Make home a safe haven away from work stressors: Be positive and do not let work issues and concerns spill over into time with kids.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Shao-Lee Lin, M.D., Ph.D.. Shao-Lee is an internationally known expert and executive in pharmaceutical research and development, and a leader of culture change designed to foster robust innovation at all stages of drug development. She is executive vice president, head of research and development, and chief scientific officer at Horizon Therapeutics, where she is building a world class R&D organization. An accomplished physician/scientist with over 20 years of academic and clinical research experience, Dr. Lin has led teams across multiple therapeutic areas in roles of increasing responsibility at AbbVie, Gilead and Amgen. Dr. Lin is a magna cum laude graduate of Rice University with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and chemical engineering. She received her M.D. and Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and held postdoc fellowships in Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology at UCSD and The Scripps Clinic and Research Institute. Throughout her career, Dr. Lin has maintained clinical contact and teaching, first as Clinical Scholar at The Rockefeller University and adjunct faculty in Medicine at Cornell, and subsequently at UCLA, Stanford, and, most recently, Northwestern. Results of her research achievement have appeared in leading medical publications on rheumatology, immunology and respiratory topics, among others. Dr. Lin is a strong advocate of the values of collaboration, innovation, and excellence to advance medical science and serve patients by targeting unmet medical needs. Her career-long focus on putting patients first inspires Dr. Lin to develop innovative approaches that speed the development of life-changing drug therapies.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory?
I came from an immigrant family. Both of my parents were professionals in their home country. They left behind highly respected teaching careers in mathematics and English literature, as well as their extended family support structure, to make the move possible. And when they arrived, they worked hard to make ends meet, sometimes having to maintain multiple jobs and swapping day and night shifts with each other so one of them could always be available for me and my two brothers. It was clear to me throughout my childhood that everything my parents did was for their children. Because of them, I was able to grow up with the opportunities that exist in America.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
My early inspiration came through a program my high school co-sponsored with a local medical school. I was fortunate to have many wonderful teachers who inspired me and went above and beyond to help me. One of my teachers created a “class” for me, which she taught over her lunch hour. This enabled me to cover three years of math in one and therefore, sit for advanced placement in college. The program also gave me the opportunity to work in a lab and ignited my passion for science, research and discovery. After receiving an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and biochemistry from Rice University, I obtained my M.D. and Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which was funded as part of the National Institutes of Health sponsored medical scientist training program.
I continued with clinical fellowships, postdoctoral research, and worked in academic medicine, including having the privilege of working at The Rockefeller University as a Clinical Scholar with someone who would later win the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Many of my heroes and mentors have been from my time in academic medicine: they were people making discoveries that ultimately brought about new therapies to help patients.
The early discoveries brought energy and excitement, but all needed to be transitioned from the discovery stage through to becoming an actual therapy. My goal was to see discoveries advance all the way through to treating patients. In addition, my desire to make a lasting impact, not just once, but many times over for many patients brought me to the biopharmaceutical industry.
Within the industry, I encountered numerous people striving for the same goals I had in academia. But there was a major difference: by working in broad, cross-functional teams, that considered both emerging science and medical practices around the world, industry could take discoveries from the bench to bedside many times over and make a lasting impact for more patients. That was more than I could achieve alone in academic medicine.
In 2004, I transitioned from academia to industry and joined clinical development at Amgen when the company was undergoing exponential growth. I learned a great deal about drug development and the value of building innovative teams.
In 2012, I joined Gilead as vice president, inflammation and respiratory clinical research, in part because it was the first company I heard talking about finding a cure for a chronic illness, in this instance, hepatitis C. It was bold, and clearly transformative research, and those R&D concepts resonated with me.
From there, a mentor recruited me to AbbVie in 2015, where I served as vice president of therapeutic areas, development excellence and international development. It too was a transformative period, and in just under three years, I built and led a team of leaders who were able to rapidly bring new medicines through from proof of concept to submission for approval. We also expanded the pipeline across multiple therapeutic areas, including neuroscience, immunology, virology and general medicine/women’s health.
