2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Anne Tsao, MIT (Sloan)

Anne Tsao

MIT, Sloan School of Management

Age: 47

“I am a wife, daughter, physician, life-long learner, animal lover, clinical researcher, change- and servant-leader.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Family Members:

Husband: Dr. Mark Clemens

3 cats: Charlemagne, Napoleon, Wellington

Parents: Dr. Kuey-Yeou and Meichih Tsao

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve traveled to all 7 continents…in search of good food mostly.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: BS

University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine: MD

Where are you currently working?

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology

My official titles:

Section Chief, Thoracic Medical Oncology

Clinical Medical Director, Thoracic and Orthopaedic Center

Director, Mesothelioma Program

Director, Thoracic Chemo-radiation Program

Fleming Endowed Professorship for Mesothelioma Cancer Research

MDACC Principle Investigator, National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site (LAPS)

UG1 Grant

Chair, Conflict of Interest Committee

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

1. I serve as a co-developer and faculty member for the IASLC Leadership Academy. The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer is our main international thoracic oncology society.  The Leadership Academy curriculum focuses on leadership and career development.

2. I was selected for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Leadership Development Program in 2012, have continued to serve as an ASCO University Faculty, and now serve as a mentor for ASCO junior faculty from around the world each year.

3. I co-developed and created the first Targeted Therapies meeting for Mesothelioma, sponsored by IASLC, and brought together the top oncology researchers from over 50 countries.

4. I co-created and led the NCI-IASLC-MARF meeting at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for advancing research in mesothelioma, again bringing together faculty from around the world to focus on a common mission.

5. For 3 years, I served on the ASCO Government Relations Committee, which provided experience working with lawmakers to repeal SGR, increasing NCI/NIH funding, and also developing policy statements on biosimilars. This was one of my favorite committees, where I hosted various state and congressional leaders at our hospital to educate them on the need for funding cancer research. We had the privilege of hosting Congressman Fred Upton before the 21st Century Cures Act became a law.

6. I have extensive experience with CME academic programs and am frequently requested to assist with developing thoracic oncology education curriculums.

7. I was the co-leader for the NCI TCGA program for thymic malignancies which involved over 80 researchers from around the world.

8. I have served as an associate editor for New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch and ASCO’s cancer.net for thoracic malignancies.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was most proud of learning how to code in R from Professor Dimitris Bertsimas’ Analytics Edge class because it is so challenging, powerful, and addicting when you can successfully make actionable predictive analytics…and create multi-color graphs.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The research scientist part of me is most proud of the 150+ peer-reviewed publications and their impact on the advances in the field of cancer research. The servant-leader part of me is so proud to see my faculty and staff mentees ascend the career ladder, to make a positive difference in our communities.

As an organizational change-leader, I am most proud of co-leading the Thoracic service line team that successfully ensured the safety and well-being of all of our lung cancer patients, as well as the healthcare providers, during the COVID pandemic.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Roberto Fernandez. His teaching style was fun, engaging, thought-provoking, and the lessons stay with you. For example, the 15.717 Organizational Processes class reshaped the way I look at organizations and management. In his 15.S22 Power and Politics in Organizations class, I also learned a lot about myself, about what traits I had that may have hindered achieving my goals in the past and how to leverage my strengths to overcome them. At work, during challenging leadership moments, I often think back to his lectures on the 3 lenses for guidance – an invaluable and universal lesson applicable in any change process.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? 15.705 Organizations Lab with Professor Nelson Repenning. I learned how to use the A3 framework to map out a process, identify root cause issues, and develop an improvement plan. I was able to implement sustainable change and achieve major impact within my institution, even when faced with pre-existing long-standing insurmountable problems. You just scope the problem down, systematically analyze it with your frameworks, and then start making meaningful changes one part at a time, until your entire system functions effectively. This class has given me the confidence to tackle the hardest issues that seem to have no solution.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I did my undergraduate education at MIT, but I started school when I was 16. MIT is such a special and unique place. When the time came to continue my education, I wanted to be able to come back and experience MIT again (and get into bars legally this time).

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I loved the challenge of growing on so many levels:

  1. Intellectual growth with new analytical skills and frameworks
  2. Network expansion of new close friends and the privilege to be exposed to different cultures and personalities
  3. Personal leadership development
  4. Innovation with having an open mind to new possibilities

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned that the greatest impediment to organizational change is the culture of the organization. Professor Elsbeth Johnson’s course on Leading Organizations highlights how strategic implementation of change needs to focus on how a team of individuals interacts and thinks. This knowledge is always best obtained when there is psychological safety, and which all members of the team are willing to give their input and perspectives.

