10/29/2007 - Even California’s wildfires — and broken bones — could not keep neurosurgeon and journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta from visiting Kellogg Oct. 25.
Following three straight days of reporting on the disaster in southern California, where he broke his left hand, the chief medical correspondent for the health and medical unit at CNN addressed students, faculty and staff who gathered in the Jacobs Center’s Owen L. Coon Forum. His lecture, titled “Expanding Your Brand,” revealed insights he has learned throughout a mid-career switch.
Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain said Gupta’s talk was relevant and timely for MBA students. “He has an unparalleled ability to build strong personal brands across different industries,” Jain said. “This topic is of particular importance to a Kellogg student’s multi-dimensional career.”
One of Gupta’s key points challenged the audience to reflect on opportunities that can arise when an old and new profession become fused. “Look for similarities,” he said. “Don’t run away from your primary interests just because you may be disenchanted.”
Gupta himself was not dissatisfied with medicine, working as a neurosurgeon at the University of Michigan Medical Center and the University of Tennessee’s Semmes-Murphey clinic. Rather, he was searching for a way to expand his reach beyond the operating room, and that opportunity came unexpectedly.
In 1997 Gupta was one of 15 appointed White House Fellows, serving as special adviser to Hillary Clinton, when he met Tom Johnson, at that time CEO of CNN News Group. While Gupta was interested in finding a way to bring medical knowledge to a mass audience, Johnson wanted to build a team of medical reporters at the international television network.
So Gupta joined CNN in the summer of 2001, reporting soon after on the Sept. 11 attacks, and then in 2003 as an embedded correspondent with the U.S. Navy’s medical unit, Devil Docs, in Iraq. He also reported live from Sri Lanka during the 2004 tsunami, and contributed to CNN’s award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Working in a corporate culture for the first time, Gupta learned that “Knowing the culture is as important as learning the mechanics of an organization,” he said. “Cultures develop over decades, but the mechanics can change in minutes.” Other advice included the importance of spending time with upper management and focusing on the intended audience, be it in medicine, media or marketing, to ensure best results.
He also acknowledged that, as with any job, even journalism has its mundane aspects. But, he said, it is important to remain mindful of the underlying passion that sparked the initial inspiration to follow a particular career path.
“There’s a phrase in Japanese called ikigai, which means ‘sense of purpose,’” he said. “The Japanese believe that the people who live the longest have a very strong ikigai. Every morning when you wake up, focus on what your sense of purpose is for that day. What is your sense of purpose on earth, and how are you going to better the world in some way?”
Gupta said he considers it a privilege to tell the stories he does, even those that do not make it on the air. One such tale came after the tsunami in Sri Lanka: “At the end of a live shot, a little boy came running over with a pack of crackers, and I looked at his mom, and she gave me that universal sign of ‘you must be hungry.’ I thought, these people lost everything they own, but they’re offering me the little they have — whereas I can walk the streets of New York every day and the people who have everything won’t give you the time of day.”
Such an occasional shift in perspective is useful, said Gupta, in that it allows one to better assess the value of everyday life.
The talk was the first in a new series by the Kellogg Student Association that brings prominent speakers who have connections with Kellogg students to the school. JD-MBA candidate Suneel Gupta ’08 is the journalist’s younger brother, and he helped arrange the visit.