The company needs a shared mission and core values to unite as a team. When I first started as CEO, I had employees come and ask me what is our mission statement what core values do we as Emerge want to have. Simple questions yet we did not have an answer so as a team we developed our mission statement and core values, and this helped the company grow as a team and be more invested in our future.
Asa part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing MaryRose Reaston. Mary Rose Reaston is an innovator, author, expert witness and is the CEO and Chief Science Officer of Emerge Diagnostics, Inc. MaryRose has a successful track record in the development, commercialization, marketing and governmental acceptance for advanced Electrodiagnostic testing. She is the Co-Inventor of EFA technology and holder of several U.S. and international patents. She has been named as an Industry Risk Innovator and Responsibility Leader.
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?
Igrew up in San Fernando Valley, CA and was not your typical Valley girl. I was a quiet studious person, independent by nature who loved to immerse myself in books. I always identified with strong women and wanted to one day become a leader and help humanity. My initial goal, even at a young age, was to become a surgical oncologist. My career path took a dramatic change when I was involved in a hit and run car accident and developed debilitating headaches and soft tissue injuries. I only wanted to get better so that I could continue my studies but that was not to be the case. I found out that since there was no method to diagnose soft tissue injuries that my treatment would be “hit or miss”. This was not an acceptable answer for me, so this leads me on my journey over the next few decades to develop one of the leading technologies to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. Early on in my career, I knew I wanted to expand outside of research and into management so that I could share my vision and support women, especially women entrepreneurs. My career has taken me from the Chief Science Office to COO and I am currently the President and CEO of an International Medical Company, Emerge Diagnostics, Inc.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A basic tenant of my life has been to pay it forward. Early on, I was approached by a woman who didn’t have insurance or the ability to pay for our services but was suffering from what they told her was soft tissue injuries and since all treatment had failed she was to have major back surgery. In doing so they told her she would no longer be able to exercise and since she was a fitness instructor this would impact her ability to earn a living. She looked to me for assistance. Many people said it would not be wise to give away services for free, but I could not ignore this person’s plight. I performed the EFA evaluation for the woman, she was able to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment, forgo back surgery and not have to give up exercising. This experience along with many similar ones, allowed me to grasp the impact that our technology could have and the impact my behavior could have by helping others. Innovation without reward and benefits to others, for me, would be meaningless. This simple experience helped shape my career.
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?
One of my early mistakes when starting out was not fully vetting the time differences and verifying when a critical report was due. We had a time-sensitive report due in the Caribbean and I did not check that the report was due at their time, not my pacific cost time. When I realized my mistake, it was crunch time my team and I team all rallied together and put each piece of the report together. What made it so funny is we were all literally running around the office trying to get everything copied and reproduced so we could have the fax time stamp reflect an on-time submission. Our fax machine gave out, so we had to pile into a car while piecing the projecting together, and go to the local Kinkos. It is something we looked back on and laughed as we look like the 5 stooges, but we got the job done. This taught me the importance of picking the right team and fostering each member to be able to be independent. We functioned as a well-oiled unit that day because we fostered an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.
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?
There have been two people that I am grateful for who helped me get to where I am today: my father, Anthony Cusimano and my husband Phil Reaston. My father was an earlier influence in my life. My parents were first-generation Americans and my mother being raised Italian was protective of me and well-meaning but wanted me to “settle down” and raise a family. She did not think a career would be the right path for me to take. My dad always told me I could do or be anything I wanted to be. He said never feel inferior because you are a woman in a man’s world. He taught the importance of integrity- your word is your bond. This is something I live by to this day. My dad died early on in my journey and while he paved my formative years, the person that I am most grateful for that has seen me through the most difficult and trying times and has helped me to achieve my success, is my husband Phil. He has always given me the strength, support, and love to allow me to climb mountains. For every setback, the company had my husband who is the co-inventor of the technology, encouraged me to continue and overcome adversity. At one point when things were bleak, he had tapped to our kitchen cabinets signs that said keep carrying on. Phil helped me to become comfortable with myself. He taught me my mantra that if you do your best, your best is good enough. He taught me to give each task no matter how small my best effort then be satisfied with myself no matter the outcome. In fact, I am a latecomer to yoga, I started practicing 2.5 years ago and when I told my husband that there was Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga, he told me to go try it as he knew the water is a place I thrive. He took me out the first time watched my entire body shake on the board then went out got me aboard and encouraged me to get certified to teach it. There is nothing I can’t do with it him by my side. I am now a certified SUP Yoga instructor. He showed my balance in life: CEO, President and Yoga Instructor. This balance makes me a better CEO.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. 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?
As a leader, I have learned through my yoga studies to practice breathing and to learn to stay focused in the present. I also practice daily yoga whether it be inside in my house or outside on a paddleboard on the water. This daily practice of yoga helps center me and builds my external and internal balance. A valuable lesson I learned is to stay focused on the task at hand or meeting and most importantly to strive to do my best.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. 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?
Gender and ethnic diversity in an executive team allow for everyone in the company to have the ability to identify with individuals that are like them. Companies with diverse leadership are more likely to retain employees as people want to stay and grow with a company if there are people, they can identify with rather than people then feel different from. To me, it is important to be diverse leadership to not only serve as mentors but to share different perspectives, this ultimately leads to better problem-solving.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
In a world where you can be anything be kind. Simple words but very true and effective. If we are kind and respectful to others this is the foundation of an equitable society. We have a diverse team. We have a policy that if there are issues are disagreement we sit together or in these times zoom conference and we each can have our say as long as we treat everyone with kindness and respect. There is not always a clear cut path forward but with leadership guidance kindness and respect we can move forward as a cohesive team.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think 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?
