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Dr. Linda Marbán: “Running is my therapy”

My advice would be to embrace being a female leader. We don’t have to mirror our male colleagues — we’re not all the same, and we’re not expected to be. The most important thing is to embrace who you are and not look over your shoulder. There are plenty of times where women leaders try to deal […]

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My advice would be to embrace being a female leader. We don’t have to mirror our male colleagues — we’re not all the same, and we’re not expected to be. The most important thing is to embrace who you are and not look over your shoulder. There are plenty of times where women leaders try to deal with the emotion of the situation, whereas their male counterparts do not. On the contrary, men tend to look to solve the problem without attaching any emotional feelings to the situation. Sometimes, we need to leave our nurturing role and follow suit to get the job done in the most appropriate manner. Other times, we leverage our nurturing personality treat to lead our team to greatness.


As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Linda Marbán.

Dr. Linda Marbán is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Capricor Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotech company developing novel cell and exosome-based therapeutics for the treatment of diseases.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Before joining the healthcare industry as an executive, I wanted to be armed with all of the academic credentials necessary to lead my team in the right direction. As a young faculty member at Johns Hopkins in 2002, I was presented with the opportunity to join one of its spin-off companies. I ended up taking the chance and have since been in the industry for nearly 20 years. As a leader in the startup healthcare environment, I love the concept of taking a problem and turning it into an opportunity for growth and finding creative, innovative ways to help patients in a manner that no other company in the market has successfully been able to do yet.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

My journey to Capricor has been remarkable. 2020, in particular, has been a pivotal year for us. In 2019, my team and I worked hard on the reinvention of our in-house technology to develop a new, facile platform. Identifying exosomes as the mechanism of action for our cell product, CAP-1002 (which is comprised of off-the-shelf, cardiosphere derived cells that stimulate the immune system for cellular regeneration), we were not only able to turn exosomes into a product, but we also realized the potential for exosomes to be the next critical platform technology in the biotechnology arena. Exosomes are nanomilimiter-sized lipid vesicles, which cells use to communicate with each other. In other words, exosomes are the “messengers” of cells — they tell each other what is going on and then direct other cells. At Capricor, we are harnessing the power of the intercellular communication and turning it into therapeutics. We can direct cellular behavior through custom-designed nucleic acids or proteins and, ultimately, change biology.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a woman, we have a tendency to be very colloquial in our speech. I would give talks and try to be personable, funny and likeable. My PhD advisor taught me that there is no room for that as a professional. I was instructed to lead with grace and be more serious. That struck me as something that I will never forget to this day. It is something that I share with those whom I mentor, as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person whom you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mentor, Eduardo Marbán, was the single biggest driver in helping to foster my career growth. When I went to his lab, not only did he provide an environment for growth and development, but he also encouraged me that women can do whatever they set their minds to. Taking personal time off is one area that women struggle with the most. During one of the first weeks that I was working in Eduardo’s lab, I needed time off to care for my children. I was sweating and in tears. He looked at me and asked, “Are you capable of completing your work at home?” His trust in me to complete my tasks when I had to also complete my motherhood duties encouraged me to keep going. It was this kind of environment that helped me to blossom.

As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Running is my therapy. While I can’t always go for a run right before a big presentation, I always find time to do so during my preparation process. This is the time where I do some of my best thinking and clear my head.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

It goes without saying that it’s important to have a diversified team. Everyone should have the same opportunities based on achievement. Additionally, diversity is a gift that keeps on giving in a way; every person can address a situation from a different perspective. Having a diversified team allows team members to interact with others who come from different backgrounds.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps that we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative and equitable society?

This is one of the areas that I am most passionate about. We exclude people from opportunities by making the road so difficult that they jump off along the way. Now more than ever before, there are more women than men in medical school; yet, along the journey, that often reverses. I’ve been mentoring others while also trying to be an active parent. I tell women to think of their day not as an eight-hour work day, but as a 24-hour day to complete everything that they need to do. I encourage them to take time off to be with their kids and pick work back up later when they can. Providing flexibility and constant encouragement is what can help to foster the growth of others.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think that they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

From my perspective as a CEO, I think of my role as a traffic director. When team members come to me with a problem, my role is to help them to solve it. Many leaders are focused on their own swim lanes, but for me, I am one to observe and work to build the bridges that are necessary to form a collaborative environment and get the job done.

What are the myths that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive?

The most important myth to dispel is the notion that being a CEO requires some special skillset. To be a CEO, you need to be motivated, ambitious driven and creative. If you can impose these personality traits on any given skillset that you may possess, you can become a CEO.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Female executives are judged by how they look, how they present themselves and how they express displeasure using a very different set of metrics than male executives. Before a big meeting, I must make sure I have my nails done, my hair styled appropriately (not too feminine but not askew), and my clothing must be conservative and muted. Male executives have grooming requirements as well, but they are not on the same scale or of the same relevance. Women have to walk a line as to not appear emotional, but if a male executive sheds a tear, he is considered a passionate and caring leader. If a woman sheds a tear, she is collapsing emotionally and may not be up to the task at hand. Finally, and most importantly, women are judged by the standards set forth for men. These taken together make the job of a female executive even more challenging.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The biggest difference is that I have to rely more on the skillsets of other people to drive the company forward. You can’t micromanage everything. You have to bring in leaders whom you can trust to continue leading organically. It is wonderfully freeing to know that you don’t have to know or be good at everything. You just have to find people that are the best at the task at hand.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

I don’t think that anyone should avoid it. People will choose not to pursue it, because what the role requires is a degree of risk-taking, an appetite for adversity and thick skin. It also requires self-motivation, with the ability to work long hours, think outside of the box and absorb information in a short period of time. For example, on a Tuesday, I may go from a clinical science meeting to a corporate business meeting and then a public relations meeting, all within four hours. As CEO, I am always being looked at to bring something new to the table for each of those meetings. This is the type of fluidity that’s required for someone who is sitting in the CEO chair.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

My advice would be to embrace being a female leader. We don’t have to mirror our male colleagues — we’re not all the same, and we’re not expected to be. The most important thing is to embrace who you are and not look over your shoulder. There are plenty of times where women leaders try to deal with the emotion of the situation, whereas their male counterparts do not. On the contrary, men tend to look to solve the problem without attaching any emotional feelings to the situation. Sometimes, we need to leave our nurturing role and follow suit to get the job done in the most appropriate manner. Other times, we leverage our nurturing personality treat to lead our team to greatness.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I work in biotech, and my goal is to bring innovative new treatments to market for people suffering from diseases that cause a decreased quality of life.

What are your “five things you wish that someone told you before you started,” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be yourself, and advocate for yourself.

You don’t have to work long hours to be successful.

Dress for success.

Feel free to ask questions.

If I had known these few things when first starting out in the professional world, I may not have felt so insecure in the early stages of my career. I was always afraid that I would look foolish or not measure up compared to my colleagues and peers. These five things have helped to propel me further in my career.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?

I’ve always been very passionate about helping single mothers, specifically working closely with them to help launch their educational and professional careers. As a single mother myself, I had the drive to get through school and build this career on my own. I’d love to help others to do the same.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” For me, this quote always signified hope. It also gives this notion that you don’t stop until you win.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d love to have lunch with Dr. Tom Frieden, the former head of the CDC. Tom is a physician with advanced training in infectious disease and public health. Given his background, I’d love to hear his thoughts about the current COVID-19 pandemic and how he would handle it. Tom is known for his early planning.

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