Chapter 12: Department Chair and Section Chief: Leadership Issues


Chapter 12: Department Chair and Section Chief: Leadership Issues



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In this chapter, Dr. Gutterman comments on his role as Chair of the Department of Clinical Immunology and Biological Therapy, noting candidly that he was not passionate about administration and unable to manage the Department adequately.



Publication Date



The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - The Administrator; The Administrator; Leadership; MD Anderson History; Leadership; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; On Leadership; Evolution of Career; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose; Critical Perspectives; Growth and/or Change; Institutional Politics

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

You mentioned last time—you told the story about that meeting when some of the oilmen who had been responsible for setting up the Interferon Foundation came to see Charles LeMaistre and kind of drew the line in the sand about interfering with your work. I’m wondering if you could reflect a little bit, when you were chair of the department, on the places in which the department functioned very well because of the way the institution is set up. And then conversely, some places where the department couldn’t function because of some institutional roadblocks.

Jordan Gutterman, MD:

Well, we worked with a lot of compounds from companies. We got them—you know—we didn’t start anything, but people knew me. And so they all wanted to work here; there were many people who wanted to work here because we have patients. We have a large department of very capable—many of these people have gone on to have leadership positions. For example, Dr. [Moshe] Talpaz worked on the CML—chronic myeloid leukemia—and I can’t remember if we talked about that, but that was so exciting. Dr. Razelle Kurzrock worked with many of the growth factors. She’s now head of the Phase 1 program here at MD Anderson and is the department chairman, doing extremely well and others—many others, actually, as well. And so—and a lot of them were—that was a wild group to manage because they were very, very strong-willed and very capable. I think we all did very well. I mean, actually, I don’t recall today, right this minute, too many roadblocks other than the fact that slowly there were more and more control of drug trials, but we just kind of blended with the times. And I think—I don’t recall that there was anything we wanted to do that was prevented. I think the problem was internal in terms of the fact that I was spending a lot of my time going to committee meetings. I was known as someone who was always late, always brought articles with him, would not really listen to all the boring stuff going on, and would be reading constantly. That’s just me. I just read. I had very little interest in the administrative aspects of it. I was thinking of new ideas and stuff, and that doesn’t go well, and it should go well. You shouldn’t be running a department if that’s what you really prefer doing, and that’s the other—another lesson. My heart was not in it. At first it was pretty exciting, of course. You are a department chairman. This was the end of ’85, ’86, when I took over.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How did that happen?

Jordan Gutterman, MD:

Well, the chairman—first of all, when I came here we were a section. It was called the section of immunology. Finally, after years and years of being labeled an immunologist—I think the label is dropping and will drop for sure with the new stuff that’s coming out. And I can see we are only going to get part way through that story today. That’s okay. And—you know—I’m itching to talk about it because it’s so fresh, you know? I get bored quickly. I remember reading—and I’ll answer your question. I think I forgot the question. Sydney Brenner, who won the Nobel Prize a few years ago for his work on the worm—but he really should have won a Nobel Prize well before then—he worked with [Francis] Crick. He discovered messenger RNA. And he won a Lasker—he won two Lasker awards. I know him pretty well. He’s quite a character—extremely humorous, brilliant, genius. I read once, in his autobiography, that—and he has told me this too—that once he has accomplished something, he wants to move on. He just doesn’t like all the details. It is like shooting that golf ball 350 yards, putting the little details on it—he wants to open up new ideas. I have the same personality. I don’t know if it’s a Jewish personality, but it’s certainly a personality, because he’s from South Africa. But—now, you asked the question—?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How did you become—?

Jordan Gutterman, MD:

Oh, the chairman, yeah. So, the—we were a tiny section of three faculty members in DT—Developmental Therapeutics. Then as the interferon became well known—and people labeled it, I think, inappropriately as cancer immunotherapy. It was not immunotherapy, but it stimulated—all that work stimulated the National Cancer Institute to start a biological therapy program which is my preferable term. It is a biologic. It’s a natural substance. Yes, interferon does do some fascinating things to the immune system, and I think only in the last three, four, or five years as that work really matured into something pretty profound, but I don’t think the anti-cancer activity is primarily immunological. I think it plays a role. I don’t think we know that for sure, but that worked. And my chairman at the time, Dr. Evan Hersh, who I had met in San Antonio, was head of the section. I wanted a separate department, which was appropriate. And Freireich being Freireich said, “Of course, I think it’s time for—” It was called cancer, immunology, and—I’m sorry—it was called CIBT.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Cancer, biology—

Jordan Gutterman, MD:

Cancer, immunotherapy, and biological therapy.—CIBT. I just thought of something really, really interesting in terms of letters. I’ll come back to that. This is amazing, actually, about CIBT. I’ll come back to how the name has been truncated and now will be truncated for the last time into something with just a T. I’ll tell you all about that—how it went from CIBT. In terms of my career, how something called IBT was the critical thing in my new work, and then that got morphed into BT, and then, as of the next day or two, it’s going to be T. But I’ll tell you about that. That has nothing to do with anything; it just is. Maybe there’s a force there that controls that, but let’s get back to the issue. So I don’t think, as a department, we were hindered too much. But I was really—I was getting bored with managing people, writing reports, evaluating people, a lot of infighting all the time, and a lot of these other people were feeling the ropes. They wanted their own things, and that’s not easy. You know, Dr. Talpaz was very capable, and Dr. Kurzrock, but they are all strong-willed. Dr. Lopez, who I didn’t work too closely with but is very talented, is still here. He’s a great entrepreneur. And many others wanted their own programs. So I think that gradually the head of medicine, Dr. Irwin Krakoff—who Freireich had big problems with—I think he could see—at first I was kind of the golden boy, the new department head with all this—we had just gotten interferon approved and all this stuff. And for the first four years or so, things went very well. Then there was a lot of grumbling, and I think it’s because I didn’t pay attention to being an administrator. I wasn’t a real good nurturer of this kind of chaos. Freireich does it in a genius way. I just don’t know how to do it.

Chapter 12: Department Chair and Section Chief: Leadership Issues