In today’s episode, the inspiring Dr. Maky Zanganeh joins us to share her unique view on leadership, relationships, and courage. Maky is the Founder and CEO of Maky Zanganeh & Associates; she is the Co-CEO at Summit Therapeutics, a Board Member of Pulse Biosciences, and the author of “The Magic of Normal.” Maky is also a mother, a breast cancer survivor, and one of the responsible for the second-largest biopharma sale ever in the industry, leading a struggling biotech company into a deal for $21 billion.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. We welcome you to the show and we have really an exceptional guest with us today. She is a recognized leader in the healthcare industry and is currently Co-Chief Executive Officer & President and member of the Board of Directors of Summit Therapeutics, a company committed to the betterment of overall human health. She was recognized in the “CEO appointments – 21 women who made CEO in 2022” article published in Business Chief Leadership & Strategy, published not too long ago. It was noted in this article that “women represent just 15% of chief executives employed by Fortune 500 companies, equaling 74 female chiefs, while globally, just 5% of chiefs are female.” Welcome Dr. Maky Zanganeh.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Thank you very much, Steve, for having me here. I’m looking forward to talking to you and it is a pleasure to be here.
Steve Shallenberger: I guarantee you Maky is a total delight. It’s just been fun visiting with her. And this, my friends, is going to be an exceptional podcast today. I can’t wait to share her stories more. She’s done so much. She was President of EMEA/Global VP of Training and Education for Computer Motion, Inc., which were pioneers in robotic surgery, which later merged with Intuitive, Inc., which I held a stock in, a very successful company, and they are leaders and have done a great job. Maky was awarded her DDS (Dental Degree of Surgery) from Louis Pasteur University in France, and an MBA from Schiller International University in France. She is fluent in French, German, Farsi, and English. She is also a published author, recently releasing her book entitled The Magic of Normal. We’ll have the chance to talk about that today. You’re going to hear more about her. She has really some extraordinary accomplishments. She’s been involved in a $1 billion sale of a pharmaceutical process company. Tell us just a little about that, what that was. I know AbbVie, by the way, because they’re another client of ours.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: I love AbbVie company. I love their CEO Rich Gonzalez, and it was a pleasure working with the entire AbbVie team over this period of time. Talking about Pharmacyclics, Pharmacyclics was an incredible journey for all of us who were working at this company. I joined Pharmacyclics, actually, we invested in around 2004. Me and my partner, Bob Duggan, we follow this company for four years, and around 2008, when the world crashed, this company as well fell kind of apart, we decided to really help the company. So I joined this company later on in a very, very short period of time for four and a half years. Again, a record time to bring a blood cancer drug into the hands of patients. That was very interesting because it’s an oral therapy. This way the patient was not involved to go every day to the hospitals. It was very patient-friendly because it was high efficacy and less side effect; you didn’t need to sometimes combine with all of these chemo drugs or radiations. For sure, that was a very nice process because when we get into the company, the valuation was around $15 million market cap value of the company. Seven years later, we sold it to AbbVie for $21 billion. For sure, it was an unbelievable organization with very deadline goals, aAnd we hit all of our deadline. It was a very, very speedy process. But with a great team and great product, the outcome was great, too. So we joined forces with Johnson and Johnson in 2011. We worked with them to bring this drug internationally into the market as well. So we were very fast globally to get the launch of the product. Again, in 2015, we sold half of the company to AbbVie for $21 billion. So that was an amazing performance from everybody involved. But the most important for me was all of the patients and physicians that trust us to really take the drug and treat the patients with this drug, and really helping the patients in a completely different form and shape to get to a quality of life in the longer term.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a good background. How important is it, Maky, to build strong relationships — relationships where you trust one another so you can experience this kind of excellence? And when there’s high trust, it’s so much easier to work. But if you don’t trust one another, it’s hard to make deals.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Honestly, without trust is no relationship in every aspect of life. The aspect of your relationship, the personal relationship demand trust, the relationship with your kids demand trust, the relationship with your co-worker demand trust, and for sure later on, as well, your relationship in the business world with your client and customer demand trust. That is something that, for me, is the most important thing in life because, without it, you cannot move. For us, it was very important because, as I said, the team, especially in this company, as well, majority of my team join us in the new company, Summit, because they know we have a purpose, a big goal to achieve into helping the cancer patients. I know the cure is still a long way to go, but we are doing everything possible to give the patient the best treatment that we can and help to get them at ease in during this journey to cancer therapy. So if the patient will not trust us, if the physician will not trust us, or vice versa, that will not going to happen.
