3 Life Science Female Execs Share Their Candid Career Advice

Published: Oct 12, 2017

3 Life Science Female Execs Share Their Candid Career Advice October 12, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Women make up over 70 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s sales force. However, less than one-third are first-line sales managers. Out of the Fortune 100 companies, only 8 percent of the chief executive officers are women, and slightly over 4 percent of Fortune 500 and 1000 companies.

Times are changing, although slowly. In December 2013, there was only one female chief executive officer of a healthcare company in the Fortune 1000, Heather Bresch, chief executive of Mylan . The number has increased since them, although not by that much. In 2017, there are 32 women chief executives in the Fortune 500.

With those numbers in mind, here are three female biopharma chief executives and what they’ve had to say about their rise to the top.

Emma Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer, GlaxoSmithKline.

Walmsley took over as chief executive on April 2017. Prior to joining GSK, she had a number of leadership roles at L’Oreal over a 17-year period, including marketing and general management in Paris, London and New York.

She holds a Master’s of Art in Classics and Modern Languages from Oxford University, is married and has four children, all under the age of 17. When Walmsley was working in China, she noted in an interview with LeanIn.org, “I had been to a networking lunch with Andrew Witty, the Chief Executive of GSK—someone I had long admired for his pioneering approach to the healthcare industry and reputation for values-based leadership. An inspiring conversation ended up spiraling into a job offer alarmingly fast. To be the President of GSK’s global consumer healthcare business, which operates in over 100 countries.”

Walmsley spent a week trying to talk herself out of it, with a laundry list of familiar arguments: was she really qualified, was it unfair for the family, was she being disloyal to L’Oreal, was it just too difficult a challenge? Her husband, David, pointed out to her that whenever she took on a new role, she said the same things and yet they all managed fine. “People regret far more what they don’t do rather than what they do,” she said to LeanIn.org. “The leaning in felt like a bungee jump, a leaping more than a leaning into the unknown, but it remains the second-best decision I have ever made (after marrying David).”

Patricia Andrews, Chief Executive Officer, Boston Biomedical.

Andrews joined Boston Biomedical in 2013 and was appointed chief executive officer in April 2017. Prior to joining the company, Andrews was executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Incyte, a biopharmaceutical company. There, she led the transition from a clinical-stage commercial research-and-development company to a successful commercial oncology company. Before Incyte , Andrews was at Pfizer for 17 years, rising to vice president and general manager of its U.S. Oncology Business Unit.

Andrews holds a Bachelor of Art from Brown University and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

In 2010, while still chief commercial officer, Andrews gave PM360 her thoughts on her career advancement. Her top piece of advice: “Get results. Performance is the most important criteria for promotion. You want to be known as someone who gets the job done.”

She also suggests that you “make sure your boss looks good. Never speak badly about them. Without going overboard, let them know you appreciate their efforts.”

And third, she says, “Don’t just complain about problems, bring solutions to them. Be consistently positive and don’t gossip.”

And one that is undoubtedly important for men and women, but possibly more for women, “Don’t doubt yourself. Women seem more likely than men to downplay their abilities (“I haven’t done that before…I don’t know if I will be able to), so don’t fall into that trap.”

And finally, she suggests changing companies if the roadblocks at your current company seem insurmountable.

“Position yourself as a high achiever who sees a path forward regardless of the obstacles—and who makes those around her successful. On the other hand, the C-suite has a lot of stresses and takes up huge amounts of time. It is not the be all and end all of a career; know yourself and what matters to you.”

Terri Shoemaker, President and Chief Executive Officer, Medac Pharma.

Shoemaker joined Medac in 2012 as president and chief executive officer. Prior to joining Medac, Shoemaker was vice president of Sales at InterMune . Before joining InterMune in 2009, she co-founded BioPharm Strategic Solutions, which provided commercial, operational and strategic guidance for startup biopharma companies. In 2002, she served as national sales director and then senior director U.S. Commercial Operations for Pharmion. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Science and Psychology from Missouri State University and a Master’s of Science in Communication Science and Disorders from University of Central Missouri.

In an interview with PM360 about her career, she focused on work-life balance. Shoemaker said, “There are many obstacles that, if we allow them, can get in the way of personal and professional growth. One of the biggest barriers to success for women is the difficulty reconciling family and a career. We talk about ‘work-life balance,’ but rarely achieve it. We can’t be all things to all people. No one can ‘do it all,’ nor should we.”

She points out that it’s okay to make compromises, which are typical for most people. But, Shoemaker adds, “It is critical to build a network of successful women and identify a mentor. As there are more and more women in leadership roles, there is a greater accessibility to successful strong women. However, it requires effort.”

It can be challenging, both personally and professionally, and requires work. “At the same time,” Shoemaker said, “it is crucial we pay it forward. If we take the time to lend our expertise, develop other women and serve as mentors, we will have a positive impact on the growth of women in leadership.”

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