Psychological safety is a key foundation on which to build your team. I now look through this lens for all my interactions and team meetings, to try to lay this as the groundwork.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? When I first started the MIT EMBA program, I was a new Section Chief for Thoracic Medical Oncology and had also recently taken over the UG1 LAPS grant for our institution, one of the largest cancer centers in the world. I was also still running my own research programs and was active in professional societies. My father unfortunately was diagnosed with a rare type of stomach cancer during my first month of school and I needed to relocate my parents to Houston for treatment at our hospital. I remember sitting in the kitchen after a hectic and difficult day, wondering how I would be able to make it through. My husband Mark Clemens, who also is an MIT EMBA 2021 student, held out his hand and simply said, “Everything will be ok. We’ll make it work.” And we did. You learn to lean on others during the program to walk through the tough times.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be open and curious. Ask questions of alumni on what their favorite memories of the program are and what they learned. If they have a lot to say, it’s a great sign.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? It’s that you can’t do it well while working full-time. When you are interested in what you are learning, it won’t feel like work and it will be rewarding.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not being able to spend more time with my classmates in-person due to the pandemic.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are so many of my classmates that I greatly admire for a multitude of reasons:

My teammate Chris Hagemo is a foster parent to children and runs a food bank in his spare time.

My teammate Marjorie Cass for teaching us all about what it means to be a team.

Eric Snelgrove, who is in public service and staffed the House Armed Services Committee.

Hanane Benbelgacem for her grace & bravery when facing adversity.

Carl Dey for envisioning a leadership academy in Ghana.

Nick Harris for always seeing the brilliant possibilities in business ventures.

Valentina Videva Dufresne who has indefatigable energy to support our peer-learning for our EMBA classmates.

Kevin Johnson who is the epitomy of success.

Belma Erdogan-Haug for numerous patents and organizational ability.

Martin Leach for always jumping on zoom to help a classmate with coding issues.

Sandra Joyce for her service to our country in cybersecurity.

Michael Guay for his outstanding engineering & analytical skills.

Paolo Marone for his finance prowess and amazing humor on WhatsApp.

Oscar Benavidez for fighting for equity in health disparities.

Aimee Weeden for her leadership and communications skills in our class.

And also my personal hero, Mark Clemens, who took down a $1.2 billion dollar industry because their implant product gave cancer to patients.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was attending an important strategy meeting for our hospital and some financial analysts were reporting numbers that did not make sense to me. I was uncomfortable not understanding the business aspects of medicine and felt that decisions were being made without appropriate context or physician buy-in.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Leave every place better than when I came.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A friend who cares and is there for them.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Take a space flight.
  2. Own a flying car.

What made Anne Tsao such an invaluable member of the EMBA Class of 2021?

“Anne is a superhero—quite literally, in fact. She resides on the frontline of cancer research, working as a visionary to solve the complexities of a disease that has impacted so many. Her innovative work has advanced research in mesothelioma, having an indelible effect in her field.

Anne has over 150 peer-reviewed publications. She is an internationally recognized leader in mesothelioma, biomarkers, and clinical trial design.

In addition to her many roles at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center—Section Chief for Thoracic Medical Oncology; Clinical Medical Director of the Thoracic and Orthopedic Center; Director of both the Mesothelioma and Thoracic Chemo-radiation Programs; and Professor for Mesothelioma Cancer Research; MDACC Principle Investigator; Chair of the Conflict of Interest Committee— Anne’s leadership roles in national and international oncology associations has advanced education for experts from around the world.

Anne is also a gifted mentor, as evidenced by the success of her mentees. She brings a similar dynamic to the MIT Executive MBA program, helping to amplify voices in the cohort. Because of that, Anne’s classmates view her as an influential voice in the EMBA community. She frequently participates as a student panelist for recruiting events and has shared the experiences which have led her to the program. She is quick to offer praise of others and share her admiration of the accomplishments of her classmates.

Anne has said that her long-term professional goal is to leave every place better than when she came. We can confidently say that the MIT Executive MBA is better for having Anne as part of our community.”

Johanna Hising DiFabio
Assistant Dean, MIT Executive MBA

Georgia Perakis
Faculty Director, MIT Executive MBA

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