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Social Impact Heroes: How Myra Biblowit of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is helping to fund cancer research around the globe

Always keep your door open — to everyone! You will always want to have a strong senior leadership team, but never forget all of the people that comprise your organization. The rising tide lifts all the boats — motivated members of the team at all levels drive success.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Myra Biblowit, the President of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the nation’s highest rated breast cancer organization, with a mission focused exclusively on funding research around the globe. Myra partnered with her dear friend Evelyn Lauder to found BCRF in 1993. Their goal was to create an organization with a singular focus on funding research as advances were coming quickly. Myra joined BCRF as President in 2001. That year, BCRF raised $10.6 million and committed $8.5 million to fund 50 researchers in the United States. This year, BCRF has awarded a record $66 million in grants to 275 clinicians and scientists from top universities and medical institutions across 14 countries, making BCRF the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the world. During Myra’s tenure, BCRF funding has enabled many of the most important breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, metastasis and survivorship. Myra has been widely recognized for running one the most financially efficient and transparent non-profits. Prior to joining BCRF, Myra was Vice Dean for External Affairs at NYU Medical Center where she headed Development, Alumni Relations and Public Relations. Previously she was Senior Vice President and led the Capital Campaign at the American Museum of Natural History. Earlier, Myra served as Executive Vice President of the Central Park Conservancy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Myra! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve spent my whole career in the non-profit sector. With opportunities to leave from time to time, I’ve always found myself wanting to stay. There is a luxury to how nimble the nonprofit world allows you to be — gains are constantly rewarded, and collaboration encouraged. There is an unparalleled feeling that one gets working for an organization that’s driven by a mission and a cause that matters. I feel privileged to do the work that I do and relish every role I’ve had from the Central Park Conservatory to the Museum of Natural History and four different medical institutions. Far and away, the best thing I’ve ever done is the 18+ years I’ve spent leading the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). When my dear friend Evelyn Lauder decided to start BCRF, I recruited the first executive director. Seven years later, I stepped in to head the organization, and I can truly say that leading BCRF has been my greatest privilege and my life’s work. I do what I do every day, in tribute of Evelyn’s vision and in honor of her great legacy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading BCRF?

When I first started at BCRF, I was energized by Evelyn’s sheer will and commitment to our mission. She was an incredible partner and she would be overjoyed to see today the resonance, impact and relevance of the Foundation. Since 1993, BCRF has evolved dramatically. Indeed, looking back our aspirations were so modest compared to the breathtaking reach of research today. In the early years, people didn’t talk about breasts or breast cancer. Initially, we focused on raising awareness and improving diagnosis and treatment. As time went on, the pace of research accelerated. We were able to add prevention and survivorship to the continuum of breast cancer research, powerfully bookending our mission with hope and possibility. Widening our focus this way was one of the most interesting, and powerful, changes at BCRF. We can and will, in fact, end breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. I’ve met so many women impacted by breast cancer and each and every one has made an impression on me that inspires me to continue this work.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were on the cusp of change, and BCRF was considering ways to stand out. We spent weeks thinking about changing our logo, the iconic pink ribbon. Was there a way to make it more evocative of science — perhaps a helix shape? Was there a different shade of pink we should contemplate? Should our logo more clearly demonstrate our unique role as the only organization with a laser-sharp focus on research? There were so many things to consider, but we couldn’t nail down the perfect symbol of our mission. Then I got a call from Leonard Lauder, then Chairman of our Board, who had been working closely with us on our logo design. He said he had been up all night thinking about it and asked me to come right over. When I got there, he directed me to look in the closet — it was a mess so I said, “have you invited me here to clean the closet? I’m not doing it.” He laughed and asked me to bring him the big paper bag. Out of the bag, came one iconic brand after the other — Kellogg’s Cornflakes and more. I then had the rare and special opportunity to get a lesson in branding 101 from one of the world’s leading marketing experts. Leonard recognized the power in our logo. He knew, like the household brands on the table, that we should not give up the equity in our pink ribbon. To this day, I remember the momentousness of having Leonard Lauder personally share his insight, brilliance and clarity with me and BCRF. Our logo remains the pink ribbon, the soul and heart of our mission.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