As I’ve progressed through my career, each role I’ve had has come at an inflection point for the organization. Each offered an environment to approach innovation as a team, with an urgency to take the calculated risks and a vision to deliver for patients.
Today, I’m the chief scientific officer and head of research and development at Horizon Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company that addresses unmet needs for people impacted by rare and rheumatic diseases. I’m excited to help drive the next phase of growth for Horizon by building a robust and sustainable portfolio of new medicines that will have a meaningful impact on patients’ lives. We strongly believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives and it’s a tenet I very much abide by throughout my day.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
My 7-year old daughter is woven into my daily schedule, both at home and at work. As both her moms are working, it is a daily and intentional act to make sure we prioritize her and to ensure she knows she can always count on that.
Nearly every morning, my day starts with taking my daughter to school. This is blocked on my calendar and is something I make known to my team and my colleagues. It’s essential to me to demonstrate that this is important time for me with my family, and I want to create a conversation that allows others to find a similar balance with their families and work lives.
From there, the day can unfold in many ways. As my approach at work is collaborative in nature, frequently my day will consist of numerous conversations that often result in back-to-back meetings. If I am having an important dialogue or am discussing plans that require more of my attention, I will work with others to shift the meeting to another time or day. Others will step in to help keep things moving along towards deadlines. I rely on the individual strengths of the team to ensure we collectively can accomplish our mission.
Religiously, my spouse, Susie, and I try to ensure that one of us is always home each night. This sometimes takes passing the baton as we literally fly by one another. Lest there be an emergency, we make a point to never both be out of the country at the same time.
My daughter decorated a shoebox and placed it on a counter in the kitchen. When I get home, I place my cell phone into the shoebox, and it is not allowed to emerge until after she is sound asleep for the night. Once my daughter is tucked in, we talk and take inventory of the day or read a story together. (We take turns reading.) And once she is asleep, if I have not also fallen sound asleep, I usually get some more work done. My team thinks I don’t sleep, but that’s not true. They get occasional late night emails because I fell asleep with my daughter at 7:30 p.m., her bedtime, and woke up at midnight!
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
Children need to form attachments to their parents so they can feel safe to explore the world. That means you are there every time they need you, no matter how big or small the issue. With a sense of security from that attachment, children can develop the self-confidence to explore further and further, knowing you will always be there if they need you. Each exploration then contributes to their sense of self confidence, individuality and independence.
That said, spending time with your child or children is also just fun. And frankly, it’s good for parents as well to do something completely different, like cooking together, reading, painting or playing music. Playing with your kids has so many benefits and is the ultimate egoless activity, helping to take you out of your professional mindset, allowing you to exercise humility and ultimately creating more “white space” to brainstorm work-related ideas when you return to the office. There’s lots of research linking playfulness to the capacity for divergent thinking that ultimately fosters creative thinking (It’s a common topic in leadership skills development forums as well).
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your child?
My spouse, and daughter’s other mother, Susie Jun, MD, PhD is the chief development officer at Allogene, a biotechnology company working on cancer therapies. We are two c-suite moms who strongly believe that our first priority is making time for our daughter. Adopting our daughter was obviously very intentional, and so is every day of bringing her up to be a capable, caring, independent and happy young lady with a strong sense of values.
We take our daughter traveling for leisure when feasible, so she can understand what her moms are doing at any given moment. Whenever I travel to a new city for work and my daughter is not with me, I take a photo of something I think she will find interesting or beautiful. I share the photo and a story about it upon return. She loves this, and we’ve been doing it since a she was a toddler. I think it’s more meaningful than bringing home candy or airport toys.
Susie and I have had a chance to see the world with our careers, and now that our daughter is seven, we have started to share our sense of the importance of being a good global citizen by visiting other countries and making a point to learn some language, history, and culture with each adventure.
We try to describe what we do and why (making new medicines for people who are sick and need them; trying to treat rare diseases in kids and cure diseases like HepC and cancer), so our daughter can understand how she is contributing to making that possible by being patient when we do have to take the occasional urgent weekend calls.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your child?
