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May 12, 2022 31 mins

Hitha Palepu is the CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals and an author of two books including We’re Speaking: The Life Lessons of Kamala Harris

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
I'm Sam Edis and I'm Amy Nelson. Welcome to What's
Her Story with Sam and Amy. This is a show
about the world's most remarkable women, their professional and personal journeys. Together,
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The Palapoo is the CEO of Roshan Pharmaceuticals and an
author of two books, including Worth Speaking The Life Lessons
of Kamala Harris. Use such a rich family history, and
I'd love for you to share it with our listeners.
I am a daughter of Indian immigrants, I am a
mother raising who I hope to be feminist sons, and

I am the wife of a true partner. And I said,
in every sense of the word, and truly it starts
with not just my parents, but certainly more progressively minded
grandparents who raised each of my parents with a different
perspective than traditional Indian values were at that time. My

mom rejected several men before she said yes to my dad,
So even though it was an arranged marriage, it was
very much a marriage based on her terms and her
acceptance of it, and the reason she said yes to
my dad, I find to be so interesting because he
was not the wealthiest, He was not the most financially secure.

He was just working in the United States, finally gotten
a job in the pharma industry, someone who had lost
his hearing as a child and had to so he
struggled a lot to get to where he was at
that time, and told my mom the truth about what
life in the United States was. He said, it's very
lonely and it is hard. You do have these conveniences
like dish washers and washing machines, but you're living in

a world where people will rename you because they can't
take the patients to understand your name. You're going to
have this culture imposed on you versus being in the
culture you yourself had been raised in for years. If
that sounds like a life you can handle, you know,
I would be delighted to build a life with you.
But I want to tell you what you're in for.

And it was that honesty that had my mom saying yes.
They had met on her birthday in nineteen seventy seven
and were married two and a half weeks later, his
older brother was one of only a hundred Indians in
one year that was allowed to immigrate to the United States.
Can you talk a little bit about that and the

impact it had on your family. Absolutely. So. My uncle
earned a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to travel from
India to the States to continue studying chemistry. And that
was at the time that was in the late fifties,
before the National Immigration Act had been passed, where the
cap was a hundred visas issue to Indians to come

to the United States, and so he was one of
very few and there was no Indian community really at
that time. My aunt followed a few years later with
her husband and they in turn were able to sponsor
my father to come to the States as well. And
once he got here, that was the first time he

got a hearing gage, which meant that was the first
time he could hear. Your latest book is called Worth
Speaking in the Life Lessons of Kamala Harris, and Kamala
also has a very strong immigrant mother. What drew you
to Kamala's story and wanting to write about it? I
write in the book about how this is a book
that I had actually been writing for a very long

time since I knew who Kamala Harris was, and how
you know, she had been mentoring me from AFAR for
many years. So she first came on my radar, you know,
during the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the follow up and
the legal follow up of settlements for homeowners all over
the country. So I had a very nerdy obsession with

the recession and was like, how did this happen? Why
did this happen? What are we going to do to
make sure something like this hasn't happened again and citizens
are protected? And so this one name kept popping up
in the news about it, Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris, and
I I never took the time to google her at
the time, which I find really funny because I'm the

type of person who google's everything when it comes to
my mind. But it wasn't until you know, she had
negotiated the settlement for California homeowners that exceeded what was
already what was on the table for the full federal
and state responses. She had walked away from the negotiate,
the joint negotiating table, and brought together allies to fight

for a better settlement and I was. I was on
some business trip, had CNNA on the background and saw
this woman and I'm like, she could be related to me.
Drug to the podium with such confidence, and then the
chiron said Attorney General Kamala Harris, and I was like,
that's Kamala Harris, because in my mind I was picturing
someone much older, like with the quote unquote experience that

had always been attributed to impactful politicians, and I had
no idea she was this relatively young attorney general of
the largest state in the Union who made a major,
major thing happened on behalf of California homeowners, so that
the obsession with the recession focused onto his obsession with

