as a chief network, et cetera.

There are places to go to bounce things around, but also many other people are experiencing the same thing. And I sometimes it’s lonely in a really senior leader role, and you feel you can’t talk to anybody because you can’t show that vulnerability anymore, because now you’re really important and you have to have it together.

But, uh, I think, no, you don’t, everyone’s human no matter how senior you are. And you, you need to be able to say that and, and find the right support so that you can do your best work. Cuz you wouldn’t be in the role if you couldn’t do it. So that’s the other thing. You can do it. You just sometimes need to know that you’re not gonna be perfect all the time.

It’s okay to say that. I hope that makes sense.

Naji Gehchan: It does. And, and those are very powerful advices for sure. Uh, the last one is spread love in organizations.

Cathy Nolan: Uh, my, my reaction to that isn’t done enough. . Um, you know, I, when I was preparing for this discussion to some degree, I didn’t prepare too much. But when I prepare for the discussion, it is interesting the love in organizations, because some people would say love in work, , but it is important. It’s about kindness.

Empathy and making work a good place to be for people, cuz that’s when people do their best work. So I think it’s important to spread love in an appropriate way, , um, and, and make people feel safe and appreciated and rewarded and, you know, be transparent with people as well. And, you know, be open with what’s going well and what’s not going well.

And that’s spreading love too by being honest with people. You know, we’ve talked of late, sometimes just upfront, honest conversations about where people are at and where they’re going in an organization is key to giving people the transparency they want to need and, and I think more of it should happen.

Naji Gehchan: This is true love when you’re transparent and you tell people where they stand. And those are incredibly powerful words. Uh, Cathy, any final word of wisdom for leaders around the words?

Cathy Nolan: Um, you know, I, again, it comes back to, you know, trust your instinct. Know you’re good enough, you are good.

you just sometimes may need support, and it’s okay to look for that support. And I think finally, you know, you won’t always enjoy what you do or have fun every day. If you’re having fun in your role, relish it and build off that because that’s where the magic happens. I think when teams are having fun and enjoying being with each other and doing good work.

If you’re not having fun on a regular basis or have stopped having fun, be brave and make a change. . Um, I think that has been my learning, I think over the last number of years as well. Life’s too short. We’re all good at what we do and find our right spot. And I think if you’re not in the right spot, then bring that leadership talent and ability and, and go apply it somewhere else in the organization or outside or whatever.

But that would be, don’t let the chance go by or, and stay still where you don’t need.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much for, uh, this amazing informal chat and conversation. So many words of wisdom. Thanks for being with me, Cathy, today. Thank you so much.

Cathy Nolan: No problem, Naji. Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve enjoyed the chat.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT: Shahin Gharakhanian

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 for this podcast, having the pleasure to be joined by Dr. Shahin Gharakhanian, a physician and Pharmaceutical Executive with expertise in Pharmaceutical Medicine, Leadership/Management, and operational experience both in the US & in Europe. Shahin is specialized in HIV Medicine and Infectious Diseases has practiced clinical medicine for over 20 years in AP-HP Hospitals in Paris France. Shahin joined the pharmaceutical industry in 1991, progressing to Vice-President of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, with roles in 3 main areas: Clinical Development, Medical Affairs, Strategic Leadership including membership in the corporate Operating Council. Overall, within industry, he has held positions ranging from General Manager of a Contract Research Organization to Program Executive leading product development, regulatory approval/launch in multiple therapeutic areas across the world. Shahin has also founded, built, organized full functional departments/units for biotechnology companies and hospitals as well as two LLCs as an entrepreneur. He is a member of several international societies. His passion is Patient-focused programs for drug & vaccine development, approval, and launch.

Shahin – It is such an honor you with me today!

Shahin Gharakhanian: Thank you for having me in the program.

Naji Gehchan: I would love first to hear your personal story from being a clinician and friends to the pharma industry, and now back with several hearts, including being a clinician in infectious diseases during the Pandemic, entrepreneur, consultant, and many different, several roles that you, uh, you play today.

What’s in between the lines of your inspiring career?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Naji, I can, I can, um, say that probably the guiding. Uh, the red line, as you know, there’s a, uh, uh, uh, expression in French, or the guiding light, if you like. That expression has been, I consider myself as somebody who is in the helping professions, you know, whether, uh, in, as a medical doctor, this was really my initial and more.

The, the core, uh, value. And, uh, some of my colleagues, which I totally respect, they choose the medical profession, for example, because it’s scientifically very appealing. They, they are eminent researchers and they go, uh, through, uh, many phases of their lives discovering it’s, I love seeing, I loved and still love seeing patients.

Uh, I. Love the contact, the human contact, the fact of making a difference in one person’s life, I think it’s a huge, uh, it’s a huge accomplishment. I know there are wonderful, wonderful people who learn, uh, who run philanthropic organizations and through their money and through their efforts, they help hundreds and thousands.

Uh, I silting that when you make a difference in. Person’s life and that person remembers you, believe it or not. I haven’t. I’ve stopped practicing for a decade and some of my patients still write, um, and ask and tell me, you know, how they are doing and how I am doing . So this has been the guiding line at one point, um, in.

Career. I met a gentleman called, uh, professor Mark Tini. Maybe the name doesn’t resign to you. He is, uh, uh, he wa he is, he’s, uh, alive and, and doing well. Uh, elder, a more senior gentleman, a member of the French Academy of Medicine. He is a specialist in tropical medicine. And, uh, you know, there are two schools in tropical medicine, the British and the French, because.

Historical past, uh, they, they have the, they still have the, that knowledge. And he was the person who really, uh, told me, you know, are you interested in epidemiology? Are you interested? Computers were coming. Are you interested in, um, applic, uh, the applications of the computer Science to medicine? And he, uh, had a phrase it telling me, you know, there are people who work with their steth.

and there are people, the by people, he meant physicians. They’re physicians who work with their stethoscope and they’re physicians who work with their, uh, pen and their computer and their, their knowledge. Uh, so he suddenly opened, um, uh, an area of thinking that, you know, uh, sure you can, you can, we are trained, uh, to be, uh, at the bedside or, or to do.

but that’s not the only way. And that actually took me, uh, to pharma. Uh, and, uh, because you, uh, asked me what was the journey, uh, the comp, the, you mentioned in my biography, I was formed essentially in France. French medicine is excellent and, uh, but I have. Long years of, uh, continuing education at Harvard.

Uh, where, where, where the teachers are just extraordinary from my viewpoint. Uh, but, um, from a pharmaceutical base, you know, science and medicine, uh, I am very much, uh, uh, my, I lay learned a trait at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and. Uh, uh, it’s also how serendipity and chance can influence your life. Um, I got a phone call and somebody was looking for, um, uh, an MD for Vertex.

Uh, and I, uh, at that time, point in time, the company was totally unknown. In fact, the person told me, uh, they, they, you don’t know them, you know the name will, will not speak to you. I. Tell me who they are, and he said, vertex. Uh, it’s a company in US called Vertex. And I said, is it the vertex of the book? So there’s a book about Vertex called In Search of the 2 billion Molecule, uh, by, um, by a journalist of, uh, New York Times, I believe, and was, uh, in fact the best seller.

And I was in France, probably one of the three persons in the country, , uh, who had read the book. And I told her, you know, don’t move. I’m, I’m coming over . Uh, and I wa I discovered, uh, Dr. Joshua Boger, uh, um, the co-founder, an incredibly talented group of, um, Professionals and, uh, took me, uh, and, and I learned a lot, uh, and launched two drugs there, um, uh, with, with that wonderful team.

So, um, I would say, um, some of the dec some was some of the journey and who I am was decision making. You know, you you, you apply to medical school, right? You, you make the decision of. Uh, applying for something and, uh, going through, but a lot of it, uh, whether it was, um, H I V, uh, meeting the, the people who discovered H I V and later on got the Nobel Prize of, uh, medicine or meeting Vertex were all chances.

Um, and it’s, uh, it makes you think that, you know, um, how much are, are you really in control of your destiny? You know, you might be, you might not be. Who knows? you.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, there’s a, that’s a big debate, right? Like, is exactly, is it truly chance, is it a chance that you practically created through your intention, uh, and where you wanna go?

So I, I, I love your humility and stating its chance and serendipity and other things. And I also loved how you said helping professions. Uh, I, I really think, you know, it’s kind of an underlining that you’re talking about. This is what you wanted. So I’m. Did you always wanted to become a physician? Was it something since your childhood?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Yes, I think I was, uh, it came to me, uh, perhaps, um, uh, we had in our family, uh, a family physician, uh, who was a wonderful man, and, um, uh, you know, the, the. The type you see in movies, um, uh, you know, coming, uh, to your house. At that time, physicians used to make house calls. , you’re too young maybe to remember, but, you know, he, these people became friends of the family, in fact.

And, um, um, I was very much inspired by his, um, uh, by his, uh, conduct the way he was. And in fact, I, I went to see, Um, to get advice on my choice. Um, and I, I perhaps, uh, there were, unlike many families, I, we did not have any physician in the family. Uh, so there was nobody, my parents were not, uh, in the medical profession, so there was nobody close I could get inspiration from.

Uh, I don’t, uh, I don’t remember seeing a lot of movies or TV series. I think it was probably this, this one person. That, um, that sort of inspired me. You, you talked

Naji Gehchan: about, uh, h I V and you’ve been part of, um, this, this first public health crisis, uh, through h I v, um, and you were, I think, clinician, but then you also were in pharma during that time.

So I’m interested, I would love to hear your thoughts about really your learning from that time as a leader in both sides as a

Shahin Gharakhanian: clinician and in the firm. Absolutely. In, uh, in the, uh, you, as you remember, in the mid eighties, um, uh, the Center for Disease Control reported several cases of a strange disease, uh, in, uh, young men, uh, in San Francisco, in, uh, Paris, France.

A young physician, uh, Dr. Willie Rosenbaum, uh, was. Uh, talk about chance, right? Was called, uh, from the emergency room saying that there was a young, uh, steward from a major EL airline, uh, flying between New York and Paris, who was very ill. Um, and they, uh, performed the, uh, bronchoscopic lavage on him, and there was, they had discovered pneumocystic screening pneumonia, which is extraordinarily rare.

In normal times. You can see it only in people who go under, who undergo, uh, transplantation. Uh, uh, Dr. Rosenbaum was one of the few peoples in Paris reading the journal of the C D c called M M W R, mortality Morbidity Weekly Reports. And suddenly the light bulb came on. He rushed to the emergency room and he told him, this is the disease that the CDC has just described.

And from there started the, the incredible adventure. Where he took the, um, uh, lymph node from this patient, uh, to the pastor in Paris. And, uh, professor Mont, uh, Paris and their teams discovered, uh, hiv. I met Willie in, um, summer of 85. Uh, he looked at me, uh, and he told me I was looking for a fellowship and said, you know, if you’re looking for a ordinary.

Fellowship. Um, you don’t come here if you are looking for something extraordinary in the true sense of the work. You can start tomorrow morning. He looked at me in the, Ima imagine this is August of 1985, where very few people were talking about this disease. He looked at me in the eyes and said, this is the biggest public health crisis of modern times.

So with that, um, I started working, uh, with H I V and to answer your question, uh, Naji directly, 2, 2, 2 things. One will interest you because I understand it’s the thematic of your podcast. You talk about love. Um, it is, uh, the love of patients and the love you get from patients, uh, was an extraordinary lesson of humility to me as a young.

Who was not prepared, A young physician who was not prepared to see a lot of people in his age range die, which h i v was, um, at the beginning a hundred percent mortality rate. But it also a, um, lesson in leadership in people who, um, pushed away, um, the discriminations. The stigmatizing, uh, for who said, you know, you can be from Haiti, Haiti from you can be, uh, gay, uh, et cetera.

It doesn’t make a difference. We are supposed to treat people and, uh, pushed away all of those taboos to show leadership and take charge of people. And I think, uh, those were things which.

Sort of were totally inspirational. Uh, and I learned, uh, how, and then of course there were, uh, leaders among patient advocacy groups. There were leaders among doctors in hospitals, among the nursing, um, staff. Very important. I think the women play the major. And in society. And that was, um, a fantastic, uh, uh, lesson, uh, for me that later on inspired me.

Um, inspired

Naji Gehchan: me a lot. Those are really super powerful, uh, learning in in leadership. Thanks for her.

Shahin Gharakhanian: Shane shapes you? Yeah, a lot. Uh, well,

Naji Gehchan: the, it’s, and it’s not over, right? H i v We’re way better now.

Shahin Gharakhanian: No, we are way better. Thanks. Thank you to the pharmaceutical industry who produced over 30 or probably the, the count is higher.

32 maybe drugs. Uh, and the formidable collabo. Between academia, industry, uh, public health authorities. I would’ve liked to see this more. During the Covid area, people started, uh, setting up barriers again, and this was a big deal, um, in those times. And of course, later on in Africa, uh, philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation, different funds, everything came together to, to beat, uh, this, uh, this incredible, um, pandemic.

Naji Gehchan: So, so that, that was my follow up question. Um, actually, did you feel we learned from this h i V era going through Covid and, and I’m interested also, you, you bring a very important point, which is, uh, really the stigma, uh, diversity include like, it touches really very social, social issues. Unfortunately, we saw resurface again in.

even though it was not a particular gender, race or nationality, whatever exactly you want. Right. So I, I’m intrigued. Like did you, were you frustrated?

Shahin Gharakhanian: How was that? Yes. And, uh, the, the no part is that, um, we didn’t see that sort of international collaboration. Every country started saying idu. Even the Europeans were, were supposed to have, um, uh, sort of a more uniform approach.

