Open Letter from CEO, Bill Newell

Jun 26, 2020

Today, I want to clearly state, that America still has a very long way to go to fulfill the hard won promises of the Civil Rights era of the 60s. I was born in 1957 and so was first exposed to civil rights issues as a child. But I was from an aspiring middle class white family and they were not my issues, except they were – emotionally, intellectually, religiously as a Catholic in the 60s. I was aware of the power of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy even at that young age but at that time I didn’t truly appreciate the full import of those words. It was later in college in the late 70s that I came to have a greater appreciation of the issues they so passionately articulated. In reflecting on recent events in our country, I re-listened to Dr. King’s speech to thousands gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the August 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington – many of you will know this as the “I have a dream” speech. And I also read a speech given by Bobby Kennedy in Cleveland two months before he was assassinated in June of 1968. Both Dr. King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s speeches shone a spotlight on a longstanding history of social injustice, discrimination and economic disparity, particularly for African Americans. Sadly, these issues remain with us today over 50 years later and the job losses during this pandemic have ripped away any veneer that suggests otherwise.

So, I want to go on record now as publicly affirming that

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

And I feel compelled to say the names of those lives that have been unjustly killed and denied their inalienable right to life: George Floyd, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Jamar Clark, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor and many others – sadly too many for me to name today. But, we recognize and remember their tragic loss of life by saying their names.

I know this affirmation can be viewed as controversial. But, the way I see it, it shouldn’t be – and I have to thank Arturo Molina for clarifying this for me when he sent to our senior leadership team a picture of a young African American girl (probably around 8 or 9 years old) holding a sign that says:

The 60s were an era of unprecedented protest and violence, not dissimilar from what we see happening today. The root causes were not hard to understand for Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy or many others. In his speech in Cleveland, Bobby Kennedy spoke eloquently of the unseen violence that existed then and still exists – when he said:

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

And today I believe he would have added: This is also a slow destruction of those in need of life-saving health care that is either not available or not affordable.

Should business be involved addressing these societal issues?  Some would argue not. Ken Frazier, Merck’s CEO, was recently interviewed on CNBC – that interview is the first thing you see on Merck’s website. He made his views known that these societal issues are clearly business issues when he said these words:

There’s a lot to be done beyond the press release. . . . I think business has to go beyond what is required here – it has to go beyond just statements. . . .  I think businesses have to use every instrument at their disposal to reduce these barriers that existed. . . . There are in fact barriers that are faced by African Americans – even though we don’t have laws that separate people on the basis of race any more, we still have customs, we still have beliefs, we still have policies, we have practices that lead to inequity. . . . We can see those inequities and disparities in education, we can see them in employment, we can see them in housing, we can see them in health care and we can see them in the criminal justice system. . . . Business can step up and provide the leadership that our country needs.

I agree with him – our business – Sutro Biopharma – can step up further and can provide more leadership. In many ways that you may not realize we are already doing so. But, we have to do more. And I and the entire Sutro senior leadership team are committed to doing more.

Oftentimes I have felt that we are on the right track at Sutro on matters of diversity and inclusion. Our Board of Directors has 8 members including me – our Board now has two women on it and one of those two (our Board Chair) is Asian American. Gender diversity of 25% is a good starting place but we need to do more in terms of diversity and we will (and I don’t just mean gender diversity).

I am proud of the diversity of our senior management team of 9, including me – we have

  • 3 women,
  • 2 members who are LGBTQ and
  • 3 who are people of color.

We do not have an African American on either the Board or the senior management team and that will have to change.

We can also see broad diversity in our overall employee population. We measure it regularly, we assess and work on our creating opportunities to create even more our diversity and we strive to ensure that unconscious bias plays no role in hiring, salary decisions, promotions or in any employment related situation.  And – if you look on our website under Careers, you will see that we have publicly committed Sutro to fostering workplace development, diversity, and inclusion (WDDI). We are dedicated to being at the forefront of efforts to develop a diverse and talented global workforce. To that end, we affirmed our support to the WDDI Principles adopted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), and pledged to do our part to foster diversity and inclusion among our employees, customers, and patients. If you have not done so, I urge you to review those WDDI Principles as they embody all of us.