Kamala Harris. And really it wasn't studying how she spoke,
what she wore, the way she carried herself, because at
the time, and I was working with my dad on
in a separate company, I was in a lot of
rooms where I was the only woman. I certainly was
always the youngest, and I was one of the few
people of color, and being mothered was something that happened

to me quite often. And not having the ability to
speak up or contribute the way I wanted to and
there weren't a whole a lot of women in leadership
and life sciences at the time that I could look
to for mentorship or guidance. She became that mentor from afar.
So it's not as if I started donning pants suits

and had like a perfectly curled blowout, but she gave
me kind of the confidence to where what I felt
good in and own that. In reading your book, I
felt like you must have felt like you had discovered her,
and then suddenly the whole world had discovered her. With
it a little bit like that, where you like, she's
been my obsession well before any of you knew her.
It definitely was. It's like when you know the first

know of a band or a certain author. Felt very
much like that. But I also is I take it
personally when I see like just bullshit reporting with like
the inflammatory headline making mountains out of mole hills, because
it's part of a really troubling trend I observed when

the press were parts on powerful women. There is like
the build up of hyping her up, the flattering profiles
and features. They're sort of the anointment with the cover cover.
Some magazines awards all of that and then comes to
tear down what was your entry into pharmaceuticals like and
what that trajectory been like for you. Well, it's started

with nepotism and let's just um call out the elephant
in the room. I have my job because my father
was co founder of our last company side us. That said,
we did have a pretty clear division of church and
state in terms of I reported to his business partner
who was the CEO. Joe took me under his wing,

taught me everything I needed to know when it came
to negotiation and managing partnerships, financial accounting. Our general counsel
Paul Feyerman walk me through kind of the mechanics of
term sheets and licensing agreement and getting comfortable enough with
the legalise to know what I can tackle on my

own and confident enough to know when to call excellent
outside council and how to hire great lawyers as well,
which very grateful for Paul for that. Our CEO CFO
Mike Boolio taught me like how to build a model
and the mechanics of this I have and I want
to just say this, I have had wonderful men who
have championed me in industry and given me what I

needed to succeed. That said, I was one of the
only and I had to say, why can't our head
of manufacturing be a woman? Like there have to be
women candidates out there? Why can't our head of regulatory
be a woman? There have to be women candidates out there,
At which point they realize, oh, yeah, we absolutely can
and we should. So I am grateful that they were,

and once we had those team members join us, they
helped show me the ropes of how to navigate the
gender politics of being in some of these rooms. It
would be awful if you get explained to us what
happens when you're running pharmaceutical company. I think for so
for most of us who are not in science, it's like,
what does that even mean? And what are you doing
every day? And what are you building and bringing to market.

So we're working currently at Rissian Pharmaceuticals and injectable aspirin
which will be administered by your e M T or
by a nurse in the emergency room. The significance of
delivering aspirin in this way is for suspected heart attack
or stroke, where getting preventing the clot from getting bigger
within the first hour of claw onset, it could be

life or death. They call this the golden hour. So
two safe ours works and under a minute versus oral
erectal aspirin taking a minimum of about twenty minutes to
hit the bloodstream. Additionally, with ours, acent of drug enter
us a bloodstream versus thet because of the gastric effect.

So when you think about the urgency of these conditions
and then to deliver this extremely safe therapeutic as effectively
as possible and consistently as possible, the need is there.
The pricing you can't price aspirint exorbitantly high, which is
why we really struggle to raise venture or get large

biopharmas excited about this, but it was a long slog,
so to talk a little bit about the history of
the company. This is actually something that has been my
dad has been thinking about and working on since the
late seventies. When he was getting his PhD. His adviser
said the GESH who ever develops injectable aspirint, deserves a

Nobel prize because from a chemistry perspective, it is exorbitantly difficult,
but all but impossible to have a scalable manufacturing process
and for a formulation to stay in a crystal inform
He also then said, also it would save a lot
of lives. So my dad had been thinking about this
for years. This was a product that we did. He

did start working on at SIDOS, and then once we
had out licensed the active portfolio from Sidos, he spun
this product out and said, I'm going to keep tinkering
with it. We're not where we need to be, but
I wanna this might be my final one, so let
me keep thinking about it and working on it on
my own without the pressure of working on it with

a partner. He successfully got to the lead formulation by
the end of I want to say sixteen, worked with
our i P lawyers to file the patents so we
confirmed we had freedom to operate. His patents were novel,
non obvious, and not infringing any other of the aspert

i P that was on the market at the time,
and filed those patents that have now since been granted.
And then in March seventeen, we met with the FDA
for the first time to talk about the development plan
and specifically the clinical study required for approval. F d
A agreed with our approach and gave us a very

reasonable clinical study design that allowed us to you know,
get approval in a pretty modest study, which that study
is is just wrapping up. And then we brought on
a head of manufacturing at that time who has been
wonderful and a wonderful partner to me, and I will
say we are still given all this time, and even

