Meet Athena member Sheila Rege, an M.D.-turned-CEO hyper-focused on healthcare industry leadership
Athena member Sheila Rege is a healthcare CEO, successful entrepreneur, and seasoned board member. She’s a jack of all trades who secured funding and led a high-performing healthcare startup during the Great Recession and now invests in innovative startups and early-stage companies through Alliance of Angels. She also serves on several boards, including the American College of Radiation Oncology, Physicians Insurance, and the Washington State Health Care Authority. At Athena, Sheila uses her natural talent for connecting people to host our guided networking events and mentor fellow members who are seeking board seats.
Walk us through your executive journey.
I started at my first IT database start-up in college, created a note-taking service in medical school, and at 25 served as the Director of Research at Louisiana State University. Later, I served as a Medical Director and Board Member at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, where I was responsible for patient lives. In my forties, I joined a private insurance company board and learned a lot about the importance of good corporate governance.
In 2010, right after the recession, I made the difficult decision to launch a healthcare startup. I leaned on my network and mentors to put together an advisory board made up of fabulous directors with diverse experiences who served as my sounding board. I found that I loved being on a board, whether it was my love for the animated discussions that went on in the boardroom or having the power to build organizational success.
How has your background propelled you to become an advocate for diversity in the workplace?
My personal mantra is “People and planet first, then profits.” I moved to the US as a high school senior with only $29 in my pocket. When my father was laid off, I gained a strong understanding of the financial vulnerability among minority families and the importance of ethnic diversity in the workplace. These experiences inspired me to advocate for a more culturally diverse workplace. My husband and I enjoy volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club and I’ve also done work to get kids excited about jobs like doctors, lawyers, or teachers. As for diversity within the C-suite and boardroom, I am the first woman President of the American College of Radiation Oncology, and I’m excited to share that a female person and a Black person (pending elections) may follow me in this role.
What is your passion?
When I attended boarding school in India, Mother Superior told me that I would someday understand my talent for forming strong bonds. It was clear to her that people felt comfortable talking to me and knew that I cared about them. Soon enough, I came to realize my passion for genuine human connection.
What core values drive you as a leader?
My most important value is my strong moral compass, which guides my decision-making in ethically fraught situations. I often took the harder path to ensure my moral compass aligned with my actions. I recall having to decline a notable role because I knew the CEO and I wouldn’t be a good fit. Although this core value has faced me with tough choices, I believe there’s greater reward in the long run.
Two more values: curiosity and helping others, also drive my leadership. My innate curiosity encourages me to always ask questions and be open to technology and change. I also strongly believe in paying it forward and improving the lives of others.
Describe what it was like going into your first board meeting as a board director.
For context, I was the youngest board director and the only woman for a period of time. I was nervous because I wasn’t an expert in insurance, so I focused on listening well and really understanding the business. Thankfully, the board had a supportive onboarding process which gave me the opportunity to speak with the C-Suite as well as meet all kinds of people at a national meeting in the insurance industry. I believe that women quickly learn to become amazing board directors because they’re good at listening, relating, and asking questions.
How has Athena helped you on your journey?
First, I have been very pleased with the bonds I’ve formed through Athena. I recently hosted a guided networking event that was so much fun. Athena Alliance is a special group of talented women professionals who are not afraid to share their personal journeys as a means of elevation, education, and connection. Even more, the salons have allowed me to experience different boardroom scenarios and understand what matters to stakeholders. Sometimes, I also get to help fellow members who reach out to me about how I got my board seats. All in all, being a woman executive can be a lonely job, and Athena gives us a much-needed circle of trust to share lessons and struggles.
What advice would you have for fellow women leaders rising into the C-suite or boardroom?
If you are looking for a board seat, build strong relationships, and ask for candid feedback. Figure out your own brand and what you bring to the table. Find strong mentors who will help you learn and grow.
To all my fellow women leaders, tell your unique story. It make a difference for future generations. We got here because of hard work and integrity, so believe in yourself, invest in yourself, and take care of yourself. Be honest about your bandwidth and make sure to balance between your company goals, professional goals, and personal goals.
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Originally published at https://athenaalliance.com on December 17, 2020.