Ep 54: No Blueprint to CEO

with Renee DeSilva, Kelsey Mellard, and Jane Chao, Ph.D.

December 15, 2021


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Renee DeSilva
CEO, The Health Management Academy

Renee DeSilva serves as CEO of The Health Management Academy, partnering with top executives from the nation’s 150 largest and most innovative healthcare companies to shape the future of the industry. Under Renee’s leadership, The Academy has launched a broad array of new research programs, strategic partnerships and leadership initiatives.  

With more than two decades of experience in the healthcare industry, Renee is a sought-after speaker, moderator, panelist and host. Informed by The Academy’s more than 65 annual events featuring c-suite healthcare decision-makers and innovators, she has unique insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. She is frequently asked to speak on health system transformation catalyzed by COVID-19 and issues of race and representation in healthcare leadership.

Kelsey Mellard
Founder and CEO, Sitka

Kelsey Mellard, is the CEO and Founder of Sitka. Prior to founding Sitka, Kelsey lead Health System Integration for Honor Homecare. Prior to joining the Honor team in 2013, she lead the development of the Post-Acute Care Center for Research (PACCR), which she served as its Executive Director. Prior to this, she was Vice President of Partnership Marketing and Policy at naviHealth, and launched their Washington, D.C. office. She has also been the Vice President of Policy for Health Services at UnitedHealth Group and worked closely with Optum. She has also been Special Assistant the Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) where, in addition to helping establish the organization, she also served on the Steering Committee for its Health Care Innovation Summit, engineering its first-ever public-private event.

Before working with the Federal Government, Kelsey worked directly within the healthcare delivery system as a consultant to a variety of hospital systems. She has also served as a member of the Advisory Board Company, and as an Administrative Fellow at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinic.

Kelsey began her career at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation working on the StateHealthFacts.org team. She attended Winona State University, where she received a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Community Health, and received her Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Kansas. Currently, she also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Winona State University in the College of Nursing and Health Services.

Jane Chao, Ph.D.
Co-founder and CEO, Ceribell

Jane Chao, the co-founder and CEO of Ceribell, holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from Cornell University. Before she joined Ceribell, Jane had a solid history of leadership and success in business. She launched her career as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, and later made her move into the medical space joining Novartis as their Senior Strategy Manager. She then enjoyed a successful career at Genentech as their Principal Manager of Portfolio Management Strategy.

In 2015, Jane started Ceribell full-time as the CEO, the position she currently holds. She has built and led the Ceribell team from early concept stages to a fully commercial, FDA-cleared, clinically proven and highly successful commercial product that is changing the standard of care for critically ill patients.


You need to be mindful of the title and position as you settle in, but continue to be yourself. That's why you were hired, that's why you were picked for this role.



Holly Roberts 0:22
Picture a CEO. What do you see? Probably an older white man, tall, maybe named John. You’d be right about the last one. In 2018, there were more US companies with CEOs named John than companies that had female CEOs. That’s a disappointing statistic and C suites should be more diverse. Thankfully, we know that there are some incredible women in the healthcare space breaking that glass ceiling. I’m Holly Roberts, Think Medium’s producer, and today, I’m excited to bring you a special edition of Her Story, where we showcase some of these female leaders, looking to their insights and advice. We will hear from Renee DeSilva, CEO of the Health Management Academy, Kelsey Mellard, the founder and CEO of Sitka, and Jane Chao, co-founder and CEO of Ceribell to begin, let’s listen to Renee DeSilva’s advice for new CEOs.