though we got to skip a lot of steps and
that we were formulating something that already existed in terms
of the active drug, we still won't file with f
d A for a couple of year and a half.
What did the day in the life of a pharmaceutical
CEO look like? It looks different every day, much like
any CEO, and it really depends on what we have

going on at any specific time. But also, as I've
been able to hire a bigger team, what I do
is significantly less than what I used to do. So
for instance, right now, we're wrapping up a clinical study,
so it's about scheduling calls with our partners to get
them the full update on how the final dosing and

the final subjects have gone. For manufacturing, it's making sure
my head of manufacturing and our technical team of what
they need to work with the new partners and then
for me right now, it's managing the licensing, the partnership
with the team that licensed our products. So I speak

with their senior team members every single week. We have
overall catch up joint steering meeting, committee meeting every few weeks,
and it's making sure the partner is informed of everything
that's happening and it's happy with everything is happening. So
relationship management is my job. But before that, it was

securing funding, so a lot of investor pitches, a lot
of nose and a lot of retooling the pitch, refining
my list and getting back out there with When we
were negotiating the licensing deal, it was a lot of
time with my lawyers to understand the redlines and want
to get that legalise education and to think really thoughtfully

what is non negotiable for us and what can we
accept with maybe some caveats or edits, you know. So
right now I am thrilled that my team is really
taking the lead on development and on building relationships with
their technical team, and my job is really too. It's

much more focused and the stress of managing cash flow
or understanding like when is our next tronch of capital
coming in, how am I going to afford to pay
my team is significantly decreased today than it was a
year ago. What's it like working with your father? It
is the best. However, I will say that I think

family businesses it's like very binary. It's either phenomenal and
a perfect fit or it is the worst idea ever,
and I don't see there being much of an in between.
It is truly an honor and a privilege to work
with someone who I view as one of the most
brilliant scientific minds of our time, and especially in life sciences.

You know, you could have a brilliant formulator who none
of his formulations or her formulations could get scaled up
to be a commercial product. You can have someone who
is so smart about scaling up manufacturing, but then you're
giving up some of the elements of the formulation that
made it you know, soluble, stabilizeable, or you know, diminishing

the quality of the product. And then on top of it,
you need to be able to develop a formulation that
can get a patent granted on it. And right now
my father is adding a thousand when it comes to
defending his patents against infringement or in validation ass so
he really is a triple threat in drug development. But
he's also just one of the best people I know.

We've had a remote culture since the beginning of Side Us.
We've never been the type of company to require people
to be in an office, but we did prioritize getting
together on a regular basis to not let things go
too far without gathering live and building relationships with with people.
He is someone who has such humility about what he

is doing, like he understands that I'm doing this to
help save lives, and it has been just one of
the great honors of my life to get to work
and build companies with him that have hopefully impacted humanity
for the better. And now a quick break. Are you
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learn more at join the w marketplace dot com. You've
let your hair go gray and it looks so youthful
and beautiful. I bet you've influenced so many women to
do the same. Can you talk about that decision and
what that's like. I decided to go gray right around

the time I had I delivered Rocky, and so my
groots were already starting to grow out. And that was
the first time I was like, uh, I kind of
like these little sparkles of silver versus the dread of
oh my god, I need to get back in this salad.
I went back to my roots, literally did a lot
of like Indian oil scalp massage to recondition the grays

that were coming in, to soften them from that wiry
texture they usually are to like a really softer like
my my usual hair texture. Was very diligent about that,
was very diligent about getting glosses so that the hair
the gray didn't become overly brassy, and have just maintained
it too. Now three about three years later, like there

is no more highlight left of that. It is just
my hair and it feels so me. It feels so good.
And it's the first time in my life I actually
really like my hair, and I like that part of
me versus, you know, having more frizzy, thick, unruly Indian

hair that I would beat into submission with straightening irons
and like straightening treatments and all of that. I've kind
of learned to really like this part about myself, and
I think it helps helped me like other parts of
myself more from embracing my very distinguished nose and liking

just all the parts of me that normally I would
beat myself up about. What was your relationship with your
name growing up and that part of you. I mean,
when you're growing up a brown kid and one of
the only brown kids in your class in school and
your name ends with Pooh, You're gonna get some really
creative insults hurled your way. I think someone called me

hit the pile of Pooh, and I came home wanting
to change my name, and again my mother, in her
infinite wisdom and confidence, said, this is why we chose
your name. And your name is beautiful, your name is strong.
These people are deeply unkind, and obviously something is bothering

them that they feel the need to take this out
on you, and really, my mom needs to write a
book because she really is a genius. But also that
has also influenced kind of thinking about where do I
want to raise my family, what do I name my kids?
And you know, it was one of those sort of
it builds character experiences that while I endured it and