The reason I take my daughter to school each morning is because it gives me a chance to hear her excitement headed into the day, and also a chance to check in with her teachers and schoolmates, even if ever so briefly each morning, just with a greeting. Even that small window into how things are going helps me to feel more connected and know that she is safe and happy and in a good learning environment.
We try to keep our weekends as unstructured as possible to follow our daughter’s more in-the-moment thoughts. For example, she loves to cook together, so she’ll tell me what she wants to make, like fresh pasta, homemade bread, banana cream pie, all from scratch, and then off we go. Allowing her to control certain days and activities helps her develop confidence with important life skills.
We make her events a priority and block our calendars as much in advance as feasible to ensure we can both attend. Recently, she had her first piano recital, dance recital and a play. On a more regular basis, we attend Taekwondo belt tests, ice hockey games and swim team meets.
I am also not hesitant to hire the help I need (handyman, house cleaning, etc) to get other things done so that I can spend as much downtime with my daughter as possible when we are able to be together.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
1) Set aside scheduled time: Given busy schedules, dedicated time often must be scheduled and planned in advance. Because kids need structure, having them know you will be there for them at a set time is critical.
2) Become part of their world: Foster your ability to give kids your undivided attention by inhabiting their physical space. Play with them in their playroom, the park or in their special hiding spot in your home.
3) Make home a safe haven away from work stressors: Be positive and do not let work issues and concerns spill over into time with kids.
4) Remember your audience: Consciously focus on listening wherever you are with your kids versus defaulting into a “solution” mindset that typically dominates one’s work life.
5) Find your inner child: Be playful, funny and more approachable so a child will want to engage you in discussion and joint activities
How do you define a “good parent?” Can you give an example or story?
Being a good parent involves a commitment to:
1) Providing a structured environment for kids, particularly when they are young
2) Not having an agenda, but rather taking your cues from their focus and concerns in the moment
3) Setting limits and sticking with them, i.e. bedtime, acceptable behavior, politeness, etc.
4) Treating each child as a unique person and not comparing to other children
5) Showing unconditional love
6) Being a good role model
7) Praising good deeds while thoughtfully and diplomatically explaining how poor choices lead to bad results
How do you inspire your child to “dream big?” Can you give an example or story?
Inspiring children to dream big is about fostering self-confidence and then appealing to each child’s strengths while encouraging them to explore everything that interests them. Children typically model their parents. If you expose them to the greater world and talk in simple terms about the ways you are trying to make a difference in the world, they are more likely to “dream big.”
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success?”
Success to me is making an effort to do the most I can for the world, given the many privileges I have had, including my education and life experiences. Success is also about:
· Using my professional skills to make a difference to patients’ lives
· Passing on life lessons and values to my child
· Encouraging and empowering others, from staff to mentees to children
· Leveraging my professional power for good
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Children’s books, like Shel Silverstein’s, “The Giving Tree” touchingly teach the value of empathy and inspire me to be a better parent.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All of us are better than any one of us.” From an early time, I’ve used this mantra to remind myself that it is really the collective “team” that contributes to our greatest successes whether with family, at work or in various situations throughout one’s life. This mantra has spurred me to harness the power of diversity in strategically assembling teams throughout my career. Building a strong culture that fuels diversity of thought begins with seeing talent first and seeking diverse experiences, skills and backgrounds that complement the core mission. I set the tone in placing a high priority on listening, particularly to dissenting opinions. The team embraces this approach, recognizing it is healthy debate that delivers the best ideas — ultimately upholding the idea that we can do more together. In a pithy sentence, it summarizes my approach to work, life, and the overall value of community. It also underscores the values of humility and collaboration.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If we all made a commitment to first and always assume others are displaying their best intent, and if we embraced the concept that all of us are better than any one of us, I think the world would be a much different and better place. I know our day-to-day work places and home lives would be enriched.
Thank you for all of these great insights!