Jessica Rousset: “Surround yourself with people you admire”

Practice meditation or take the time to do whatever gets you in “the zone”. As leaders dealing with stressful and complex situations, we need to know how to center ourselves and tap into our strength and wisdom to maintain clarity. Mental hygiene is essential to perform to at a high level, and we must grant […]

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Practice meditation or take the time to do whatever gets you in “the zone”. As leaders dealing with stressful and complex situations, we need to know how to center ourselves and tap into our strength and wisdom to maintain clarity. Mental hygiene is essential to perform to at a high level, and we must grant ourselves and others the time to disconnect.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Rousset. Jessica is the COO of CURE Pharmaceutical, an oral delivery company that develops and manufactures innovative dosage forms such as oral thin films, where she oversees operations and drives corporate growth. During her two-year tenure, she’s helped CURE exceed financial and operational goals by establishing and executing against strategic priorities, attracting a high impact leadership team and nurturing a cohesive and driven corporate culture. She not only identifies strategic opportunities but creatively and diligently structures and negotiates deals to position CURE as a global market leader in oral delivery, including pharmaceutical cannabinoids. From a leadership position, she works tirelessly to advance CURE Pharmaceutical as a purpose-driven organization by creating a culture of openness, meaningful conflict and gratitude, all key to building trust. She believes that with a strong fabric of trust, employees are more inclined to contribute ideas and call out problems. Rousset previously served as Head of Innovation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where over ten years, she helped launch both therapeutic and medical device companies and founded and operated a national pediatric technology accelerator. Prior to that, Mrs. Rousset held positions at The Scripps Research Institute and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in laboratory, clinical research and business development roles. She trained as a biochemical engineer at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées in Lyon, France.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Born to a French father and American mother, life started in Paris and soon after Brussels, where I enjoyed a multi-cultural upbringing in Europe’s capital. I later earned a master’s degree in biochemical engineering and interned in a lab at GSK Biologicals in Brussels working on a melanoma vaccine. The internship extended into a rotating position supporting immunotherapy clinical trials followed by a stint doing business development.

I credit this unique opportunity experiencing multiple facets of a global organization for helping me “think beyond the lab” and putting me on a path of exploration and professional reinvention. That exploration led me to roles in academia at a leading research institute, in healthcare at one of the country’s top pediatric hospitals and now in the pharma industry leading an innovative early-stage life science company, CURE Pharmaceutical.

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

My time at CURE continues to be an extraordinarily fulfilling journey because of the team and culture that we are building. The story that I am most interested in and that continuously unfolds is the unlocking of people’s potential. There is nothing more galvanizing than having all-staff meetings where everyone is leaning in, even your usual curmudgeons. When those most jaded and adverse to change become active contributors, they become their fuller selves and that’s the best story of all. As humans, we need purpose and we need to feel valued. When we harness this, transformation at the individual and organizational level is lasting and measurable.

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?

Back in my early twenties, I returned from Boston on the heels of what I thought was a decent interview and eagerly awaited feedback, hopeful for a second interview. When I finally got the call, I was told I would not be advancing in the process. However, the hiring manager took the time to give me very honest feedback on all of my missteps, from content on my resume to my excessively candid responses to the interview questions. While I sat there mortified, I quickly regained my composure realizing in that moment what a gift this was. By the end of the conversation, the embarrassment of feeling inadequate and naive turned to gratitude, and you can be assured that I never made those mistakes again!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of COO that most attracted you to it?

Making things happen! I thrive on imagining a future state and then bringing it to bear. In an executive role, particularly in a small company, one can impact change and drive outcomes very quickly.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a COO 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?

Executives are typically the public face of the company, they are the “Chief Believers”, they are accountable to every employee and the company’s shareholders and can be held personally liable for the actions of the company. What is unique about the responsibilities of an executive is that the buck stops with him or her!

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

What I enjoy most about my position is being able to bring people together to execute on a vision and deliver value to society.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The role bears a great deal of responsibility, which can cause us never to disconnect — you support the livelihoods of your employees and are the trusted steward of your investors’ capital. As a mom of two, this can be challenging — so I try to put the phone down and be present, in the moment, with my family whenever I can.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

People may assume that being an executive in a large or small company are similar — in my experience, being an executive at a small company requires a more “hands-on” leadership style and a willingness to take on tasks that may not be typically expected in the role. Another myth is the notion that executives are disconnected from front line staff — as an executive in a smaller company, you to are closely connected with your employees and can appreciate the impact your company’s ‘wins’ can have on their lives.

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

As a female Gen X executive in a STEM field, chances are that when I look around the table, there will be few, if any other women. This is inherently isolating. Regrettably, there are many men in the workplace who are not comfortable with strong and decisive women and who lack the self-awareness to recognize or manage their feelings in a constructive way. I’ve increasingly experienced this as my responsibilities and influence have grown. Also, having to raise money as a woman is particularly challenging given the broad-based gender gap in the financial industry.

The good news is, I do see a wave of strong, empowered female leaders on the horizon and a shift coming in the industry. More and more women are breaking through the glass ceiling, especially as companies like ours are pushing to become more gender-balanced. We’ve recently added two incredible women to our board of directors and promoted several rising star female employees. The more we have gender diversity in the echelons of power, the less gender-biased challenges we will all experience. All of us as leaders have the power to even the playing field, which we owe to our shareholders knowing that diverse companies outperform their counterparts.

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

As I settled into the role, I was struck by how much I had to leverage every single skill set and experience I gained over my career — drafting contracts, managing IP, navigating regulations, leading negotiations, running clinical trials, conducting market analyses, developing and testing product prototypes, and so much more. Indeed the role requires an ability to understand and master the interplay between all functions of the organization and will require drawing on every life experience to address new challenges.

