Leading With a Mission
Sarah Condella puts people first at one of Madison’s fastest growing companies
Since Sarah Condella (BS '03, MBA '07) joined Exact Sciences in 2012, the Madison-based molecular diagnostics company has grown from about 50 employees to more than 2,800. As senior vice president of human resources, Condella manages the challenges that come with such fast-paced growth.
“We’re really managing a constancy of change,” she says. “You become used to it, but not everybody is. We need to make sure we give everybody the right tools, and that we’re communicating so that people are connecting to the ‘why’, because if you don’t understand why it’s happening then it seems like chaos.”
At Exact Sciences, employees unite around a shared mission: to win the war on cancer through early detection. In 2014, the company launched Cologuard, the first stool DNA screening test for the detection of colorectal cancers and pre-cancers. The test—an at-home screening kit—has made early cancer detection more accessible and convenient, with nearly 3 million people using the product to be screened for colorectal cancer, half of whom were previously unscreened.
Exact Sciences’ recent growth is driven partly by expanded FDA approval for Cologuard use among a wider age demographic, as well as its acquisition of genetic research company Genomic Health. The company is also using its early detection technology to develop other cancer detection tests, including for lung and liver cancer.
— Sarah Condella (BS ’03, MBA ’07)
Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Exact Sciences
This uniting goal is part of what makes the company culture so dynamic. In times of drastic transformation, Condella recognizes it as an anchor amidst all the change.
“At the end of the day—when we’re all in it for the same reasons—you have every other person in this company who is willing to help because your success in any department, function, or team is contributing to that overall success,” she says.
Shaping that success is integral to Condella’s role leading human resources.
“When you consider some of the basics of HR—compensation, benefits, wellness programs—we look at everything holistically and focus on what creates a meaningful experience for employees,” says Condella. “We’ve built the infrastructure to support growth in terms of having recruiting, business partner support, and a real focus on career development.”
Condella, a Wisconsin native, has always been a people-focused person. Originally intending to pursue child psychology, Condella realized her passion for human resources while working for the UW–Madison Survey Center in the years following her undergraduate degree in psychology. There, she served in a variety of roles from telephone interviewer up to manager, gaining insight into the different functions of departments and team dynamics.
“I started realizing that everything I’d learned with my background in psychology was very applicable to adults as well as children,” she says. “I recognized that I love learning how people are motivated, and how that relates to the different dynamics among teams.”
Condella pursued the Wisconsin MBA program specifically because of the human resources management specialization and how it speaks to these interests. She credits her time in the program with solidifying her passion around people, as well as helping her better understand organizational behavior, motivation, compensation, and what it takes to drive high performing teams.
“What I’m very fond of about my time at the Wisconsin School of Business is the people and the connections that we made,” she says. “Everybody had such different backgrounds. You learn to bond over the differences that you have because you can really learn from each other in that way.”
When she’s not focused on balancing Exact Sciences’ major growth, Condella is working toward another type of balance: that between her job and being a mother to two young children. Before stepping into her current role, Condella thought that the type of work-life balance she wanted wouldn’t have been achievable, and that the nature of her position would require her to be “on” 24/7. At Exact Sciences—named a 2019 Best Workplace for Women by Fortune and Great Place to Work®—she has found the balance that’s right for her.
“In this job specifically, I’ve been able to set the right boundaries and integrate work and life in a way that works for myself and my family where I don’t feel like I’m constantly pulled in too many directions,” she says. “I really try to find that balance.”
Looking forward, Condella plans to continue guiding Exact Sciences through whatever changes it might face in the future.
“I’m passionate about creating an environment where people bring everything that they can and are able to contribute in a meaningful way,” she says. “I’m really proud to be part of this mission and this team, contributing to the growth and success of this organization because we’re having a really powerful impact on people."