Sheila Gujrathi—Gossamer Bio

Gossamer Bio
Sheila Gujrathi said she could have walked away from the $7.2 billion sale of Receptos to Celgene and never worked again, but she felt the call of biotech. (Gossamer Bio)

Sheila Gujrathi
Company: Gossamer Bio
Title: CEO

Sheila Gujrathi, M.D., is already pretty high up in our esteem: Last year, her company, Gossamer Bio, was named to the FierceBiotech Fierce 15 for its work on immunology, coming off a $100 million series A with a massive $230 million series B, making it one of the most heavily funded Fierce 15 companies of all time.

Gujrathi is used to big numbers: She came out of a major Receptos deal, alongside Gossamer’s executive chair, Faheem Hasnain (with Hasnain as former CEO and Gujrathi as its former chief medical officer), that saw the autoimmune treatment developer snapped up by Celgene around four years ago for $7.2 billion in cash.

Gujrathi could have walked away from that deal and never worked again, but she says she felt the call of biotech. “In 2015, I really took a step back after the deal from Receptos,” she explained. “I had a lot of options, including not going back to work, or taking on board responsibilities. But really, what I wanted was to take the next step in my career and become the chief executive of a biotech company.”

That's no small feat in a world dominated by men, especially in leadership positions; and not just men but typically white men, too. “I’m not only a woman but a woman of color. And there are even fewer of us around in leadership positions," Gujrathi said.

And she didn't want to just run a company, either. “I wanted to build my own company; to be a company founder, as well as its leader," she explained. “That was very important to me: To make something differentiated and special in the industry.”

That’s one of the reasons that 52% of Gossamer's employees are women, and that percentage exists across all levels of the company. “We’re really focusing on people’s abilities and capabilities and their personalities, rather than their gender,” Gujrathi said.

She also says that creating a company with a “thriving culture,” as well as a strong R&D focus, was paramount: “This is why the company is centered on respect and humility. Many may give lip service to those terms, but we are making it a living part of our culture."

Gujrathi is also making good on a desire to mentor women both inside Gossamer and out. She's made it a priority to support other female CEOs, women seeking leadership opportunities and women in STEM fields, and she's motivated by the prospect of being a role model for aspiring women leaders.

“I want to be that role model at Gossamer, and if I can, in life sciences in general. And I want to show, not tell, and really try and break down these barriers that I have had to fight, and continue to fight, each and every day, frankly.

"There is still a lot of gender bias that is very subtle, but it is definitely there," she continued. And unfortunately, "there is also still—and I have experienced this myself, and I know other women do too—bullying. It’s definitely an issue and a shocking one, to still see this going on.”

When it comes to dealing with that problem, it's important to first validate what women are experiencing before helping them through it, she said: "The best thing, I think, is to keep their belief in themselves; that is what I have always strived to do, and I think self-belief is invaluable for women. Being stripped of this can be very damaging.”

Sheila Gujrathi—Gossamer Bio