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“You have cancer.” Those are three words nobody ever wants to hear. Yet, these are the words that inspired Gulden Mesara, a marketing and communications expert, to take on the challenging and rewarding role as chief communications, culture, and experience officer of City of Hope, a 100-year-old-plus research facility based in Los Angeles, which has evolved into one of the most comprehensive cancer centers in the U.S.
“Our culture is one that’s really focused on patient-centricity, service-centricity, compassion and excellence,” Mesara said. “And we’ve transformed tremendously over the past decade. We went from 3,000 employees to 11,000 employees. Our geographic reach across our country has increased. And as we’ve done that, it’s really important that we solidify the culture that we want to embrace and build together. And we want to bridge our legacy to our future. Focusing on our culture in a very intentional way is very important for our organizational mission. I have the privilege of leading that effort for the enterprise. Culture and communications are so intrinsic, because culture impacts communication and communication drives culture and its creation.”
For Mesara, City of Hope’s mission and vision to improve patient care and move science forward also ties into her own personal cancer survival story.
“Cancer is so impactful,” she said. “It touches almost every life unfortunately. And according to the American Cancer Society, 1.9 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022 alone. And cancer is the second most common cause of death after heart disease. To work in an institution where we can transform the future of cancer care and actively focus on that every single day with the best scientific minds in the world is very energizing and it’s also very core to some health challenges that I faced in my family.”
Mesara draws inspiration from growing up in Turkey and from her grandmother, who she jokingly said was the first “healthcare influencer” in her life, even though she was unable to pursue a career in medicine.
“My grandfather was a physician but my grandma wasn’t allowed to go to school after the eighth grade,” Mesara said. “However, she spent a lot of time educating herself reading. And when you went over to my grandma’s house, she would have this little drawer that she would open and she would pull out newspaper clippings with advice about what (to) do for your heart condition or for your skin. Eat an apple, take aspirin, do this, and believe or not, my grandmother was the biggest health influencer in my family. That experience made me realize how much health communications matters and the profound responsibility that we have in reaching people through the stories that we drive.”
In this week’s Woman of the Week episode, Mesara shares how her natural storytelling abilities led her to write not one, but two children’s books based on her executive experience, why her father’s mantra “that anything is possible” empowered her to make bold career moves, and how some bad professional advice turned out to have a rosy ending.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive. In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-in-chief emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Gulden Mesara, chief communications, culture and experience officer, City of Hope.
Taren: Welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Gulden: Hi, Taren. Thank you for having me.
Taren: It is my pleasure. Before we dig into your career journey, can you share what makes City of Hope such a special place?
Gulden: Absolutely. For those of you who may not have heard of City of Hope before, our story actually began over 100 years ago, with two tents in Duarte, which is close to Los Angeles, as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. And over the years, as antibiotics got developed in the 1940s, tuberculosis declined. City of Hope’s focus turned from tuberculosis to cancer and later also to diabetes and HIV/AIDS. And over the years, City of Hope has really transformed itself as one of only 53 national cancer institutes designated comprehensive cancer centers in the US. This is a tremendous designation because it recognizes excellence in treatment, research, and expertise to address the many phases of the disease and all stages. And today, City of Hope is a truly unique enterprise. It has so many different areas of focus; we go from focusing on cancer care with our hospital in Los Angeles and our clinics across California as well as to the new campus that we’re building in Orange County.
But now, with the recent acquisition of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, City of Hope also has locations throughout the US, in Illinois, in Arizona, and in Georgia. And we also have comprehensive research and development sites. Several of the top leading cancer medications in the world were actually developed based on technology at City of Hope. Artificial human insulin was developed based on technology at City of Hope. We also have a graduate school, a school of continuing education, and we also have a very strong ventures arm where we actually partner with other organizations to create businesses. One of them is called AccessHope, where we reach over 100 employers across the US with secondary cancer opinion. It’s a tremendous program. And we’re a non-profit, so philanthropy is also a very strong arm of City of Hope. So it’s a very, very unique institution and one that I’m very proud to work for.
