Our new CEO was kind enough to answer some personal questions to help us get to know her better. Below is a quick Q&A that pulls back the curtain into her personal life a bit.
1. Where were you born and raised? I was born in Baltimore but lived there only 10 days. I was raised in a military family (my father was Special Forces—the first intelligence officer of Delta Force), so we moved frequently. I did my undergraduate work in Washington D.C. (at George Washington University), my doctorate in California (Univ. of California at San Diego), and my fellowship at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in La Jolla, CA. My first faculty appointment was at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, until I was recruited to Philadelphia in 2007 by the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson. I have lived in Philadelphia longer than anywhere in my life, and consider myself a true Philadelphian!
2. What was your favorite college class? Genetics. Probably not a surprise, but I had a transformative professor.
3. What are you looking forward to most once the pandemic is behind us? I’m looking forward to family holidays that include all three generations. It’s been so difficult to quarantine away from our parents.
4. What’s your favorite vacation spot? This is easy—Malta. I am fortunate to have a large family there and we visit the aunties, uncles, and cousins every other year. For me, Malta is my happy place. It is unquestionably beautiful, magically historic, and with a culture that is oriented to compassion, family, and charity.
5. Did you do anything interesting during the pandemic – take up a hobby for example? While I didn’t take up any new hobbies, it was for a good reason. The entire cancer care and cancer research program was appropriately considered “essential”— as such, we were on site and working harder than ever. I remain so proud of the entire Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) team that I had the privilege to lead. I will always remember the heroism of the staff, faculty, students, and providers who ensured that our mission to defeat cancer marched onward without pause. Most critically, our ability to work together as a highly functional, nimble, and mission-oriented team allowed us to react rapidly to the onset of challenges and to ensure the safe continuation of serving our cancer patients. I could not be more thankful for the SKCC team!
6. What is the most important quality of a good leader? I have been positively impacted by so many exceptional leaders during the course of my career, and have continued to refine my own style in leading a cancer research laboratory, a major academic department, a multi-state cancer program, and as president of the Association of American Cancer Institutes. While there are many qualities that I appreciate in leaders, e.g. integrity, transparency, empathy, agility, courage, creativity, self-awareness, perhaps one of the most important from my view is to lead with purpose. It is without question that the American Cancer Society exists because the burden of cancer is unacceptably high, and we believe that we can improve the lives of cancer patients and their families through advocacy, discovery, and patient support. As CEO, it is my hope that all of YOU will hold me accountable to orienting decisions and structures toward this purpose. We are one ACS, with one mission against cancer. All of us are “mission.”
7. When you think of your favorite boss, what quality did you appreciate most? My CEO at Jefferson, Dr. Stephen Klasko, has been a tremendous leader. Jefferson’s significant rise was a direct result of Dr. Klasko’s inspiring vision and ability to lead a 33,000 employee organization to “be bold, think differently, and do the right thing.” His vision was clear, and under his leadership, courage and innovation were highly valued. It is my goal to ensure that at ACS we similarly undertake a “no limits” approach to using advocacy, research, and patient support to improve the lives of cancer patients.
8. Describe the perfect day off from work. A perfect day off work would start with sleeping in until at least 7 a.m., chatting with my husband over a latte, spending the day all together as a family doing something we all enjoy (hiking, skiing, traveling), and capping off the evening by sharing the kitchen with our sons to make a family dinner. We all love to cook, so gathering around the table with something we all prepped together is a true joy!
9. Do you follow sports? If so, what are your favorite teams? Did I mention how much I love Philadelphia? I am an avid Phillies, Eagles, and 76ers fan, and as of late have also been following the Flyers. We have an incredible sports town, and no, no one has actually thrown a snowball at Santa since the 1960’s. I’m part of the effort to try and improve the Philly sports fan image.
10. What’s your favorite board game to play? I love this question, yet it is impossible to answer. To say that our family is addicted to board games would be an understatement; it’s an almost nightly event. While there are no true favorites, when we are together with the grandparents we turn to Quiddler, Yahtzee, or Tripoley. Our sons gravitate toward strategy games you might not have heard of but that we all really enjoy—7 Wonders, Ethnos, Splendor. We had to stop playing Pictionary because our son Dylan and his girlfriend Carley are unstoppably amazing and no one can beat them; it was frustrating. On holiday, we roll out games that can be packed into small suitcases – one of our favorites is a game from when the kids were small — Wild Vikings. When just the two of us, Brian and I enjoy facing off over Scrabble. In short, in our world there is no day when a board game is a bad idea.
11. What’s one thing we’d always find in your refrigerator? Milk, because you never know when an emergency latte or cappuccino is needed. Also, I just like milk!
12. What’s on your bucket list? I’d like to go back to the Arctic Circle during winter and to see the Northern Lights.
13. What phone app do you use most? Since the sad but true answer are my email and calendar apps, I will say that the third most used is the iBooks app. I do enjoy reading quite a bit, so having a good book handy at all times is an “iPhone must-do.”
14. How do you keep up with the news? So many ways! I still enjoy the newspaper (although I read it electronically), but I listen to NPR during my morning drive, and of course often learn of news first through social media. I hope you will connect with me on Twitter! (Find her on Twitter: @AmerCancerCEO)
15. What’s your favorite type of music? I enjoy all types of music — classical, opera, classic rock, modern rock, blues, world music, etc. We dance around the kitchen quite a lot. True to form, on Saturdays at 5 p.m. ET you will generally find us tuned in to “The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn” on our local college radio station. I would love to be his guest co-host, broadcasting from the relay shack in “Parts Unknown, USA.”
16. What’s the best career advice you ever heard? Do what you love, lead with purpose, and be the leader who sees opportunities to think differently rather than obstacles.
17. Have you achieved a good work-life balance? I think so. While it’s true that I am always “on” and available, I do find ways every day to connect meaningfully with my family, enjoy life, and laugh. I am very fortunate to be part of a loving family.
18. What’s your favorite food? Artichokes. What’s not to love?
19. What’s your favorite type of exercise? While I reluctantly use the treadmill and generally enjoy the Peloton, I much prefer exercise as part of sports or outdoor adventures. Favorites include hiking, skiing, golf, and swimming. I also like to take batting practice or just have a catch in the yard, but it’s hard to find the time these days.
20. Do you have a favorite movie? Another trait we all share in the family is a love of movies. From arthouse to superhero, we indulge and delight in all genres! Philadelphia is a terrific movie town with our own film festival. One thing is for certain—in successfully raising two boys I can say that my knowledge base of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars is exceptionally high. If I had to choose a favorite set of movies, I would probably go with Cold Comfort Farm for the comedy category (also a great book, btw—Stella Gibbons was a genius of comedy); La Vita e Bella in the foreign film category; Spirited Away in the animated category; Inception in the suspense category; and The English Patient or The Godfather in the overall category. I bet you thought I was going to say Rocky, didn’t you?