A Letter from Your Chair

Dear friends:

Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) named Karen E. Knudsen, MBA, Ph.D., as its CEO and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Networksm (ACS CAN). This announcement is the first time in 107 years that the organization has named a woman in this position. Dr. Knudsen will also be the first scientific and oncology researcher to serve in the top staff position in the modern era.

Before joining ACS, Dr. Knudsen served as executive vice president of Oncology Services and enterprise director for Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health, one of only 71 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers recognized for their research and impact on cancer outcomes. She also holds leadership roles with some of the most important cancer entities in the nation. Dr. Knudsen is the President of the Association of American Cancer Institutes. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) and the Board of Advisors for the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Her formal education has prepared her for this new role in a number of ways. Dr. Knudsen holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from George Washington University, a Ph.D. in biologic sciences from the University of California, San Diego, and an MBA from Temple University Fox School of Business.

Having volunteered for the ACS since 1996, I could not be more excited. At the same time, I am also concerned about the challenges she faces. When I was “on staff,” I can say that creativity was not well-received. There was a strong desire to maintain the status quo. She will need to focus on transforming the culture of the ACS.

We don’t often think of a not-for-profit organization as having competition, but they do. For many years now, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has done a better job raising public awareness for children’s cancer. As a result, it has done a better job of fundraising, even though it was a much smaller organization with a very narrow focus.

Entertainer Danny Thomas founded St. Jude’s in 1962. As you can imagine, he was a significant part of their fundraising efforts. As of 2018, they raised nearly $1.5 billion in donations. Today, “SpaceX’s first all-civilian space flight set for late this year will provide an out-of-this-world fundraising opportunity for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which says it expects to generate $200 million for cancer research and other causes.”

The American Cancer Society’s mission is much broader – to “save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.” The Society’s Research program and the strength of its peer-review process has funded 49 cancer investigators who went on to win the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Knudsen will have to develop strategy and drive execution simultaneously — the need to do both at once has never been more urgent.

John A. Finegan
President & CEO