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Business & Regulation Profession, Business Practice, COVID-19

Leadership Star

Did you always want to be a leader?

I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I couldn’t afford law school. I decided to join the military because my family has a long history of military service. After that, all I knew was that I wanted to be a leader in something… I’ve always enjoyed leadership roles; at college, I was captain of the university track and field team.

The military is the foundation of my leadership skills. To me, the definition of pure leadership is the ability to get things done through others. This is what the military teaches young officers. When you join, you don’t know very much. You have to listen to your sergeants and learn from them, so that you are prepared when the time comes for you to lead in the field.

I attended the wedding and the father of the bride and I got along well. In fact, he convinced me to consider working for pharma... and then he actually offered me my first job in the industry!

How did you get into pharma?

I like to tell this story! In the army, my specialty was nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare, so people associate that with a link to pharma. But the truth is that I fell into the industry in a very different way. One of my soldiers married the daughter of the international president for Baxter. I attended the wedding and the father of the bride and I got along well. In fact, he convinced me to consider working for pharma... and then he actually offered me my first job in the industry! I did some research and realized that it was interesting and could really help people – which was important to me. Pharma also seemed to be at the cutting edge of technology. I wanted to be part of it.

What was your first role?

It was in sales. I did my whole year’s budget in the first nine months and was promoted to product manager. From there, I moved up the rungs of the marketing ladder. I eventually left to work for Becton Dickinson, where I ran North American operations for the hypodermic business. I spent seven years at Pfizer before leading the Northeast region of pharmaceutical distribution and business operations at McKesson. In time, I became CEO of CogxVision and then, in 2020, I joined Pfizer CentreOne. Pfizer is where I experienced the most personal growth in business. It was nice to come home.

What was it like to start a new role during the pandemic?

I was interviewed via WebEx, joined the team the same way, and still have not met many of my colleagues face-to-face. It is a challenge, but this new environment has also, in some ways, made us more productive. WebEx meetings can help get things done in terms of driving decisions. Previously, you’d be trying to get people from all over the world to come together at one location for a meeting. There is nothing better than face-to-face contact, but there can also be a lot of wasted time. Without COVID-19, I would still be travelling around the world meeting team members globally. Instead, it is all done via WebEx. I’ve missed out on the opportunity to bond outside of work, but I’ve met more people across the organization than I would have if I’d been in the office every day.

What are your goals for the business?

We aspire to be the CDMO partner of choice. We have been expanding our offerings so that we are truly an end-to-end CDMO, from development through to commercial manufacture. We are fortunate to have access to Pfizer’s resources and expertise. This is our value proposition.

How do you motivate teams?

I believe it is important not to see failure as a negative. One company I worked for was very operationally driven, rather than being driven by sales and marketing. There was very little coming out of the sales and marketing teams in terms of figuring out ways to be creative in the selling process. I challenged the team and they came up with three or four different projects to help boost sales. We all agreed on one and launched it. It failed within the first 30 days. But I took the team curling to celebrate. They had a great day. Why did we celebrate? Because we did something different. After that, the team came up with several new opportunities. We launched them and, in 12 months, we took the business from a 2 percent decline to 12 percent sales growth. I believe you should celebrate not just success, but also honest attempts at doing something different. There is much to learn from failure.

What’s your advice for people who want to become leaders?

Listen at least three times more than you speak. Listen and learn – this is particularly important for younger people just starting out in the industry. But don’t hold back on ideas. There are no bad ideas.

You may also need to ask a lot of questions – particularly if you don’t have a strict scientific background. It’s always better to ask. I don’t think anyone expects us to know everything, but you shouldn’t continue on with something you don’t understand. And I can guarantee that there will be someone at every meeting who will be really glad you asked the question.

One thing you will find in this business is that everyone is willing to help. That’s what I really love about this industry and about Pfizer. Everyone wants to succeed but everyone really wants you to succeed too.

Listen at least three times more than you speak. Listen and learn – this is particularly important for younger people just starting out in the industry. But don’t hold back on ideas. There are no bad ideas.

How do you deal with fear?

You can’t be afraid. In this business, situations can change quickly and get very complicated, with many moving parts.

I have served in a combat zone in Iraq. Fear gets a lot of people killed. You have to put it aside, explore all options, and listen to everyone. If you need to cross a minefield, you talk to the experts around you and collaborate to reach a decision on what everyone’s role will be and what to do next.

Pharma is also about collaboration. It is not the same kind of life and death as the military, but it’s important. You have to work together in R&D; you have to work together in manufacturing; and both sides also need to collaborate. This is where leadership comes in. People want to know what’s in it for them, so it’s important to show everyone the value of what they are doing.

How has COVID-19 changed the industry?

COVID-19 has been a unique experience in the business for all of us. I am really excited about the future and where we go as we come out of COVID-19, because there have been a lot of lessons learned. There are things we’ve learned throughout this situation that we don’t even know we've learned yet. As we eventually return to the office and normality resumes, we’ll start to realize that there are many ways to do business that can make us more effective and efficient.

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