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?

To be successful, an executive must be confident and assertive but cannot be driven by self-interest. She must, surround herself with smarter people, enable them to perform at their best and let them shine. She also needs to take responsibility for the company’s actions, including navigating and recovering from failures while maintaining the confidence of her employees and shareholders. This requires the ability for honest self-reflection and the grit and resolve to press forward, stronger when overcoming setbacks.

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

My advice is to be true to one’s self and not to be afraid of being vulnerable. There is incredible strength in showing others that mistakes and doubt are not only a healthy part of the human experience but an essential step to success. Showing vulnerability empowers others to accept their own insecurities and helps them move beyond them. As leaders, we feel the need to have the answers, but allowing our teams into our unpolished mental processes, creates a level of intimacy that in turn, establishes lasting trust.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We believe in bringing cost-effective therapies to market that provide lasting relief to consumers and patients. We are developing several new wellness products and medicines, including products that target the endocannabinoid system (ECS) — a relatively recently discovered physiological system, like the respiratory or digestive systems, that plays a key role in maintaining the body’s homeostasis, or equilibrium. Modulating the ECS can improve pain, sleep, anxiety and have many other, yet to be clinically proven, benefits.

Our CUREformTM platform can improve how well our body absorbs medications and supplement so that they work better with less side effects. Our marquis technology, CUREfilm® is a stamp-sized oral dissolving film that makes taking medications or supplements easier for children, the elderly and anyone who dislikes swallowing pills.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

As we grow our team organically and through acquisitions, preserving our culture, disseminating information and capturing and sharing know-how all become very challenging. With growth comes increased complexity and bureaucracy, which can stifle creative and entrepreneurial professionals.

We need to identify what makes the small team / small company successful — its purpose, its values and a clear understanding of how it fits into the whole. As the organization grows, how can we then create an organizational scaffold that ensures that each new team, department, division, or subsidiary maintain these defining features? How can we efficiently replicate across a complex organization those unit features that make our company’s performance unique? Just as fractal structures illuminate the underlying cohesiveness of irregular shapes, managing large teams can be facilitated by focusing on the scaffold that enables and supports the repeating features. Mentorship programs and a highly engaged human resources department committed to diversity and inclusion are essential to empowering large teams in a scalable manner while preserving your culture.

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

Without hesitation, my mother. She is a renaissance woman who launched several successful businesses and used her “chutzpah” to open many doors for my brother and I throughout our early years, creating opportunities that would otherwise not have been available to us.

For example, my internship at GSK, the launchpad for my career, resulted from a conversation my mother had a social event, where she mentioned me to a research scientist from GSK who happened to be in attendance!

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

I seek to use my influence to promote women and guide those who are starting in their careers. I’m very excited to have added two women to our board and am committed to cultural diversity throughout our organization. I believe we can make the world a better place by being mindful in our every interaction as active listeners and by believing in others.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Trust your intuition or “gut feeling”. While this is often said, our analytical minds tend to override those uneasy feelings we get about a person or situation. Perhaps the only way to really learn this is the hard way — and I’m sure we all have at least one regret of not going with our gut — however, I believe being in tune with one’s intuition is our most powerful tool when navigating complexity.
  2. Surround yourself with people you admire. Leaders need to be confident in who they are with a drive to always be and do better. What better way to achieve that than to surround one’s self with exceptional people that enrich our lives? I am grateful for the opportunity to build teams with whom I look forward to work each day. By extension, choose a work environment that allows you to be yourself and that does not make you feel the need to conform.
  3. Be open to and invite being challenged. More broadly, this speaks to stepping out of our comfort zone. When we are out of our comfort zone, we have an opportunity to grow and learn. So, don’t push off things that are bothering you — step into the discomfort, talk through the issues with those individuals with whom you have conflict and be candid with your feelings. I’ve learned that addressing even minor issues, without delay and with the genuine desire for resolution and humility makes the relationship and the organization stronger.
  4. It all about relationships! I’ve learned from Rob Davidson, CURE’s CEO, to nurture every relationship, whether there is an immediate reason or need to, or not. With limited time, we tend to allocate this precious resource based on ROI, but Rob taught me to break away from that mindset and be thoughtful about how we leave every interaction.
  5. Practice meditation or take the time to do whatever gets you in “the zone”. As leaders dealing with stressful and complex situations, we need to know how to center ourselves and tap into our strength and wisdom to maintain clarity. Mental hygiene is essential to perform to at a high level, and we must grant ourselves and others the time to disconnect.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see mindfulness practice spread across all strata of society –at schools, in the workplace, prisons, etc. We should be teaching every child to practice mindfulness and how to be still with their thoughts, instead of numbing them in front of a screen to pass the time. With mindfulness practice, we can change our thought patterns and physiologies. If enough people tapped into the practice, imagine how substantively society could be transformed!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To change the world for the better, you must begin by changing your own life. There is no other way.” — Jane Roberts. This quote speaks to personal empowerment — all change starts from within us: a thought, a desire followed by action. It also speaks to accountability and empathy — to expect external changes, we must be willing to ourselves change and we must have an understanding of how we and the world are interconnected.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Elizabeth Warren! She is a brilliant woman who excelled in her career while being a working mom. For me, she embodies the future of leadership — she has courage, she is principled, and has a genuine concern for others, including ensuring access to healthcare for all, which I agree should be a human right, not a privilege. She gives me hope for the future, a future in which women drive sustainable progress and change the world for the better.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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