President and CEO of Beacon Capital Partners, Fred Seigel has still found the time and commitment to serve as a member of the FNIH Board of Directors since 2017. He has also chaired the FNIH Awards Ceremony for the past five years, with a sixth year coming up in 2024. What drives him to champion the FNIH’s work and our Awards Ceremony so diligently? We caught up with him to ask his thoughts.
How did you become interested in joining the board of the FNIH?
Two factors influenced my decision to join the board. First, I knew one of the original board members, Paul Montrone. I previously worked for Paul, and he has remained one of my closest friends for 40 years. Paul had talked about the FNIH for years, so it was always in the back of mind how positive he was about the FNIH. Second, my brother has a rare genetic disorder. He went to the NIH, went through a battery of tests and exams that detected lung cancer, which was unrelated to his genetic disorder. He was treated at the NIH with surgery and follow-up treatments. When I visited, I was amazed at the quality of care. In observing the people coming and going there, I also got a sense of how vital it is for people dealing with an acute illness to have a place to go that is world class. That resonated with me, and when I mentioned it to Paul, he invited me to meet with then-FNIH president Maria Freire. She followed up with an invite to join the board, and I needed no further impetus.
Why are you invested in the FNIH?
When I think about where I want to commit my time, and what kinds of causes and organizations my wife and I want to support, it comes down to a few factors. One, the mission is very important. Supporting healthcare and improving health outcomes has been important to us for many years. In the Boston area, where we live, several of our family members have been treated at academic hospitals, and I became very interested in the research side of healthcare.
The other important factor is the leadership of the organizations we are supporting. I have been impressed with the FNIH leadership since the first time I met with Maria Freire, and for the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of working with Julie Gerberding. Both leaders have made it exciting and easy to commit the time and financial support to the FNIH. I also feel close to the teams surrounding them.
What are two or three examples of our work that especially excite you?
The FNIH deserves tremendous credit for spearheading the ACTIV project and driving results that saved countless lives. Being able to bring together a variety of different stakeholders during a critical period, and to see the successful outcome, was remarkable.
Second, nothing better conveys what the FNIH is about than the annual Awards Ceremony and dinner. This year the Trailblazer Prize was awarded to a researcher [Vinod Balachandran, MD] studying pancreatic cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering [Cancer Center]. I know three people who have passed away from pancreatic cancer. None of those friends lived more than three years beyond diagnosis. I don’t know when that life-changing research will make an impact, yet listening to him, I felt hopeful. When I think about what the FNIH is about, what they support, who they are recognizing, the annual dinner always brings things close to home.
What motivates someone as busy as you to make time for the FNIH?
If I need motivation, I get it by going to the annual [Awards Ceremony and] dinner. I get enthused by the awardees—their energy and passion, their science and intellect. I don’t think there is a better way to showcase what the FNIH is about than at that dinner, particularly for the broader community who are not scientists. Every year I walk out feeling energized. This year, what really struck me about all the awardees was their sense of humility and the extraordinary personal stories about how they got to where they are now. It humanizes the science. That excites me and makes me feel that much more committed.
What is your philosophy of philanthropy?
As a family, my wife, daughters, and I focus on areas we care about. Education is important to us: I’m the first in my family to go to college, and both my wife and I relied on student loans. So, we’ve focused on scholarships and supporting need-blind schools. Healthcare is another important area. My extended family and I have been fortunate to have access to some of the leading hospitals in the US.
It all comes down to where we think our financial support will have most impact for us. I feel the same way about my time. Currently I serve only on two boards: the FNIH and Camp Harbor View, a camp for at-risk inner-city kids.
What is your hope for the future of the FNIH? How will it impact the field of biomedical research and patients waiting for a cure?
I hope the FNIH will continue to drive advancements in medicine and healthcare, continue to bring different stakeholders together, and continue to recognize outstanding scientists. When I think about my involvement, raising more awareness about the FNIH to a broader audience is important, and as a result of that awareness, building a broader network of individuals, foundations, and companies to support the mission.
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
I wish I had more time to devote to the FNIH. The work is so important and transformative, and I am grateful to be a part of it.