Developing Tomorrow’s Curious Minds

Melody Spradlin on engineering and supporting Gilead’s lifesaving mission

As a young ensign in the US Navy Civil Engineer Corp, Melody Spradlin credits the inquisitive nature she embraced when having discussions with the seasoned, experienced personnel. It was imperative to listen to them, she says, adding that “you don’t need to be an expert on everything. I was successful in my role because I was always curious and eager to learn from those around me, while simultaneously maintaining project leadership.”

Spradlin continued to exercise her leadership muscles during her time as a junior officer through complex projects such as the operational warfare control centers, and repair of active runways and flight simulators. Now an executive director of engineering at Gilead Sciences, Inc., she leads teams to align facilities, construction, and design efforts within Gilead’s mission to support the researchers with a facility that enables them to deliver life-saving medicines to patients. And in the process, Spradlin is helping the company inspire a new generation of engineers and builders.

The facility engineering world, known for being predominantly male, lacks not only women but also people of color in leadership positions. With recruitment and retention also being major issues, Spradlin works to engage and inspire the younger generation of women and people of color to initiate change and introduce more diversity into leadership.

Spradlin’s varied work experience includes clinical supply chain, sourcing, and operations. Serving in leadership positions in areas other than construction has helped her understand that teams and companies must have a shared vision for success. “At Gilead, science is the backbone of everything we do and we are committed to improving the lives of people who use our products,” Spradlin says. “That mind-set helps me understand how to prioritize and make decisions based on what is best for Gilead as a whole.”

At Gilead, Spradlin has mentored several team members who are spearheading collaboration with the facilities and engineering groups to operate with what she calls “intentionality.” She adds that everyone should understand the vision clearly then plan their work around it.

For over 25 years, she has been developing operationalizing Building Information Models (BIM), which have traditionally been used to ease the coordination of multiple systems and are now proving beneficial in construction to minimize rework and optimize reliability.

Gilead is also examining IoTs, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and augmented reality solutions with the goals of saving energy, increasing communication between systems to allow data analysis, and increasing the reliability and uptimes of facilities. These initiatives include introducing smart classes to improve remote equipment support capabilities and to process data in real-time.

Outside of technological innovations, Spradlin co-leads a STEM outreach program for high and middle-school students in Foster City, California. She is also a member of Gilead’s employee resource group, Women at Gilead, which sponsors a STEM Career Day that hosts approximately 200 students from nine Bay Area high schools. Students hear from women in a number of roles at Gilead, from engineering to medicinal chemistry, while 45 Gilead volunteers lead experiments, share their journeys, and answer questions about STEM careers.

“I’ve always had a passion for providing STEM learning opportunities for those interested, particularly women and those underrepresented in science, technology, and engineering,” Spradlin says. “Diversity of opinion really makes a huge business impact and it’s important to value many perspectives.”

Spradlin is also a leader of the Gilead employee resource group for veterans, GVETS. She says the group is preparing to partner with the Naval Academy (her alma mater), to bring five interns to Gilead during the summer. Recently, Gilead hosted an engineering consortium, inviting people from various industries to present on different topics. “Though our day-to-day activities may be different, there is so much we can learn from other industries about how to be efficient,” Spradlin says.

Spradlin’s own curiosity and lifelong love of learning lead her back to Stanford, where she is currently pursuing her PhD with Gilead’s full support. Spradlin’s own grandmother went back to school to finish her degree while her four daughters were in school. Now with four grown daughters of her own, Spradlin is focusing her studies on the implications of improving connectivity and reliability of medical clinics in Africa to help continuity of care.

“The current studies have given me a broader sense of what my colleagues at Gilead do to deliver life-saving products to millions of people around the world, particularly in developing countries.”

“I’ve always had a passion for providing STEM learning opportunities for those interested, particularly women and those underrepresented in science, technology, and engineering.”

As she continues to ask important questions of her own, Spradlin also says that her goal isn’t to be the only one with the information, but to be an agile leader who inspires those around her without focusing too heavily on task-mastering. “I believe leaders are visionary architects who connect teams, rather than directing or controlling. Being a point of intersection between groups is where leaders can do that most.”

She goes on to note that she is energized by working with outstanding teams where everybody contributes a piece to the puzzle, explaining, “It takes everyone working together to create that collective genius that allows us to achieve excellence, which is one of Gilead’s core values.”

Despite her impressive collection of accomplishments, Spradlin focuses on the success of those who have worked under her, which has given her a front-row seat to their victories. “One of the most rewarding parts of my long career has been seeing the incredible success of my mentees, including Raj Radhakrishnan, Lily Rasovsky, Delvin Harvey, and William Merrill,” she says. “I have also learned how to recharge so that I can focus on each of the three pillars in my life: family, community, and work; and the success of my own community makes me so proud. I’m grateful for what I have and optimistic for what I can achieve.”

Note from the Editor: At the time of press, Melody Spradlin was no longer with Gilead Sciences.

Congratulations Melody Spradlin on this well-deserved recognition. Murray Company takes great pride in our partnership with Gilead Sciences. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with your outstanding team as it delivers life-enhancing remedies and solutions to people across the globe every day. Again, congratulations!