It's not every day that you get to interview someone who has survived a plane crash, is fighting the eradication of deadly microorganisms such as those causing COVID-19, and being a leading CEO of a major global company all while raising 3 incredible children.
We were thrilled when Carolyn Cross agreed to be interviewed by MOM.CEO and to share with us her views on what the future of preventive medicine will look like while giving us some great advice on how to balance and lead in our daily work/life pressures as parents and business leaders.
MOM.CEO: What do you believe is the secret to raising good kids while successfully growing and leading a company without compromising on both? Is it even possible to be truly present?
Carolyn Cross: Motivating employees and inspiring children, to me, share some of the same key success factors: a reliance on strong core values and walking the walk. Consistency is key to building and maintaining respect and trust as well as mutual accountability. One of these core values is working to get oneself, and others around us, to our higher levels. Children see and hear about the decisions we make – and more importantly, how we make them in good times and in bad. Part of being truly present is to be authentic and open about the challenges of staying true to core values.
Carolyn Cross with her daughter Julia
MOM.CEO: You experienced a well-documented near-death experience by being a passenger on a plane that crashed. Can you explain to us this experience and how it impacted change in your approach to business and parenting? How did it impact your children?
There were terrifying moments that still haunt me but I cannot think about this ordeal without also experiencing the immense sense of gratitude – for surviving a plane crash that killed both pilots. My gratitude goes to the brave heroes - ordinary citizens and now dear friends - who ran into a burning fuselage to extract me and 3 other injured and unconscious passengers.
Photos of the plane wreckage
This incredible act saved my life and allowed me to continue being a mother and for my company to survive. My gratitude is for the ability to guide and support both my children and company through their most challenging times: transitioning from high school to good colleges in the case of my children, and acquiring hospital adoptions of our Photodisinfection technology, preventing more than 1,000 people from suffering surgical site infections in the case of my company.
This experience underscored how time is precious and life is so short so we should make the most of the opportunities we have and do more for the people we value in our lives.
For our children, the impact was the lesson that they should really focus on their passions early in life and not wait until some point well down the road.
MOM.CEO Follow-up: What was your experience like when having to take a plane for the first time since the crash?
Carolyn Cross: While still recovering from my injuries, a friend I valued invited me to his oldest son’s wedding which involved 4 plane rides. If I were ever to get back into a plane, that was the occasion because attending this wedding was important to me. The ordeal was made easier because of the kindness of Patrick - the flight captain of the Air Canada plane on which I was traveling. Being in a wheelchair, I was brought into the plane ahead of others. Captain Patrick came out from the cockpit to speak to me in my seat. He said he was really sorry I had had such a bad flight experience and promised me that this flight was going to be his 'best ever’, perfect flight just for me. I was so overwhelmed by his empathy and really touched by this thoughtfulness. This act of kindness really did help me ‘get back on the saddle’ which is a good thing since each year, I take between 40 and 60 flights - most of them with Air Canada.
MOM.CEO: What top 3 lessons did your parents or mother/father or mentor give you that you feel are still relevant in today’s digitally connected world?
"Be respectful, always put in your best effort, and never stop investing in yourself."
MOM.CEO: Do you feel that mothers who are CEOs have it harder at balancing their work/life duties than DAD.CEOs?
Carolyn Cross: Absolutely. This is likely because expectations on women all around are so high and disappointments so quickly and easily felt. But from my experience, I also see women taking both sets of responsibilities more seriously and caring much more about the outcomes in each domain. What typically suffers is women taking care of themselves, which is never good for long-term family or corporate dynamics.
Carolyn Cross stands proudly in front of a poster about the eradication of a new deadly fungus with Photodisinfection
MOM.CEO Follow-up: Do you feel that the situation of home isolation and having to work remotely due to the COVID-19 preventive rules is pushing back women’s advancements at work since many of them are now expected to work from home and take care of their kids at the same time with very little outside help or understanding (since schools, daycares, etc. are closed)?
Carolyn Cross: I am not sure that we know enough to say that women’s advancements are being permanently eroded, but I was upset to see how women had lost their jobs in greater numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women make up 47% of Canada’s workforce and their incomes are important to families, especially for single working mothers.
I think the burden on women at home is greater because women generally have higher personal expectations for both their children’s and parents' outcomes and wellbeing. Women will get on and do things that men often do not even notice need addressing. I also suspect that women are more likely to try to enforce social distancing – something that is increasingly harder to get family support for.
Carolyn Cross honoured with an Influential Women in Business Award in Vancouver, Canada
MOM.CEO: Being a well-known leader in the Biomedical field, can you give us your views on COVID-19 and other potential contagious diseases and how we can help protect our families (and how you and your company are tackling these challenges and future ones?)
Carolyn Cross: We are in an era of new emerging drug-resistant infections. COVID-19 is just one of the many pathogenic microorganisms that are emerging for which there are no current treatments or vaccines. Each year 700,000 people die of infections; COVID-19 has already doubled this death toll by the half-year mark. Predictions suggest this number will rise to 10 million annually in 30 years, making COVID-19 look like a dress rehearsal. For years, the World Health Organization has been telling us that drug-resistant infections are a top health threat.
Carolyn Cross in Ottawa with fellow members of the National Research Council of Canada
Helping our healthcare systems deal with these resistant infections is the purpose of my company, Ondine Biomedical Inc., and my personal passion. My mission is to save lives and reduce suffering. Ondine is the global leader in Photodisinfection based medical devices to treat and prevent drug-resistant infections with 7 different products in our pipeline under various stages of development. Our objective is to provide simple to use, low-cost, non-antibiotic technologies to help clinicians in all nations deal with the new infections for which there are no effective treatments. Our mission is to have Photodisinfection based products in every hospital and clinic around the world. COVID-19 has just accelerated our sense of urgency, motivating us to think bigger and be bolder given the large number of lives at stake.