Renee DeSilva 1:07
There’s probably two things I would distill it down to, is, really take the time to understand the business because, even though I felt like the diligence process that I went through, I felt like I was in a mutual evaluation, I think the founders and our strategic partner, Welsh Carson, did a beautiful job making everything as plain as possible, but you still have to learn. So really, just, no job is too small, really get in deep, understand the nuances that you only know over time, would be the first thing. The second thing would be just really thinking through the team that you put in place and suspending ego in some ways, you know, just figuring out, again, if you’re grounded by “member at the center”, make sure that that really dictates how you spend your time. And then I do think that a big part of it, and maybe there’s a way to short circuit it, but it does come down to just being comfortable in your own shoes and being unabashed in your willingness to just do what you think is right answer, because that’s ultimately what you were hired for. So you’ve got to learn the business, you’ve got to have the right team, you’ve got to get input, but you have to be comfortable being in those shoes. And sometimes there can be a little bit of a self talk like a, you know, track in your head that can undermine that if you’re not careful, or at least that’s true for me. And I would say anyone that I’ve ever worked with would not say that I suffer from confidence or that but there’s something to the role and the title that you just need to be mindful of as you settle in, and you just sort of continue to be you. That’s why you were hired. That’s why I was picked for the role.

Holly Roberts 2:34
Women in leadership positions can sometimes experience imposter syndrome. If you feel that doubt creeping in remember that you were chosen for that role because of who you are. Feeling uncertainty doesn’t make you an imposter, it makes you human. Next, we will hear from Kelsey Mellard and how she thinks about being a female CEO.

Kelsey Mellard 2:53
The expectations of female leaders are changing. But also it’s something that I have had to learn to become more aware of, because of the way that it can be perceived at times. So I think that I’m coming across as strong and supportive and, you know, driving an agenda and moving quickly and learning. And that’s not always the perception that people would have, in large part because of my gender. And that’s been a big challenge for me to actually comprehend. Because again, it’s something that I haven’t really let land on me in previous positions, because it’s ,like, I’m just here to do a job, it doesn’t matter what my gender is or isn’t and how I identify. And that’s not true. And people make it matter. And because that’s their perception, then therefore, as a leader, you have to lean in and understand that in order to navigate it and actually make it, frankly, like part of your superpower. And how to actually take that to say, “great, I’m going to take this and I’m going to learn from it and test different strategies on not how to be the leader that people expect me to be because I’m female. But really, how do you continue to get a team to perform and be a female leader, and use the skills and abilities that I have to do that effectively”.

Holly Roberts 4:12
Other people’s perceptions of what female leaders should be and act like can have a real impact. However, that doesn’t mean those perceptions should define us. There are many ways to be a leader and not every style works for each person. To elaborate we turn to Jane Chao.

Jane Chao, Ph.D. 4:29
I used to think, as the CEO, as a leader, you have to be this very charismatic person you get on stage you can give these super inspiring motivational talks just on spot, right? Because of that I always thought I can never be an inspiring leader. I thought I can just be a manager and manage things because I solve problems. And over the years I realized there are different leaders. The bigger my responsibility becomes, the more I realize being a leader is so much of a reflection of being who we are. When I’m positive and supportive as a person, it will come out as a leadership that’s positive and supportive. And so I start to, A, realize, I don’t have to be this charismatic person and give motivational speeches, I can build the leadership based on who I am. So what is my strengths, right? My strength is, I can really create a clear vision. It comes relatively easy for me, but might be very hard for other people to see. I’m really passionate about that vision. I can motivate people and help people to see that vision. And I can see a pass to get there. So that’s how I lead my team. And also the other part, I really value everyone, that I want everyone to succeed. And it’s not about me, it’s about we all get to that goal together. And that makes the leader because that’s who I am. So I think that’s probably the biggest myth I overcome over the years.

Holly Roberts 6:11
Movies and shows make us think that leadership is about motivational speeches. But when distilled leadership is a reflection of our values, and who we are as individuals, leadership comes in many forms and the style of leadership needed can differ between companies, industries, and time. Every leader is unique. There is no blueprint, checklist, or cookie cutter approach to leadership. We each define and create our own leadership style. We hope you’ll join us for season three of Her Story to hear from more women and how they became the leaders they are today. We’ll see you on January 5.

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