Management Secrets of Top Westchester CEOS: Joseph Gulfo, CEO of Mela Sciences in Irvington

Joseph Gulfo, MD, takes leading by example to the extreme. The 49-year-old CEO of Mela Sciences slept only two hours a night, lost 29 pounds, developed a stress-induced skin condition, and had crying spells in the office while he shepherded the company through a brutal FDA review to enable it to bring its only product to market. “I wasn’t ashamed of it,” he says. “Showing my vulnerability and passion helped people step up themselves.”

The sacrifices paid off in late 2011, when the company finally received FDA approval to sell the device it invented, which identifies melanoma with a special camera and computer system. Roll-out began this March, and Gulfo’s enthusiasm is reaching a fever pitch. “One American an hour dies from melanoma because it is missed in the earliest stage, which shouldn’t happen since everything is visible right on the skin,” he says. “Now, we can give doctors a tool to catch that.”

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Holding his 54 employees together during the difficult product-development cycle and harder FDA review was perhaps Gulfo’s most significant accomplishment. Negative feedback from the FDA didn’t do much for employee morale, nor did it help the stock price, which sank from $11 to $2 per share, making many employee options essentially worthless. Despite that, there was no mass exodus.

How did he do it? “We’re all motivated by saving lives,” he says. “When I explain what we’re doing, they rally behind that. If I can’t lead a group when I have that kind of story, I should be shot.”

Photo by Cathy Pinsky

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