Taren: What a rich legacy. And I love to hear about the more recent developments as well. I can’t imagine how exciting it is to work in a place that is driving such innovation. Does it give you energy?
Gulden: Absolutely. Cancer is so impactful. It touches almost every life unfortunately. And according to the American Cancer Society, 1.9 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the US in 2022 alone. And cancer is the second most common cause of death after heart disease. So to work in an institution where we could transform the future of cancer care and actively focus on that every single day with the best scientific minds in the world. That’s very, very energizing and it’s also very core to some health challenges that I face in my family. So it’s an amazing place to work for and it energizes me. Our mission energizes me every single day.
Taren: So not only does this fit into your professional wheelhouse but it’s also personal for you.
Gulden: Indeed, it’s very personal, Taren. I’m the daughter of a breast cancer survivor. And when my mom had breast cancer, she was diagnosed in Istanbul, Turkey. I wish that City of Hope was the place that my mom had. I had never felt more scared and alone being a caregiver to her at that time. And luckily, my mom survived and she’s now cancer-free and thriving. But had we had access to City of Hope and to the latest research and to the kind of care that we provide at that time, I’m sure that we would have been better supported and I’m sure that she would have had a very different experience going through her journey.
Taren: That’s very interesting. I too am a daughter of a breast cancer survivor. My mom was diagnosed with a rare breast cancer at 82 years old. It was so unusual because most women are diagnosed far earlier in their lives. So I’m glad your mom is thriving. That is fantastic news. So your role as chief communications, culture, and experience officer is a unique one. What does that entail?
Gulden: City of Hope has been renowned for having such a special culture. As I mentioned to you, we’ve been around for over 100 years and our culture is one that’s really focused on patient centricity, service centricity, compassion and excellence. And we’ve transformed tremendously over the past decade. We’ve doubled in size. We went from 3,000 employees to 11,000 employees. Our geographic reach across our country has increased as I mentioned. And as we’ve done that, it’s really important for us that we solidify the culture that we want to continue to embrace and build together.
And we want to also bridge our legacy to our future. So focusing on our culture in a very intentional way is very important for our organizational mission. And I have the privilege of leading that effort for the enterprise. And the fact that culture and communications are so intrinsic, because culture impacts communication and communication drives culture and its creation, I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to work on that across the enterprise. So 11,000 of us can all embrace the same ways of working for our different locations and our patients.
Taren: It’s such a huge job. How do you even go about starting to define the culture? I know it’s already established but you said, you’re building your legacy for the future, which I thought was an interesting statement. How do you go about identifying where that is? Because what got you here isn’t what’s going to get you to that next step. So how do you build those steps out?
Gulden: That’s such a great question. One of the things we talk about at City of Hope a lot is around the three words that start you off on a journey that change your life. And those three words are, you have cancer. When someone hears those three words, their life is forever transformed. And in many places, we’ve heard this from our patients. They say that they go and they feel like their cancer is being treated but they’re not being treated. And for City of Hope, our focus is really on how do we add value to a person’s life when they’re diagnosed with cancer? And how do we make sure that the whole person is treated. And that’s what patient centricity means for us. And so, the culture that I mentioned to you that we built over the past 100 years, it’s really focused on that kind of patient centricity.
When you come to our campus in Los Angeles, there is actually a sign and it says, there’s no profit in curing the body if in the process you destroy the soul. And that is actually our mantra and that’s very core to our mission. And so, the culture that we want to continue to build is one very much around patient centricity and around putting human life and the value of human life at the forefront of how we approach science and how we approach patient care.
Taren: So when we talk about patient care and we talk about patient centricity, it’s become a term that is – it’s often overused. But in your case, it’s really very specific. Can you provide us with some examples of what that means to be patient-centric if you are being treated at City of Hope? What should we expect if I was walking in as a patient?