Of course, you remember, uh, you, if you’re coming from this country, you’re coming from that country. You need to test and you need not to test. And everybody started. I, I won’t go into ugly incidents like. People fighting over masks, uh, in international airports and things like that, uh, to, uh, in, uh, when, when there was a mask shortage, everybody was fighting over that.

Uh, what did carry over was, uh, I believe, um, I can cite, uh, uh, I, I remembered, uh, data I saw from Dr. Tony fci. Who said that roughly 50% of people engaged in Covid care and research are from the HIV background. So they brought, uh, and we brought, uh, all of that, um, more scientific knowledge, uh, on resistance on, um, uh, mutations on.

variance, uh, et cetera, the public health also knowledge. So yes and no. Yes, yes. In the terms that if the world mobilized because, uh, the experts were from that background, no. Uh, we would’ve liked to see more, uh, more empathy, more, uh, more solidarity between the countries, rather than people saying, you know, I’m, I’m shutting a down and don’t come and see me, and, you know, If you’re coming from, uh, from this country or that country, then you’re not really welcome.

Uh, which, uh, which, uh, which is not exactly, was not at all helpful, you know, uh, in, in fighting the epidemic.

Naji Gehchan: So do you feel, I, I have to ask you this question, I feel with, with, we’re, we’re seeing that pandemic, most probably experts like yourself are saying they will come at a faster pace potentially in the future.

Uh, what, what are your thoughts about our readiness as a human beings as humanity towards this? And

Shahin Gharakhanian: if you had asked me the same question a year or 14 months ago, or 18 months ago, I try to look at this scientifically and not with emotion. I would’ve been probably, uh, I would’ve sort of politely brushed away.

But, um, uh, I have seen during this past 18 months numerous publications and I can provide that to your, uh, auditors and, uh, to people who listen to your programs in major journals such as science, et cetera. Uh, uh, very well. Thought through experiments, um, explaining how, uh, virus, uh, viral diseases, uh, will and infectious diseases in general will spread, uh, because, um, of the, of the ecological DYS Caribbean that we currently have.

Let me give your auditors a. Relatively simple scenario that, uh, I witnessed, um, through the rep, uh, through the reporting of a, um, of a journalist. Uh, there has been massive, uh, um, forest cleaning. Uh, and, uh, cutting down of trees in the Congo. Congo is republic. Uh, areas which have been cleaned out were the sanctuary of a certain type of, uh, monkey.

Uh, the monkeys, uh, were therefore had no dwelling anymore, started going into villages. Uh, and, uh, because they were, uh, one can, I think one can put oneself in their situation. Uh, their homes were destroyed. They go into villages. You shouldn’t expect them to be very friendly. And, uh, by biting, uh, especially children, they have transmitted viral diseases to these.

So it’s, it’s a scary se scenario, but it’s, uh, this is from last year was, uh, reported by, um, uh, news reporters, not scientists, news reporters. Um, so, uh, it is just one of the examples of how, uh, we are, um, Ma man is facilitating. Yeah. And again, there is a mounting amount of evidence, uh, in this direction.

Hence, you see that certain organizations or startups are being created to be able to respond by producing antivirals more quickly and things

Naji Gehchan: like that. Yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately, as you’re saying it, it’s another, it shows us, again this system and system functioning and the system dynamics between, between things, right?

Like it’s, it’s an interconnected web, even though we exactly always wanted to think about it, like as we human being, and unfortunately some would think even some of us are better than others as human beings are like on the top of the, the. The other species, but unfortunately we are an interconnected web and it’s a great reminder.

Totally. It’s such a great

Shahin Gharakhanian: example. Totally. And travel, air travel, uh, interconnects us and we saw how efficiently during the Covid area air travel was a vehicle of transmission. In fact the c d C, uh, uh, in, in Atlanta, one of the, one of the data pieces that they look when there is an international outbreak, they look at connections, air connections between cities.

Cause you can almost predict , uh, what will happen, uh uh, and where it’ll happen. Yeah.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. That was a great, that was a great article, uh, on Covid actually with the first, how, how flights out spread everyth Exactly. Everything. Exactly. You, you talked Jane, about, um, startups and, and I, I know you’ve been heavily involved in, um, the different biotech ventures at different stages and development.

Uh, I’m intrigued now more, uh, from this, What, what would be your advices for biotech companies starting up? You’ve been involved in companies starting, building, growing, scaling, uh, and you’ve been helping and consulting also some of the smaller biotechs and larger ones. Uh, I’d love to ha to hear your thoughts if you have one or two advice for those.

Uh, you know, the first

Shahin Gharakhanian: thing I would say is, you know, if you’re mo motivational, your, your motivation is uniquely to make money. Uh, very sophisticated financial, uh, people have explained to me that, you know, going into biotech business is probably not the best route. You can very quickly make money in.

other areas of economic activity in a shorter period of time, rather than go into a business where 10 years later you might or you might not , you know, uh, you might or you might not, uh, uh, make a lot of money. So, uh, great leaders, which I have observed, like Joshua Booger or hen tier me, or people who have been, um, at the helm, uh, of large companies, even, uh, the founder of.

Uh, had a famous saying, saying, doing, doing well, uh, by doing good. Uh, the, they have been consistently motivated by something which is above and beyond then. Um, I would say, you know, in, when, when you are leading, um, a biotech company, there are three facets you have to take into consideration. One is being a leader.

Where you need to inspire, you need to mobilize. You make people work long hours. You have to be able to get them the inspiration they need. You have to be a good administrator and you have to be a great manager. These are three dis distinct. Qualities. And then the question is, what is the right mix? You can take, uh, you know, 30%, 30%, 30%, but some companies may need.

um, 70% of management and just a little of the others. Some need a little at, at various times. Also, the needs change. The sometimes at one point you do need to be a great administrator because you have maybe things going on in that field, which are very important. At the end of the day, uh, you do need, um, it’s, it’s such a tough area where you need, um, a, a, a lot of inspirational leader.

by somebody who can just pull you because it’s, um, it’s, it’s, look at all these brave CEOs trying to raise money right now, uh, in the middle of an economic crisis in, in Europe at war. I mean, I, um, I really have a lot of admiration. You, you see them, they tell you they’ve done like 40 pitches in one month or, uh, 38.

They go to bio, they meet, I dunno hun, 120 meetings in five days, , you know, it’s, um, you have to have a lot of, um, stamina, uh, to be able to, to get there. I would love now to

Naji Gehchan: give you a. Sure. And get your reaction to it. I know you love this game. , .

Shahin Gharakhanian: If I have a blank, everybody will, excuse me. .

Naji Gehchan: So the first word is leadership

Shahin Gharakhanian: on anticipation.

Naji Gehchan: What about innovation?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Daring

Naji Gehchan: I. Okay. Can you say a little bit more about it? I love this, this

Shahin Gharakhanian: definition. You, you have, um, you have to have the guts to come out of your, um, uh, comfort zone and, uh, to be beaten, uh, on the head by stick because what you’re saying or what you’re trying to achieve, nobody else has done. Um, uh, I think, um, I think, uh, without getting into any cliche or but from public and personal, Personal, um, information.

I, I think, uh, the team at Moderna, uh, was, was able to innovate, um, because believe me, you know, um, every, the doors did not open at the first day . So, um, um, so you have to dare, uh, you have to dare.

Naji Gehchan: Uh, the third one is Boston Biotech Summit Collaboration. I, I’d love for you to pitch briefly to our audience cause it’s one of those great summits when you’re bridging Paris and Boston.

Shahin Gharakhanian: Um, Naji, I think we, a number of thanks to many, many people around the world. A number of medical problems have been resolved. Uh, with new drugs, new innovation, uh, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, uh, new devices, everything you want. Now we are at the, you know, uh, a core of remaining problems. Uh, if I may, I can, uh, compare hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B, which is currently the, the target, hepatitis sees an easier disease. In many ways, the target finding the drugs was difficult, but Hep B, because it, it integrates, uh, it is an integrated virus. It’s much more difficult. Curing HIV is very difficult. Some cancers, we have progress, but other cancers are very tough.

To cure. And finally, uh, if you take, uh, rare disease of children, some of them there is, there are breakthroughs, but others remain psychiatric disease, which is a big unknown un un uh, unmet medical need. Uh, finding better treatments for tuberculosis. Number one infection in the world. It’s, it’s, it’s a shame, uh, on humanity that, you know, we are in 2022.

TB is still out there. Getting these problems solved, will need know-how from everywhere. No company, uh, not even the, the, the big ones. They notice, by the way, the Pfizers and, and the GSKs and the Sanofis, they notice. Uh, but I think even if you have a smaller biotech, you need to understand that you, you cannot do it.

This is the, uh, this is the idea behind the, the summit is to build bridges. Ours is across the Atlantic. Uh, but, but you can imagine all sorts of bridges between people, uh, between labs, between, and if we try to bring people together in a small scale meeting, We respect the big meetings. They’re, they’re essential, but ours is a artisans meeting, we call it.

Um, and so they, they can talk to each other and from there can come, uh, synergies because we are firm believers. Now I know we are swimming, um, against Tide. When you hear. Countries shutting down and telling, you know, stay out. I’m going to do my own thing. You know, um, uh, it’s, it’s not always easy, uh, but, um, but we’ve been, we’ve been doing this for six years and I think, uh, uh, we have data now showing that there is, uh, uh, there are projects that sparked up.

So your, your answer is on our website. It’s the bridges you can see on our website, which is, uh, symbolizes collaboration really.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And even if it’s against, you know, tide and current, uh, this is crucial. Collaboration is crucial, and we saw like the success we can

Shahin Gharakhanian: get from. Absolutely, absolutely.

Naji Gehchan: The last word is spread love in organizations.

Shahin Gharakhanian: I, I like your, uh, applying the word love in a corporate setting is not, uh, an easy task, but, uh, there is an word in English, which I like very much, which is, Uh, which is another way of saying love. Um, and, um, uh, I also, um, want to remind your, um, auditors, um, and I can, um, I can look up, uh, the exact references, but there is a, uh, there was a former, uh, Boston Scholar who’s now retired, uh, who has a whole theory, uh, around the big, uh, social movements.

and the, that their foundation is in, is a, is a sudden burst of love. He has written several books. I can try to find the references for you, but, uh, I hope we are entering an era where, um, our leaders, uh, whether they’re political or corporate, will understand that, uh, their, their teams have evolved. The population has.

And the more, uh, the world is now full of people like Ji, where, which are highly educated, highly motivated, come from different backgrounds, uh, are very autonomous in their thinking, and, uh, leading people of this phenotype is very different from the past. So you need to have that empathy, uh, built into your, uh, leadership model, I believe.

But of course, I’m sure it’s a big debate in management schools . Sure. . Well, well, you

Naji Gehchan: know, uh, first I would love all your reference and we’ll make sure we’ll have them for our audience on your, uh, on your page. Um, and yeah, obviously this is something that have been studied. It’s not always called love, genuine care, servant leader, psychological safety, empathy, as you said, compassion like.

Hundreds of words. And really what we’re trying to bring here is incredible leaders, thinkers like you, who actually have done it and believe in it. Uh, because we, we would never do enough, uh, to, uh, again, emphasize exactly what you said. We, we need this type of leadership for us to be able to collaborate, move forward, and actually deliver for the different, uh, uh, stakeholders in, in our organizations.

Any final word of wisdom shaheen for healthcare leaders around the world?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Um,

probably a plea, uh, to, to pay more attention to this interface between health and our environment. Uh, a plea that in order to, um, be able to contribute to he. Uh, it is better to have peace than war. Uh, war is extremely costly in, in many ways, human, uh, but also, uh, finite. It’s a huge, I’m very worried that, uh, conflicts a across the world will drain countries energies.

Uh, uh, and, uh, uh, you have to, I mean, you cannot. Print money indefinitely, you need to take from somewhere to give to somewhere else. Uh, it’s just as basic as that. Uh, but, uh, but taking this interface between, uh, uh, our natural environment and, uh, our health seems to be rising really to the top, um, of the agenda.

I mean, uh, just looking at from, from HIV. to Covid, to Monkey Parks with Ebola, Zika in the middle, uh, coming and going. Uh, uh, you know, uh, I, I, I hope the covid, um, the covid crisis will make everybody think twice, because here you have a disease where everything stopped, , cities emptied, everything stopped, life stopped, and we, we probably cannot have one another one of these crisis.

It’ll be very tough to manage. So, uh, uh, that also calls for more empathy and love, probably . Yeah. And it’s such

Naji Gehchan: a powerful, uh, please Shaneen, thanks for sharing this, and thank you again for being with me today.

Shahin Gharakhanian: Thank you, Naji, for having me on this program. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this episode joined today by Cheerag Upadhyaya, Clinical Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, and Chief Transformation & Business Strategy Officer. Cheerag completed neurosurgical residency at the University of Michigan, complex and minimally invasive spine fellowship at the University of California San Francisco, and research fellowships at the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes / National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program resulting in a Masters in Science from the University of Michigan. He recently completed his MBA from MIT Sloan where we met as classmates and had fun negotiating a car in one of our classes. Cheerag is a member of the Executive Committee for the AANS/CNS Spine and Peripheral Nerve Section as well as a member of several associations. He has been awarded the Scoliosis Research Society Edgar Dawson Traveling Fellowship and AANS/CNS Spine and Peripheral Nerve Outcomes Committee Award. Cheerag was also elected to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine in 2021.

Cheerag, It is such an honor to have you with me today!

Cheerag Upadhyaya: Oh, thanks, Naji . It’s a very, uh, humbling, uh, intro.

