Business college awards Hero of Business title to Sarah Cannon CEO

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Dee Anna Smith is the only female, non-physician leader of a cancer company in the world.

She is also the 2013 recipient of the Lipscomb University College of Business' Heroes of Business Award.

Business students and professionals gathered in Stowe Hall on Thursday, Oct. 31 to hear Smith discuss her leadership role as CEO of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Research Institute.

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“My daughter saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, ‘Women who behave rarely make history,’” Smith said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve interpreted ‘behaving badly’ to mean distinguished in what we do.

“In Daniel 6, it said that Daniel ‘distinguished himself among the officials.’ My desire in life is to be distinctive among."

Smith, an advisory board member for Lipscomb's College of Pharmacy, began her career at KPMG, one of the biggest professional audit, tax and advisory service providers in the United States.

“The discipline that I got from working at that company for all those years gave me a fantastic foundation to take that forward. The Sarah Cannon Research Institute is in the business of advancing therapy for patients,” Smith said. “It’s a drug testing institute. We want to make sure the medication is safe for people to use. We’ve had quite a large impact in drug development.”

The Sarah Cannon Research Institute, a Nashville-based foundation, merged with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), one of the biggest health care providers in the world, to provide health care for cancer patients. Together, the combined companies are worth more than $4 billion.

How does Smith run operations for such a large company? She says there are a few key components to her leadership success.

“With my accounting degree, I understand the financial impact of every decision I make,” Smith said, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. “It’s very important to understand how the money works.”

That’s one thing that impacts her leadership. The other, Smith said, is knowing her own strengths and weaknesses.

“I am one of the best in the world at hiring people smarter than I am to work at Sarah Cannon,” Smith said. “I want to be able to motivate and inspire people to use their technical skills to advance therapy for patients and to be passionate about the patients we serve.”

Smith said that as a company, their mission is to transform cancer care for patients in the community they live in.

Smith ended her talk with a word of advice, commending Lipscomb’s distinctiveness.

“As a university, Lipscomb wants to be distinguished in the community,” Smith said. “Here, we have business with a purpose. Be distinguished. Don’t measure your success by how much money you make, but by your impact and how distinguished you are.  Wherever you are in life, take the opportunity to learn everything you can from that situation, and it will help you get to a better situation in life.”

The Heroes of Business Award was established to honor executives and leaders who exhibit excellent business skills as well as high moral integrity. Past award winners include R.A. Dickey, 2012 Cy Young Award winner, and David Sampson, former deputy secretary of commerce during President George W. Bush’s administration.