Gulden: Yeah. The story I’d love to share with you is actually one from our patients. I was at a recent event on our new Orange County facility and we were having our Orange County gala. And one of our former patients, a young lady in her early 40s was a speaker at the event. And she spoke about being diagnosed with breast cancer when she was a young mom in her 30s and not knowing what to do, being incredibly scared and feeling really alone. And she said that she went to a couple of different hospitals and she felt like the doctors that she was talking to were focusing on her cancer but not on her as a whole person. And so, a friend of hers recommended that she come to City of Hope. And when she did, the approach that we take to any patient starts really around genomic testing to really determine that patient’s cancer because cancer is not one disease. It’s really diverse based on the person it’s in given how it might have an impact on that person’s body.
And then based on the genomic testing, we focus on precision medicine which is really around treating that type of cancer that that patient has. And then the third part of our approach is really around supportive care. Everything that goes with the treatment to support the person, their interpersonal relationships in their family, their mindfulness, their diet, their exercise. So when you look at that three-pronged approach, that is really about putting the patient’s life at the center of our approach. And it’s a lot more than just giving them a medication or expecting them to come to our hospital for treatment. It’s really about thinking about all facets of their life and treating the whole person.
Taren: That’s quite lovely. Thank you for sharing that story because I do think that oftentimes especially for women, I hate to say it, it’s about treating the disease and not treating their entire life. Because she was a mother. She could be a wife. She’s also an employee probably. She’s a friend. She’s an aunt, all of those things, and essential to her family. It needs to be taken into consideration.
Gulden: That’s exactly right. And we hear that from our patients all the time and that’s one of the reasons why they choose City of Hope. They refer us to any of their loved ones who might get diagnosed with cancer. And then we have a very strong community where many of our former patients come back to advise other patients or they come back to support our mission through donations and investments in the research and the new sites that we developed which is a wonderful community that keeps growing.
Taren: That’s fantastic. You noted earlier that you have joined an alliance with Cancer Centers of America. What does that add to City of Hope’s heft, if you will, and breadth?
Gulden: It’s been very intentional for City of Hope to expand our reach over the past decade. So over the past I would say 10 years, we first added TGen, the Trans Genomics Institute to the mix and they’re really focused on genomic testing and precision medicine. And most recently, we’ve added Cancer Treatment Centers of America which is made up of three different hospitals in Illinois, Atlanta, and Phoenix to the mix, and that was really intentional. It was part of our strategy to reach more communities across America and to reach more patients because one thing that we realized is that 80 percent of people in this country who have a cancer diagnosis don’t have access to an NCI designated cancer center either because of their insurance or because of the geography that’s they’re in. And we realized that we can do more to reach more communities and one of them is to be able to increase our geographic footprint. And that’s what the inclusion of Cancer Treatment Centers of America into the City of Hope family will enable us to do.
Taren: It sounds like it will also allow you to treat patients that are coming from underserved populations as well, as you said, that don’t have access. When we look at those demographics, are women of color more adversely affected by cancer than their Caucasian counterparts?
Gulden: There are studies that show that people of color are more impacted by cancer overall and there’s a real opportunity to reach into more communities with a better specialty cancer treatment and cancer care. So that’s definitely a very big area of focus for City of Hope.
Taren: Fantastic. Well, continue the good work because it is so needed. You joined the organization about two years ago or so. What has been one of your biggest aha moments? What’s the thing that surprised you the most?
Gulden: Yes, you’re right. I joined the organization in September of 2020. And to be very honest with you, before I joined City of Hope, I had not heard of City of Hope. And I think my biggest aha moment prior to me joining when I first heard about the institution and about the role, was the fact that I hadn’t heard about it before. Because the more I heard about City of Hope and its legacy and the different parts of City of Hope, the care, the education, the research and development, the venture that City of Hope drives, the philanthropy, my reaction was, wow, how could I not have heard of this place and everybody needs to know about this place.
Taren: Fantastic. You talked about joining them just a couple of years ago. You’ve had a lot of experience in pharma and retail. Tell us about that and how did it prepare you for this new role.