Naji Gehchan: Well, every time we chatted about this podcast and this episode, you kept telling me with such humility that you have nothing interesting to tell, and I know you have a ton. So why don’t we start with your personal story. Can you tell us a little bit more what got you to where you are today?

Cheerag Upadhyaya: so I’m the, the son of, uh, immigrants, uh, from India. Um, they. , they came here. My father came here in the late 1960s, um, actually because he wanted to, to be a physician. So he did his medical education in India and then came to the United States for a residency, um, and then decided to stay here.

Um, and, uh, that experience I think, transfers a lot to me. Uh, you know, understanding what my father and my mother. Went through as they made that transition from India to the United States and the drive and determination that he had and my wo mom had about wanting to take care of patients really. And so that served as a very early inspiration in terms of just work ethic.

But also in terms of what I wanted to do with my life. And so I knew early on I wanted to become, um, a physician. Um, that was just a, a core part of who I was as I was growing up. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. . That was the, that was the part I didn’t know what part. My dad is a ob, uh, G Y n. And so I, I saw a lot of, or heard about a lot of things that he did.

Um, so surgery was somewhat interesting to me at the time, but I really just didn’t know. Um, but I put my head down, worked, went to college and, and then went to med school. And as I. Went through medical school. I really enjoyed, um, surgery. I loved just working with my hands. I loved the clinical aspects of, uh, leading a team, right?

To, to be able to operate successfully and safely, you have to be able to help everybody around you perform at a certain level, right? Um, so that the patient is taken care of really well. And that really attracted me. There was something about that that just, um, Connected. Um, and so I pursued surgical training and ultimately, um, neurosurgical training, um, and then ultimately spine as you, as you already outlined.

Um, the other aspect though that I wanted to explore was, you know, inquiry. I wanted to understand, okay, how can you not only make an impact on our patients, Today, but how do you start impacting patients? Um, uh, in terms of future, right? Extend yourself, scale yourself up as a, uh, individual. And research is one avenue.

And I looked at basic science, but I realized that basic science. Which was the Howard Hughes, um, n i H program, um, wasn’t, didn’t connect with me. Um, and that’s where the clinical research came in, uh, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellowship. And then the M B A actually was a way to sort of understand how to connect the dots when it comes to.

Clinical outcomes research, but how do you actually implement that Right. Within large health systems, right. Within organizations, it’s, uh, it’s actually a, something I’m seeing more and more of now that you and I finished the program, that there’s a disconnect between understanding the data. In understanding how to actually operationalize the data, implement it for best practices.

And so that, you know, brought me back to academics, um, here at U N C as a way of being able to function within a large health system and work with partners and neurosurgery, but within the larger health system as well. Thanks for sharing,

Naji Gehchan: uh, part of your story with us. Uh, ed, I know as we were just telling you, are we connecting, you told me you might be called for the operating room.

Uh, as we are recording, I’d love to get your thoughts actually about this. You talked about it, about this readiness, really constant readiness to deliver in high stress environment, not only you, but also the team around you. How, how do you. .

Cheerag Upadhyaya: Yeah. So it’s it, I learned this from my faculty at the University of Michigan.

Um, and there’s a few factors that I’ve always taken with me, right? So the first is you, you have to really be good at your job, right? Yourself, right? Uh, you always have to put the patient first. Um, and then the other thing that. Learned in that. I, I understood it from my faculty in terms of the training and, and I jokingly say as I grew up in, in, in medicine, um, but it was emphasized in everything we learned at M I t, which is you have to create.

Um, a safe space for folks, right? Um, and you also have to, um, empower folks, right? So let me give you a small example. Um, every time I do an operation, one of the things that I, when you’re doing a spine surgery, for example, is you have to check and make sure. You’re operating on the right level, right? Are you operating on what level of the spine?

Um, and the spine has a lot of vertebra. And so if you’re in a rush, it’s easy to get off one level. Um, and that is something that obviously you don’t wanna do, right? You wanna operate on the level where the patient has the pathology. And so when I check the level with an x-ray, I stop and ask everybody around the room before I say anything.

Look at the. Double check if that level matches the level that we thought we were going to do from the initial timeout consent process and so forth. And I do that for a couple of reasons. One is I wanna make sure that everybody’s engaged, everybody’s part of the team. The second thing is I want to convey to everybody that.

if you see something that you feel that we’re at the wrong level, speak up, say something, right? Um, I want you to say something, right? If I’m driving it completely all the time, then folks are gonna be passive part of the process. And I think you can’t get the best out of everybody when they’re passive in the process versus if you actively engage them in the process.

And I think that it makes a huge impact on patient care. And I gave an operative example, but I think the same. Is very true in the outpatient realm. The same is very true in the inpatient realm and frankly, from what you and I learned at m i t I think it’s true, you know, outside of healthcare, right. And, and, and business as a whole.

Yeah. You, you

Naji Gehchan: took me back in time to my residency and, and actually we had this issue in operating room and um, unfortunately after the operation, the. Told me that she knew, but she couldn’t say it because the, the head of department was operating actually. So, you know, going back to this, uh, how, how do you lead these teams efforts?

You talked about, uh, creating the safe space. How, how do you do this? How do you ensure there’s a safe space? And if I wanna challenge a little bit more, I don’t know if in your career you had this, did you build this safe space after a leader who, before you actually did not have this s culture and how you dealt with this?

Cheerag Upadhyaya: Uh, I think it was, it was a, it was the opposite. I, I was very fortunate in my career as I, as a trainee, as a medical student, as a resident, as a fellow to even in the research space, um, at the n I h, at the Robert Wood Johnson. Um, I think it was, I was very, very fortunate. I was surrounded by mentors who, um, Created this environment.

And so for me, and again, I couldn’t describe it right. I couldn’t describe it, you know, when you, when you talk about like, um, what we learned at school, right? Uh, with psychological safety and, you know, some of the work that was done at Harvard in terms of Amy Edmondson, it wasn’t, it wasn’t something that I could describe.

It was just the way that they led and. Created this environment where they had high standards, they had high standards, but it wasn’t about getting upset with people or, or, um, getting, um, mad at people or, or, or, or demeaning people. It was about helping folks setting very high expectations. I think it’s, you know, you, you, uh, you and I were talking about this, right?

Setting expectations, clearly articulating those expectations. so folks know where to go and what they need to do, but then giving people the support and then appropriate feedback, right? Um, and then being humble enough to know that it’s a team effort. Somebody has to lead the team, but ultimately you still need the team to work.

Um, and, and that humility was something that, um, also translated across many, many of the mentors that I’ve been fortunate to work with, uh, over the.

Can you share one of,

Naji Gehchan: uh, the stories, uh, potentially where things might have gone wrong, uh, and how you dealt with this. Uh, I’m really looking at, you know, those mistakes that can be life-threatening actually in your job. And as you’re saying, as you’re talking about creating this psychological, safe environment, how do you deal in mistake with mistakes in a, in a different, uh, ,

Cheerag Upadhyaya: you know, it, uh, that’s a great question.

I, I, dealing with mistakes I think is hard. I think the natural reaction that we all have, or the vast majority of us have is to ignore the mistake. Right. To, to put your head in the sand. To, to, to just not think about it. Right. And when I’ve worked with, um, residents, when I work with medical students, um, younger faculty, I try to explain to them that that’s been my initial reaction as well.

Right? There, something happens and you want to, to run away from it or hide it because it, it’s hurts, right? As a, as a clinician, as a surgeon, you always want the very best for your patient, and when things don’t go right, even if it is something that is within the profile of known complications and things like that, you, you take it personally.

One thing I’ve learned, and it requires work, it actually, it requires a tremendous amount of intentional effort, is that you have to just confront it, acknowledge it, talk about it with your colleagues. Not in a blaming sense, right? You know, of like, this person did this or this person did that. Cuz that goes against everything we talked about a minute ago.

You’ll create an environment that isn’t conducive to safety, but to talk about it in terms of how could I have done better? How could we have done better? Right? And frame it from that perspective. Um, the, the other thing is, own it, right? So for example, if I have a patient who does have a complication, Bring that patient back, talk to them more.

Um, you know, don’t distance yourself from that patient. Um, and I think this is true, whether it’s a patient or any problem or any challenge or any mistake if you will, um, anything like that in life is that distancing yourself from it is. I think a very natural reaction, but we have to sort of fight that reaction and, and, and work through that sort of dissonance in our head and say, no, let me bring it closer to me.

And if you do that, I think you can learn from those mistakes better. And you set an example to your team of, okay, this is a space where we can talk about it, right? Where, where if you make a mistake, this is how we’re gonna handle it. And I think that’s the other, again, going back to the idea is how do you model yourself, model yourself as a leader?

Folks need to see that, right? They need, if they don’t, if they see you getting defensive or they see you running away from things, then that’s what they’re, you know, going to probably do. If they see you owning it and acknowledging it, talking about it, bringing it closer, then they’re gonna start. And I, again, it goes back to what we started with.

I think you’ll improve processes and patients care and everything. Um, dramat. So much of what we is, uh, iterative. I mean, it’s, it, it’s iterative. I mean, we talk about it in medicine, it’s the practice of medicine, right? I’m, I’ll never stop practicing medicine until I stop, right? . Um, I’m always going to be just working to better myself.

Um, and I think that’s true for life and, and business as well. Totally,

Naji Gehchan: and I love it, as you said, do not ignore mistakes. Own them. You know, and, and you didn’t go until saying, uh, like kind of, sometimes you say it’s the others’ mistake too. And I think this is kind of the worst thing that can happen when you not only disowned them, but practically say, oh, it was the operating, uh, room schedule, or it was the nurse or so, so really owning them, even if it’s.

Your mistakes, but your team’s mistake for you to create the safe place and make it better the next time. I, I love what you shared. Sh you also have a key role within your organization now, which is business strategy. So I was very interested when I read, you know, for a physician business and strategy, uh, in, in their function.

So I’d love to, uh, understand from you, how do you define business and also how you define. Yeah, .

Cheerag Upadhyaya: So, uh, it, it’s an evolving idea for me, Ashley. Uh, as I’m, as I’m getting started, this has been something that I’m still learning in myself. Um, the way that I sort of think it’s, it’s hard you don’t, healthcare as you know, right?

Is, is a business, right? Um, so much of we, you know, if, if, if it’s. It goes back to what we talked about in the, in our program when it comes to nonprofits, right. A nonprofit still has to run like a business. Right. It just doesn’t have to pay taxes. Right. Like a for-profit business does. Right. Um, so in healthcare, many of us are in nonprofits.

Um, it’s still important to run the business and run it well. So the lens through which I. Thinking about this, right, is where, what I alluded to a little while ago, which is that I want to understand those best practices that we’ve studied, right? That even you company, right? Your, your company brings out best practices, right?

You use these medications, this is the patient population, this is the best data, et cetera, but the implementation of that, Has to be done in a large corporate environment, right? Multi-billion dollar health systems have to implement these processes of care. And so for me, that is where I’m sort of thinking about it as how do I help bring management approaches?

right, to improve patient care, improve operations, um, on multiple levels, right? Whether it’s at the individual clinic level or whether it’s at the, you know, departmental level or even at a programmatic, a multidisciplinary programmatic level in terms of strategy, part of what I’m thinking about is what is the core competency, right?

What is the competitive advantage of any health system, right? And, and then, so I’m just not a big believer in. You know that there’s a fixed pie, right? Uh, one thing you we’ve learned is that there’s, there’s space in the world for a lot of folks, right? Um, we learned that over and over again with, uh, businesses, right?

I think about the conversations we had and strategy when it came to, like Trader Joe’s versus other grocery stores, for example, right? And it seems like a mundane example, but it’s, no, it’s, it’s very. Applicable to our life, right? There’s room for different health systems in the same market. But I think a lot of times folks get into this idea that it’s a zero sum game, right?

We’re just competing over a fixed number of patients, and I think that there are ways of approaching and guiding programmatic development. Strategy right around that, whether it’s at the departmental level or at an institutional level, that allows the healthcare system to position itself for what it can do the very best.

Right? Um, and I think that’s my approach, at least as I’m thinking about it and as I’m getting started. .

Naji Gehchan: I love this. And yeah, you reminded me of the fixed buy bias because you talked about it and it’s one of the best biases I learned as a concept in negotiation, right? Like when, when we all fight for the same buy, who’s gonna take the bigger piece rather than thinking how to expand actually the buy and we can all benefit from it.

So thanks for sharing that. Uh, I, I would give you now one word and I would love your reaction to it. So the first word is leadership.

Cheerag Upadhyaya: My reaction to that word is, um, understanding your people, understanding who you’re leading and helping them become the best version of themselves within your capacity. Right. Um, that to me has always been sort of the way that I approach it. You know, when I interview. People, when I’m thinking about conversations that I’ve had with people, my first question or one of my early questions is, what, what do you aspire for yourself?

Right? I want to know that, um, because if I can help them achieve some of what they aspire or even better, Achieve more than what they believe they can aspire to. Right? Then I think you can really engage that person and you’re really leading them, and they’ll be with you right through the worst times. Um, but you have to be able to get them there.

I I, I learned this from. I learned this from a, a friend of mine, um, who, who recently passed, um, and, uh, at a young age, uh, she was, uh, one of my, um, early, early mentors as a resident. She was my chief resident and then faculty. Um, and I, you know, leaned on her for advice over the years. , um, uh, her name was, uh, uh, Linda Yang.

Um, and, uh, just an outstanding peripheral nerve neurosurgeon. Um, but I saw this with what she did. She would help people, everybody. Whether it was somebody in the office who, you know, wanted a nurse in the office who wanted to become a nurse practitioner but didn’t see it in themselves, and she did, and she would push them and again, support them.

