A conversation with Kathy Giusti

Kathy Giusti is the founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foun-dation (MMRF) and the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium (MMRC) and currently serves on the MMRF board of directors. She is also a multiple myeloma patient, having lived with this rare and uniformly fatal blood cancer for 20 years. As a patient-focused business leader in the healthcare sector, Giusti has led the MMRF in transforming the cancer research landscape with the MMRF Precision Medicine Model—a unique system fueled by innovation, collaboration and open-access principles. In recognition of her leadership, Giusti was honored as the HBA’s Woman of the Year in 1998. Giusti also was previously named to Fortune’s “50 World’s Greatest Leaders” list, one of Time’s “100 Most Infuential People in the World,” and to the PharmaVOICE 100.

 

What does it mean to you to be identifed as one of the world’s most influential people?

Giusti: I’m humbled to be listed among incredible world leaders. The greatest thing about honors such as these are that they bring attention to everything the MMRF has done and is doing to advance groundbreaking cancer research to help extend and save lives. I’m honored to accept these recogni- tions on behalf of the entire MMRF team and the myeloma community. As a leader, you are never on your own; there are so many talented and dedicated people working side by side with you.

These honors reflect MMRF’s innovative approaches, especially those in precision medicine and the fact that we’re often the firrst group to be working to break down obstacles and apply business solutions to cancer research—whether it’s tissue banking or genomics or clinical networks. As a result, many other groups have been able to follow our lead. So, we’ve had a broader impact than even I realize.

To achieve the success that MMRF has had so far requires strong leadership. How would you describe your leadership style?

Giusti: I work hard to apply a visionary approach to my leadership. Because of my business experience and training and also that I am a patient who has lived through the challenges a cancer diagnosis presents, I’m able to see the healthcare landscape in a unique way. I understand the challenges the industry faces, and can also see quickly the amazing trends that are happening at any one time. This vision allows the MMRF to ensure that we maximize these opportunities. In particular, I focus on applying best business practices and solutions because, while new technologies and science continue to emerge daily, it’s business acumen that brings all the elements together.

The other great strength we have at the MMRF is our executive team, which is really diverse and made up of incredibly bright PhDs and MBAs, masters of public health, folks who know the whole clinical research organization side. It’s been terrific for us to be able to tap people with different types of backgrounds to solve problems.

Do you think that vision can be taught or is it part of one’s DNA?

Giusti: I think that some people really have it and are just wired a certain way. I think others have it as well, but their vision has to be brought out from them. The best mentors and leaders can pick up on this and really push these folks to think strategically and in a visionary way. By working with the right people, your vision can really grow and flourish.

What lessons have you learned along the way while you’ve navigated your way to the top?

Giusti: I think my dealing with a fatal cancer actually made me a better leader in three ways. First, because I really thought I only had three years to live, this heightened my ability to take risks. I was much more willing to take risks because I thought I really don’t have much to lose at this point.

The other piece that was heightened for me was to be decisive. I knew I wasn’t always going to get it right, but I didn’t have time to wait.

And the third, was to focus my efforts on working with people who wanted to innovate with me, people who were going to be as aggressive as I was going to be.

I always say to women and men, don’t wait for a crisis or something to happen in your life to take action; trust yourself, have confidence in yourself and just go for it.

And I think if we all followed this advice, it would make us all much stronger.