Carolyn's daughter Julia demonstrating Steriwave's light illumination
Photodisinfection (also known as a PDT) has been proven to eradicate SARS-CoV-2; we bring Photodisinfection efficacy to rapidly sanitize the nose, a primary reservoir of pathogens. Our product Steriwave™ eliminates infection-causing germs in minutes. We believe Steriwave has a role to play in this pandemic to reduce the Coronavirus titer unknowingly carried in noses since the majority of transmissions are associated with people without COVID-19 symptoms. Because our nasal Photodisinfection technology has been so successful at reducing hospital-acquired infections, we believe our technology can help to treat and prevent COVID-19 as well as secondary infections through the reduction of the number and type of harmful germs our bodies need to fight off - like 'hand sanitizer for the nose'. We are therefore working hard to bring this technology forward ahead of a ‘second wave' to help protect at-risk patients, healthcare professionals, first responders, essential workers that are feeding us, and residents of long-term care facilities.
Carolyn Cross with some fellow board members of Cdn Light Sciences, Saskatchewan, Canada
MOM.CEO: We understand that you were also a Board Director of a large Canadian investment group with extensive financial experience. Do you believe it’s smart for a parent to invest financially in their kid’s start-up? If no, how do you believe is the best way to support a kid’s start-up?
Carolyn Cross: Absolutely! What a great investment in your children’s entrepreneurship, business, and investing future! With start-up capital in such short supply, 'Family Financing' is a critical source of entrepreneurial funding that usually encourages other investors. There is much to learn from starting up businesses and a great deal of value gained from this experience – no matter the outcome.
To minimize some of the potential downside issues related to these family ventures, I would also recommend setting some upfront and clear limits (in writing) as to the extent of your ability/willingness to finance, terms of finance, and expectations for repayment in both scenarios of good and bad business outcomes. A formal board meeting with an agenda 1-2 per year is probably a good idea as well as good practice too.
COVID-19 type of graduation for Carolyn's daughter Julia
MOM.CEO Follow-up: Do/did you teach or coach your kids in the art of business from an early age in order to better prepare them for business life?
Carolyn Cross: Yes indeed… I believe strongly in teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship early - well before high school. I have personally helped each of my children run a small business- from making/selling honey to selling chocolates and baked goods at Christmas time. This helped my children better appreciate all the various aspects involved with a business as well as the importance of thinking about their best customer - the middle-aged woman.
MOM.CEO: What would be your top 5 tips for being a successful MOM.CEO?
1. Set smart family rules
2. Stick to the rules and hold your family accountable
4. Listen more
5. Love most
MOM.CEO: The word NO is a powerful word in business, but how does its meaning work in your home or is it the opposite with YES?
There is ‘yes’, there is ‘no’… and sometimes, the right answer is “not yet” and “tell me more”.
MOM.CEO: How do you want to look back and be remembered as a MOM and a CEO?
Carolyn Cross: I think if my people remember me for ‘meaning well’ and for ‘trying my best’, I will be happy with that.
MOM.CEO: Any regrets about raising your kids while building businesses that you wish you could have changed now looking back on it?
Carolyn Cross: As a role model, I regret the times I did not take better care of myself when I should have. I also regret not doing more family skiing when I still had the knees for it.
Carolyn Cross with family and Canada's Governor General - Awarded Meritorious Service Cross
MOM.CEO: Any last words of wisdom on being a MOM.CEO you would like to leave us with?
"The greatest privilege in life is being a parent!"
Being a mother is a huge role that one only gets better at, with time and practice. No one starts out ‘perfect’, so we all need to be easier on ourselves through this life-long learning process. We should not allow life’s endless stream of challenges to eat into our moments of happiness. We should strive to create much more joy for ourselves and for others around us as earnestly as creating profitability and sustainability. We should all laugh more.
ABOUT CAROLYN CROSS
Carolyn Cross is the Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Ondine Biomedical Inc., a Vancouver-based medical devices company. Ms. Cross sits on the National Research Council of Canada and serves on the Audit Committee and is a Board Member of Canadian Light Source Inc, Canada's synchrotron facilities in Saskatoon. She is a Board Member and Treasurer of the International Photodynamic Association.
Earlier in her career, Ms. Cross was responsible for managing institutional and private client funds as a Vice President with Royal Bank Investment Management Inc. Ms. Cross has over 25 years' direct experience with early-stage companies and 30 years' experience with the public market securities. Ms. Cross is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and has an MBA from York University and an HBA from the University of Western Ontario.
Ms. Cross has served on a number of private sector corporate boards including Greystone Capital Management Inc., Periowave Dental Technologies Inc., and Cayoose Creek Development Corporation, a woman-led First Nations company based in British Columbia. She is a past Board Member for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and past member of its Audit and Finance Committee. She sits on the Advisory Council of the University of Windsor's Odette World Health Innovation Network (WIN) and has served on the Advisory Board of McGill University Dental School. She is the Chairman and Founding Board Member of B.C.-based Women's Economic Business Advisory Council (WEBAC) and a Founding Member of the EY Global Women in Business Advisory Council. She has served on the federal government's task force on Women's Entrepreneurship and Mentoring and continues to advocate for women-owned SMEs and the economic advancement of women in Canada. She has authored peer-reviewed publications.
Awards include the Meritorious Service Cross from the Governor General of Canada, the President's Award from the Women Presidents' Organization, the Innovation and Global Growth Award from the BMO Financial Group, the Wendy McDonald Entrepreneurial Innovation Award from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the YWCA Metro Vancouver Woman of Distinction, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Award.
Ms. Cross was appointed to the NRC Council in March 2015 and re-appointed in December 2018.