And then suddenly they were like, oh my gosh, look, look what I did. Um, to, to others who, you know, no, I can’t do research. And no, I think you can. Right? You can help me with research and you’re not a medical student and you’re not a resident. You’re, you know, et cetera. But you can do research. Let me show you how you can do research, and this is the impact you can make.

Um, I think that’s when you, when you use that word, leadership, that’s what sort of pops into my head. Oh, thanks

Naji Gehchan: GaN. I, I’m sorry for your loss. And you, you’re touching a key point of mentorship, coaching, uh, which is also part of leadership. What about, uh,

Cheerag Upadhyaya: transformation, transformation.

I think the word transformation, um, the word that comes to my mind and the ideas that come to my mind are around empowerment, right? I think transformation is an opportunity to, to really empower people to move to the next level. , right. Um, to break the status quo, right? To, to, to rebuild, if you will, in a sense.

Um, I had a flavor of this, you know, in terms of some programmatic development where we were given the opportunity for transformation, right? How do you, how do you do this? Right? And, um, the way that it was most successful, the, the, the opportunities that we leveraged that were the most successful were those opportunities where we empowered people.

And allowed them to help lead the effort as well. Right. And then suddenly that transformation from the ground up was so much more powerful and so much more engaged when it came to the organization. What about health equity?

Uh, that one , that’s a challenging one. I actually, it’s, it’s near and dear to my heart now cuz I’m seeing, um, so much inequity, uh, frankly, in healthcare, um, for me. It’s, it’s a big challenge that we need to address, um, increasingly, not just in the United States, but around the world. Um, uh, but living in the United States, I, on some levels, you know, it seems like we’ve got, as we’ve talked about many times, wonderful healthcare, which we do have amazing, amazing healthcare.

But when you see the inequity, when you see patients who are not able to. Who are not able to afford care. Right. Um, and or who because of social, um, uh, determinants of health. Right. And the unrecognized aspects that social determinants of health, it’s improving, it’s getting better. We’re understanding it more.

But the impact of social determinants of health on health inequity or health equity, I think is another area. So for me, That is an area that actually I’m in very interested in, in trying to understand and explore. And it’s one of the things I’d like to understand over the next several years as part of, you know, a research, research effort when it comes to neurosurgery and spine surgery is, is exactly that, right?

When it comes to the social determinants of health and how that drives inequity in health outcomes. Um, I do think that there’s an opportunity to a, again, go back to management though, right? How does an organization. Interact and, and interface with other community stakeholders, right? As a way of helping build up capability when it comes to the resources that we can offer, the community, the environment, you know, our, the people around, um, to improve health inequity.

The last one

Naji Gehchan: is spread love and organizations.

Cheerag Upadhyaya: So , I. I think I, I was fortunate to participate in a, um, and I really love your podcast. I love your podcast because you unan unashamedly, I don’t even know if, if that’s the right word, I think, right. But just right there, you throw it out there, you use the word love, right?

And I think. I think that that is an important concept. I was fortunate to participate in, um, uh, physician leadership, or, sorry, a healthcare leadership forum, um, at Intermountain Healthcare. Um, and it was led by, uh, one of the former CEOs of Intermountain Healthcare. His name is Charles Sorenson. Wonderful gentleman, wonderful gentleman.

Very humble. Um, exemplified much of what you and I have talked about this morning. and one of the speakers that he had brought was another executive at, um, the, uh, Intermountain former executive Inter Intermountain Healthcare. And he exac he said that he, he emphasized that he’s like, you know, leadership is love.

As well, right? As all these other things we’ve talked about and that hit home, um, when I heard that a few, this was a few years ago before the, before all this pandemic and everything we’ve been living through it hit home. And, and he went through and he described, and I thought this was very insightful.

He went through and he described, you know, that we don’t, you know, we use the word love, but you know, you know, if you go back to certain culture, You know, for example, I think you talked about the Greek and the, uh, Greek culture and antiquity, right? They had. They, they put different words around different types of love, right?

And that I think is sometimes lost in our modern world. That you can love the people around you, and it doesn’t have to be all this other stuff. It can truly be a love of mission, a love of watching people grow and become the best versions of themselves. But I think that is an important part. That is something that is lost at times, I feel in the modern era.

And I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here, which is bring some of that back, you know, into the conversation, right? As a way of, um, helping improve business, but also frankly, improve people’s lives. Right? Because, you know, work is such an important part of everybody’s life. and if you feel good about going to work, right?

That’s, that’s a good thing, , when it comes to life in general, right? It shouldn’t be consuming, but it should be fun and enjoyable and, and, uh, and uh, and help you grow as an individual and feel like there’s dignity to that, right? That you’re coming home. And I think if you don’t have love in that conversation, and I think the type of love that we’re talking about, right?

It, it begins to, um, you lose some of.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much, uh, SHA for saying this. It means so much for me. And yeah, hopefully we’re bringing a little bit more of this love, you know, not the ro romantic love. We only think about when we hear the word love, but all the other pieces of love, of humanity, life, work, and humans.

Uh, any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders around.

Cheerag Upadhyaya: Uh, you know, it’s one thing I’ve learned, um, again, I, going back to going back to our experience at m I t Naji, like, um, I build networks, um, you know, build networks, build friendships in healthcare, which I think sometimes comes naturally cuz that’s where we are.

But build networks of people outside of healthcare, right. In other industries. Um, I, you know, I mean we went through this pandemic. Right. As a, as a class , um, and, and learning from each other, um, I think it’s easy to get siloed right in, in what we do, but I think learning from each other, um, and finding and seeking out really good people like, like yourselves and so many other, other folks that we worked with as, as classmates.

Um, is, is something I’ve learned, um, has been very valuable and it actually gives perspective on the challenges that we’re all facing, right? Um, and uh, the other thing is taking the time to have good conversations. Um, I think, uh, You know, the fireside chats that we had as, um, as students, um, were probably some of the most impactful things for me personally.

Um, just to learn from each other, the humanity that people bring to the table, um, as well. And it gives perspective on, on, on our mission. So that, that’s just, uh, just my 2 cents in additional, obviously everything else we’ve talked about.

Naji Gehchan: Awesome. Thank you so much again, uh, for being with me.

Cheerag Upadhyaya: Thanks, Naji. It was a pleasure and I look forward to seeing you in person here in, uh, next month.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast, having the pleasure to be joined by Stephanie Chen, ChenMed’s Chief Legal Officer and Culture Officer. Stephanie has been with ChenMed since 2006, and served as General Counsel prior to being named Chief Legal Officer in 2016.  A graduate of New York Law School, which she attended on a Harlan Scholarship, Stephanie was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2008. She graduated cum laude from Boston College with a degree in economics.

Stephanie and her husband, Dr. Chris Chen, the CEO of ChenMed, have four children together and live in Florida.

Stephanie – It is such a pleasure to have you with me today!

Stephanie Chen: It’s a pleasure to be here, Naji. Thank you so, so very much for the warm welcome.

Naji Gehchan: Uh, can you first please share with us a little bit more about your personal story from law to now being in healthcare as chief legal officer and culture officer, uh, in this industry?

Stephanie Chen: Definitely, um, you said with love. So I’ll start with, um, I married my high school sweetheart. Uh, Chris and I have been together since I was 15 years old. Um, we went to prom, my prom together and he came to my high school graduation. So we kind of have a, a funny story in that way. Um, I was married as a college sophomore.

Um, and so that’s kind of, if anyone’s been to Boston College in your audience, that’s not normal. at Boston College. Uh, and so most, most students live on campus there. And so I was off campus, married to a, uh, uh, Beth Israel Deacon as resident. But, um, we, we grew up together. Um, and, uh, I wouldn’t change any of it.

He’s a great guy. So that’s my, my my love story. Um, and then growing up in healthcare, um, to be honest, if you had asked me when I was maybe 12 or 13, , I don’t know if I would’ve said I’m gonna end up in healthcare. I, I loved caring for people, but I’ve never loved science. So what’s really wonderful about the health candu industry is that I get to care for patients and people and not be a physician or a nurse, or a nurse practitioner, or even a medical assistant.

None of those things appeal to me. Um, But I, but changing the world appeals to me and caring for people has always appealed to me. So healthcare, I think, um, has both of those things, an impact on the world and an impact, uh, and a chance to love on people in an individual way. Oh,

Naji Gehchan: for sure. This is, this is our why.

This is why we wake up every morning trying to make an impact and help patients live better. Uh, I, I’m really intrigued by Chen Med, uh, and specifically after I received from a friend who sent me an article about, uh, how you are transforming love into profits in healthcare. So I was very intrigued because my podcast talked about spreading love in organizations.

So I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you do and really the values, uh, that you bring in your in. I shouldn’t say company. It’s more in your organization, I should say.

Stephanie Chen: Yeah. Well, thank you for asking Naji. So, um, maybe like eight years ago, I remember being in a room where, um, Chris was presenting, um, to the family where family run.

Company, right? Family owned and operated. Um, but we have an executive team and we’ve got like 6,000 employees. So we’re not a mom and pop anymore, but it still very much feels like a momand pop. Um, he presented to the family the, the values that he wanted our company to have. And there were three, and I remember being so critical in my mind because the three were love accountability, and.

And I just spoke up and said, you know, love and passion in a workplace environment sounds so weird. It sounds like a, like a litigation waiting to happen, right? Like, we’re gonna get sexual, uh, harassment claims, , you know, like love and passion, you know, , um, sounds like something that should be on an e true Hollywood story.

Um, but he was really convicted and, um, and and really passionate about making those three our company values. And we have them as defined terms. You know, we have, um, like love is defined in four ways. Accountability is defined in five ways, and then passions defined in four ways. And we really are those three things at ChenMed.

Um, and we live. Love, um, for each other. That’s one of the things we, we value every human being as an incredible creation of God who brings value. And so that’s one of them. We also love people enough to tell them the truth. That’s one of our values of love. Um, and give them open and honest feedback. And so, and we invest in others as part of our love at Chen.

And help develop everyone to be the best they can be. Um, and then accountability obviously in healthcare is, there’s so much data, right? Um, and there’s just so much around results and obviously the results are bigger than profits. The results are changing people’s lives and keeping people healthier longer, and, and changing the healthcare statistics in the country, right around cancer survival rates.

Chen Med has done that, um, around, um, Like just, uh, life expectancy in, in the zip codes we serve. Um, there’s a 20 year age gap in the zip codes we serve versus in the zip code maybe, um, that you or I would live in Naji. And so like just really working at that, at that life expectancy, discrepancy and shipping away at that.

And so that accountability is huge. And then passion is just like our zest for what we do. And at ChenMed we really love what we do. Um, We wake up in the morning with inspiring energy. Um, and that’s how passions defined and we bring new energy to each day. And so when Chris said those three, I was like, this sounds like a nightmare, but I was really wrong because, um, they really are the best values to define what it’s like to live and work at Gen Med.

And I think because of those people are, are just confident in how they bring their passions and their zaniness and their love to work and even their accountability. .

Naji Gehchan: I love it. And I, I, you know, when I, when I came for the little story, when I came, uh, from France, uh, to the us so I, I’ve been spreading love in the organization where I work for some years now.

Uh, and when I moved here, the first thing they told me, don’t talk about love in the workplace. You’re gonna end up in a very bad situation as a French Lebanese guy, you know, talking about this . So when you said like, love and passion, You know, legally what you thought about it was the same for me, but at the end, as you said, like this is actually what can bring impact, caring for one another for us to, at the end, care for the customers and ultimately help patients live better.

So I, I love how you define it. Um, how do you build this culture daily? You know, in Chen, because there’s so much you’re doing. Um, so how, how, how daily do you build this within the team? For them to be focused truly on love for people for one another and love for the patients. ,

Stephanie Chen: you know, it’s one-on-one, which does not sound scalable, but it really is.

We have to hire for people who really want this in their own life as well. And then they have to, want to push it out because I can’t be in Detroit or Louisville or Atlanta or New Orleans or you know, Memphis. Right. And, and none of us can. And so we have to hire beautiful, loving people in Memphis and in Detroit and Atlanta, who, who want this in their lives as well.

and then that’s the first thing. So it’s people. You gotta get the right people. And then the second thing is it’s cultivated. So in our town halls, in our emails, in our meetings, we really do try to remind everyone of the beautiful purpose of why we’re here. One of my favorite books is Simon Cenek. Start With Why.

And he just hits the nail on the head with, with, we have to constantly be reminded of why we’re doing things, um, and, and why we’re here. And so I think just starting with why. And so our town halls are literally like a one hour love meeting, like a love fest to make that, you know, sound funny and inappropriate.

But it really is celebrating our team members who have gone above and beyond celebrating our, our patient victories and the data. Celebrating. We had an 87 year old patient get engaged cuz she wasn’t healthy, um, enough to even like leave her home. And then she became healthy enough to be social and then she became healthy enough to like find a fiance and she was just so happy.

And so that’s like a story we told on our Town Hall of Loneliness to Love and just celebrating those because we, we impact so many patients and we have to know and be reminded because our job is very hard, um, in healthcare everywhere. It’s a very hard job. So we have to constantly remember why we’re doing.

Naji Gehchan: So talking about this, that was actually my second question, right? If you work in a highly stressful environment, uh, these days with low staffing, uh, we, we read all over overworked healthcare professionals. Yeah. Uh, h how do you do to keep really love at the heart of what you do and actually support, support this mission?

Stephanie Chen: You know, I wish I could say we did it perfectly. I’m constantly striving to figure out how to do it better. Um, that’s like my full-time job because it’s, it’s understaffing triple masking, um, changing protocols, right? The stress is just so very high and it’s always like, do more and do better and do faster and do better quality in healthcare, right?

