Changemaker: Finding Strength in a Team
An alumna’s journey from B-school to Wall Street; from brain surgery to the C-suite.
“I’m a nerd, and this is a major theme of the story: I built a spreadsheet and the spreadsheet was like, ‘What are the pros of brain surgery, and what are the cons of brain surgery?’”
In this ongoing video series, we showcase Stanford GSB alumni who are striving to change lives, organizations, and the world.
Carrie Siu Butt, MBA ’04, would not call dystonia, a neurological movement disorder she was diagnosed with at age 11, a setback. When she got tremors in her right hand, she taught herself to write with her left.
“Overcoming obstacles is just something that I’m used to,” Siu Butt says. Relearning her world was just another goal to achieve.
After graduating from Stanford GSB, working on Wall Street, getting brain surgery, and finishing the New York City marathon, it was time to conquer her next goal: running a company. In 2020, Siu Butt became the CEO of SimpleHeath, an organization that offers easy access to birth control.
One of the things I’d always said to myself is, “When I grow up and [become] a great CEO, I’m really going to try and create a company where the employee workforce matches the patient or the consumer base.… We don’t do this by checking boxes,” Siubutt says. “We truly do it by attracting the right talent.”
Finding strength in a team is something Siu Butt says she learned at Stanford. “I had a great bunch of classmates that never made me feel different, never made me feel disabled. You really are a product of your tribe, and I think that the GSB, above everything else, is a great tribe.”
Carrie Siu Butt: I was diagnosed with dystonia when I was 12. Dystonia is a neurological disease that basically means that some part of my brain is just a little bit unusual. For me, it was in one leg. Then, it was in my right hand, and then it was in my left leg. Then, I had tremors, and then my speech was very slurred. I struggled with it through high school. I somehow stopped writing with my right hand and taught myself how to write with my left hand. So overcoming obstacles is something that I’m used to finding solutions to. After business school, it became really, really tough to walk, and I remember walking 5th to 6th Avenue in New York City. It’s really a long block, and those blocks would take 45 minutes. It just became really hard, and I just started to look like, “What would my life in a wheelchair look like?”
I’m a nerd, and this is a major theme of the story. I built a spreadsheet and the spreadsheet was like, “What are the pros of brain surgery, and what are the cons of brain surgery?” When I sort of did the analysis, I realized I had nothing to lose but to have brain surgery. Eight weeks after, I was walking the same block, 5th to 6th Avenue, and I realized what was taking 45 minutes took four minutes. I got to 6th Avenue, and I, still makes me emotional, I just started crying and laughing. I just had never felt that feeling in … probably since I was 15 years old.
I started running December 4th, 2006. For anyone who runs out there, as you know, you always remember your first race, and you always remember the escalation process. I did probably a couple more 10Ks, and then I was like, “If I can do a 10K, why not do a half marathon?” The thing with me when I’m running is I actually have to think about every step. So I have to consciously think, “Lay my foot flat, lay my foot flat,” whereas most able-bodied people just pitter-patter.
But I always had my sights on the greatest marathon in the world, which I believe is New York City Marathon. I did it in 2018. It is probably really one of the best marathons you could ever run. That was just a dream come true. I had written about, in my GSB essay, that my dream in life was to one day run a marathon. It has truly been remarkable what science has done to change my life and to give me the miracle of running.
I always tell myself every morning that I have a superhero cape, and, for me, women’s health, which is super interesting, because we’ve been fighting for representation in the healthcare field. The beauty about telehealth is you can do it in the privacy of your living room. You can really tell your healthcare needs in a non-judgmental way. I’ve made a conscious decision to use my platform to talk about how this affects marginalized communities. People who are usually going to get caught in the fray are people of color, people of lower economic societies, and people in marginalized communities, i.e. transgender people.
SimpleHealth is a reproductive care company which offers services to women and people born with ovaries. Right now, we currently do birth control. So you come online. You go on simplehealth.com. You figure out an online consultation. A doctor reviews it. He gets back to you with your medication. Then, we send it to a pharmacy, and you should get your prescription within three to five days, all discreetly from your living room with a judgment-free doctor’s appointment. So, again, we’re super proud of that, to really having a business around longitudinal care around reproductive health. No one’s done it yet, but I tell people all the time, this is what the GSB does for you, makes you dream as big as you can.
My thesis at SimpleHealth is that we have to keep on continuing to fight for people’s rights to privacy of their [00:04:00] healthcare needs, reproductive care or not. One of the things I’d always said to myself is, “When I grow up and be a great CEO, I’m really going to try and create a company where the employee workforce matches the patient or the consumer base.” I am super proud to say that we are 47% people of color. We are 46% LGBTQIA+. We’re 36% disabled. We’re 10% single parents, and I believe we’re 6% veterans. We don’t do this by checking boxes. We just truly do it by attracting the right talent.
I had always known I wanted to go to business school since I was probably seven years old, and I think my parents thought, “What is she talking about? We’re living in Trinidad. How does she even know what business school is?” In terms of what Stanford has done for me, it has just surpassed any expectation that I ever thought about, has changed my entire life, the way I communicate, has made me the leader I am today, the power of leadership, the power of empathy, and really the power of communication. So professionally, that’s what I took away.
Personally, just an incredible amount of friends. I had such a great bunch of classmates that never made me feel different, never made me feel disabled, but I think, because of that, is really why I can be the great leader I am today or the person I am today, because of my tribe. You really are a product of your tribe, and I think that the GSB, out of everything else, is going to be just such a great tribe.
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