The buck stops here. A CEO is ultimately responsible for everyone in the company’s wellbeing success and failures. The CEO needs to foster leadership, independence strength, and communication and take responsibility for the team and company.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The most significant myth of a CEO is being unapproachable or sitting at the top looking at or down on the organization. Many people believe that the CEO should be protected or not approachable. This for me is completely contradictory to building an effective team. I have an open-door policy and feel that being accessible to my employees is key to making our company better. I also feel that an effective CEO should be able to pitch in and understand each department’s needs; no job or function should be below the CEO. The CEO does not need to be an expert in each field but should certainly have a good understanding of every aspect of the organization. I was not a seasoned CEO when I took over my position at Emerge Diagnostics. We are an international medical company; my background was in science and the regulatory aspects of the business. I did not have a strong financial background. I was supported through this transition and I decided if I were to be my best, I would have to develop a better financial understanding. I surrounded myself with a great team and told them from the outset I not only need to rely on your judgment but I need to understand the reasons why we are doing something so I can make better decisions. An effective CEO should interact with the team.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Wow, where do I start.? I would say that being female CEO respect is earned whereas, with a male CEO, respect is given more freely and not necessarily needs to be earned. What I really mean is that a women CEO you must go above and beyond to be accepted and respected people and I do not feel this is true for our male counterparts. I also think that there is a myth that women are always more emotional than men. I used to hear comments when I stepped into the role that she does not really mean it women are just too emotional and they overreact. These comments were extremely offensive, and my actions have earned me respect, but it is a hurdle we as female CEOs must overcome. I want to point out to all women starting on their career path or wherever they are in their journey to develop their inner strength and confidence. Stay true to yourself and strong in your beliefs.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The most striking difference is the CEO role is more of a balancing position than I anticipated. When I first entered into the role I thought it would be more administrative but I found that in order to foster growth and become an effective leader, I needed to install not only a sense of teamwork but to allow each person to grow and be independent, to allow to be supportive while fostering confidence growth. This is tempered with the need to steer the ship because the responsibility for each decision ultimately rests on my shoulder. There is no blame attached to anyone, but I must be responsible for everyone’s actions, and outcomes and balance their needs with what is best for the company. It is inspiring for me to watch our team grow and mature and as that happens, we become more effective as an organization.
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? Can you explain what you mean?
Self-confidence, inner strength, and the ability to understand that doing your best is what needs to be done are the traits I believe are the most valuable for an executive. Mistakes will happen but it is how an executive handles the mistakes that will allow them to excel. If you are a person who has these traits and are not looking for outward approval then, I believe you might be on the right path. A colleague of mine likes to say What is business: it is problems. If this resonates with you, then again you might have what it takes to be an executive. It is how you deal with the problems that is a key trait for an executive. If you are looking outside of yourself for approval or validation, then I do not believe that the executive path would be the right path. We all love to hear a great job but if we need the praise to believe we did a good, I believe aspiring to be an executive should be avoided. Solving problems are a daily part of my job description and I look forward to the challenge. I also believe life is balance and to be an effective executive you must have activities or hobbies that help center you and allow you to take time away from the job.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be true to yourself as a woman. Do not be true to emulate a male CEO, be who you are and that makes all the difference. Simple advice but often times it is hard to follow.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Absolutely, I have been mentoring women who are starting out on their career path to help them start on the road towards being executives. I am working with other groups of women to try and share business opportunities and ideas. Through these women’s organizations, we are hosting charity events to benefit wildlife and other women’s groups that have been impacted by COVID 19. Most significantly, Emerge Diagnostic is developing a wellness program that can assist people who have lost their jobs or their health insurance with telemedicine and yoga.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The company needs a shared mission and core values to unite as a team. When I first started as CEO, I had employees come and ask me what is our mission statement what core values do we as Emerge want to have. Simple questions yet we did not have an answer so as a team we developed our mission statement and core values, and this helped the company grow as a team and be more invested in our future.
- You cannot make everyone happy. I learned very early on that while allowing for input from every member of the team, the ultimate responsibility for each decision rested with me. While I always listen, I can’t always take the action that people want and this causes some hurt feelings.
- You won’t have all the answers and that is ok. I thought that by being in the role of CEO that you had to be able to respond with all the answers; be all-knowing. This was especially true for me as I was not a seasoned CEO. I thought if I didn’t have all the answers then people would think I was not qualified for the job. Having a great team and becoming more centered helped me overcome this and now I say I don’t know; let’s look into this together or I know where I can go to get the best information.
- Surround yourself with the best. The better people you have working with you the better the team gets. Don’t settle for mediocrity; this affects the entire team and pulls others down.
- Encourage outside of the box thinking. Don’t be afraid to explore new ideas or new solutions to old problems. This is especially true in our new reality with COVID 19.
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.
Kindness. If you are always kind to everyone you can never go wrong. Always be kind. We have a sign in front of our house. In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life Lesson quote — I did my best and my best is good enough. I have learned to live by this, mantra. I will always strive to give everything, my all, my best and knowing that helps me understand that whatever the outcome, I can face it as there was simply nothing more I could have done.. Good, or bad my best is good enough.
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
Michelle Obama is the person I would love to have breakfast or lunch with. She is smart, courageous, supportive and a role model and mentor. I would love to learn more from her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.