Gulden: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have built a career in healthcare but also have had the opportunity to work across different facets of healthcare. So you’re right, I started off in the pharma industry and actually spent over two decades working at two amazing companies. First, Pfizer and later AbbVie. And I learned a lot in the pharma industry. And my respect for research and development in cancer and other medications really started in the pharma industry. I got to work in marketing, patient advocacy, government affairs, communications in many different parts of the world thanks to my time working in the pharma industry. Did I mention I’m a very big believer in the value of the pharma industry and innovation that they could bring to human life?
Then when I moved over to the pharmacy and retail side of healthcare through my work at Walgreens Boots Alliance, that helped me see healthcare through the lens of pharmacy and through the lens of wholesale. And that really helped me understand the impact of pharmacies in the life of patients and in the life of consumers. And it brought me a step closer to consumers in healthcare which was a very, very valuable experience as well. And now coming over to National Cancer Institute, I’ve never worked in a setting where I’ve been closer to patients and closer to patient care which again gives me a whole new lens on the impact of healthcare and healthcare decisions on a patient’s life. And I feel very fortunate to be able to come in many ways full circle in how I can look at different aspects of the healthcare industry due to my experience.
Taren: You said full circle and I was thinking when you were talking about it is a triangle because now you’ve completed that third leg of the triangle in terms of patient care.
Gulden: That’s great, Taren. I like that analogy, right.
Taren: But I loved yours too as well. And I think it does – you’re probably as close to the patient as you’re going to get unless you were a practicing physician. But all those experiences have certainly shaped how you are now creating this experience for patients coming in to City of Hope and understanding what those needs are especially from not only your personal side but on your professional side. So they’re very lucky to have you. That’s tremendous.
Gulden: Thank you. I actually feel very lucky to be able to work at a place that’s so mission driven. And I also feel very fortunate to work in a non-profit setting where our community is our patients and our caregivers but it’s also our donors. And so, I feel like our network really expands in many different ways. And the one thing that unites all of us is the mission that we have which again is a very important driver for what we do. It excites me tremendously and I know that it excites everyone who works for us at City of Hope.
Taren: That’s fantastic. Again, that’s something else going from the very profit driven world of pharma and the retail pharmacy space to a non-profit. How big of an adjustment was that for you?
Gulden: It actually has not been an adjustment in that it just helped me look at the world of business a little differently. I would say the biggest change is, in a non-profit you don’t have to do quarterly earnings calls and when you work in communications or marketing in pharma or in pharmacy or you work for a Fortune 100 company, that’s a very big part of what you have to focus on. So in a way, it’s nice not to have to worry about quarterly earnings. In a way, I still follow it because it’s really important to know what’s going on in the rest of the healthcare world because drug pricing and insurance schemes and the different changes that happen in their drug policy and healthcare policy impacts everything that we do in a national cancer setting.
And at City of Hope, we also play a very large role in advocating for our patients. We’ve actually been at the forefront in the recent passage of the Cancer Care Equity Act for our patients in California which was signed into a law by Governor Newsom. And so, from that perspective, it’s really great for us to be able to advocate as a non-profit but also to continue to follow what’s happening with the rest of the industry very closely.
Taren: So smart because yes, as one sector goes, so do all sectors and everybody’s got to be working in concert. So very good tip to stay on top of it even if you’re working in a non-profit role because there are so many market factors that impact what you do on a day-to-day basis.
Gulden: That’s right.
Taren: Over the course of your career, I know that you have built so many high performing teams. What are some of your keys to success? What do you look for when you bring new team members on board?
Gulden: The team that I work in is so important to me. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be an individual contributor, then lead small teams, then lead teams of teams. Nothing gives me more energy than working in a team. And for me, first and foremost, I’ll share this – it’s been very difficult to work in a COVID environment and not be with my team members every single day. But the remote environment has also afforded us an opportunity to get more creative about how we work together. But in building teams for me, one of the key drivers in working well together is finding joy in what we do. And I sincerely mean that because life is short. Life’s a gift and we spend so much of our time at work that it’s really important I think that people enjoy what they do, find meaning in what they do. And I think a large part of that comes from feeling empowered to bring your ideas to what you do, being able to challenge others, being able to be creative. And I really value all of that in my team members and I encourage that in my team.
