The Journey of an Aspirational Leader - Lynn Seely

President and CEO of Myovant Sciences, Lynn Seely, MD joins Alicia Morgans, MD and shares highlights of her career journey also presented in her keynote during the 4th Annual PCF Women in Science Forum at the 26th Annual Prostate Cancer Foundation Scientific Retreat (PCF 2019).  Dr. Seely shares elements from her career journey including her internship and residency in internal medicine at Yale, her training as a basic scientist, and her joining the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. Her story is one of inspiration, courage, and tireless dedication to a vision and leadership that supports the foundation for both men and women to achieve success. 


Lynn Seely, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Myovant Sciences Ltd.

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.

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"I aspire to be my view of a great leader -- someone who has the ability to attract exceptional people to work collaboratively towards a shared vision, the courage to take risks, and the humility to listen to others." Lynn Seely, MD

Read the Full Video Transcript

Alicia Morgans: Hi, I'm so excited to have here with me today, Dr. Lynn Seely, who is the President and CEO of Myovant Sciences. You gave such an engaging lecture today in the women's symposium, which was an offshoot of the Prostate Cancer Foundation's annual meeting. And I would love to hear you just summarize some of those highlights for the audience, for those people who were not able to come and see you today.

Lynn Seely: Oh, of course. Well first of all, this is a major passion of mine and I am so impressed with what the Prostate Cancer Foundation is doing to really develop new leaders in prostate cancer research and really helping to support women at the hardest time in their career. So I was thrilled to be invited to share my story. And my story has been far from straightforward and is a little bit unusual, but it's fun to tell because I think it's as all life's journeys, a series of ups and downs and it's taken a lot of courage and a lot of work to get where I am. And so I tried to share that to really encourage some of the women in the audience that if you're going through a tough time, just keep going because there's so much improvement that can be made.

So I started my career in Oklahoma and I went to college there. I went to medical school there. And really after being there for a very long time was looking forward to getting out and seeing the world. And I got this amazing opportunity to do my internship and residency in internal medicine at Yale. And that really was a big break for me to get out and see the world. And I was so intimidated. I was so afraid to go there. I knew nobody, I'd never been out on my own. It took enormous courage. And then when I got there, I wasn't as prepared as maybe some of the other interns were. 

And so it was a very, very difficult time for me, but I made the decision that this was so important, I was going to stick with it and just worked hard and used everybody around me to help me. And I think that's one of the important things. The nursing staff saved me. Women helping women is so powerful and that's why I love this Women in Science Prostate Cancer Foundation effort.

And from there I decided that I was really impressed by the physicians who were physician-scientists, and really understood bench to bedside. I'd been a journalism major even though I went to medical school. So I went back and trained as a basic scientist, which was also very humbling when you don't know much and had to learn the scientific literature. And again, people had to help me, but I eventually made it on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, and was doing research when by complete surprise and serendipity, I got invited to give a talk at a biotech company and that led to some new opportunities that I never would have envisioned for myself.

I probably should have turned it down because I didn't know anything about biotech and I had no idea why they're inviting me, but I thought I could learn something. And so I was curious. I was curious about what went on in a biotech company. And so I went, and I then became so impressed about this opportunity to work in cross-functional teams with people of all different backgrounds to develop medicine. And I'd been working scientifically and treating one patient at a time, which was wonderful, but this idea to maybe develop a new medicine was just super compelling to me. And so I ended up surprising everybody, including myself, and going into work for a biotech company. And that was the launch of a long career in several companies since then working in drug development.

Alicia Morgans: So what I love from that part of your story and there's more to come, I will ask questions about that in a moment, is that you stretched yourself at each new experience you pushed on. You stretched to the point of discomfort, but that led you to not only survive, but you truly thrived. You became the Chief Resident at Yale, which is an honor bestowed on only a few people, because of very hard work. Your laboratory, I'm certain, was doing well at San Diego or no one would have invited you to give that talk. And then despite your own misgivings, perhaps they knew what a powerhouse you could be and they believed in you and wanted you to come on to that team. So that part of the story I think resonates with so many people. And I was so appreciative to hear that in your story.

Lynn Seely: I think if you're comfortable, you're not growing and learning. And for me, I love to be steep on the learning curve. And so I think when I get too comfortable, I know I'm not challenging myself and I'm not really growing the most. And so I tell people always be a little bit uncomfortable. If you're comfortable at what you're doing, you're not growing and stretching.

It's like when you first start working out, it's very uncomfortable. And if you get comfortable in your workout, you're not pushing hard enough. And so I do always like to push myself and that's how you gain confidence and competence and that builds this resilience to keep trying and keep growing. My rule of thumb and I decided this very early, is I would never let fear make decisions for me. If I was afraid, but I thought I could learn something or I thought it would give me a new experience that would help me grow, I had to do it. And I turn that fear into courage and it's not, I'm far from reckless, but if everything is telling you, this would be a great opportunity for me, I just don't think I'm ready, I don't think I can do it, I'm afraid I might fail, then I have to do it. And that's worked out very well for me because it forces you into new experiences and then you do grow and you learn.

And so I'm a big proponent of don't get comfortable, you don't want to become overwhelmed and so anxious that you can't function, but I think anxiety is a big problem right now for us because I think people feel like they have to be perfect or they have to become an enormous success overnight. I don't care about success, I care about progress and learning. And if you have continuous forward progress, not astronomical success overnight, but you're constantly learning, you're going to have a great and meaningful career or life.

