Cathryn A. Shaw-Reid, Ph.D. did not find her way to her position as vice president of global drug substance biologics operations at Bristol Myers Squibb by accident.

Hailing from Los Angeles, Shaw-Reid spent her time as an undergraduate studying chemical engineering at Columbia University in New York City, using internships to try out as many facets of the burgeoning field.

Time and time again, she found herself drawn to biology projects. Her father was a physician, and she spent her childhood listening to him talk about medicine and patients.

“It’s the environment I grew up in as a young girl,” Shaw-Reid said.

But while her education at Columbia, where she for a time served as president of the National Society of Black Engineers, helped hone her interests, she left wanting to pursue the biology part of her degree, prompted by an interest in microbial physiology and biochemistry. She landed at MIT in Cambridge, where she received a master’s degree and a PhD in biochemical engineering.

Shaw-Reid joined BMS in January 2020 after 15 years spent working at Amgen, a biopharmaceutical firm based in California. She was drawn to the company’s concurrent jump into the area of cell therapy, and from Shaw Reid’s perspective, BMS was pursuing unique ways of providing medicines to patients.

Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and Shaw-Reid found herself tasked with running a fleet of manufacturing sites responsible for supplying medicine, and overseeing a workforce largely unable to work from home.

“COVID lockdowns probably began about six weeks after I started,” Shaw-Reid said.

“She’s an incredibly brilliant person, and she just balances that deep industry expertise and intelligence with compassion and very high emotional intelligence,” said Carolyn Kelley, director of human resources for U.S. biologics at BMS. “That’s a very hard balance to find in a leader.”

Shaw-Reid, aside from her anticipated new job duties, was in charge of making sure her staff could safely get to work while pandemic-induced challenges produced new barriers, like remote schooling, childcare, and staff needing intermittent quarantining. She worked with a crisis management team to stay on top of COVID regulations and helped lead risk mitigation efforts.

She leaned heavily on her personal leadership style, which she describes as a combination of empathy and listening, with the ultimate goal of understanding.

“I’ve been focusing a lot on being an authentic leader,” Shaw-Reid said. “What that means to me is that I have a style where I can kind of bring my personal self to the relationship.”

As a leader, Kelley said, Shaw-Reid builds trust very quickly. She is an enthusiastic mentor.

At the moment, she’s particularly excited about Cambridge nonprofit MassBioEd’s apprenticeship program, of which BMS is an inaugural employer partner. The first cohort will complete its round in 2022. An avid participant in early career programming herself, which she credits with ultimately guiding her to the field and position she’s in now, Shaw-Reid views the program in part as a way to pay it forward.

“The other thing I like about it is it gives my current staff members the chance to be mentors,” Shaw-Reid said. “There’s a giving component that’s important for all of us. We’re all part of a cycle of success.”

Outside of work, Shaw-Reid is an enthusiastic gardener, something she’s gotten into during the pandemic, as well as an avid reader. She’s a lover of Hollywood movies and has missed going to the theater during COVID.