As a big player in the biotech community, Saira Ramasastry says doing well and doing good aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and that in business you can’t be afraid of failure.
I take a ‘servant leadership’ approach. My starting objective is enabling my team to fulfil our common goal. Rather than leading from a top-down approach, I concentrate on bringing out the strengths of the group to achieve the best result.
I learned this way of doing things from the women I worked with on Wall Street. When I started at Wasserstein Perella there was a very strong woman leading my group – a real role model for women in investment banking at the time. And later, when I joined Merrill Lynch to help build their life sciences practice after studying at Cambridge, I worked with Lisa Carnoy, who later became the Head of Global Capital Markets. One of my clients, Laura Brege, who is an industry leader and veteran CEO, mentored me as well. I watched her style, how she built and grew her team, and really learned from it.
I was taught early on that it’s better to be 100 per cent wrong than 99 per cent right. I trained as an opera singer: when you go out on stage you have to belt it out, even if you sometimes hit a wrong note (and I often did!). In business, you can’t be afraid of failure, you have to go at everything 100 per cent. I passed on the same message to my five-year-old daughter recently when she had to perform at school.
There’s no such thing as work-life balance. Every single day I juggle work and family – I just have to hope that family wins out most of the time. My husband helps me keep a sense of humour about it. I love the fact that our children see that we both have fulfilling jobs and that we make it work by supporting and loving each other.
I can’t say my life has gone the way I planned it simply because there was no plan – though it’s turned out pretty well! I didn’t plan on going into investment banking. When I left Stanford I wanted to stay in California. But I had a scholarship to attend Cambridge, and was fortunate to be offered a chance to build the life sciences practice at Merrill Lynch after graduation. Then, in 2008 the financial world fell apart with the economic crisis. My team, one of the longest standing on Wall Street, was disbanded and it gave me an opportunity to stand back and think about I wanted to do. I saw that the funding model for life sciences was changing and thought I could offer a new approach.
The accumulation of wealth is not my driving force, but doing good and doing well are not mutually exclusive. I feel so lucky to be a part of driving cures for patients, and to make an impact just by doing my job.
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Saira Ramasastry is an alumna of the MPhil in Management Studies programme and a member of Cambridge Judge Business School’s Alumni Council.
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