Taren: Yeah, and it’s hard work. You have to work at being a team leader. It doesn’t just come because you say hey, I’m your leader. You have to work at it and draw in that chemistry and build out all those capabilities and skills from the others. So good for you again and you have been so very successful throughout your career. As you are a C-suite executive, do you see yourself as a role model for other women?
Gulden: I’ve had so many role models and so many mentors throughout my career, and I’ve been fortunate to have received so much support and guidance and direction from them.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from my mentors and role models is how important it is to pay it forward. And so, as I’ve gone into roles where I’ve started being more of a mentor to others, I really cherish that. I do take the time to provide mentorship or guidance or direction to my team members. It’s really important to me. I also do that in the university setting where I’m either on the board of a school or if I’m teaching and I’ve taken time also to teach to meet with people who are starting off earlier in their careers and to really provide them advice and guidance and direction. I do a lot of work with young women also, many of whom come from international backgrounds like I do because I always think that people look for people who are like themselves to get advice from. So that helps too. But I do think the mentoring relationship in careers is really, really critical to success.
Taren: Fantastic. You mentioned some of those boards. Why do you feel it’s important for you to sit on boards? What does that do for you and how does it help inform your professional career?
Gulden: Taren, by nature, I’m a very curious person and that has never been a part of me that’s gone away. And one of the wonderful things that different boards allow me to do is help me get perspective on things other than my day-to-day job or even my day-to-day industry. So some of the boards that I’m a part of have nothing to do with healthcare. Others have nothing to do with marketing or communications. It just helps me learn more about the world of business and have a different perspective in terms of different industries. The boards also help me look at business at a different and more visionary level which is something I bring back to my day-to-day job at City of Hope to help sometimes frame my thinking on different things here. So I think a board experience is really very valuable.
Taren: Wonderful. That’s good advice for everybody out there too. Stay curious, my friends, stay curious. So I have to know, speaking of curious, what led you to join the life sciences industry originally?
Gulden: That’s a great question. In the beginning, it wasn’t by design. I’ll be very honest. I needed a job and I was in New York and I started off in healthcare public relations at the time. It just sounded interesting. I didn’t know a whole lot about it. And then, once I left the PR agency world and joined Pfizer, it was really intentional for me to stay in life sciences. Because the more I learned about the world of healthcare at the time through the lens of pharma, the more I realized there was a lot more to learn. And as I went to different countries and learned about health policy and met people in different communities who needed healthcare or access to healthcare or different treatments, it just increased my curiosity. And while my going into health sciences wasn’t necessarily intentional, my staying in health sciences over the course of my career has been very intentional. And I honestly don’t think I want to do anything else in my life other than continue to work in health and life sciences going forward.
Taren: I often say that there are so many talented people who work in the life sciences industry who could apply their talents to almost any other industry but they choose this one, and it really does make it special. I think that’s what sets the healthcare industry apart from the automotive industry. And no offense to the automotive people out there but there is a difference. There’s definitely a difference. And I have to just go back. I mean, earning your chops in healthcare PR in an early age, that’s hard work. I know people who had started there as well. That’s a tough job.
Gulden: You know why I think it’s tough in that it really impacts people. Growing up in Turkey, one story that I always go back to is the story of my grandmother. My grandmother was married to a doctor. My grandfather was a physician but my grandma wasn’t allowed to go to school after the eighth grade. However, she spent a lot of time educating herself reading. And she would read newspapers every day and when you went over to my grandma’s house, she would have this little drawer that she would open and she would pull out newspaper clippings with advice about what do for your heart condition or for your skin. Eat an apple, take aspirin, do this, and believe or not, my grandmother was the biggest health influencer in my family. It wasn’t my grandfather although he was a doctor. And that experience made me realize how much health communications matters and the profound responsibility that we have in reaching people through the communications that we drive and the stories that we drive. And so, I’ve always been really excited about what I do when I go back to that personal story but also feel a tremendous sense of responsibility for the work that I do.