Like, and so, um, I would say,

Okay. I would say that, um, uh, we, we work on care teams. We say that we are all here to serve our physicians and our nurse practitioners. And so, um, it’s a team that, that really does help encapsulate with returning messages, looking at emails, getting scripts organized. Um, calling the day before and asking our patients, our senior patients, can you bring all the medications you’re on so we can see what you’re taking, what you’re out of.

Um, we really do try to have a one stop shop at ChenMed. I don’t know if you’re familiar with our model, but, um, it’s all encompassing care and we look at all the social determinants of health. We look at if they don’t have the money for their copay and they’re not taking their blood thinner, well, what does that look like for a hospitalization?

Right? and so, hey, how can we get that copay in a payment plan for you, even if it’s only five or $10? How can we help you pay just 50 cents or a dollar today so that you don’t stop taking an important medication? We make sure they have Uber health and and rides. , they’re specialists, and if their doctor, daughter, or son or brother or sister can’t take them to a specialist, we make sure they get there no matter what.

And so we really do try to have this care team that comes around, the physicians and the nurses and the staff to make sure that that load is, is. Co-labor and that the burden is carried together with others. We really do believe that it’s gotta be a team. It’s gotta be kind of like, I don’t know. Um, we have a strong Christian faith and so a lot of my analogies are from the Bible, but there’s this chord of three St.

Strands cannot easily be broken. And so it’s like, I think burnout comes when a physician feels alone. I think burnout comes when a nurse feels alone and that they have to carry the heavy weight of their panel. By themselves. And at ChenMed that’s not the case. They should be fully supported by our home office staff and by their care team.

Naji Gehchan: I, I’m intrigued since you’re talking about teams. Uh, are you, do you, for example, train your people? Do you have like leadership efficiency work together and what, what are the ones you are focused on since like, one of your values is love and passion so much

Stephanie Chen: training , so much training Naji. Um, we believe in lifelong.

um, at ChenMed. So, um, even our physicians, basically we realized that. In medical school, um, you’re not really totally trained on kind of like, um, the positive no. Or, um, even, uh, degrees of influence. Now, I didn’t go to medical school, and I don’t mean any slight, but I know in four years you’re learning a lot of other things more than kind of like family influence or.

Or, or things like that. And so at ChenMed we have so much physician training around, um, how to influence, how to provide for full care, how to ask different questions to get to the right answer, um, and, and things like that. So they can go through training here at ChenMed that we’ve spec specifically designed for our physicians and, and p c leaders.

Our PCP leadership train is amazing. Um, I was just at a partner’s weekend in Orlando. And, um, it’s just awesome to see people who’ve been employed here 20 years, um, you know, 15 years, 18 years, and just keep getting promoted, promoted, promoted, and so, and now are leading teams and markets and, and, and national, national groups.

Naji Gehchan: I, I would love now to go to a part where I will give you a word and I’d love to, your reaction to it.

Stephanie Chen: I am the most excited and nervous about this. Nudie, I knew you were gonna do this. And I kept thinking, what is he gonna

Naji Gehchan: say? ? So the fir, the first one is

Stephanie Chen: leadership. Okay. Um, oh, I think by example. I think, um, to be a good leader, you have to walk what you talk and the, you gotta be consistent and yeah.

What about health equity? Uh, That breaks my heart is the first thing I think about it, because it feels like a fundamental right, that we should all be the day we’re born. We should have the same chance as everyone else. Um, and, uh, the fact that that’s not the case here in the United States as a developed nation really should break everyone’s heart that what’s that, wakes me up in the morning and keeps me doing my job every day.


Naji Gehchan: uh, I wanna double click on this because this is one of the focus areas that you work on, uh, in Chen. Can you tell us a little bit more what you’ve done and also the data that you’ve been able to deliver?

Stephanie Chen: Sure, sure. So, um, Started in Miami Gardens and um, that’s a, if you don’t know Miami well that’s a, a, a poorer neighborhood in Miami.

A beautiful neighborhood in Miami, but lower income and medically underserved, which means, um, the doctors to people who need doctors ratio is low. Um, there’s not enough doctors in that community and we just happened to start there. My father and mother-in-law had one office. Um, their story is incredible.

They’re, they’re two immigrants from China who came here. Um, went bankrupt in a restaurant business and, um, then they’re very brilliant. My father-in-law, PhD already in Wisconsin, moved to Miami, homeless with two children and, and op and went to medical school in two years cuz as a PhD they had that program and then became a physician in Miami Gardens, um, with these two sons, um, basically without a home.

But, um, the, in Miami Gardens, what he found was that so much of healthcare actually was just care and not even anything to do with medicine. And, and so he found that, you know what I said about missing a co-pay or missing a specialist appointment, or just using the emergency room as their only only form of, of healthcare instead of.

True prevention, right. With colonoscopies and mammograms and, and everything else. And, and blood work and, and staying, you know, staying healthy and diet and, and so, and loneliness and community. So they started this, this one center in Miami Gardens in a medically underserved neighborhood and realized the great need.

And so that became the model. Is, where else can we scale and go where there’s a need for doctors and let’s not move into like the, the county hospital where there’s already, you know, 700 doctors on the elevator list. Let’s go, um, in, into medically underserved neighborhoods and help the communities that need us most.

And so we’ve done that and, um, we’ve grown exponentially, mainly word of mouth. I mean, until very recently we didn’t have a marketing team. Um, you know, we don’t pay for Super Bowl commercials, , um, or anything like that. And so it’s very grassroots, word of mouth. Once one person in a church finds out about us, we end up having like 300 patients from that church and things like that.

And so, um, but really a heart to change the outcomes. And so if you check out our impact report, um, the data is all there, but we have, um, doubled cancer survivor rates in six months, which is just insane. If a drug could do that, I think it would be like multi-billion Naji. And, and ChenMed has done that through.

um, our care model, we see our patients frequently and often, and we have smaller physician panel sizes so that we can know our patients intimately well. Um, and I think that, that, that is kind of back to almost the old and days in our minds in the movies where a physician would come to your home with like the leather bag.

You know? I don’t know if you’re getting that. But, and they would know the brother and the son and the, you know, like the, the horse’s name. And so we don’t have horses. But , the, the thing is like, if you know someone really, really well, you know what’s off for them or what’s low for them or what’s high for them, and so then you can cater your medicine to them.

So that’s, that’s our model in a nutshell. There’s more data on the impact report. I didn’t give you that much, but I wanted you to check it out@chenmed.com.

Naji Gehchan: I will. And, uh, so one that might be related Modern healthcare. Hmm.

Stephanie Chen: Oh, the, well, I’m sorry. Mother

Naji Gehchan: Modern Healthcare. How do you Oh, modern healthcare, I’m sorry.

Reaction for this?

Stephanie Chen: Yes. Um, I think it’s disjointed. Um, and f and fractured, I think, um, you can get a lot of tests done. Um, and because of. I don’t know if it’s various electronic medical record systems or HIPAA or lack of communication, but a lot of, there’s like a lot of tea leaves, but no one reading all of them, if that makes sense.

Like, uh, especially if you have something you’re really trying to get to the bottom of, it can take a long time because of the disjointed and fractured system we have and physicians not speaking to physicians kind of all in a, in a, on a unified team, if that makes. What about spread? I don’t mean, I don’t mean that to sound overly critical.

Naji Gehchan: No, no, no. It’s, it’s your view on the challenges we are facing, which is, which is definitely, uh, data is definitely one of the biggest challenges and how they are interconnected and who owns them, and are we really looking into them for us to make, you know, intentional decisions about our health. Right.

The last one is spread love in organiz.

Stephanie Chen: Uh, um, with how you show up, um, like one human at a time. Uh, I think there’s something wonderful about being, uh, at scale. We’ve certainly grown exponentially at ChenMed, but, uh, the only thing I would say is. , um, you’ve gotta have like a playbook and a strategy around love.

You can’t forget about it. Um, I think people are so quick to make sure the model is scalable and the, and even us sometimes at Chen Med, and how do we figure out how to hire at scale and grow at scale. But you have to figure out how to love at scale and you have to figure out how to, um, uh, always look for a situation where, where everyone can win.

Like a win-win situation that’s part of. Mission statement at ChenMed. And I think, I think that’s loving others. If I’m looking for how you can benefit Naji and then you’re looking for how I can benefit, and then we’re both looking together at how our patients can benefit. That’s how we really spread love.


Naji Gehchan: yeah. Thank you for that. I, I love it. Love at scale. I love this. . Any final word of wisdom, Stephanie? For healthcare leaders specifically around the.

Stephanie Chen: Oh, do what you love. Don’t, don’t defer your life. Don’t have a deferred life plan. There’s kind of like we grow up, at least in America, I don’t know about in France or in Lebanon, but if you eat your peas, you get the pie, right?

Like if you do the hard thing, you get to do the good thing. And I think a lot of people live like, if I work hard now I can do what I love when I retire. And I think that that is a. So don’t buy into that lie. Um, I read that when I was like 18 years old in a book, the Monk in the Riddle, and I just ha, I try to live every day, waking up doing what I love, and there’s so much room in healthcare to do what you love.

You don’t have to switch jobs, you don’t have to retire. You don’t have to become an author. Um, stay a physician, but do what you love in a place that believes in you and, um, is for you and where you can do what you love. In healthcare, don’t leave healthcare to do what you love. You can do it in healthcare at the right spot.

Naji Gehchan: That’s such a great advice and word of wisdom. Uh, for sure. Life is too short to do things we don’t like.

Stephanie Chen: Too short. And what if you never get to retire? Right? Like, what if we we could, we could either of us have something horrible that happens tomorrow, so we gotta do what we love today.

Naji Gehchan: True. So true.

Thank you so much again, Stephanie, for being with me today.

Stephanie Chen: It was such incredible. What an honor and privilege. Have a great day.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast, having the pleasure to be joined by Dr Pravin Chaturvedi a veteran drug developer, serial biotech entrepreneur, and seasoned CEO/CSO, Board member of many life science ventures. Over his 30+ years in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, he has participated and led the drug development teams for multiple drugs across the several therapeutic areas. He has participated in the successful drug approval and commercialization of seven drugs. Pravin serves as the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board and Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) for Napo Pharmaceuticals and Jaguar Health. He is also the cofounder and CEO of IndUS Pharmaceuticals and Oceanyx Pharmaceuticals. He is also the Executive Chairman of Cellanyx and Chair of the Board for Enlivity. He currently and previously served on the boards of several biotech too. Over his career, he has also been a part of multiple national and international strategic partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies as well as governments. Pravin also contributes significant time to teaching and serves as an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown Medical School. He holds a doctoral degree from West Virginia University and has an undergraduate degree in pharmacy from University of Bombay. I could go on and on introducing Pravin but let’s here from him here!

Pravin, it’s such a great pleasure to have you with me.

Pravin Chaturvedi: Thank you, Naji. It’s a pleasure for me to be here. Thank you.

Naji Gehchan: Can you first share with us your personal story and what is in between the line of your incredible journey bringing so much impact in healthcare?

Pravin Chaturvedi: I, a very deep question. Naji, , but, uh, thank you for asking.

I think, uh, from, uh, early days, I’ve always been about, Uh, not, uh, tolerating any oppression of human beings in any form. So, um, illness, uh, medicine was one my way of doing it, but other ways of that is poverty and disenfranchisement and underserved communities. So, over the early days of my life, I was fortunate enough, having been born in Bombay, I had seen both sides of the world, cuz it’s a very large city.

Um, where I could see that, you know, a lot of people do not even have the opportunity to do, um, uh, what they could do, uh, because of the way the systems are set up. So I think, uh, in that regard with my interest in medicine, um, I was fortunate to have. Great mentors through my life, you know, and the first, um, of them was, um, back in the eighties.

Early eighties, and he was a physician pharmacologist, which was what the reason is that I have an interest in pharmacology, uh, because he shaped my thinking about, um, he said something that I will never forget. Back then, I was probably in my high teens and he. Uh, life is really short when you’re happy, and life is really long when you have suffering.

You know, so alleviate that. And so kind of, you know, put me on a path to thinking about this in a way where I could make a difference. And it was not sort of, you know, just giving money here and there for charity, but really making an impact in that regard. So through that journey, I met my second mentor, uh, uh, in West Virginia, who was also a pharmacologist, , and, uh, brilliant man.

And, uh, a very, very authentic person who, uh, basically took me to the next, uh, level where, I had a philosophy that reason is a queen and mistress of all things, and which is normally oriental, people are considered to be fatalistic. And so, uh, his Peter, my mentor, then thought that that was quite oxidental of me, which, uh, basically was a challenge

So we, we had long discussions about it and we started making differences there. So everything comes from reason. And so by reasoning logically, I would start from the patient first, and I would, so, because what you get from the physicians is a perspective of what symptoms are presented. And so the physicians are first doing symptomatic management, but the patient’s journey is far bigger than that, you know, a lot, lot longer.

So I used to talk to the patients and I’d get completely different discussions, you know, uh, from what we were thinking in the ivory towers of academic institu. And so that, that was very telling for me. So that helped me a lot. And then, um, um, by, you know, I was surely going to be an academic na but um, I got plucked because I speak the way I sound right now to you, like a conversationalist.

And so I was giving a talk somewhere. And some executive at large pharma, uh, saw me speak and decided that I was gonna work for her. And that large pharma was called Park Davis at that time. Now it is Pfizer. And so as soon as I graduated, I was bought into New Jersey and thrust into the late stage development programs, uh, because I was trained in epilepsy on the CNS side, but also oncology.

