Lead(H)er - Kate Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Definitive Healthcare
“When I started college my plan was to become a doctor, plain and simple. So I started down that path, and it was just after I finished all the pre-med requirements I decided to pivot. I realized that there were other ways to get involved in the healthcare industry that didn’t involve a white coat,” Kate Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Definitive Healthcare, said.
Originally from the greater Boston area, Kate grew up in Hamilton. After high school, she enrolled at Emory College for her undergraduate degree down in Atlanta, GA.
“Like many others, I instantly fell in love with Atlanta when I started college in 2004. Both my parents were pretty shocked when I chose to go relatively far from home, yet they were thrilled to see college was off to a good start and that I had the chance to be part of a community outside of Massachusetts. While college served up no shortage of fun, I was there to study and graduated with a major in anthropology and a minor in public health. At the time both degrees felt a bit random, but they worked well together and were two things I found equally interesting.”
Although she loved her time in Atlanta, Kate decided to make the move back north after graduation. Upon arrival in Boston, she prepared for and attended a series of job interviews with the rest of grads of ‘08 and was lucky to land an offer from RTI International.
“Keep in mind 2008 was a tough year. The job market was anything but strong, and it was the first time I had to find myself what they call a “real” job. Things were a bit tense. It wasn’t the first time the economy dipped, but it made for an enduring process,” Kate explained.
As a Health Policy Analyst, Kate focused on research projects centered around the Medicare program. During her time at RTI, she enjoyed applying the public health curriculum that she learned at Emory and learning more about the healthcare system and many of the things that needed to be fixed.
About one year into the job, she started thinking about going back to school for her graduate degree.
“I wanted to figure out if healthcare was going to be the mainstay, or if it may be fleeting. The idea of returning to school meant I needed to think long and hard about the opportunity cost of taking myself out of the workforce. It felt like one of the biggest decisions in my life, granted I was just shy of 24, but I ultimately decided to go to public health school. I started my master's program at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2010.”
Kate describes her two years in graduate school as remarkable years in her mid-twenties. She loved the university, who she was surrounded by, and the chance she was given.
“The academic programming was everything I expected it to be and even a bit more, but school marked a really nice chance to continue to build out my Boston-based network. My program hosted people from all different walks of life. Everyone had their own unique story and their own excitement about what lay ahead, whether that was professional or personal. It was nice to stitch together the experience, weaving on my own. A significant portion of the value in going back to school was the people I met while I was there.”
When Kate graduated in 2012, she decided to pursue a position at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. With the help of her connections from a prior internship, she jumped into a Strategic Services position at the association out in Chicago.
“I moved out to Chicago and worked on the product development team. I got to work on a lot of great programs that helped service the customers of Blue plans across the U.S. For example, I got to work on the national telemedicine strategy and following program development. Telemedicine wasn’t new in 2012, but we got to think about how you reimburse for it and market it to consumers since it is a great way to receive care.”
While at the Association, Kate liked that she had a bird’s eye perspective. She found a big part of her experience was learning how to come up with clear value propositions and how to effectively communicate strategies.
“In order to get 37 plans to listen and buy in, you had to have a pretty tight story around recommended action and why it was compelling to move in that direction. The biggest takeaway was making sure you had an intention behind every decision and a story supported by values to succeed in making a change. It was also important to make sure you had the ability to influence key stakeholders alongside the political will.”
After a few years in Chicago, Kate felt she’d tapped out on her opportunity and was itching to make a move back to the east coast to once again be close to her family. In the fall of 2014, she moved on back to Boston.
“When I came back to Boston, I connected with an old friend and colleague from RTI who had taken on a key role at Definitive Healthcare. He encouraged me to come in and meet with the CEO, so I interviewed at Definitive. My motto at the time was to take all interviews, but this one struck me right off the bat. I quickly learned about the business they were in and what they were looking to achieve. My initial conversations felt really good, and it was in my gut that Definitive would be a solid match. The decision was easy. I joined the company right after the interview at the start of 2015.”
When Kate first started at Definitive, there were just about 30 employees. She originally joined to help think about product strategy. Today there are more than 200 employees across the company.
“At that time I joined, we needed another member of the team who could build out the product pipeline. That meant thinking about core questions—what new data was important to bring into our database and what new products did we want to include in the portfolio—that would support our effort to win new business and capture market share while also maintaining our client relationships through renewed partnerships.”
Since the start, Kate’s role has evolved pretty significantly. Although she still supports product strategy work, she’s shifted to think more about corporate strategy for Definitive Healthcare at large.
“I now think about how Definitive Healthcare can position itself for continued growth by working across each of the functional groups to ensure the scale with our explosive business. Together we think about short, medium, and longer-term strategies that tie directly to our company’s goals. That might mean a focus on how marketing can build up the funnel to support our growing sale team or the ways in we need to evolve our customer success strategy to support 1,600 or so marquee clients on our product platform.”
“Definitive Healthcare is such a special company for so many obvious reasons, and I’m lucky to have joined when I did. This company created a space for me to grow up in, professionally speaking, and I am so grateful to call it home for where I really built up my career. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve learned how important it is to be nimble and responsive to the market. I’ve learned how critical it is to really walk in the shoes of your buyers and more importantly the shoes of your clients. I’ve learned what it means to be part of running a hugely successful business and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it!”
Rapid Fire Questions
BS: What do you like to do in your free time?
KS: I love spending time with my family, in particular, my two nieces and nephew. My elder niece is just shy of four and the other two are 8-month-old twins (my sister definitely has her hand’s full). The little ones are like the Three Stooges and always put a smile on my face.
BS: How do you manage stress?
KS: By going to the gym. I’ve always made a commitment to regular exercise since it gives me a true break from the day where I don’t have to think about anything. Whether it is a 20-minute run or a fun spin class, working out is a good way for me to release stress. I keep it on my calendar and make it a priority to follow through. When the gym doesn’t do the trick, a nice martini now and again will.
BS: How many cups of coffee do you typically drink in a day?
KS: When I’m on my best behavior, three. When I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll drink four cups. My only cardinal rule is no coffee after 1 PM.
BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?
KS: One of my favorite places is Crane Beach. It’s up on the North Shore, pretty close to my parents' house. The beach is part of larger conservation land, so it makes for a beautiful scape almost all year round.
BS: If you had to choose one thing, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
KS: My greatest accomplishment is the collection of small things I have been able to squirrel away over the years that influence who I am and how I conduct myself. It was the feat of financing grad school, moving to the Midwest, running fun road races, building great teams, and getting feedback that I have helped someone in their career. Perhaps one day all these things may be trumped by one large event, but I imagine my collection will continue to grow, and that I am grateful to look forward to.
BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?
KS: Absolutely not. Ten years ago, I was probably at the point of figuring out if I wanted to go to medical school, which is clearly quite different than working at Definitive Healthcare. Ten years ago I would not have imagined I’d be where I am today, but I would not rewrite it at all.
BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?
KS: Don’t put pressure on yourself to think you need to know exactly what your career is going to look like. The reality is you’re going to try out a lot of different jobs. Some of them are going to be great and some of them may not. Figure out what it is you like and what it is that you don't like from a professional perspective and carry that with you. While it may feel stressful and like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, keep in mind that life is all about trial and error and everyone will ultimately land where they’re meant to be. Also, don’t be afraid to work hard. It will bring you great things when done well.