Exclusive Q&A With Our New Yorker of the Year — Avice Meehan, SVP and Chief Communications Officer of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

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Last week we held our annual Ad Person of the Year event, where we celebrated not just one esteemed honoree, but six influential advertising and marketing executives in five categories, including: Marketer of the Year, Industry Legend, New Yorker, at Startup and a Young Pro.
We sat down with our New Yorker Avice Meehan, SVP and Chief Communications Officer of  Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and asked her several questions about what makes a better leader in the industry, what people coming into the industry should know and more. Let’s see what she had to say…
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Who have been your most influential mentors throughout your career?

I’ve had a varied career and benefited from the help and guidance of a pretty diverse group of people. The late Sarah Youngblood, an English professor and poet at Mount Holyoke College, remains an important touchstone; she taught me how to think. The late Susannah Barrows, for many years a professor of modern French history at UC Berkeley, taught me how to write. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the former U.S. Senator and independent governor of Connecticut for whom I had the privilege of working, showed me what it means to lead with principle and conviction. But most importantly, I am mentored by the people with whom I work every day; they generously share what they know, teach me what it means to stay curious, and exhibit tremendous patience with my ideas—both the good ones and not so good.

What are the most useful resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain perspective on becoming a better leader? 

Gosh, that’s a challenging question because I don’t think there’s a single go-to resource. So I would say this: Find the time to reflect, doodle, and read. Get yourself a big white board and draw things out—even if you can’t draw. Listen to the people around you who are prepared to share difficult information and voice the unpopular view, particularly when they disagree with your most strongly held opinions. And act on the best piece of career advice I was ever given: Do the things that make you uncomfortable.

How do you foster creative and innovative thinking in your organization?

It begins with recruitment. I look for people (and collaborators) with an active curiosity gene and a demonstrated passion for learning. Those characteristics would be prized in any organization, but are particularly important at Memorial Sloan Kettering where our mission encompasses both cancer treatment and pioneering cancer research. Second, I believe in sharing knowledge and ideas broadly—and ask others to do the same. Private knowledge doesn’t help anyone. Finally, creativity requires some constraint. So my job is to set our strategy and goals, but to be open and supportive about new and unexpected ways to fulfill them.


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