Sandra Glucksmann, CEO of Cedilla Therapeutics and a founding board member of WEST, sat down with us to share her experience and lessons learned over her 25-year career in biotech. Sandra holds a PhD in molecular genetics and cell biology from the University of Chicago and carried out her post-doctorate work at MIT.
Sandra’s career path spanned both science and business. She attributes her success to being open to new opportunities that were not necessarily in her wheel house and to cultivating a strong network. After working as a bench scientist for eleven years at Millennium, she made a mid-career shift into the business side of biotech. She believes that staying deeply connected with her science background gave her a leg-up when developing her corporate presence in biotech.
She explained how different roles require different leadership styles and that in order to succeed within different teams, you may need to adjust your leadership approach. “You have to lead with influence and authority.” Reflecting on her own experience, she noted that some of the best leaders and bosses she has encountered were those with charisma, good interpersonal skills, high standards, and above all, were able to inspire.
Embracing change and openness to new roles were key.
Often, leaders have character traits that propel them to success. When asked if there were any personal mantras that have carried her, she responded, “I like novelty, I like challenges. What may be scary for some is an opportunity for me. I enjoy new challenges where I can continue to stretch and grow.” This entrepreneurial spirit has guided her to where she is today.
When asked if there were any individuals integral to her success and career development, Sandra named her first boss in biotech, Mark Levin. He has been both her mentor and sponsor, recognizing her potential from the early stages of her career. “Mark believed in me, championed me. He has also been my go-to person when I had to make hard career decisions.”
Looking back over her long career in biotech, Sandra feels that, had she been able to go back and give herself a piece of advice, she would encourage her younger self to “ask for what you want, leave emotions behind, and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure provides great learning opportunities.” She explained that the greatest value you can offer is your authentic self – “who you are as a person and what you bring to the community.”
She went on to describe an “aha moment.” At a leadership conference a speaker explained “We are all human, we all have both strengths and weaknesses, we all make mistakes. So, work on the things you need to develop but above all expand your strengths, because your weaknesses will never be brought to the same level as your strengths.” For Sandra, this insight was pivotal.
Sandra’s experience as a WEST board member for the last 14 years has allowed her to give back and to network and connect with like-minded individuals - “It’s been a great exposure to smart people and continued leadership learning.” Sandra presently also holds Board positions at both a US public biotech company and a European start-up biotech company.
Sandra’s passion for helping others in their career is palpable. “We are only here once,” she says. “What propels me is the desire not only to do something creative scientifically but the desire to help others and to develop other leaders.”
Sandra is both humble and generous with her advice and time. She a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, fearless, driven, tough and bright. When you combine all that with her light-hearted humor, you can understand why she has come so far.