Episode 4 - Leadership, Tech Equity and the Future of Work with Tamara McCleary, CEO of Thulium

Redefiners Podcast
Hosted By:
October 05, 2021 | 29 min
Tamara McCleary
CEO of Thulium

“I hope we care about future generations and it's not just all about us. And so we have to start looking at the little things that we can do every day.”

There’s one thing for certain: Tamara McCleary sees things differently – and that’s precisely what makes her perspective so captivating. In this episode of Redefiners, we talk with Tamara about how her circuitous career path—from helicopter trauma nurse to cancer researcher to CEO of Thulium—has informed how she leads. Primarily, by being a close listener and a continuous learner – two essential traits of successful leaders, she says. Tamara shares her perspectives on the future of technology and offers a pretty urgent insight to our listeners: that we as leaders must make technology accessible and equitable for all, that technology should be used to better serve humanity, and leaders are in the unique position to make that happen.

A future in which somatic cell engineering cures heritable diseases, people are augmented by neural implants, and machines market to machines: those are just a few of the things we talk about in this podcast with futurist, visionary, and marketer Tamara McCleary.

Tamara’s career has been as varied as they come. She started out as a helicopter trauma nurse, moved into cancer research, and eventually became CEO of global marketing and digital consulting agency Thulium. In this episode, we talk about the potential for AI and machine learning, how leaders should understand and harness their technology to make it accessible for all, and how that technology can better serve humanity.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear from Tamara in this episode (edited for length and clarity):

Tamara’s Redefiner Moment: Finding humanity in tragedy 
The biggest redefining moment was the funeral of my kid sister. In the middle of the funeral when I thought I just could not take the pain of loss anymore, I had this thought that I was hungry for green chili burrito. In that moment I realized, this too shall pass. If we wait a minute, whatever it is we're struggling with, no matter how bad it is, the humanity will come in—even if it's just for a green chili burrito. It cultivated a sense of humor within me about our human condition and helped me be a little more gentle and compassionate for all of us in our human frailty.

On embracing a non-linear career path
My career path was definitely not a direct trajectory. But when I look back, they were all exquisitely perfect to teach me the things I would need to know next. As disparate as some of these things might seem, they actually work hand in hand for bringing me to where I am today.

I do think this is a journey for any leader. The minute we feel we've arrived is the minute we're in trouble. I keep disrupting myself. Here I am at 56, CEO of a company, and what am I doing? I'm back in school now in a graduate program for science technology and global policy. Why? Because I felt like I needed to know and learn more so that I could upgrade my software, so to speak, and be of better service.

On the machine-driven future of marketing
We currently have digital assistants—Alexa, Siri—and as they become more advanced, they will become a proxy for us. Your busy executives don't have time to even handle their email. Wouldn't it be nice to just have a digital assistant who takes care of all of that for you? Beyond that, that digital assistant is also going to be that go-between between you and any brand. The brand will no longer control the relationship with the customer: the digital assistant, and then the platform that digital assistant is housed on, and the company that owns it, will own your customer. Eventually it will be machines marketing to machines and human beings won't be involved in those transactions at all. You will just get best product, best price, best everything based on the machines talking to one another.

On cultivating great talent
I can work with and see good results from any human being who has a desire to learn and be adaptable and take initiative. I want the person who is thinking on their feet. In our organization, we want to empower people. Are we seeing what people are capable of when we allow them to make a mistake?



Tamara McCleary
CEO of Thulium

Tamara is currently a full-time graduate student at Harvard University pursuing dual degrees at both the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Divinity School. Her academic research areas of focus are science, technology & public purpose, ethics, transhumanism, existential risk with a scholarly deep dive into ancient apocalyptic texts. Tamara began her career in 1987 as a trauma and critical care nurse. In 1993 she launched bringing new medical technologies to market in Silicon Valley. Tamara is also founder and CEO of Thulium and serves as a unique advisor to leading global organizations.

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