Fueled by Optimism, Confidence and Candor
Trudy Madan’s home is decorated in bold colors and statement pieces, a reflection of her personality and how she approaches life. The Founder and CEO of Synergyst Research and Discovery Clinical Trials radiates confidence and energy, excitedly talking with her hands while discussing something she’s passionate about. And with Madan, that’s everything. Whether she’s discussing her business, the importance of community service or her beloved dogs, a conversation with Madan leaves no doubt that she puts 100 percent of herself into everything she does.
Madan founded the company after a physician friend asked for help with a clinical research project. As Madan worked on the effort, she discovered an unmet need: handling the administrative aspect of clinical trials.
“Physicians doing research typically have one employee doing it all. They’re stretched. We handle the administrative piece, the clinics do the clinical piece,” she explains.
“The administrative piece is laborious: budgets, contracts, scheduling appointments … it’s similar to a doctor’s office: care vs. office management. For clinical trials, we handle office management.”
With six offices stretching from the Rio Grande Valley to Dallas, Madan and her team manage as many as 100 clinical trials a year, playing a key role alongside physicians, the Federal Drug Administration, and pharmaceutical companies to help bring drugs to market. It’s a male-dominated field, but that hasn’t deterred her. She even relishes being underestimated.
“Think whatever you want to think. A pretty face will get you in the door, but a great mind will keep you there. Underestimate me. I will show you.”
“I think it’s great being a woman. We can juggle so much and can do so many things. We are detail oriented and empathetic. We have so many components. It’s like fine wine: there’s a lot of things that go into it. We’re complex. And that’s good.”
Creating a company to do what no one else was doing fit for Madan, who loves innovation. “In business, you have to create your own change. That’s my philosophy: let’s do it before we have to do it. Get in front of it.”
That take-charge mindset flows from a habit she believes has helped her succeed: general optimism. “During uncertain times — and in business, that’s all the time — you have to be optimistic and believe in yourself. You have to think, ‘I can get through this, I can do this, this is not anything different than I’ve done before.
Madan’s optimism — and serious work ethic — has helped Discovery Clinical Trials appear perennially on the “Inc 500/5000 Magazine” list of fastest growing companies. “Working hard is the key. Being present. Showing up. These are all clichés, but they’re clichés for a reason. It works. My mom worked 2-3 jobs. If that doesn’t shape you, I don’t know what will. You have to go to work. You’ve got to work hard. Do the best you can because what’s the point of just showing up to watch the clock?”
When Madan is filling positions on her team, she works to get to the heart of how an applicant will fit in that environment. When she asks the standard interview question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses,” she’s not looking for the glossy, perfect answer. “People will say, ‘I haven’t thought of my weaknesses.’ No. I want you to tell me the real deal. If people can’t come up with even one weakness, that’s a red flag for me. We all have weaknesses. I have hundreds that I could go over with you. Weaknesses are not a bad thing.”
Madan notes that her leadership style has evolved over time. “I’ve learned that it’s not managing people, it’s coaching people,” explains Madan. “Coaching people, they will make the decisions. When someone presents you with a problem, ask them for three solutions.”
“Early in my career, I wanted to fix it, ‘Let me tell you how to fix it.’ Now I’m more of, ‘Let me teach you, let me mentor you, let me coach you,’ so the team, the management, can take that down to the next level.”
She believes in mentoring, as well as learning from others. “I’ve surrounded myself with people that are amazing in whatever aspect. And I’m a little sponge, taking it all in. If someone you respect tells you maybe you ought to not do this, and here are the reasons why I think that’s a great way to live. Learn from others. You can’t do it all on your own.
“I want advice from people who have figured it out. People I respect, I admire. I call on them. I love the quote, ‘You can’t make all of the mistakes on your own. There’s not enough time. Learn from others.’ It’s not just about mistakes, it’s about what you can learn from what others have done.”
Madan’s career and marriage brought her to San Antonio from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. When the marriage didn’t work out, her career kept her here. “My personal life was already disrupted. I didn’t want to disrupt my career. I decided I was staying. With life’s ups and downs, these decisions shape the rest of your life.”