I grew from it, it was something that I wouldn't
choose for my own children. So, you know, living in
New York City, where of my older son's class is
South Asian, which is something a critical mass I certainly
never had, is something that I find it is so
different from what I grew up with. But it's also

exactly how what I what i'd like to give my
kids that I didn't have. And you know that they
had their Indian full names, but these westernized nicknames that
one makes it easy to pronounce, but to have their
own meaning for our own family is special to us.
And you know, your names are a gift from your family,

from your parents. It's the first gift any of us
ever received. So we are very reverent about names and
with the kids too, it's teaching them to always ask
what someone's name is and take the time to learn
how to pronounce it properly, because that is the first
form of respect you ever show anyone. So tell us
how you met your incredible husband. We met at an

Indian networking conference in Canada, and even though it was
in Canada, neither of us are Canadian. We're living in
Canada at the time. Just we were both members of
this organization, him from the national chapter leadership perspective, me
as the chapter liaison from Philadelphia. I was late to
the board meeting. He um came up to me after

the board meeting and said, I haven't met you yet,
and I said, no, you haven't. I'm hit the We
talked for a bit, go our separate ways. The next
day he comes back around, comes up to me and
I'm very excited because I'm like, keep away from yesterday. Yes,
And He's like, Hi, I haven't met you yet And
I was like, excuse me three and arism and I

met you yesterday. Did you go through all four hundred
women at this conference in a single night that you're
now recycling lines? Well done you and stormed off And
so for the rest of the conference, he just like
was kind of chasing me down to apologize. But when
any time we got into a really great conversation, like
a woman would come up to him and be like
three and I was like, what is going on here?

Like is he into me? But all these women are
chasing him? Apparently he was like the bachelor to get
at this conference. But anyway, it was one of those
There was this moment. It was the Saturday night of
the conference. We were talking. It was at a club Silarium.

If it's still there in Toronto, I feel like I
need to go back and pay my respects to this,
to this very important venue in our relationship. And there
was something about how I mentioned like my vision is
so bad. It's like too bad. If we lived in Gattica,
like this would be resolved, or I mentioned something it's
like you know my way, poor kids are going to

be totally blind. He's like, well not if we live
in Gattica. And I was just like, oh my god,
you're my soul mate. You were a nerd who was
also partially blind and gets me and didn't shy away
when I like dropped kids in the conversation very early on.
Instead made this really funny. It's completely spot on reference.

So you know, we were engaged five months after we met.
We got married ten months after that, and it's been
eleven years in marriage. And now a quick break. All right,
we're gonna have to go to our speed around now,
and do you want to kick us off? What book
are you reading? A couple, because I'm a promiscuous reader
and I'm always juggling multiple books at the same time.

So I am listening to Tenday from Peloton's new memoir,
which is excellent right so far, I'm loving it. I
am rereading the Court of Thorns and Roses series because
it brought me great joy at the beginning of the
year and we were all locked down for the Auboicron
variant and I just need to bring back some familiar

joy into my life. And then Row and I are
reading a series called Wings of Fire, So there's a
graphic novel version that he has the first five books
for it, but I really want him to also get
used to reading or reading with me, the full novel version.
So we're making our way through that and that's it's
actually excellent, and that's been really fun. So juggling those

three books right now. You're such a positive person, how
do you get out of a bad mood. I have
to give myself some time to wallow so I don't
try to push out of it too fast. But I
do put a limit two said wallowing, where I will
listen to the music I need to listen to and
I will like lie in bed or on my couch

like a lump and just stare at the wall for
a bit, and I'll cry if I need to. I think,
I think a good cry can be very cathartic. And
I once that timer goes off or that limit is done,
it is tackling one really small tactical project that makes
me feel like I have that wind, which lately has
been going through all like the drawers in my room

and organizing it so like I did that with my
undergarments drawer last week, I felt like a new person.
I'm going to tackle my socks like next, because I
have a lot of socks that just need to be
get like tossed with holes and are worn out. That helps.
I will also do I call it like a tea meditation,
where you make a cup of tea, but rather scrolling