BCRF is best in class. I’m forever mindful of Evelyn’s eye for quality and standard of excellence. That is our mantra. We take our responsibility seriously and donors respond to that. They see that we are the highest-rated breast cancer organization in the country. They see that we are the largest private funder of breast cancer research — and metastatic breast cancer research — in the world, and that we do it with remarkable efficiency. My team, fewer than 50 people, are all filled with the passion to eradicate breast cancer.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This year, we awarded a record $66 million in grants to 275 BCRF investigators across 14 countries. This group is mining every avenue of breast cancer research from the lab to the bedside. They are united in their shared passion to get the best results for patients. One of the most complex challenges in breast cancer, and arguably the biggest, is metastatic disease. Metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV, has no cure and is the cause of nearly all breast cancer deaths. We know how urgently metastatic breast cancer patients need breakthroughs — their very lives depend on it. That is why we launched the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund, the largest global effort dedicated exclusively to metastatic research. It has the potential to end breast cancer, and in turn other cancers, as a life-threatening disease, saving countless lives.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t be afraid to hire people who may be stronger at certain things than you are. Expand your organizations reach by hiring good people, maximizing their skills and empowering them to use those talents. I think of it as creating a quilt, stitching together the broadest possible range of talents to build the most impactful team. The strength of your team is the best reflection of your leadership and eye for quality.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Always keep your door open — to everyone! You will always want to have a strong senior leadership team, but never forget all of the people that comprise your organization. The rising tide lifts all the boats — motivated members of the team at all levels drive success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am forever grateful for Evelyn Lauder, founder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, my friend, my champion, and partner. Evelyn was a force unlike any other. She gave me the opportunity to have a role that touches lives so profoundly. She was warm, engaging, funny and she was really, really smart. She was my greatest cheerleader and that was hugely motivating.

One other person who has continued to motivate me and to whom I am extremely grateful is Dr. Larry Norton, Co-Scientific Director of BCRF. Not only is he a brilliant, dedicated researcher, but he also has a driving passion and dedication to cure breast cancer. I am motivated by him each and every day, and we are fortunate to have his wise council.

· How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

BCRF-funded researchers have been at the forefront of every major breast cancer break through over the past 25 years. Research is the reason there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. and deaths from breast cancer have declined by 40% over the last 25 years.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Find role models, people to emulate. Observe how they work, speak and handle situations and you’ll learn tools and tactics to use in your own role.

2. Think about how you present yourself. Even if you’re feeling unsure about something, reflect a confident demeanor — people respond to that. The energy you put out is how you will be perceived.

3. Say thank you, often. It doesn’t matter who you’re working with — staff, donors, volunteers. An acknowledgement of appreciation will go a long way, especially in the non-profit sector.

4. Step outside your comfort zone. People always question if it’s hard to ask for money. Perhaps for some, but I recognize that I’m not asking for myself. I’m asking for BCRF and the legion of women facing down breast cancer. Enthusiasm for the cause and pride in the quality of this organization have pushed me to continue to fundraise and find new partners year after year.

5. Bite the mic when you speak. One of the first things that Evelyn Lauder told me was to “bite the mic when you speak.” She taught me to be a strong and articulate voice, and to share my passion for this wonderful organization.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Evelyn inspired me and everyone around her with her vision: to create a movement to end breast cancer. We have and will continue to carry her pink torch and remain committed in our promise to her and to the millions of women and men affected by this global epidemic. Today, I have the luxury and joy of having her son William Lauder as Co-Chair of our Board — he is indeed an unparalleled partner in carrying us forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is one that Evelyn said all the time: “Knowledge is power.” It’s so simple, and yet bears more truth in the world of science than perhaps any other. There are lives at stake, and gaining knowledge is the only way to save them.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

The people that I look up to the most are those that take the time to educate themselves and are thoughtful philanthropists. One female icon of philanthropic leadership that I’d love to meet is Melinda Gates. The work that she has done through the Gates Foundation is unprecedented in improving healthcare in 3rd world countries across the globe. She has helped lead measurable change — decreasing infant mortality by 40% in low- and middle-income countries. Now she’s taking that same approach to changing the pace of gender equality. A meal with one of the world’s truest examples of a change-maker who is using her resources thoughtfully and strategically would be extraordinary.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.



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