And so from there, um, I, I got this, uh, intoxication , almost addiction for making medicine because it was very, um, satisfying naji to see a drug get approved by the fda. And to go to the pharmacy and see the shelf, the name over there, , even though it was not my name, it was a company’s name. So, so then I came to, uh, Boston.

From there I was recruited to Boston, uh, to early state startups. And then I met my third mentor over there. This third mentor of mine, John, he. Spent his entire career at Lilly, your place, you know, as along with Ray Fuller, pretty much the father of depression. These two gentle, and John and Ray, um, had developed the Hamilton scale and everything.

So he had developed Prozac and Zyprexa and all these drugs. John also pharmacologist. Imagine that . So John and I. We would talk about these chronic illnesses that would afflict human beings because we are living longer. So I come from a place where India, you know, we have more infectious diseases because it’s endemic.

But in us, you know, we were living longer, we were having different illnesses which were cardiometabolic and cancer and cns. And so with him, I learned about that. So got a couple more drugs, but in that journey we had HIV drugs that we were being developed because patients were dying. And that’s when I met this really ill population Naji, uh, who had T-cell counts of two who were unable to even drive by a Dunking donut sign without throwing up.

That’s how sick they were. That’s how grateful nausea they. And so by talking to them and finding out their journey, uh, we developed, uh, HIV drugs and we changed the face of aids, um, obviously as a community, you know, and, um, and so we, being a part of that 30 years ago was another, uh, learning curve for me.

And then, um, I left Vertex, uh, uh, and in 2001 started my first company, cion, which was a neuro company, neuroscience company, iron Channel company focused on neuropathic pain. And I met my fourth mentor there who was a worldwide head of r and d. At Ciba GGI Novartis, their gift is the entire field of kinase inhibitors, you know, uh, two aminos that they had been working on forever.

And so, George, uh, he was a chemist, so the first non pharmacologist mentor, at, uh, so many drugs in George’s, uh, uh, time. So he shaped me thinking about solving complex problem. Of diseases that we could not just apply, you know, because some of the parts is not the whole. And having been fortunate enough to be trained holistically treating the phenotype, I knew not to fall in the DNA RNA protein trap because then people try to add up one plus, one plus one.

One plus one plus one does not equal trillion cells, you know, which is what constitutes a living organism, a living human being. And so, um, tried to work backwards and, and, and George’s gift was, you know, how to analyze what was presented as symptoms and then try to work backwards and get drugs done. So that led me to, uh, starting many companies and I can never come back now, uh, to working for anyone unless there’s a real unmet need, a real patient and a patient who’s going to feel the benefit of what we do.

So that’s sort of a seven minute long answer to your question. Hope that’s. Oh, I, I love

Naji Gehchan: it. Thanks for sharing this, and obviously the impact, as you said, of what we do in, in the biotech pharma where is just massive. I, I feel the same joy when, you know, we work hard on a molecule and then we see it getting to patients hands and then benefiting from it.

I think it, that’s why we wake up every morning.

Pravin Chaturvedi: Yeah, I agree. Absolutely.

Naji Gehchan: You, you built companies, you participated in building, uh, several biotech companies now over the years and managed to bring, uh, to patients seven drugs. Uh, what are your key learnings and advice for those building their biotechs

Pravin Chaturvedi: today?

Yeah. Um, you know, so I, I think my advice is always what I follow, which is I. Um, make sure that we are solving a real problem. Um, so it is not a, you cannot fall in love with the technology or the latest, uh, trend that we read in science or cell or nature. It has to be a real patient that does not have any available therapies or diagnosis.

It can be any. On the entire continuum. It can be anything between diagnostics, treatments, management, doesn’t really matter. So that should be the first, uh, rule that you have to do. That. Second one is, um, um, I do not believe that a single person can solve 6 billion people’s problem. So it should always be

Your thesis has to be pressure tested. With, uh, at least a few people not related to you , so that because they want to please you, it has to be independent people. So if you think that you have an unfair advantage because you have some technology or some breakthrough that is going to make a difference, then you should be able to convince another human being about both the problem and the unfair advantage that you might get.

So that’s the second thing I look for is the unfair advantage. And if you have convinced, uh, one or two other people that that’s the correct unmet need and the unfair advantage, then those two or three people together, not the first person, but all of them together, need to then build the third thing, which is board of advisors and mentors.

Because, um, uh, you cannot know, you cannot predict the future, but you can certainly prepare for it better. If you have wise people to advise here, and the advice has to be related, The fiduciary responsibility of the organization, which is what is correct for that organization rather than this, uh, mechanical thinking about how much money to raise or what partnering to do or which forum to go and present at, or the go to market strategy and all that stuff that people hear about.

That’s not mentorship, that’s just process. Process is not knowledge. So the advisors can do that. And if you get those three, uh, things settled in, then you really have to think about and it. It takes about 40 years realistically to see the true impact of your innovation. And there are three legs to it.

Innovation, translation, commercialization until it’s, so if you’ve just innovat. And not translate it or commercialize. That’s just something, that’s what I call bench to bookshelf research, you know, and I believe in bench to bedside, which means you have to fulfill all three and one cannot do all of it, and one cannot live for 40 years and try to see this many drugs.

So you have to always understand what are value inflection milestones. So what is really going to be a disproportionate increase in value? And so focus on those. So with your advisors and your board members, if you’re lucky enough, you know, some wise investors talk about value inflection milestones, and then really build the budget to those milestones, keeping in mind that you have to have longer budgets as well.

But remember, time is the most precious commodity. It does not come back. So try to hit the short winds. On target, on budget and make the milestones be meaningful in terms of value inflection. So, so that’s what I’ve been able to do with those six points that I just told you. Those are

Naji Gehchan: great advice. I would love to continue on this and more from a leadership standpoint.

You as a leader, uh, have you, what, what are your key learning, uh, from a leadership

Pravin Chaturvedi: stand? Yeah, . So, you know, it’s, it’s a very lonely position. Naji, because, um, um, you’re supposed to do the right things as a leader. Managers do things right. They can, you know, jiggle the process and get it right, but leaders have to set the right vision and, uh, the right, uh, goals.

And so you have to really think about, you know, what are you going to. Um, um, in 10 years, what are you gonna do in five years? What are you gonna do in three years? What are you gonna do in one year? What you gonna do next quarter? So you kind of work backwards from your label, right? So as a leader, you have to always keep that in mind that, um, um, you have to think about what is the right thing to do when you have set that up.

Then the second thing is how are you going to basically, Your colleagues, because you know, all of us, the sun will set on all of us, right? It’s our descendants who will bring it forward, right? So, and our descendants can be our peers, our superiors, our our junior people. It doesn’t really matter. You have to inspire them.

So you have to win their hearts and minds. How do you win people’s hearts and minds is by basically telling them the truth. So you have to be honest, authentic, and truthful. So you should be able to say, you know, um, we are going to do. None of us have a blueprint. There is no roadmap. Uh, and it’s going to be, uh, sort of an expedition.

But, you know, come on the journey with me, right? Because think about the founding fathers of United States. Ji 12 people signed their names and there were death warrants issued on them in 1775, right in the Declaration of Independence here in Boston. And now we have a 19 trillion country from those 12 signatures, and the return on capital invested that time is infinite.

Nobody can calculate, right? Because if you do the right things, the right things will happen. So it has to be timelessness. So the third thing you have to be is remain relevant. So timelessness of your decisions are very important. You cannot make decisions to solve yesterday’s problem. You should make decisions that allow the future, your descendants to be able to solve the problems that therefore they have to encounter that you can’t think about right now.

So you have to give them that wisdom to recognize it. So as a leader, if you can do those three things, then the most important thing against people, cuz you’re inspiring people who are going to basically carry your baton and then, um, and, and if to, in order to do that, communication becomes very important.

You have to speak and, and, and not exchange long emails. Don’t send emails because the written word is harsher than the spoken word, you know, because when I speak, you can see my face, you can see my voice, you can see my hands. And you can see that I really believe in what it is. So when you inspire people and you communicate that, then they understand and they’re not afraid to tell you.

Cuz you can’t terrify them, right? You cannot tell them, don’t tell me any problems, just tell me good news. Right? No, I, I, I always tell them, you know, escalate bad news faster. That’s not a good bottle of wine, bad news. It doesn’t get better with time, it gets worse . So when things are not working, come and tell me, you know, and we’ll solve it together.

Don’t hide it. So those things become, you know, transparency becomes very important. And, and people, authentic people will get people to talk to them and, and they will have great convers. Yeah. Building

Naji Gehchan: the safe space, obviously for, for people to speak up. And when you talked about people, you obviously built teams, scaled companies, joined boards.

Uh, what are the key capabilities or traits that you look when you are hiring or growing a team in a biotech

Pravin Chaturvedi: company? Yeah. Um, it’s a good question. And so really ask them, you know, you know, what is the, uh, what is it that they know, right? Because I think people tell you their skills. Um, but for instance, if you woke me up at three in the morning and say, what is it that I know?

I’ll tell you, I know drug development. I’ll go back to sleep. So the more you know, the more succinct you are. You’re kind of very confident about what you know, and you don’t pretend to be anything else, right? So I want people to have that authenticity about them, that I’m, I’m good at this, you know, I can do this, you know, and, and not say I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I’ve done that.

Activities don’t make up residual intellect, which is what I look for. That’s the first one. Second thing I look for is why are these people really building an enterprise? Are they doing it because of their ego? Is an ex is an expression of their narcissism? You know? Or are they really caring about something?

Is there a significance to why they’re doing it? Because naji all, uh, entrepreneurs and medical scientists are narcissistic. They firmly believe they’re smart kids. They’ve always been top of their class wherever they were, they competitive. And arrogant. And, and, and so that is, and that is a price to pay.

I’m going to inherit those kind of people. So then I want to know the significance, what inspires this person. And if that person cares about someone other than themselves, , uh, then that’s an important character in them. And I will actually partner with them despite their, um, ego in arrogance. So that’s the second thing I look for.

And third thing is motivation. Yeah. You know, uh, 98% of success is from execution. Execution with discipline. And it is very hard to see progress when your nose is so close to the grindstone and, and board members can see that. And this person has to wake up every morning and go do the same thing over and over.

Inspire the people work the people run, and try to raise money, pay bills, , make sure that the rent is paid on time, electricity is not lost, and that that requires a daily grind and that person has to be motivated and a self starter. So I look for those three characters characteristic.

Naji Gehchan: Thanks for sharing, uh, from your broad experience.

And I know this question, uh, you kind of mentioned it in the beginning that you look for problems and how to solve them specific for patients, but I’m gonna try it. Mm. You have such a broad experience in different top science, uh, uh, companies today. Uh, what is for you the next best problem that we’re solving or the next.

You know, think in science that will come up when you’re looking at the biotech field.

Pravin Chaturvedi: Yeah. Um, it’s an excellent question. Naji. It’s unanswerable, honestly, but I think, um, um, there are, there are black swan events that I have experienced, uh, in my life, right? So, um, obviously HIV epidemic, uh, in the nineties was a Black swan event.

Um, unforeseen, unexpected. I didn’t know the first thing about biology. Right. Uh, but I didn’t need to know virology. I knew there were plenty of biological scientists. They were somewhere in the shadows. But with HIV and with retroviruses, um, it was completely antithetical. You know, DNA to RNA is what everybody knows.

RNA to dna, nobody knows, you know, and HIV is a retrovirus, you know? So, uh, so to, to think about it that way, uh, was, um, antithetical for people. So it’s a Black swan event. Um, when we, um, Sort of solve that, uh, epidemic over time. Took us over 25, 30 years to do that. But we did ultimately people became part of the workforce and became almost healthy.

Um, HIV patients today are not as sick as what they were in the eighties and seventies, eighties and nineties. Then, um, September 11th. Uh, and that was a Black Swan event because it changed the world. Um, uh, basically the geopolitical crisis that was created by September 11th, uh, created this whole infrastructure change and, and we got exposed to, um, everything from military.

Uh, department of Defense initiatives to what was, what was troubling the Middle East or what was troubling Africa, because now all of a sudden this coalition had gone to Afghanistan and, and done that. Uh, and, and, and it was all well and good from a military standpoint, but it changed the world forever.

So that was a Black Swan event. Um, the subprime mortgage crisis was the third Black swan event. Because basically wiped out 60% of the world’s economy, from that crisis, and everybody kind of went into, um, abject poverty. And illness and malnutrition. So then you, you did that. Natural disasters happen every year anyway, earthquakes and floods and everything, so you’re dealing with that as well.

And then the fourth one that I have witnessed in my life is covid And, uh, covid came unforeseen and, uh, without firing a single bullet changed the world forever. And so, um, uh, the pandemics, uh, naji are happening faster now than they used to in the previous century. And that’s because of globalization.

Bad luck, , that you get in contact and you travel more and more crowded because the population of the earth has grown, you know, to 6 billion. So I think we are living longer, but we are living more crowded, less resources. Climate change. All of these are having an effect on us, any, any living cell. So adaptive response.

So I’m not going to say that there is a technology today that’s gonna solve every problem tomorrow. So when I, you know, CRISPR came out in 93, gene editing became the, uh, flavor of the month. I’m completely unprecedented by that because that does not mean anything. Because by the time you edit the gene and put that back in to translate to a protein, the species has evolved or become extinct,

So you’ve gotta solve real problems in real. And not sell hope. And so one has to remember, hope is not a strategy, you know, to solve problems, you know? Yes. And people who sell hope are basically just interested in being narcissistic and talk on media circuits. We have to solve real problems. If there’s a chole outbreak in Haiti, we gotta really contain that.

