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Leading Lady

Fortune names Kathy Giusti to its first Greatest Leaders list

Kathy Giusti with her family

Editors from Fortune magazine told New Canaan’s Kathy Giusti she was in the running for a special section, but they weren't specific. When the official word came in the spring, it arrived without ceremony. “They sent me an e-mail and said the list is up,” recalls Giusti. She followed the link and landed on the magazine’s inaugural “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.” She marveled at the honorees: Pope Francis at No. 1, Bill Clinton at No. 5 and Derek Jeter at 11. She figured she’d be paging through to No. 50 before she got to her name, but there she was at 19, before the likes of humanitarian Angelina Jolie and Apple CEO Tim Cook. “It’s amazing,” says Giusti, who is CEO of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. “I’m honored.”

Many of us are familiar with Giusti’s story. Doctors diagnosed her in 1996 with multiple myeloma, “a 100-percent fatal disease,” she says, and told her she would not live more than a couple of years. She had a toddler at the time. “I decided I would do what I could to extend my life so my daughter would remember me.” She was working for a pharmaceutical company and immersed herself in research to determine treatment options. There didn’t seem to be many, so Giusti and her sister, Karen Andrews, started the MMRF to find answers. Giusti, who earned an MBA at Harvard University, applied for-profit business practices to the non-profit foundation and in the process transformed the foundation business model.

Fortune credits Giusti with “disrupting the myeloma research culture–getting isolated doctors and scientists to share data, and building an unheard-of consortium to develop drugs.” Editor Clifton Leaf, who oversaw the Great Leaders project, got to know Giusti during research for his book on cancer. “In ten years I came across people doing heroic things, none so much as Kathy Giusti,” he says. “She’s redefined what collaboration means in cancer research.”