Sara Masterson

Pre-DHC expertise?

CDMO experience, primarily focused on program & alliance management.

How did you find Dark Horse?

I feel very fortunate to be here! At one point in my past I happened to be in a (pre-COVID) meeting that included Rob [Allen, GM DHC Europe] and Sara [Mills, Senior Consultant]. They walked in the room and brought completely different energy in with them. Both of them were so knowledgeable and had an amazing sense of connection that sort of flowed out to include all of us. That collaborative focus caught my attention and I remember thinking, if those two are representative of the company, then Dark Horse may be a place I want to end up someday.

And how did you find the field of cell and gene?

I graduated with a degree in biology and got my clean room experience at a contract testing facility. That’s when I first noticed C&GT in the form of new CDMOs. I wanted to move to cell and gene but also knew that gaining CDMO experience altogether would be valuable. The intriguing part for me as it relates to C&GT was the major difference in logistics as compared to monoclonal antibody production.  Staying with CDMOs for a while enabled me to see all these different clients and different products so that I’d have a wider range of understanding.

What made you certain that you wanted to move over to cell and gene once you’d encountered it?

The central reason for me is the closer connection to the end result. Having a patient’s therapy being completely customized just for them (with autologous products) is amazing to me. It connects me directly to saving and impacting lives. I find that so wonderfully meaningful.

I’m a scientist who grew up in a religious family, and what that tells you is that I enjoy seeing things from different angles. I’d go to church and hear one way of thinking about life on earth and then in my grade school science classes I was fascinated by DNA, genetics, the biological whole. Questioning how things work led me naturally to biology and then, when I encountered a role that required more business acumen than I had, I ended up getting an MBA.

Business and biology isn’t a common overlap; talk about different angles! Tell us more.

The emphasis on project management is what skewed me towards getting an MBA. I’d accepted a position project managing external vendors and I just felt that I needed more knowledge. I also worked in Quality for a while and as a microbiologist I’ve always functioned a little outside of the typical project manager skillset. I enjoy being somewhat outside of the typical box.

I’m cognizant of the role I am in when I encounter a new client, and possibly my awareness there is also heightened by my understanding of the business side of things. My function exists to support that client and to make sure that I’m understanding and reading their needs accurately. My immediate message is always that if I’m ever not helping, to let me know. It’s the concept of “servant-leadership:” my place as an expert is to provide you, the client, with assistance.

Who I am with a client depends on what that client needs. Part of a consultant’s job, I think, is to be a chameleon. I find that I often match my client’s energy; I naturally function almost as a mirror. I innately do whatever I can to make sure I understand where my client is coming from and what they truly need.

What’s something that you do for enjoyment outside of work?

Because I spend a lot of time talking with people and focusing on those workplace relationships, I find that I value solitude outside of work. I absolutely put in the effort with friends and family and I love my time with them—part of the allure of Dark Horse was that it allowed me to move back to Oklahoma where my family is. But in my spare time I’m the sort of person who would rather read a book than go to a big get-together. All of us have a finite amount of energy that we can expend outwardly and I think I use my alone time to replenish that energy. I absolutely love talking to clients and I want to give them my best—I don’t want my social muscles to be worn out! Relating to people is a huge facet of who I am, but I also find solitude to be just as rewarding, for different reasons.

How does that solitude play out in terms of hobbies or outside interests?

Something I do that’s a bit unusual is that I love to drive around to little towns. I never keep a record of what I’m experiencing because keeping track of what we do is something all of us have to do all the time (and which I especially need to do in my work life!), so instead I just live in the moment. It’s such a freeing experience, especially because if I’m traveling around, I don’t have to be anyone in particular when I arrive. I can be completely out of my element. There are zero expectations of me. I can just exist and experience the history and the sense of place and time.

If we were to look for a pattern between your personal and professional lives, would it be accurate to say that you’re still always looking at everything from all angles?

Yes, and in my more philosophical moments I would characterize it as constantly searching for wholeness. It matters to me to make sure that I have an understanding of the full picture, the three-dimensional reality: whether that reality is biology, a project or program that I’m managing, clients, my children, a little town somewhere, or just myself.

Sara Masterson and a coatimundi at an exotic animal park in Seminole, Oklahoma

Those small towns Sara likes to visit? This is from one of those solitary adventures. Here we see a coatimundi climbing on Sara’s back at an exotic animal park in Seminole, Oklahoma.

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