Steve Shallenberger: What are the most important things that you can do to build trust, from your point of view?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Transparency — once you’re transparent about everything, that is how you build trust. Any other way, I personally believe not that one mistake will destroy trust but you have to be careful because building trust takes time, losing it is a second. So, for me, it’s transparency to the edge with everybody involved.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, that means you’re a little bit vulnerable at times, but you’re just laying it out there. But then you also trust in the process that you’re going to get to a better place because you are transparent. It’s okay.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Exactly. Even in the business, in the healthcare industry or biotech that I was in this time or have been all of these years, they invest or trust you because they are putting their money after tax into your company, so you have to be with them transparent. It’s not because it’s their money. I mean, I put my money into this company, and all of these companies, I see and I feel what an investor is doing for us; after the tax, they are trusting us to put the money into the company so that the research, the development and all of that will take to the next level. The employer is the same; you have to be transparent with your employer, you have to be transparent with your partners, and you have to be transparent with the patients, the patient wants to know which type of drug you’re giving to them. I was a cancer patient and I know what that’s mean. And it’s so funny after so many years being in innovation and so many years trying to bring a drug into the market when you are a patient at this moment of time when they are saying to you, “I can give you chemo or radiation and you can survive 98%, or I can give you the new innovative drug and you can survive 85%.” What do you do? Right away, you choose for the drug that keeps you longer alive. So that is exactly how you can be transparent to your patients because they want to leave and they want to stay longer in life. And for them, it’s important to just see how you’re treating them and which drug you’re giving them so they can stay longer alive with a quality of life, and that is all a factor of trust.
Steve Shallenberger: It’s so powerful. I just want to give you a little bit more background about Makey. She has some background. She grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq conflict, moved to Germany, and made her way through college, and she eventually came to the US in Silicon Valley. And wow, what a journey that is. And it’s there that she led the team to this $21 billion sale of the pharmaceutical startup that developed a life-saving blood cancer drug. And from there, as she mentioned, she found herself on the other end of the oncology spectrum as a patient. Maky is now a breast cancer survivor. And we wish you all the best in that, Maky.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: When I left Iran, for sure, as I said, it was not easy to go through a lot of things that happened, like the war, the revolution. But this kind of lifestyle makes you tough and makes you a survivor. And after that, I went to Germany for my high school diploma in Germany. And that was very, very interesting — new culture, new world, speaking a completely new language and trying to adapt yourself to this German culture, which was amazing, I really liked them a lot. And then after I left Germany to go to France. And there, I joined my sisters who are in medical school, finishing medicine. One is a cardiologist and the other is a gynecologist. And I decided to do that degree of surgery. But my passion went beyond dentistry. And even if three to four years I was working in this world of dentistry, all of my patients were very sick patients from handicapped children, autistic children, and abusive children. So after a few years working in this field, I decided to join completely another world, which is the medical business, that is where I really love it because the impact that you can have to society and what you can do is much bigger than just being in the dental practice. So I was lucky that I joined a company named Computer Motion with medical robotics. It was a brand new concept of minimally invasive surgery with a robotic system. And one of my biggest highlights is when I was working with customers going for transatlantic operations, the patient was in France and the surgeon was in New York. And we did the transatlantic operation, that was amazing, on these patients. And that shows how you can collapse time, collapse locations, and really the performance of, again, an innovative product like robotics. And then after that, I was working with this company. And that brought me to California when we merged with Intuitive Surgical, which is an unbelievable company. And right now, it’s one of the biggest companies, and we invest from Pharmacyclics. That was the beginning of my journey in Silicon Valley, from where I started and where I am right now.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, let’s get into your book. I’ve had it for a couple of days and I’ve already enjoyed it. Tell us about the book, why did you write it and what’s in it?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: The book is actually about me, my life, and my experience in this world, and especially my experience with cancer. When I started to write this book, I was in the middle of all of my treatments for chemotherapy and radiation. And I believe, after so many years running in the business world, as soon as I heard the word “cancer,” suddenly your life stops. And it was during the COVID time as well when the entire world had stopped, so all of our life become on pause. That was a moment when I had enough time in my life and I decided to write this book, really, not just the journey of what I went through during the cancer and during COVID, it was as well I just wanted to talk about the company, Pharmacyclics, and how we started this company as a failed company and how we bring it to a one of the most successful biotech company in 2015 at this moment of time. That was the reason why I wrote the book and that was a very good connection to have different feeling from where you start as a businesswoman into the oncology field and how you feel being a patient at the same time, and both feeling was nice to write about it.
