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They all want what Huntsman has — The woman in charge

Published: Saturday, March 1 2014 9:22 p.m. MST

David and Mary are the parents of a son, also named David, a graduate of Salt Lake’s West High School and currently a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, of whom Mary says, “he is cherished and my greatest joy in life.” Her husband runs a successful export business in Salt Lake City.

At 59, Beckerle looks at her career and mentally knocks on wood. “I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am,” she says. “I love the west. It’s not just open spaces physically, but people have open minds. There’s a collaboration and a team spirit and a willingness to take risks. Those are the hallmarks at HCI.”

In the war against cancer, she is both a soldier and an officer.

“Here’s the thing,” she explains. “I am a scientist. I’m trying to control Ewing sarcoma, a children’s bone cancer, with a team of people. That’s incredibly exciting for me personally, at a time when we’re positioned to make more progress than has ever been possible. So that’s one job. I could never give that up. The other job is working with the team at HCI to chart the most effective course for the institute. I feel like the very fortunate conductor of a world-class orchestra. My role is to help them sound their best together, tap into their core desire to do something different and make something special.”

The thought prompts her to think of the way Mickey Beckerle raised her daughters.

“She made us feel like we could do anything and she expected us to do something really great,” she muses. “That’s exactly the way I feel about people here. I have the same expectation for them.”

* * *

It’s all music to Jon Huntsman’s ears. Ever since 1993, when he donated his first $10 million — it’s now more than $300 million — to start a cancer institute in partnership with the University of Utah, he’s learned over and over again that the fight against cancer requires not only the sharpest and the brightest minds — but someone with a deft hand to hold them all together.

“Someone once told me that the most difficult group to lead is one where you’re one of the same,” he says. “Your own peer group is always the hardest to truly manage. Mary is dealing with her own peer group — a group of highly educated, remarkably outstanding professionals — and she manages them with such tremendous class and leadership. I don’t get any complaints. I just don’t get any. She ought to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“I know what my job is,” he grins. “Keep slipping the checks under the door.”

And hope the leader on the other side keeps picking them up.

Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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