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“Leaders stay connected to the details” With Penny Bauder & Caroline Savello

Great leadership transcends gender. I recently read about Amazon’s 14 leadership principles, and one stuck out to me — “Dive deep”. The point is that leaders stay connected to the details and to reality and run towards problems, big and small, rather than away from them. Some of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had is […]

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Great leadership transcends gender. I recently read about Amazon’s 14 leadership principles, and one stuck out to me — “Dive deep”. The point is that leaders stay connected to the details and to reality and run towards problems, big and small, rather than away from them. Some of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had is when a leader doesn’t want to dive deep and sort things out — it’s a very junior take on leadership. I personally believe that ownership of challenges gives your team — both direct team and peers — confidence that you care, and keeps you grounded in operating realities.


Caroline Savello is Color’s VP of Commercial. She leads the company’s go-to-market and commercial team, helping build Color’s partnerships with institutions around the world responsible for the healthcare of large populations. She joined Color from Bloomberg LP, where she was the Chief of Staff and Global Head of Strategy, and subsequently the General Manager of China Initiatives for Bloomberg Media. She began her career at Boston Consulting Group, consulting with Fortune 100 biotech companies and the Gates Foundation. She is a graduate of Yale University with a joint BA/MA in Political Science and a concentration in experimental methods.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I wound up at Color for two reasons. First, my family has an extensive personal history of cancer that we’ve been trying to manage for years — so I have a lot of very personal interest in where genomics is a technology that can improve healthcare. Second, I really like spending my time on hard and dynamic problems. In media (my prior career), the long-term business models for the industry were really unclear, and I absolutely loved trying to figure those problems out. Genomics and data-driven healthcare felt the same, but at the inception of the industry rather than its tail end.

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

In my first week at Color, I learned how tens of millions of people have donated their genetic sequence to research but haven’t learned about their and their families’ risks in the process. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have a serious but potentially preventable condition and don’t know about it, even though the technology exists to tell them if they carry a condition that can make their lifetime risk of cancer up to 80%. This is only because everyone assumes it is difficult to convey this information — but Color has proven it is not.

I share this because I think the most interesting business and career opportunities come out of big misconceptions about how things should work, paired with the size of the impact it can have on people.

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?

At one of my prior companies, I was working with a team of two other people to pull and mass-email a customer list. Instead of pulling the list, we accidentally sent an email to the entire list of customers with the subject line “TEST” misspelled as “TERST”. We only realized when we started getting thousands of bouncebacks and out of office replies. There was nothing that could undo it. In those situations, the best course of action is to take complete responsibility and move quickly to contain the damage: stay on top of it, communicate clearly with leadership, figure out the best way to make the problem better, and do a post-mortem to build in the systems and processes that will help prevent future mistakes.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re a company that has a direct, immediate, potentially life-altering impact on people every day. Nearly every day, an individual tells us a story about how finding out about the impact of their health — discovering an early-stage ovarian cancer because of our program, averting a premature heart attack, or reengaging with preventive screenings after not keeping up to date with their colonoscopies for years. And we do this while building a sustainable and high-value company.

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

Our business is exploding, so everything is exciting and new. How does genetics become a technology that exists in the background of your healthcare — not as a diagnostic product, but as a data layer that helps inform your healthcare across your lifetime? We are working with health systems across the world to make this accessible and integrated with routine primary care — a first in the industry.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I see the biggest delta in Silicon Valley in the perception of women’s roles as the visionary idea people vs. the executors/operators. We are making incredible progress in women in leadership positions — not fast enough — but I still see a gap in attribution of ideas and creativity.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

In some ways, being a women in STEM/tech has been easier than being a woman in the media industry. Healthcare has a strong history of female leadership and as a company we work with the top scientists and healthcare leaders in the world, such as Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the BRCA1 gene, or Heidi Rehm, the Chief Genomics Officer of MGH. Many of those scientists happen to be female. Sue Wagner, the co-founder of BlackRock, is one of four members of our board. What I do see routinely is people — in both tech and STEM — assuming that younger women in a leadership team are not leaders, where men at the same age would be treated that way.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Insist on the highest standards — from yourself and others.

2. As a leader, it’s more about representing the company and business to your team than it is the team to the company.

3. Assume the best intent from your peers, your team, and your partners. Usually when things go wrong, it’s not intentional.

4. Hire people who could be your boss one day.

5. Understand the business fundamentals — get past the buzzwords and fluff.

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

Great leadership transcends gender. I recently read about Amazon’s 14 leadership principles, and one stuck out to me — “Dive deep”. The point is that leaders stay connected to the details and to reality and run towards problems, big and small, rather than away from them. Some of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had is when a leader doesn’t want to dive deep and sort things out — it’s a very junior take on leadership. I personally believe that ownership of challenges gives your team — both direct team and peers — confidence that you care, and keeps you grounded in operating realities.

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

I don’t believe there is some special element of being a female leader — it is tougher in some ways, but you have to build a team that respects that no matter the shape you take. In larger teams, it’s about the alchemy of different skillsets you bring to the table and how you recognize, develop, and draw those out of each person, and help everyone build respect for one another’s strengths.

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?

Too many people to count — from day one of my career, I’ve had amazing managers and mentors who have taken chances on me. Early on, the CEO of the business I was working on at Bloomberg helped me take an idea I pitched and turn it into a new role in the company. I learned that you have to take the initiative, but you can only be successful if you have a manager who will take chances on you and advocate for you on your journey. I’ve been fortunate to have had many managers who have believed in me throughout my career.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m lucky to have joined a company that has life-improving impacts on people around the world every day.

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

My father jokingly — and frequently — asks me and my brother, “What did you do today to add shareholder value?”. I’ve become known around the office for this story. It has been a good reminder for me though, since it takes a robust business to scale the impact we can have on people’s lives.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 🙂

It would be interesting to spend time with someone else who’s built something incredible in a completely different industry / profession than mine. I worked with the Gates Foundation early in my career at Boston Consulting Group, and I would love to spend time with Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (who recently announced she is stepping down), and understand how she and the foundation are thinking about technology gaps in lower-resourced healthcare systems.

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