Taren: I love that. Your grandmother was the original influencer, healthcare influencer. That’s fantastic. What a great story. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. And let’s stay a little bit with your Turkish roots. During our prep call, we talked about the uniqueness of your name. I know you have a story around that and some of the – applies to some of the worst leadership advice that you were ever given, I believe.
Gulden: Yes. So the story of my name is actually – folks in the US or in countries outside of Turkey, call me Gulden because my original name, which is a Turkish name is not easy to pronounce unless you speak Turkish fluently. So in Turkish, my name is pronounced Gulden and Gulden in Turkish means from a rose. Gul means rose and den means from. But because that’s not easy to pronounce, people call me Gulden and that’s perfectly fine. I’ve gone to many schools here and grown up here and I liked actually being called Gulden. However, the point about the bad advice, that was one of probably the wild moments in my career. When I got my first job in New York City, I was right out of graduate school. I’ve just gone to Newhouse at Syracuse University and was very happy to get a job.
And my second day in that job, the CEO of the firm called me into her office and she said, “Welcome to the company. We’re happy to have you here. You have a really good education. I think you’re going to do really well. But I have some advice for you.” And I said, “Sure.” And she went on to tell me that her strong recommendation was for me to change my name from Gulden to a more western sounding, western appropriate name because I was not going to get anywhere in my career with a name like Gulden. And then she told me that I didn’t have children yet and it would be her advice that I either didn’t have children or put that off as long as I possibly could so that I could get ahead in my career. Yes, I had one of those wow moments where I thanked her and that night I went home and – you know when you have that terrible feeling in your stomach and something just doesn’t feel right. I had that feeling the whole evening. I couldn’t sleep.
And I wrote a little resignation note into my notebook and the next morning I called her, and thank God, I didn’t get her because I don’t know if I would have had the guts to tell her this. But I did leave a voicemail message basically to say that I would not be coming back. And Taren, I desperately needed that job as you could imagine at the age of 25 in New York City. But I resigned. It took me a month to find another job. But it also showed me that I fundamentally knew who I was, believe in who I was. And I was not going to change my name or put off having children, I have two beautiful children, I’m so glad I have them, for any career. And I followed my principle until today and I will continue to do so. And I share that story with many young women who are starting off in their careers as bad advice to never follow.
Taren: Bad advice to never follow. That is just flabbergasting, number one. Number two, I cannot believe how brave you were to take that step and say – even though you knew there’s rent. All that stuff, all those pressures, and yet you said no. I’m not doing this. Good for you. Unbelievable. I am flabbergasted by that.
Gulden: I know. Now I am too. And it’s funny, when you go back to your 25-year-old self, it takes a lot, I agree, to be able to walk away from that advice like that. But unfortunately, there is a lot of bad advice that’s still going around and I just hope that we have – any young women listening to this podcast if they get bad advice like that, to really question it and if it doesn’t feel right, then don’t follow it.
Taren: Do you ever wish you can go back to her and say, hey, not cool. Look where I am today.
Gulden: I think that sharing the story in forums like this probably helps more than going back to her. I don’t even know if she thought that was bad advice. It might have been advice that she’d received and maybe it worked for her in the decade that she made it through. And maybe that was really her formula to success. That maybe she was doing me a favor by telling me that and maybe that’s what she thought but I don’t think she was.
Taren: Wow, that is a wow story. So tell me a little bit about your children. You say you have two children. What are their ages?
Gulden: Thank you. So my daughter Selin, she just turned 16. And my son, Sarper, he just turned 13. So we’re right in the throes of teenager years right now. It’s a lot of fun.