Beyond these efforts, our company has supported and participated in initiatives designed to give back to our community and to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. I talk on a routine basis about the importance of giving back and I am so proud that so many Sutroites give back in their own ways.

Over the years we have participated in a couple of initiatives designed to use the scientific talent of our company to enhance STEM education in our local community. Recently Sutro employees volunteered to be part of the SSF Science Empowerment Initiative – a high-impact, high-visibility STEM program in which our employees agreed to participate as coaches with an 8th grade classroom in South San Francisco for a district-wide science competition. And there have been other K-12 educational support initiatives that Sutro employees have participated in throughout the years.

You may not be aware but we source some of our summer interns from Students Rising Above (an organization devoted to supporting low-income, first generation college students who have demonstrated strength of character in overcoming tremendous odds of poverty, homelessness and neglect) and Peninsula Bridge (an organization serving motivated, low-income students with academic and personal support during middle school years through college graduation).

And you may not be aware that the Sutro senior management team quietly leads and supports in their spare time and gives of their own resources in many different ways to support diversity and inclusion initiatives or lift up those who are less fortunate. Among the many non-profit organizations I have been involved with, I currently serve on BIO’s Work Force Development, Diversity & Inclusion Committee. One SMT member serves on the Committee Promoting Diversity for a prominent national scientific and medical association. Another SMT member has served for over 20 years (many of those years a President) of anational organization which focuses exclusively on mental health and aging out of the foster care system, for foster youth. Yet another SMT member joins with that person’s family in running an initiative at a local school to collect food and lightly used clothing to be donated to Samaritan House, which supports the low-income community in San Mateo. Another SMT member focuses on direct community-based outreach through food preparation and distribution to help feed the people of low-income communities, including those in the eastern part of Redwood City. Additionally, a SMT member has been actively involved for many years with the American Diabetes Association. And finally another SMT member has been involved with an organization that helps train underprivileged teens in audio/video training, the thinking being that they can become good communicators, tell their story to advance the cause, and get positions in the communications industry. And there are more good works being done by countless numbers of you that time does not permit me to recount today.

I want to digress for a moment and remind us all of another avenue to change – the ballot box. I have voted in every election since I was old enough to do so – why? Because I believe we have a duty to ourselves and to our fellow citizens to make our voices heard through our selections of those who represent us. If you want to effect change, then I believe making sure you vote each and every election day is a very good first step. And if there are any barriers within Sutro that make it hard for you to vote, please bring them to my attention and they will be removed.

I am proud that we at Sutro are a diverse group –

I am proud that our core principles include respect, integrity, dependability, engagement, execution and importantly collaboration – and

I am proud that we work as teams and that we place Sutro and patients ahead of our own personal agendas.

But, as I said before there is more we can do. Sutro is committed to diversity and inclusion and we are committed to doing what we can at Sutro and within our communities to walk that talk. We look for new opportunities to do more – to strengthen our actions and commitments to systemic change and to show our leadership. I have a few ideas but I want to invite yours as well. So if you have an idea how we can better our work environment or use our resources to better our communities, please share it with me – either directly or, if you wish, anonymously, as we will give every such idea strong consideration.  I am committed to making us even better in terms of diversity and inclusion and I am listening.

One final thought – there is much work to be done by each of us individually and collectively to make sure our constitutional and societal promise of equal rights for all is fulfilled.

I am a 62 year old well to do white male – my life experience is limited in so many ways and even though I like to think I have led a good life where I do not judge anyone by the color of their skin or for any other difference they may have from me – have I?  Have I?  I have many questions to ask myself about how I have behaved in the past and how I behave today. These are not easy questions to ask oneself, let alone answer. But, what defines us all is our ability to look in the mirror and ask ourselves – are we treating others as we would want them to treat us? And if we are fortunate enough to have privilege, how can we use it to bring more to those who are without?

There is a Zulu greeting that is used instead of Hello . . . It is Sawubona. Sawubona means I see you, you are important to me and I value you. Let’s all remember to see one another.