As part of HBA Boston's Executive Women’s Series, which features C-suite female leaders sharing their personal and professional journeys with other senior leaders, Mary Lynne Hedley, president, chief operating officer and co-founder of TESARO, captivated her audience in a candid and lively fireside chat moderated by Lonnie Moulder, TESARO CEO, co-founder, and long-time collaborator. In a wide-ranging discussion in TESARO’s elegantly decorated Innovation Center, Mary Lynne shared her journey from childhood dreams – of marrying Jacque Cousteau’s son, becoming a Harvard professor, and winning the Nobel Prize – to her adult accomplishments – launching two companies, developing and commercializing a product in five years, and creating a corporate culture that simultaneously puts patients first and helps employees to succeed.
A portrait of a dedicated, compassionate, self-aware leader emerged over the course of the discussion. “I knew nothing before I started my first company -- and it was important to know that I knew nothing. It allowed me to ask for advice and to really listen.”
Her most formative advice and experiences came from unexpected places. As a teen, Mary Lynne worked as a waitress in a diner. A regular customer – a trucker – one day asked Mary Lynne why she acted so meek. “There’s something bigger inside you…” he observed. It struck a chord. The words of the trucker motivated Mary Lynne to be bold and take chances in a way she never before allowed herself to imagine.
Another life turning point came many years later in Nepal. A little-travelled Midwesterner, Mary Lynne had never been further from home than Florida when she decided to trek through Nepal as a graduate student. There she saw abject poverty, destitution and suffering that moved her deeply. This experience awakened her to the realization that she wanted to devote her career to making people’s lives better.
And finally, she was on a squash court when she changed direction from an academic track to an entrepreneurial one. A casual acquaintance – someone she knew only as a squash partner – convinced her that she could have the biggest positive impact on people by starting a company around an invention she shared with two other post-doctoral fellows. Like the trucker, he, too, saw something big in Mary Lynne.
Being open to opportunity, straying from the expected path, and being willing to act bravely, decisively, and confidently – even when you don’t have all of the answers – are some of the leadership nuggets shared by Mary Lynne. “A leader manifests courage, commitment and leadership that people will believe. You need to be real, and connect with people.”
While the journey has certainly been challenging at times, Mary Lynne reveled in the “complete and utter joy of building a company from three people to product approval in five years. We set out to build a company that helped make people better, and that’s what we did.”
What’s next for Mary Lynne? “I’d like to run a marathon, climb Mt. Everest and write a good book,” she replied. When asked about the Nobel Prize she laughed, “that’s a given.”