Or if there’s a viral crisis, Ebola crisis in West Africa, we gotta solve that. So I don’t, um, somehow problems emerge. I don’t go looking for them. But when they emerge and they come in my, uh, eye line and I feel like we should do something about it, then I will collect a group of people who know more about it and then, and try to listen to them and say, what can we do about it?

And then try to influence everything. So policy influence is very important. Science alone cannot solve the problem policy and the market conditions have to be solved. So then you have to bring all those people into the equation. So that’s how I.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, I’m, I’m with you. We, you know, so many times we hear that we wanna do things, but actually do not act and just fix the problem.

So this getting things done, I’m feeling is one of the toughest things, unfortunately, in, in today’s where a lot of people wanna do things, but actually those who really take a problem and fix it, or a few. I, I will go into giving you a word now and I would love your reaction to it. Uh, The first word is leadership.


Pravin Chaturvedi: decisions.

What about impact value,

PowerPoint. Useless

Naji Gehchan: I manage the bet for you to speak more than three minutes. , can you tell us more? Can you tell us more about your philosophy on PowerPoint? I think

Pravin Chaturvedi: many will benefit from it. Well, I think, uh, I think PowerPoints are visual aids, right? So, uh, people use them as a way to, uh, create a, um, um, a monolog. Because, uh, you know, it’s like watching television or watching these, um, um, um, what do they call binge watching all these shows on Netflix.

You know, you get transfixed to the, uh, stimulus to your eye and your brain, and you basically are no longer thinking you suspend everything else. So what PowerPoints are meant to be is, you know, I have a 10, 20, 30 rule for PowerPoint. So if you work with me Naji, it’s 10 slides, 20 minutes, and 30 point font.

So not six point fonts with 9,900 words in a slide. You know, cannot have more than 10 slides. If you cannot speak to me in 20 minutes. What you want to talk about should be usually two minutes. But if you can do it in 20 minutes with 10 slides, with 30 point font, I will listen. But as soon as somebody comes in and there are so many words on the PowerPoints line, I stop reading and I basically either leave the room and get a cup of coffee.

Or I just go outside, you know? So that’s my philosophy on PowerPoint .

Naji Gehchan: What about spread love in organizations?

Pravin Chaturvedi: Well, I, I am fascinated by what you, uh, the preamble that you gave, uh, I think it’s a very interesting, um, um, way to present. Um, in our industry, which is a technical industry. Correct. So, so the way you have decided to spread love and you are making your point that we learn from each other, that human beings learn from each other and we grow and grow together.

Um, which is, you know, is my philosophy about mentorship. Right? That’s why I’m so grateful to my mentors. I’ve been lucky to. Many, obviously my parents and my friends and new friends, uh, such as you, Naji, you know, they’re all become my mentors because we learn from everyone, including our children. And so I, I feel like the way you, your thesis of, uh, spread love.

I, I loved it. Thank you for including me. Oh, thank you. It’s such,

Naji Gehchan: it’s such an honor Pravin hearing you say this and, and I know you’re passionate about it. I remember the first time we met you made sure that everyone connects humanly with others. Yes. And, and this is, I think you’re genuinely caring about people just talking to one another

Pravin Chaturvedi: for us to grow.

I think otherwise we would, you know, we can cannot, we live in isolations and we, we, we, we do not solve anything. Cause you know, it becomes an echo chamber if you only hear yourself all the time and there is no dialogue in it. You know, cuz the purpose of a talk and education for that matter, maji, is to provoke a response.

And so when I give a talk, I expect two responses. I expect you to either hate what I. Or love what I say, the people that I get upset by are the ones who are apathetic to it, who basically don’t listen, have no reaction to it. That bothers me a lot because that means that I did not influence them. I would, I would provoke an anger in you.

I would’ve influenced you because my purpose may well have been to annoy, you know, in my talk. You know? So I think that’s the purpose of human interaction. We get better when we actually provoke a reaction, you know?

Naji Gehchan: Any final words of wisdom, uh, Pravin to healthcare leaders around the world?

Pravin Chaturvedi: Um, they should always remember that they have to be mission oriented and the mission has to be about patient impact.

Unfortunately, our world has become, we have replaced the word impact with seven letter word called impress, and they try to impress you with wealth and their balance sheets and, and when you are a healthcare leader. Take that position with great responsibility because the patients rely on you to basically help them get better.

And a healthy society is a productive society. And just if 10 people have wealth, but 90 people are sick, that’s not a society that is going to be productive. So healthcare leadership take. Responsibility very, very seriously. Otherwise, they should not be healthcare leaders. They should be investment bankers, or they can be involved street, but they should not be running healthcare, biotech, leadership organizations, that is not their role.

And biotech companies should always be led by scientists, medical physician scientists, biological scientists, because it is a scientific game. And that has to, that’s the unfair advantage you have to bring the unfair advantages of people. Intellectual property is not a patent, it’s the people, you know. So that’s my advice to them.

Thank you

Naji Gehchan: so much. It’s such a crucial advice for us as healthcare leaders to make sure that it’s patient, as you said first, and being oriented to this, uh, to this mission, uh, and impact we bring to the world. It’s such a noble and responsible, um, purpose that we have.

Pravin Chaturvedi: Thank you, Naji.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much for being with me today.

Pravin Chaturvedi: a pleasure. Likewise. Thank you for inviting me.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.


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 for this podcast, having the pleasure to be joined by Basima Tewfik Career Development Professor and Assistant Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan. Basima main stream of research examines the psychology of the social self at work. In particular, she seeks to define new conversations around two underexplored phenomena in the organizational literature that implicate the social self: Workplace impostor thoughts (popularly known as impostor syndrome), and request-declining at work. In a secondary stream of work, she examines effective employee and workgroup functioning in the modern workplace, an increasingly important topic given the rising complexity of work. Basima’s work has received several recognitions and she was named by Poets & Quants as a “40 Under 40” Best Business School Professor in 2021 and by Thinkers50 as one of 30 thinkers to watch in 2022. Prior to her graduate studies, Basima worked in consulting.

Basima – It is such an honor you with me today!

Basima Tewfik: Thank you so much for having me, Naji. It’s great to be.

Naji Gehchan: I’d love first to hear your personal story from psychology to consulting and now being a professor, a thinker on work and organization studies. What, what’s in between the line of your incredible journey?

Basima Tewfik: Yeah, that’s a great question. Uh, so, uh, it looks a lot more linear than it actually is. Uh, so this started back when I was an undergraduate. I started doing some research with a professor of psychology who was also affiliated with the business school. His name was Richard Hackman. He’s a big sort of person in leadership and teams research.

While I was doing that as an undergraduate, I really, really enjoyed it, but I sort of looked around my peers and a lot of peers were going into finance or consulting, and so I naturally said, obviously that’s what I’m going to do too. So I ended up going into consulting. But it was really when I was in consulting that sort of, the idea of going back to school and potentially being a professor really came to light.

Um, and this was in part because I realized as I was going to client sites, uh, that I was much more interested in examining the dynamics. Of my own teams when we were at different, different states, um, and different countries, then I was actually helping the clients. Um, and so that indicated to me that I probably should be focusing my efforts on understanding workplace dynamics.

And so I ended up reaching back out to my undergraduate advisor, um, who was nice enough to write me a recommendation letter. And that sort of, uh, catapulted my journey back into Accu.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. So let’s dig into your research. What your thoughts or what’s known imposter syndrome. Uh, big topic, rarely discussed, I would say, but big topic in many of our minds.

Can you first help us maybe define it and why you talk about thoughts versus syndrome and your, your ideas around it.

Basima Tewfik: Yeah, let’s, let’s jump right into it. Uh, so the idea of studying this phenomenon came to me very early, uh, in my PhD exactly for the reason that you mentioned, which is this is something that we often hear about.

Maybe people aren’t actually necessarily sort of telling their supervisors or their, their subordinates that they’re experiencing this phenomenon. But it’s definitely something that many, many people think or feel. So I think statistics show that maybe up to 70% of people tend to have what I call workplace imposter thoughts.

Um, so what do I mean when I say workplace imposter thoughts? I basically mean that it captures the belief that others overestimate your talent or abilities at work. So specifically a sample sort of statement to really bring that to light, to make it concrete is this idea that I think other people think I’m smarter than I think I.

And as a result, this could lead to a number of emotions or thoughts or a sense of belonging, but really it’s about this discrepancy that I think people maybe think I’m a 10 when it comes to, uh, how competent I am at work. And it’s not necessarily that I think I’m bad at work, so it’s not like I think I’m a three, but maybe, I think I’m like an eight.

And so there’s this positive discrepancy where I think people are overestimating me. The reason I use the term thoughts and not syndrome. Or, or even phenomenon, uh, was actually something that was carefully thought through. So if you look at the academic literature, um, this was first introduced in 1978.

Uh, interestingly in that literature, they always refer to it as imposter phenomenon. But if you Google, um, you’re gonna see that the popular term is imposter syndrome. And syndrome implies that sort of, this is a medical diagnosis. Uh, you have a healthcare background, . Um, and one of the big things about this is it’s not a syndrome.

It’s not a medical diagnosis. This is not something that people always have. Um, and so it really became clear to me that we have to be much more precise with the terminology if we’re going to start a new conversation around this phenomenon. Hence my term of workplace imposter.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And I love how you framed it.

Uh, you know, and another thing, I obviously definitely have imposter thoughts, and frequent ones. And I’m always surprised we talked about it even within my team a couple of weeks ago, and many have it actually, and sometimes we don’t say it even in, and even more in technical jobs I feed, sometimes it can become a thing and people don’t really talk about it.

Um, you know, another, another sentence I’m sure you heard a lot is this fact. One day they’ll figure out, you know, that I’m the impostor and why they, you know, I’ll, I’ll, they will know. Uh, so I’m, I’m interested a little bit more from your research. You know, is it a bad thing? Is it a bad thing of having those thoughts?

Like how, how do you deal with it and what have you, uh, seen in the, the research you’ve done?

Basima Tewfik: Yeah, so, so the general sort of consensus or prevailing wisdom, I would say is that it’s a bad thing, and that’s really not surprising, right? So even if you think about the term imposter that conjures imagery of, you know, a bad, a person who’s trying to fake it or something like that, right?

So it has negative connotations. Um, and so most of the research, most most practitioners suggest that it’s a bad thing. Um, You know, there is some sort of research to support that in the sense that people who have these thoughts generally might have more anxiety or lower self-esteem. So there tends to be these correlations, right, with negative wellbeing outcomes.

Um, but my interest in the phenomenon actually came from the fact that most people who report having these thoughts or, or let’s say a lot of people who report having these thoughts are actually high. When we hear about this phenomenon, we hear about it happening in C-suites of top companies. Um, Albert Einstein is someone who’s claimed to have had these thoughts and, you know, he is synonymous with the word genius.

And so this sort of indicates, hey, maybe we don’t have a full perspective or a holistic picture of what this phenomenon is. And that’s sort of what kicked off my whole interest, uh, in trying to create this more holistic picture.

Naji Gehchan: So can you tell us more about it? Because you’ve done very serious randomized research, so obviously I’m in healthcare.

When I saw your research I was like, oh, like this is serious. So I’d love to hear more what, what, what was the outcome and the methodology of what you’ve done.

Basima Tewfik: Yeah. So let’s talk about, um, maybe one of my most recent papers that looks at how workplace imposter thoughts relates to the important workplace outcome of interpersonal effectiveness, um, while keeping sort of job performance in mind, right?

Because obviously we wanna make sure that there’s no downsides for competence related outcomes. So a lot of my research, just as at a high level, combines correlational studies in the field. So I actually go into organizations to try and find associations between imposter thoughts and outcomes of interest.

Um, and then I tend to pair these with causal experiments so that I can get at exactly what you were talking about earlier, which is this idea of making sure that you know it’s specifically imposter thoughts. It’s actually leading to the outcomes that I’m hypothe. So for one of my papers, I was really interested, uh, in trying to understand if and why, um, people with more imposter thoughts are actually gonna be rated as more interpersonally effective.

So I ran four studies. The first study was actually in a finance firm, and that was sort of a, you know, a simple test of this idea, right? Would I find people who have more imposter thoughts? Would, would I find that their supervisors would rate them as more interpersonally effective? And what was super interesting is at time one I had.

Finance employees rate their imposter thoughts using a measure that I created and then two months later I had their supervisors rate them on how interpersonally effective they were. I also had them rate their, their employees on how well they were doing at their job, right? Because we wanna make sure that this interpersonal effectiveness benefit doesn’t necessarily come at the cost of compete.

And so what I found there was, was really promising. So I found this really robust, significant positive effect between having imposter thoughts at time one and other people seeing us smart, interpersonally effective. And so this led me into a second study. Um, and this study I was, I was really excited about it because it was actually at a patient simulation.

So specifically I partnered with a medical school and they have these simulation centers where their physician trainees actually interact with actors who are stimulating as if they have a particular illness. Um, and they often video record these interactions. And what’s really, really cool about these, uh, interactions is they’re, they’re standardized.

So what I mean by that is all of these patients have gone through a training, they’re all making sure that they’re interacting with physicians in the exact same. And so it was this nice hybrid of, you know, very organizational in the field with a little bit more control over what was going on. And there, what I found is those physician trainees who said that they experienced imposter thoughts more frequently.

Actually ended up interacting with patients quite well. So specifically patients gave them higher interpersonal effectiveness ratings. So specifically they said things like, oh, I really felt that the physician was empathizing with me. I really thought they were listening. Well, I really thought they were sort of answering my questions Well.

Um, but what was also really cool is the fact that these were video recorded because it allowed me to see what exactly was going on. How were these patients suddenly deciding that the physicians with more frequent imposter thoughts were actually these more interpersonally skilled physicians. And so I ended up recruiting several coders and we watched, uh, these videos, which was approximately 5,000 minutes of video, where we would stop the video every minute to see what was going on.