on your phone or listening to a podcast while you're
doing it, you actually engage all five of your senses
while you're making the tea. So you listen to the
kettle hitting up boil, you smell the tea as the
hot water hits it and the aroma it gives off.
You feel the heat of the mug and so I
kind of call that active or pass like a meditation

and like in living. So I'm not someone who does
great with just sitting on a cushion in silence for
twenty minutes. This is a way I'm able to kind
of just come back to myself and give myself the
grounding and centering I need. And then I'll try to
get outside, even if it's for a quick walk around
the block or even going into the park a little

bit and sitting on a bench for some time. I
think getting outside and actually changing your environment can really
help shift your mood when you're ready to move on
from it. And I think like something Tanks an influencer
on TikTok, who does is she grows like a funeral
for you know, dates that didn't go anywhere and they

never followed up or excess. I like to think of
throwing a funeral for a moment of disappointment, particularly if
it was something I was really hoping for, like an
investor who had to be in conversations with for months
coming with the no or a no from a potential partner.
I think creating a small ritual of just saying, here
lies so and so, may they rest in peace, giving

you that closure and letting you put the final nail
on that coffin versus it feeling like it had been
done to you, is a way to reframe and kind
of take control back of those disappointing moments. Who leaves
you starstruck? I mean, besides the Vice President herself, Speaker
Nancy Pelosi. I think she was my first political crush,

um Secretary Hillary Clinton. Of course, women politicians, clearly Democratic
women politicians leave me quite star struck. And then I
would say Stacy Abrams, to which I who I got
to meet at the Riveters Summit, and I met Vice
President then Senator Harris later that night. So really, I
viewed November seven is one of the greatest days of

my life. Lu Burns has been listening to this interview
and he's going to join us with the final question
from the male perspective. I want to know like when
you were like in your fourteen fifteen sixteen and maybe
in high school years? What was that like for you?
Were you like a student athlete, really like in politics?
How were you as a kid? So I had a

really rough eighth grade. We had just moved to the UK.
I was in a new school in England, um and
it was I had always been aware of privilege and
how much I had, but this was the first time
being around extremely wealthy people that made me feel less
than and was pretty badly bullied. It was a really, really,

really hard year. Mercifully, it was also a school with
a lot of turnover, so my ninth grade beginning of
ninth grade was a much different experience with new friends
and new people who joined the school that saw me
for who I am and liked me for me, so
that helped. And then I had two more schools my
freshman year of high school, so by the time I

got to tenth grade, I was tired of one moving
and two having to make friends that I found these
two incredible women in my high school, Stacy Eadie and
Rachel Mendel Rice, who were equally nerdy as I was
about politics, like we would sit on long lunch days
on Wednesdays, order a pizza from dominoes and sit around

on pontificate about like the state of the world and politics,
like we couldn't vote, there was very little we could
actually do. But I felt finally like I had found
my groove, and with that came joining the debate team,
joining theater um, joining the school newspaper. I literally, I
don't know if my parents nudged this or if I

found my way here, but finding community and things I
cared about really really helped. And I didn't care so
much about what other people think thought or of me,
or of what was quote unquote cool, because I had
a very clear sense of what these people find to

be cool is not at all aligned with what I
care about, and so I'm just going to release myself
of that burden or expectation. You know, Sam, It's really funny.
When we invited Hither onto the show, I was trying
to remember when I met her, and I couldn't because
Hit is one of those people that once you meet her,
you feel like you've always known her, because she's so

willing to share every piece of herself, the hard parts,
the good parts, the ugly parts, the beautiful parts. And
there aren't many people like that in the world. And
by the way, you know how my background is in
personal branding. I think she is so smart about how
she's managed her career and her brand. And you know,
I did ask her about her gray hair, because it's true,

she is so youthful looking with gray hair. She just
pulls it off in a way I've never seen anyone
pull it off. But on top of that, I think
it's so adorable and sort of disarming that she talks
about her love of Taco Bell and romance novels, because
it makes it so that anyone can find something in
common with her, and it's something I encourage everyone to

do on their Twitter, Instagram bio is saying something that
just makes you a little more approachable. She actually got
me to read my first romance novel, and whenever I
do eat Taco Bell because my kids love it, I
think of her. Thanks for listening to What's Her Story
with Sam and Amy. We would appreciate it if you
leave her review wherever you get your podcasts, and of course,

connect with us on social media at What's Her Story podcast.
What's Her Story with Sam and Amy is powered by
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Sam's company, park Place Payments, at park place payments dot com.
Thanks to our producer Stacy Para and our male perspective,
Blue Burns
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