After a nationwide search, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has named as its new executive vice president and chief operating officer Steve Stadum, a lawyer by training and a Portland native with a track record of accomplishment at Oregon Health & Science University.
Stadum is currently the chief operating officer of OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute, and recently he played a central role in helping to secure $1 billion in funding to launch a vast expansion of the institute. On July 5, he will join Fred Hutch as a key member of President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland’s staff.
“He’s fantastic at building organizations,” Gilliland said. “He understands academics, he understands administration, and he knows how to put buildings up. I have the greatest respect for what he did at OHSU.”
When Nike founder Phil Knight offered OHSU a $500 million contribution in 2013, it came with a catch. The university had to raise funds for the challenge within two years or the offer would be withdrawn. Stadum worked to forge a partnership of private donors to raise money, and he helped engineer passage of a $200 million construction bond issue in the Oregon legislature. They met the goal last June, months ahead of schedule.
Stadum said the position at Fred Hutch, along with the quality of work being done at the center, the leadership and Seattle’s stature as a global city, “is probably the only job in the country that would have gotten me to leave my current job at the Knight Cancer Institute.”
Gilliland said he hopes that Stadum’s ties to the Oregon cancer center will ultimately produce closer collaboration between Fred Hutch and the Knight Cancer Institute. “There is a great opportunity to bring together cancer research and treatment in the Northwest,” he said.
Dr. Tom Beer, deputy director of the Knight Cancer Institute, agrees.
“We will have a key person with wonderful relationships here who will understand both institutions. And our common enemy is cancer,” said Beer, who called Stadum a friend with a vast network of admirers.
The quest to end cancer is deeply rooted for Stadum. When he was 15 growing up in Portland, his father died of lung cancer. When he was 30, his mother died of breast cancer.
“Yeah, it’s personal to me,” he said. “It’s a privilege to work in a place where, although I’m not going to find the cure, I can help bring together those who can. It makes my life much more meaningful.”
That desire and ability to bring people together is one of the things that stood out to Gilliland early on about Stadum, whom he called a keen analytical thinker with great communication skills.
“The thing that was most impressive to me was the way he related to our faculty. He’s insightful, thoughtful and respectful,” said Gilliland, who has been building a core leadership team since taking the helm in January 2015.
As the Hutch’s new chief operating officer, Stadum will be responsible for all operational activities of the research center, which employs more than 2,700 faculty and support staff. He’ll also be engaged with the relations between Fred Hutch and its Seattle Cancer Care Alliance partners: UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s. He fills the role left vacant by the highly respected Myra Tanita, who retired from the Hutch in December.
“Steve is a perfect fit, the right person at the right time," said Paula Reynolds, chair of Fred Hutch's board of trustees. "When he entered the picture, we all felt like the stars had aligned.”
Stadum, 60, has worked for OHSU for 17 years, first as general counsel, then in a variety of administrative leadership roles before being appointed COO of the Knight Cancer Institute in 2010. His knack for making connections, taking on audacious projects ― and completing them ― is visible for all to see in Portland.
The Portland Aerial Tram shuttles 1 million passengers a year between OHSU’s hilltop campus and the South Waterfront of the Willamette River, a development district where the Knight Cancer Institute will be headquartered. Beginning in 2001, Stadum was the university’s point person for the project, which weathered controversy and criticism, but it has since become an iconic feature of Portland’s urban landscape.
“In the long run, we knew this would be a 50-year solution,” said Stadum. The tramway now not only connects OSHU’s hilltop and riverfront campuses, it has become a linchpin of economic development for the riverside area.
Stadum said he is looking forward to moving to Seattle with his wife, Sally. The couple has two grown daughters: Laura, 30, who followed his footsteps into law; and Anne, 26, who works as an oncology nurse. He’s an avid outdoorsman with a weakness for golf. “I am a runner,” he added, “and now that I’m older, I mostly run on a treadmill.”
He said he was drawn to Fred Hutch by Gilliland’s passion to seek not just treatments for cancer, but cures, and his willingness to predict publicly that curative therapies for most cancers are plausible in 10 years.
“It is admirable and inspiring that Gary has put that stake into the ground,” he said. “If you are going to achieve big goals, you have to set them in the first place.”
Sabin Russell is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. For two decades he covered medical science, global health and health care economics for the San Francisco Chronicle, and wrote extensively about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, and a freelance writer for the New York Times and Health Affairs. Reach him at email@example.com.