And so I just think, not worrying so much about failure. I have failed so many times and you know what... I have a picture I love that I showed today, a child crashing on their bike and it's humiliating, it's sad, it's frightening, you're hurt, but if you get up and try again, you ultimately learn how to ride the bike. And so that's what I encourage people to do. If your grant doesn't get funded, if you don't get the job you want, if you spent months on some sort of scientific project that the hypothesis doesn't work out, it doesn't mean you're a bad scientist. It means research. Try again.

Alicia Morgans: I love that. And I also loved your story about your time at Medivation where you had a big crash on a bike, one could say.

Lynn Seely: Oh, terrible, terrible.

Alicia Morgans: I could feel during your talk, I felt almost that, you described it so well that I could feel how crushing that must have been because of all that you had put into that. Can you tell the listeners an abbreviated version of that story and how it really pushed you to an amazing success, honestly.

Lynn Seely: Thank you. I started at Medivation as the third employee, the Chief Medical Officer along with the CEO and the Chief Financial Officer and we came across this amazing drug that looked like it had tremendous potential for Alzheimer's disease. So we really formed the company around Alzheimer's disease to start and we had tremendous success in a Phase II, which was a mid-stage trial. Things look great and we started a large Phase III program and these are, lots of money, lots of patients, years of work to run these very large trials. And we were so excited and so confident that this drug was going to really benefit patients. And then when we unblinded this trial that we'd worked for years on, drug equals placebo, there was no benefit.

It was so crushing because what a great hope to bring something to patients with Alzheimer's disease and we'd done everything right in terms of the trial execution, it just, the drug didn't work so crushing. And years, I mean this wasn't six months on a grant. This was years. And so yes, it's crushing, but then you have to say, we were this great team the day before we had this data that didn't work out and so we all mourned. I said this morning, and it's true. I got in bed and didn't get out of bed for 24 hours, but then I did get out of bed and I went back to work and we all came together and we said, you know what, this is a great team. We believe in our capabilities and oh, by the way, we had in license this library of molecules from UCLA prostate cancer and we've got a potential prostate cancer drug. Let's reinvent ourselves as a prostate cancer company and get this drug to market, and that's what we did. We did lose a single employee over that. We all just rebranded ourselves and recommitted ourselves to prostate cancer.

Alicia Morgans: So I love the grit in that and the resilience. But I also love the creativity and the willingness to think outside of the box because you had been in Alzheimer's disease, which is so different-

Lynn Seely: Completely different.

Alicia Morgans: ...than prostate cancer. And I think that your transformations over time have been connecting the dots across disciplines, have been making these sort of leaps of faith that you can learn what you need to know. And that is I think very inspiring, too.

Lynn Seely: And I never think I have to know everything. I don't. What I love to do is surround myself with fantastic people. And then I learn from them. And by bringing people together and working synergistically, you can do amazing things. And so for me it's always about the people that I'm working with, the people I'm learning from and the people that we're working synergistically together on something that's important.

And for me, I can't work on something that I don't believe in that has real meaning and is a motivating 'why?' for me. Because at the end of the day, what gets us up in the morning, what we're trying, what makes us go through those tough times is the 'why'. Why is it important to me and why do I think this will be impactful?

Alicia Morgans: So thank you for sharing that. And before we close, I want to hear about your journey as a CEO because you are a rarity in the business world right now in terms of startups in pharma. And I'm hoping not forever actually, and I think you're hoping the same. So can you tell us a little bit about this topic, which is actually one of the reasons that the Prostate Cancer Foundation supported us to have this women's meeting today.

Lynn Seely: Well, I had been in the life sciences biotech industry for many years and I was constantly struck by the fact that in the workforce 50% or even more are women, and yet when you look at the C-suite, the executives, there are very few women. And I would go to this conference in healthcare. It's a major healthcare conference of the year and it's a sea of men. And in fact, the first year I was CEO, I went there and there were more men named Michael presenting than women CEOs. There were 20 women CEOs and 540 presenters. Something's wrong with that.

And so the reason I'm in this role is because I realized that what I could do to help change the face of leadership for women was actually to become one. I'd had an amazing experience at Medivation. It was frightening for me because I'd been on the clinical side. I hadn't been the CEO, I hadn't done all the legal and the business and the finance. But I realized that if I surrounded myself with the right people, I knew what needed to be done and I could rely on others to form a team that could do this.

So I formed Myovant Sciences. I was the first employee. I had to find the office space, had to buy the trash cans, the coffee makers get funding and launch five global Phase III clinical trials. It's been an amazing effort, but one that's been tremendously rewarding and uses every skillset I could possibly have and more.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, can you give us just one closing message as we wrap up, what do you want, and I know you have many messages, so it might be hard to choose, but what do you want the listeners to really take home at the end of this conversation?

Lynn Seely: I want men and women to realize that women are equally effective at leadership, and that I want women in particular to have confidence and courage to just do it. It's never going to be perfect. There's never going to be time. You're never going to be perfectly prepared. Just do it and you will be fine.

Alicia Morgans: I love that. 

Well, thank you so much for your time today.

Lynn Seely: All right. Thank you.