Taren: A lot of fun, a lot of work. So I know that women get asked this question quite often. You have a big career and you have a big family life. How do you balance it all?
Gulden: I love that question. I don’t even know if balance is the word. It’s integration.
Taren: Is circus more appropriate?
Gulden: Yeah. I mean, I’ll tell you, I’ve been really blessed with having two amazing children. And the minute I had them, the mommy guilt kicked in. And especially in my first years as a new mother, I got a lot of help from my mom and my sister. But part of what I also did, which I later channeled into a children’s book was I started writing because I felt that they needed to know what it means for mom to work. And so, I actually ended up writing a little book called, Mommy Goes to the Office. And at the time, I did go to the office. Now I get to work from home a lot more, which became a children’s book that we started reading at bedtime. And then the two of them helped me write another book called Mom Goes on a Business Trip, again to help them understand what I did when I was away from them for a few days on a business trip. So the work experience has actually helped me communicate with my children about what I do when I’m away from them. But when I’m with my children, I’m with them 100 percent. And I make sure that I have dedicated time every single day to be with them to focus on their activities, to focus on their school work, to talk to know what’s going on with friends because that is just so critical and I enjoy it so much.
Taren: That’s fascinating. I love that you wrote those two books. So now you’re going to write a third book, when the kids go to college, what does mommy do?
Gulden: Exactly. If you have any recommendations, definitely let me know. We could have a lot of fun with that.
Taren: You gave me your wow moment. But I’m going to ask this. So you’ve gotten some really bad advice. What are some really good advice you’ve received in your career?
Gulden: I had a dad who was probably the most empowering person I’ve met in my life. He came from a very impoverished background and he was very self-made in terms of creating a career for himself. And my dad would always tell me that if someone else could do something, so can you and anything is possible. And when you’re young, it’s hard to believe that. But over the years, as I watched him do a lot of anything is possible kind of things. That really empowered me when I was 45, to go back to graduate school and get my MBA because a lot of people said, hey, you’re a mom. You have a career. You’ve already got a graduate degree. You’re too old. Why do this? And I was like, hey, anything’s possible. I’d like to get an MBA. I’ll get an MBA. I’ve seen that happen with a couple of my friends who have actually gone through cancer treatment and lived and now are doing very well. Anything is possible. And so, I think that positive belief and really believing in yourself and believing in a positive outcome, really helps drive positive outcomes. I don’t want to sound too Pollyanna about it but I do believe in positive thinking and that has been something that’s really empowered me and something that I share with others a lot as well.
Taren: I love that anything is possible. And I think back when we started this conversation or towards the beginning of our conversation, you talked about your grandmother and how she was – and I called her the OG of healthcare influencers. I took a little liberty there. But she couldn’t go to school past eighth grade and here you are, two generations later, you went back and got your MBA at 45, and you’re changing the world for patients. It’s not that long ago, that generation. How does that resonate with you? I find that to be fascinating and amazing.
Gulden: I did too. And actually, I was telling my daughter the other day that in our family, I was the first woman to go to college, let alone get advanced degrees, something I’m very proud of. But I also remind her that there are many girls in other parts of the world who may not be allowed to go to school or be allowed to dream big or go into jobs. And I keep reminding her that she’s very fortunate and that she absolutely needs to believe in herself, invest in herself and reach for the stars. And I think that you shared this exactly right. There was a time when women just didn’t have the kind of opportunities that we do today and for me, I feel very fortunate. I also feel like it’s a big responsibility and I’m very grateful that companies like City of Hope allow female leaders to come in and thrive and change different things in the workplace. And I think that’s something that I hope continues in the workplace everywhere. So I’m very, very excited about that.
Taren: Well Gulden, I have to tell you, I am fascinated by our conversation. Thank you so much for sharing so many personal stories with us. And I am so inspired by you and the work that you’re doing at the City of Hope and on behalf of patients. And widening the lane for other women to come behind you and to join alongside you and link arms. Thank you for being part of our WoW podcast program and I look forward to staying in touch.
Gulden: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you.
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