9 high-profile CEOs who did positive things in 2015.

How often do stories about CEOs leave you with that warm and fuzzy, thank-God-for-them feeling?

If you're like me, you're probably already channeling a pissed-off Clark Griswold.


GIF from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

Between the massive CEO-worker pay gap, the lack of accountability of many top executives, low employee engagement, and an obvious need for more companies to adopt sustainable practices, maybe our vitriol isn't so misplaced.

But is it fair to assume the worst of all of them?

2015 wasn't an entirely bad year for CEOs in the news.

From my goodness-seeking perch, I spotted a number of stories of business leaders making efforts small and large to do some good this year. Here are nine examples:

1. Aetna CEO acts on reports of employees on food stamps.

Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images.

Health care company Aetna is #49 on the Fortune 500. Last year, it logged over $2 billion in profits. But success wasn't "trickling down."

Employees in Aetna's call centers were so underpaid that they needed food stamps and Medicaid to get by. That's not fair, especially given that Aetna's financial position was in part bolstered by public investments through Obamacare.

Instead of fighting to keep workers poor and profits higher, CEO Mark Bertolini raised the company's minimum wage to $16 an hour, which benefited 5,700 employees.

2. Virgin CEO steps up for moms and dads.

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.

Having a kid should be a joyful time in parents' lives, but many quickly face the cruel reality of having to maintain an income to support their growing families. And parental leave policies vary widely throughout the world.

As a new shared parental leave law went into effect in the U.K., offering parents of newborn or adopted children a portion of their salary for up to one year, Virgin CEO Richard Branson decided to take it even further.

In his London and Geneva offices, he introduced a policy that moms and dads of newborns or adopted children can share a full year of parental leave at 100% pay.

3. Netflix CEO approves parent-friendly policy.

Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair.

Netflix's Reed Hastings approved a policy offering up to a year of fully paid parental leave. So should a "Netflix and chill" night lead to parenthood — or a decision to adopt, anyway — a lot of Netflix employees are resting assured the company has their backs.

"What we're trying to do is earn loyalty and trust — that they really care about Netflix, in addition to caring about their family," Hastings said at The New York Times' Dealbook conference.

Like the Virgin policy, Netflix's only covers a subset of the company. It applies to employees of their streaming division, not their DVD division, which is a bummer. But it's a start.

4. Patagonia CEO calls for "radical" environmentalism.


Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

At the helm of outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia, Rose Marcario is continuing founder Yvon Chouinard's legacy of sustainable business practices and finding ways for the company to be even more eco-friendly — even at the expense of sales.

In addition to sending a portion of its sales to environmental causes, Patagonia set up the largest garment-repair operation in North America and offers customers home-repair tools and channels to donate or recycle their worn Patagonia gear.

The White House named Marcario a "Champion of Change" for her leadership on sustainability. Despite the presidential nod, Patagonia said "thanks but no thanks" to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement championed by President Obama.

Marcario wrote that the deal "advances the interests of big business at the expense of the environment, workers, consumers, communities and small businesses."

5. Columbia CEO lends a ride to three proud moms.

Photo by Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia Commons.

When American travelers Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone bravely subdued a gunman on a train to Paris, their families back home were relieved they were safe and thankful that they could save so many lives.

The French government announced they would honor the men with their highest award for heroism, the Legion of Honor — something a mom would obviously want to be there for. Unfortunately, theirs didn't have the means to travel for the occasion.

Then along came a CEO. At the thoughtful suggestion of his personal pilot, Doug Perrill, Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle swooped in with a generous offer for the three proud moms: a free ride to Paris on his private jet.

6. University head donates six-figure bonus. Again.

Photo via University of Cincinnati, used with permission.

For the third year in a row, Santa Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati (not technically a CEO, but same difference), forwent his bonus, opting to send that extra cash to programs supporting first generation, LGBTQ, and low-income students, as well as local high schools and community groups.

His 2015 bonus was $200,000 — almost four times the country's median household income and 38% of his more than half-a-million-dollar base salary, which would have grown had he not also refused his raise. And who can argue? The man knows he's got it good, and he wants to pay it forward. Cheers to that.

7. CEO sells big without forgetting who made it possible.


Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images.

Nevzat Aydin built his online food delivery company, Yemeksepeti, over 15 years. He sold it this year for $589 million. (Apparently, Turkish foodies like home delivery as much as Americans do.)

But Aydin knows he couldn't have done it without his 114 employees. "Yemeksepeti's success story did not happen overnight and many people participated in this journey with their hard work and talent," he said in an interview with CNN Money.

So he put his money where his gratitude was, doling out $27 million in bonuses (an average of $237,000 per employee), which must have been life-changing for many, considering most of his employees earned just $12,000–$24,000 a year.

8. CEO uses psychological research to invest in employees.*

Photo by Dan Price/Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, read a Princeton study that looked at the impact of salary level on emotional well-being. The researchers identified a salary level at which participants exhibited peak happiness: $75,000. Price decided it was worth a try.

He initiated a plan to raise their minimum salary to $70,000 over two years, funding it in part by cutting his own exorbitant salary of $1.1 million to — you guessed it — $70,000. "I want to be a part of the solution to inequality in this country," Price told CBS News.

*However, this sunny story of Price as a Robin Hood for Corporate America is now overcast with legal intrigue, calling into question his motives for the salary decision. Regardless, a lot of Gravity employees are in much better financial positions than they were a year ago.

9. CEO of outdoor sports retailer blacklists Black Friday.

As most U.S. retailers corralled people in their doors to kick off the holiday shopping season, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) CEO Jerry Stritzke and the cooperative's leadership urged us to go outdoors.

The company closed for Thanksgiving and Black Friday so their employees could be with family and friends. And they launched #OptOutside, an anti-marketing campaign encouraging customers to enjoy nature and inspire others to do the same by sharing their experiences on social media.

It worked on me — and at least 1.4 million others.

Red Rock Canyon on Black Friday 2015. REI also happened to be the first retailer I visited for holiday shopping.

It's encouraging to see business leaders doing some good in the world, but we should expect more.

Hopefully we'll see more of them in the headlines for the right reasons in 2016. As for us, here's hoping we push back when companies act against our interests. There's a resolution worth sticking with.

GIF from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

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This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

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True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."