Steve Shallenberger: So many perspectives there, especially on this subject of having your life suddenly interrupted. How do you adapt to that shock? What do you do?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: That is interesting because all of the time, especially when you’re healthy, you’re athletic, you’re running, you’re doing a lot of things, suddenly it’s like, “Now what?” And you are going through a lot of things during the treatment. But the interesting part, retrospectively, right now is not anymore what I went through, now different things come to my mind. And that is where I’m talking to a cancer patient or cancer survivor, all of us have the same feeling, it just is, “Can it come back? Can we relapse?” And that is something once you experience that, it’s much harder to think about what’s going to happen if you relapse, which is, at the first time, you never think that cancer would knock on the door. So, again, I do not wish for anybody to go through everything that I went through in my life, but each part of it was an experience that I’m very, very happy that I went through.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah because it gives you an insight that really is so unique, and with your unique spirit, it really represents an inspiration. And what can be possible? Because there are so many people that have interruptions; it could be the death of a loved one, it could be a divorce, and something tragic, you didn’t think of the loss of a spouse, or you had all of a sudden asudden sudden illness or loss of a job. So the comeback at it and to experience this triumph when you’ve been knocked down, that’s pretty inspirational.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Exactly. It’s really how you overcome all of the challenges despite of everything and what is your attitude towards that? And is the attitude make or break, in my opinion, in everything in life? How do you want to see something? Do you want to victimize yourself or you want to really fight against it and come back to the service? And that is why the title of my book is “The Magic of Normal.” It’s just when you lose, you lost everything; at this moment of time, you realize, “How I can get back to my normal life? How I can, again, trust myself and trust my environment? And how I can come back to where I was.”
Steve Shallenberger: So, Maky, what do you hope others learn from your story and from reading The Magic of Normal?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: I really hope that people realize that, first of all, life is very fragile and you never know what’s happening or what’s going on tomorrow. So how you can do your best today and how you can live in a moment of time and really appreciate every day, the people that you’re working with, the people that you are in communications with, your family, that you spend a little bit time, really you put your time into a perspective that you have to prioritize it. It’s not just all about work, it’s not just all about family, or it’s not just about something else, how you can do that. But the second thing that I hope that people realize that you should never give up no matter what’s happened in your life. Once you give up, you allow somebody else to do whatever they want to do. But in my opinion, you should never give up. You have to continue. And having hope and having faith are my two messages in this entire book.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m so glad we talked about that because we just can’t give up, we just need to keep lifting ourselves back up, and that’s when some of the greatest blessings of life come, some of the greatest happiness. What have you found, Maky, are the best ways to help you get back up and keep going and not giving up? How did you keep yourself motivated and in the right frame of mind?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: I believe you said “purpose in life.” You should put every time this purpose, another project, another impact that you want to put into society. And three to four months after my last treatment, I decided to join the company Summit Therapeutics, and that is exactly where my motivation came in, “Okay, I went through that, now what? How can I go back and how can I help patients in any form and shape that I can?” And the second one was for sure the family. I have a son, 16 years old, and every time when I was sick and he looked at me, it was very difficult to go through all of that. And when he was around 10 or 11 years old at this moment of time, you want to give them hope that life is beautiful. You get hit but stand up. And if I wouldn’t stand up, how can I teach him to stand up in front of all of the obstacles that life will have.
Steve Shallenberger: Thank you for sharing that, and thanks for being so open about it. That’ll give a lot of encouragement to everybody, certainly, including me. One little sidelight I wanted to ask you about, connections with others is such a key part of our life and it’s a key part of your book, so can you talk about how your view of connection has changed over the past two to three years? And how important is it for all of us in all areas of our life?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Connection with people, I believe, there are two ways to look at it. It is very, very important with whom you are and the people that you have in your life. At the end of the day, you cannot live alone, you need people, you need a family, you need your co-workers, you need friends. In the business world as well, you need your networking, people that can help you to build your business, people that can help you to be a part of your life and to make something go right with you. So the value of connection, for me, is very important — how you live your life. I cannot believe we can live without people, without friendship, without family.
Steve Shallenberger: I had a friend—this like 35 years ago—Charlie “Tremendous” Jones from back east. I love this quote, he said, “In five years from now, you will be the same person you are today except for two things: the people that you meet and the books that you read.” That’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s the people in our lives are so important and we want to choose those well, cultivate them, and build strong relationships. I’m always amazed at how fast these interviews go. Any final tips for our listeners today?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: I just want to finish with a quote that I personally love, it’s from Bob Marley: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option.” And it’s something that every day I look at it. And every day, it gives me a lot of inspiration to just say, “You’re strong no matter what, you just have to find it in yourself and just keep going no matter what’s going to happen in your life.” That is my message to the people.
Steve Shallenberger: So, Maky, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Actually, I have my website. They can look at my website and they can read my book. My book is on Amazon. And I’m in the company, so at LinkedIn, they can always connect with me. If there’s any help or advice that I can give, I’m always here.
Steve Shallenberger: Thank you so much. This has been such a delight to have you on the show today. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Thank you very, very much, Steve, really appreciate it for having me.
Steve Shallenberger: You bet. And we wish you all the best in all the things that you’re going to be doing as well.
Dr. Maky Zanganeh: Thank you, looking forward to it.
Steve Shallenberger: To all of our listeners, we’re grateful to have you with us. It’s a privilege. It’s an honor. And I know that you’ve gained some really good ideas today as I have. I’m excited about your book. It’s an inspirational book and we wish you all the best. And to you, our listeners, we wish you all the very best today and always. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger.
Inspiring Leader, Mother, Cancer Survivor, Author, Founder, CEO