Reflecting on how she made the decision to stay in San Antonio and continuing building her career, she shares advice that she believes all women should follow. “Don’t get stuck in a situation. Have options. I know way too many people who don’t go for it. Don’t get in a situation where you don’t have options. When you have options, you will make better decisions. I’ve learned that first hand.”
Much of that lesson was learned during her childhood. When her successful father, a real estate developer in India, died unexpectedly with no life insurance, her stay-at-home mother wasn’t left with many options. There weren’t funds to finish their house that was under construction, and her mother wasn’t aware of the finances — and didn’t have any income of her own. Madan was three, and her sister was nine. “You always hear about rags to riches, but we went from riches to rags,” she explains.
Five years later, the family immigrated to the United States to build a life here. “We struggled. My sister and I learned how hard it was for our mother to get things, to learn the language, to go to school. She worked 2-3 jobs to support these two little kids. We have this incredible work ethic because of her. It teaches you-you don’t ever want to be in that situation.
“Early on in my life, it was all about making sure that my career was in order because my mother struggled with that. It became my number one focus — having that security, taking care of yourself because no one else is going to. You’ve got to take care of yourself. That notion—I want to be taken care of’ — I don’t get.”
Looking back, she recognizes that focusing so much on her career wasn’t the ideal because it kept her from finding balance. “Now in my life, it’s all about the balance. If I work hard, I want to play hard. I want to travel. I want to do community service. I want to be successful in my professional life. I want to be successful in my personal life.
“I wasn’t mature enough to see that in my 20s, but I’m figuring it out now. Balance is now mainstream, but back then, you never heard the word balance.”
Part of that balance is putting her health first. “I think we have to be proactive about our own health. Nobody’s going to care but you, so be proactive. If you have your health, you have everything. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. You can’t take care of anybody else if you’re sick. It’s like on an airplane [putting on oxygen masks]: take care of yourself first, then do your child. Take care of yourself first and love yourself.”
But the petite ball of energy has to force herself to exercise. “I wish I was more disciplined. For me, it’s a chore. It has to be written on my to-do list. I try to eat well, try to drink less and try to work out as much as I can.”
And though she’s not a gym person, she enjoys taking walks and finds that being outside helps relieve stress. “I like nature. I like to go outside for a walk, sit out in the courtyard, listen to the water, being around my dogs — that’s my stress relief.”
The avid animal lover doesn’t have a typical day but does try to work from home at times to limit distractions. While her two fur loves, Milo and Cosmo, do their best to get her attention, she finds that giving herself that space helps her focus and find solutions.
Stepping outside, or stepping away, from a problem, not only relieves her stress but often helps her find a solution. “If I’m sitting here thinking about that one big work issue, I’ll just dwell and dwell and dwell. I’d rather keep myself occupied, keep myself moving, keep myself going, and during that time, I will resolve it.”
Madan is one of the co-founders of Women Give Back, a local nonprofit that donates 100 percent of the funds it raises to local charities. Giving back is something she firmly believes in. “If the community is good to you, then you be good back to the community. It’s reciprocated.
Reciprocity is so important. I’m floored that people don’t think that way. If you’re so blessed and you have so much, shouldn’t you share?
“Life is about giving and sharing. It’s not about me, it’s about all of us. I’m floored when people don’t have that philosophy.”
That sort of candor is a hallmark of Madan’s. “People would describe me as honest. Authentic and very honest. If you ask me a question, I will tell you my opinion. I would never make it as a politician because I’m going to tell you the truth.”
“There are stages in life. You want a big house when you don’t have a big house. You get the big house, and you hate the big house, so you want to go back to the small house. I think we have to go through these transitions of wanting something, checking that box off, then it’s a new box we want. We change as human beings every three to five years — probably more than that. We’re creating new boxes, or bucket lists, every day. And the boxes you want to check off are different.”
“What I know now, I didn’t know five years ago. And I can’t wait for the next five years.”
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by Jason Roberts