Um, and basically what we found is those physicians who had more frequent imposter thoughts, Were also those physicians who noded a lot more. Uh, they sort of practiced more active listening skills. Um, they had better eye contact. They had a more sort of considerate tone as compared to those physicians with less frequent imposter thoughts.

And as a result, that was leading to, uh, higher ratings of interpersonal effectiveness. And they weren’t getting the diagnosis in. So we also wanted to make sure, okay, maybe these physicians are really interpersonally effective, but they’re really bad doctors. Like maybe you don’t want them cause they’re not actually gonna diagnose you.

And we didn’t find that to be the case. And then I followed up those two studies with some experiments to actually get at causality where I actually manipulated some people to have imposter thoughts and then looked at how other focus they were. Um, and then whether that explained essentially how interpersonally affected, and I found that to be.

Naji Gehchan: That, that’s great. So to to my question, is it a bad thing now that you’ve looked at this, you’ve seen the interpersonal, uh, effectiveness coming out? Like how, how, how do, would you answer this question? Should I be reassured?

Basima Tewfik: Yeah, so this is a great question because it gets at this idea, okay, what are the implications?

What are the takeaways here? And I actually think we have to be really subtle and precise with what the takeaway should be. So one thing I want to emphasize right off the bat is, although I didn’t find that, you know, in the finance sample, they ended up performing worse, or in the doctor sample, they ended up getting in correct diagnoses.

I wanna make sure that we’re not over. Um, so reading into non findings, right, it’s a non-significant finding. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always gonna be non-significant. Um, so for me it means a couple things. It means as a manager, um, you know, if I have an employee who has imposter thoughts, Um, you know, I want to assess the employee in its in their entirety.

So what I mean by that is I wanna think about three sets of outcomes. I wanna think about my employees wellbeing outcomes. I wanna think about their confidence outcomes, and I wanna think about their interpersonal outcomes. And so if my employee is in a setting, like the ones that I studied, so there were opportunities for interpersonal interaction.

Maybe their, you know, performance is a little bit more subjective, then maybe I might say, Hey, the takeaway shouldn’t be, get rid of your imposter thoughts. Cause actually, if you get rid of your imposter thoughts, maybe you won’t have this interpersonal benefit and it doesn’t necessarily hurt you from a competence perspective.

That being said, there’s the elephant in the room about wellbeing. Imposter thoughts still don’t make you feel really great when you have it. Um, and so this means to me of, okay, so let’s imagine a different employee, maybe an employee who’s working remotely and doesn’t interact a lot with other people.

Then we might wanna consider for that employee that maybe they, they should get rid of their imposter thoughts. Because for them there’s no way for them to get the interpersonal benefit. They’re probably gonna get the wellbeing, cost, and competence right now is a wash. It’s not necessarily gonna be good for your competence.

Um, and so what I’m hoping is that people have a lot more of a sort of tailored approach to managing this phenomenon. Now if we think about it from the perspective of the employee themselves, um, what I hope this research does is sort of indicates to those individuals who are experiencing the, these imposter thoughts that maybe they’re not so bad.

Maybe we can reappraise our thoughts so that we sort of downplay the negative emotions that comes with them so that we can focus on sort of the upsides that may also accompany.

Naji Gehchan: I love it. This is really super helpful tips and kind of situational, right, like situational managerial, uh, depending on, on people.

And I love how you framed also the wellbeing. It’s really a very important point in this hybrid virtual word. Um, that’s, that’s really super helpful. Uh, you know, one, one thing that keeps coming to mind, um, and you kind of mentioned it a little bit, uh, is those imposter thoughts. If, if we have this overachiever.

Someone who really is doing good and he wants to overachieve, are these imposter thoughts actually driving people to be at their best sometime. And my other kind of related question is, is it also kind of related or. Putting me a check from a humidity standpoint, like, did, did you look at kind of humidity?

And also, if we combine this with overachieving, then it’s really good because people are gonna keep on trying to be better on what they think. They’re not as good as they should be.

Basima Tewfik: Yeah. Nearly. It’s almost like you have a, a magnifying glass into my current research pipeline. . Um, so. Talk about your first, uh, statement, which is sort of connecting this phenomenon of imposter thoughts to ever, um, like do you work harder?

Uh, so what’s really interesting in the literature is there seems to be mixed intuitions about when people with imposter thoughts work harder or when they sort of procrastinate and withdraw. Um, one of my current projects is trying to understand under what conditions, so thinking about sort of job characteristics.

So, you know, do you have a lot of a high workload? Do you have a really complex job? Is it maybe when your role is particularly salient that would necessarily explain when you suddenly do well versus when you suddenly do not do well? Um, from an effort standpoint, I think it’s an open question. I think it’s a.

Uh, you know, a ripe, fertile ground to explore. Um, I’d love to tell you in about two months what the answer is. Um, but in general, my intuition is that people with imposter thoughts do, uh, exert a lot of effort. Now, the bigger question though, is again, with, with sort of painting this more holistic picture, it’s always really important to think at what costs right as and to ask that question.

And so if I’m telling you, Hey, my intuition is that people with imposter thoughts might work really hard, well, one question you may have is, well, does that lead to burnout? Um, some of my preliminary evidence suggests that the increased effort doesn’t necessarily lead to more burnout. But, um, there are always usually positive correlations between people who have imposter thoughts and their report of burnout.

Part of this might be due to halo effects, so if I’m someone who thinks or I have imposter thoughts, so I report, I have imposter thoughts, I’m probably much more likely to report also negative outcomes. I might be more likely to report that I’m also anxious, I might be more likely to report that I’m also exhausted at.

And so that’s why causal experiments are really important to start to tease, uh, these sort of concepts apart. Which also relates to your part two of your question. So you asked about the relationship between humility and imposter thoughts. Um, and this is, this is a fantastic question. So my paper is one of the sort of first papers, particularly in our top organizational journals, to really reco conceptualize this phenomenon.

And as part of that exercise, you really have to go through a, a sort of, um, a whole rigamarole, a very good rigorous rigamarole to start to say is imposter thoughts. This is it, this is it. This, to make sure that you’re not adding a construct that’s redundant with what we already know. So one that often comes up is this idea of humil.

So is our people who say, oh, I think other people think I’m smarter than I think I am. Are they just humble people? Um, so to this, I actually turned to Owens’s work. Uh, he is someone who studies humility in the organizational space. Um, and what’s really interesting about humility is it’s. A construct that captures much more than this idea of discrepancy between what other people think of me and what I think of myself.

So typically humility is wrapped up with things like, you know, your limits. So you sort of know your weaknesses and your strengths, and so you’re able to sort of make those assessments. Um, and so I do think that there’s probably a correlation between being humble and people have imposter thoughts, uh, but I do think they’re distinct things.

This also leads to another thing that that often comes up. So I mentioned to you at the beginning that 70% of people tend to experience these thoughts. So one question I often get is, well, who are the 30%? Um, I usually don’t like answering that question because the 30%. Uh, could be a number of different, uh, different types of people.

Um, so some might be people who are not particularly reflective. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just people who aren’t necessarily thinking about what other people think of them. Um, and to them, I’m very proud of them and hope that they maintain that sense of self. Um, it could also be people who are over competent, confident, so people who are over competent.

Have the opposite problem. They’re, they’re, they’re not particularly humble. They think that they are better maybe than their actual performance or better, uh, than they think other people think they’re, and very

Naji Gehchan: quick question before we go into another subject. Uh, any differences in gender and cultural differences with imposter thought?

Basima Tewfik: Yes. Um, so the gendered question often comes up. So one of the big things around this phenomenon is that women tend to experience this more than men. What’s really interesting is that in my own data and also in a systematic review by, um, Dr. Bravada, that’s actually not the case. Um, so there are actually a number of studies to suggest that this is not necessarily more prevalent for one gender over another.

Um, it’s not necessarily more prevalent for one race over another. And so what I’m hoping is that we start to move the conversation from who’s experiencing this is one particular gender, experiencing this more to under what conditions might people of different genders maybe respond to these thoughts in different ways?

Um, so it’s definitely where I think the field is moving, but we’re still in the process of trying to dispel some myths that are, that are very popular. Right? Yeah. Which takes a lot of time to essentially bring them down. Um, from a culture perspective, it’s a really interesting question. This is something I want to explore further.

Um, there’s a couple things I can say. So, for example, if you look up this phenomenon on like Google Trends and you sort of map out who’s searching for this phenomenon, it tends to be primarily Western. So you tend to see the search, the searches happening in Western Europe, Canada, United States. Does this mean it’s not happening, uh, in other parts of the world?

Maybe. Um, I, I think that’s definitely something to explore. I definitely think it’s still happening, but what might be going on is people might refer it or see it in different ways, uh, potentially healthier ways, right? Maybe they’re not searching this concept because they actually think this is part of life, and so they’re not trying to figure out, how do I get over my imposter syndrome?

Thanks. Thanks

Naji Gehchan: for those. I, I’d love to go now to another feed you explore, which is effective employees and work group functioning, uh, especially in this new word that we are living in. Uh, and I’m gonna be very specific asking for maybe one or two advices that you would, uh, give us as leaders to ensure effectiveness and teamwork in our

Basima Tewfik: organiz.

Yeah, I think that the biggest thing for me, it’s probably just one, um, and actually very basic, but it’s really listening. Um, so part of, part of actually what I love about your podcast is this idea of spreading love and, and sort of paying attention to those in your environment. I think at the end of the day, work is about relat.

To the extent that you can sort of approach everything at work as relational relationship building, um, the better off you are. So for example, at Sloane, I teach a negotiations class to MBAs. And the biggest thing, and what I say on day one is that negotiations is about relationships. It’s not about winning.

It’s not about losing. I make a joke in Class six about how you can use everything that we’re teaching in this class to apply to romantic relationships at home. Um, because essentially it’s, it’s all the same. So I really want people to think about relationships and prioritize that because the rest will follow.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And, and it’s, it’s so true. And sometimes it’s tough for people to accept it, right? Like the more technical you are, the toughest it is to like, no, like, we don’t need to build relationship. We know exactly what you wanna do, right? So I, I love this advice. Um, I, I would love now to give you words and get your reaction to it.

Basima Tewfik: Okay. That sounds fun. I, I grateful to see these words or two,


Naji Gehchan: words. So the first word is leader.

Complicated. Oh, it’s the first time I get this reaction. Tell me

Basima Tewfik: more. Uh, so I think, uh, to be a really good leader, you probably don’t actually want to be a leader. So there’s some great research, um, that was done at dissertation work by a professor named Danielle Tess, um, on this idea of reluctant leaders.

And it’s really something that’s really resonated with me, which is I think the best leaders are often those who are most reluctant to take the mantle.

What about

Naji Gehchan: request decline?

Basima Tewfik: Can I use three words in response or does it have to be a one word reaction to reflect?

Naji Gehchan: No. Yeah. No. You can, you can, you can talk about it a little bit more. I was so intrigued with this research, so you can talk more .

Basima Tewfik: Uh, I would say my reaction to the phenomenon of request declining is it should be more prevalent.

So request declining is the idea. That you should say no to more requests that are on your plate. And the reason that I study this phenomenon is that a disproportionate amount of helping at work is actually done by a a few number of people. And so if they’re really going to be effective in giving help, they need to be able to prioritize among the requests that they have.

And so, and I think it’s really important that, and we should be more willing to say,

Naji Gehchan: This is definitely a big phenomena we, we all see. Right? Especially if you combine overachieving with people delivering. Uh, yeah. So one of the things, um, I stopped prioritizing, I don’t know if you agree with me on this. I stopped prioritizing and I started to make choices. Like I, I really push my, you know, my teams that make a choice that if you’re doing this, then you’re not doing something else.

Basima Tewfik: I, I think that sounds great. I think that’s, uh, if you can get there, I think that’s a bold, bold new frontier that more people should move into.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you. I’m trying. I’ll let you know. . Yeah, I

Basima Tewfik: was like, report back .

Naji Gehchan: What about social self?

Basima Tewfik: Uh, I think it’s under prioritized. Um, and it’s the same reason for what I was telling you earlier, that I think relationship building is really important.

I think when we think of the self, uh, we tend to think of, especially the self at work, we tend to really think about, you know, how smart we are, how well we’re doing our talks. Um, and we tend to downplay how we’re interacting with others or, um, what our relationships are like.

Naji Gehchan: The final one is Fred Love and organizations.

Basima Tewfik: I, so when I heard about this, uh, I think, uh, there would be a late professor, her name is Al Bar, who would be absolutely thrilled to hear that you’re doing this, um, this podcast she has, she passed away last year. She was fantastic. She’s at Wharton. Um, she has a paper on companion love in organiz.

So one of the big ideas that she’s left in the field, um, is sort of this idea that we need to have more love at work, um, and love, not romantic love, companion love this idea of affection and caring for others, um, and showing that that leads to really positive downstream outcomes at work. Uh, thank you so

Naji Gehchan: much for, for sharing this and honoring all her work.

Any final word of wisdom, uh, Basma for us leaders around the.

Basima Tewfik: I think it is, um, continued to aspire even if it is complicated. So I think being a leader, going back to what I said earlier, it’s a hard job. Uh, it’s not for the faint of heart. Um, and it’s a continuous learning process. So adopting a growth mindset as you sit in that position, uh, can be incredibly helpful, especially given the impact that you have on so many.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much. It was really an honor and a pleasure to talk to you and learn more, uh, about your research and all that you’ve done. Thanks so much for being with me today.

Basima Tewfik: Thank you so much for having me.

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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