Featured Voice: Business Powerhouse and Philanthropist Marilyn Skony Stamm

March 29, 2021

Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, Marilyn Skony Stamm says it took grit and perseverance to get to where she is today.

As president and chief executive of Stamm International Corp., an 80-year-old manufacturer and distributor of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, chimneys, and flues, Skony Stamm leads more than 300 employees and three subsidiaries worldwide. She joined Stamm International after her husband, the late Arthur Stamm, recruited her to take over business and finance operations of the company. That was more than 30 years ago. Together, philanthropy remained a shared interest, and through the years they’ve dedicated their support to causes in education and mentorship, science and medicine, and the cultural arts.

In 2019, Skony Stamm joined the Cancer Advisory Council at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), and last spring during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., Skony Stamm helped establish a HICCC pilot grant program to support researchers’ work in the development of novel therapeutics for COVID-19.

Her introduction to Columbia University Irving Medical Center was born from her personal experience with cancer as a caregiver to her husband, who passed away from acute myeloid leukemia in 2016.

What piqued your interest in philanthropy? How do you decide what to support as a philanthropist?

I am a result of scholarship money that took me to Northwestern University and gave me an incredible education and a full fellowship for my master’s. I grew up in a home where education was everything; it was the ticket to opportunity, it was a ticket to a better life, and it was the fulfillment of the American dream. That’s really where my philanthropy began—being a recipient of it and growing up in a household with incredible parents who, even though they might not have had much, stressed that there was always someone else that had less, and there was always a seat at the table. That’s been with me from the get-go.

How and when did you become involved with CUIMC and with the cancer center?

Marilyn and Arthur Stamm

My husband, Arthur, knew the doctors at CUIMC for many years. I also started seeing doctors at CUIMC through the years, and that’s when my personal relationship began with Columbia. My involvement with Columbia unfortunately became far more intense when my husband was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. That’s when I became more aware of what Columbia was doing in cancer care and research. His oncologist, Dr. Joe Jurcic, was absolutely phenomenal. I became aware of clinical trials and what they can do for a patient, and I also got to know Joe very well and more about cancer research overall.

Columbia has a way of focusing on more than just treating the cancer, they focus on the patient first. After my husband passed away I was so impressed by the care he received that I felt moved to continue my relationship with Columbia as a supporter and now as part of the Cancer Advisory Council at the HICCC.

You and your husband were side-by-side partners at Stamm. Can you give us a peek into what that was like?

We were like two peas in a pod. He was a self-made guy, a brilliant mind, someone who loved to tinker and make things. He was also a great salesman. I was more of the business person with the finance background. He was the engineer.

Little did I know that my husband was actually recruiting me when we got married. He inspired me to get out of banking and as he put it, “do something real with your life, make things, see what people can make and build,” and I got hooked. It was a true partnership. I was with my husband 24/7 for more than 30 years. The two of us meshed. We had our own areas of expertise. It was a partnership where we really complemented each other.

What has it been like working in male-dominated fields?

Personally, I always felt I had to outperform, and keep in mind, there weren’t many women around when I started my career in business. I had to be as good as my male colleagues, or better. Being resilient was critically important—not letting someone grind you down and standing up for yourself.

Before my career at Stamm International, I was one of two women on a foreign exchange trading desk in the 1970s. So even before I got to Stamm, I was very accustomed to being in a male-dominated environment. I can relate to a guy on the shop floor and to the guy he reports to in upper management. To me, it’s about people. That’s what drives me in my business—the people.

Any lessons learned or advice you can share with future women CEOs and women just starting their careers?

I try—and I have tried—my best not to think about the gender issue; I try to think of people as people. When I first joined the business [Stamm], and even when I was in the foreign exchange trading room, which was an eye-opener, I approached this divide, between men and women, more from a performance point of view. They tried to grind me down when I was new to the trading desk, and they tried to push me out, but what they soon discovered is that us South Side girls from Chicago have a lot of staying power.

If someone is not hearing you, make your voice louder. Women in traditionally male-dominated fields, we’re not shrinking violets, we’re tough and the tough keep going. I like the word ‘grit.’ You have to have the confidence that you’re just as good as a male counterpart, if not, better than he is. Some women have to be trained to do that because they have felt they are in a second-tier position but we’re not. We’re past that now. My generation did a lot of knocking down barriers to get here. We fought a lot of battles to push ourselves ahead. I don’t ever want to see us go back.


HICCC Featured Voices gives our patients, members, and supporters an opportunity to share their personal stories—living with cancer, surviving cancer, researching cancer, and aiming to end cancer. If you have a story to share and want to be included as a featured voice, please email the HICCC Communications team at cucancercomms@cumc.columbia.edu.