Sittercity founder Genevieve Thiers is putting her Bienen School of Music opera training to good use every Saturday afternoon throughout the pandemic, livestreaming a concert of opera and musical theater favorites. During the week, however, she’ll remain focused on her other passions: entrepreneurship and political action.
When Sheila Gujrathi was a student at the Feinberg School of Medicine, she took a year off between her second and third years to live in an ashram in the south of India. Her mother, a pediatrician, was so worried about Gujrathi that she called the ashram and asked them to send her daughter home to finish school.
But Gujrathi, a second-generation Indian American, wanted to lead a more centered life. Her father, a psychiatrist, had encouraged her to study sacred Hindu philosophies and scriptures. He passed away when she was a teenager, and Gujrathi was still grieving. At the ashram, she says, she was able to work through her grief and explore a spiritual path.
“It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” says Gujrathi of her gap year. “It gave me the strength, values, resilience and courage to continue to move forward in my life and follow my dreams.”
Her dreams have taken her far — on an unconventional journey from becoming a doctor and treating patients to leaving the practice of medicine to becoming a management consultant to doing research in biotechnology to co-founding a biopharmaceutical company. Her goal was to create a next-generation, innovative biopharma company to do cutting-edge science and help as many patients as possible.
Today, as president and CEO of Gossamer Bio in San Diego, Gujrathi leads a company focused on the discovery and development of therapeutics in the disease areas of immunology, inflammation and oncology.
In co-founding and building Gossamer, Gujrathi says, it was essential to use a different business model from the big pharma companies.
“I wanted to have the ability as a small, nimble biotech company to push the envelope every day and take risks,” she explains. “My thinking here is that we will have these successes, and where we don’t have successes, we’ll want to make those decisions quickly to stop programs and move on to what’s next. Our ability to do that and then understand where the science is going and make new discoveries and keep furthering the field is so exciting for all of us.”
When Gujrathi ended her stay at the ashram, she returned to Northwestern to finish medical school, completing the seven-year Honors Program in Medical Education, in which she had also earned a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering. After her residency in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, she did a fellowship year in allergy and immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford.
“I always thought I’d be a physician,” Gujrathi says. “But I wanted to see if I could have a broader impact.” Coming into contact with entrepreneurial clinicians in the Bay Area and seeing the vibrant interaction between industry and academics, she made the decision to go into management consulting at McKinsey & Company.
“It was terrifying to leave medicine, but I learned a tremendous amount about communication and analytical and project management skills,” she says.
Eventually Gujrathi went back to clinical research within the biotech industry, focusing on science as a physician executive. From there she progressed to high-level management positions, eventually becoming the chief medical officer at Receptos, a drug discovery and development company, and then moved on to start Gossamer.
Gujrathi credits the year she spent in the ashram for giving her a holistic perspective on running a company.
“One of my motivations for forming Gossamer was that I wanted to bring those spiritual values to work and continue to grow myself, professionally and personally, but also help anyone around me who would like to also take that journey with me,” says Gujrathi. “You want to bring your authentic, whole self to work. It’s transformed my life and for the better. It is at the core of how I think and what I do. And I do believe that we’re here for a higher purpose. We’re all doing our part in this universe to achieve that.”