HBA Woman of the Year 2012

Apr 01, 2012

HBA Woman of the Year: When Opportunity Knocks
In the rarified world of consulting for Big Pharma, the lingua franca of thought leadership is a word riot-of PowerPoint slides and the runaway sentence, punctuated by the occasional semi-colon. Several years ago, professional services firm Ernst & Young (E&Y) took a close look at its annual "state of the industry" survey and went for a breakthrough, deciding to brand the research around a simple forward-facing word with staying power: Progressions. The decision not only helped E&Y corner the market for change in an industry that had lost its footing; it forged a new metaphor for leadership in human capital.

How so?

Because Progressions is fundamentally a narrative about the commercial renewal that comes from embracing diversity, and there is no better standing symbol for that message than the Progressions series creator, Global Pharmaceutical Sector Leader Carolyn Buck-Luce. A strong communicator, sought-after speaker, meticulous planner with an eye on the 10-year refresh button, and rooted by family, Buck-Luce also does double duty as the biopharma community's night watch. And like others who work the late shift against drift and status quo thinking, she is often first to see the light. "Carolyn has been singular in prodding this industry to embrace an uncertain future as an opportunity," says HBA colleague and 2003 Woman of the Year Catherine Sohn. "An outsider with an insider's mastery of detail, her message to the men who run Big Pharma has been direct and consistent: The marketplace for medicine is changing, so adapt or perish."

In both her personal life and career, Buck-Luce displays a high tolerance for the calculated risk. "If you are open to it, risk is not a hazard, but synonymous with growth. And women who don't take risks tend never to rise above the circumstances that convention and attitudes place them in," Buck-Luce explained to Pharm Exec.

A Son's Lesson

Colleagues say that one of Carolyn's core beliefs is never playing it safe, a view reinforced by her four children. Son Jake, 27, was asked by his mother during a break from Reed College about the impact her long work hours had had on him. "I posed it to him deliberately, as a researcher rather than a parent. He thought for a moment and replied, 'I have a little voice that speaks to me, particularly when I'm scared, that says go ahead, take a risk. Good things happen when you do.' And he said, 'Mom, that's your voice.' That comment not only washed away a lot of misplaced guilt; it also made me realize that a willingness to keep stretching the limits of your range is fundamental for women to succeed at work and at home, because learning and mentoring have no fixed venue."

There is also intolerance for the artificial divides and barriers that narrow women's range of experience. Just as she has fought in Progressions to expose the "silo-based thinking" that drags down Big Pharma's innovative potential, Buck-Luce refuses to separate life into those neat little categories called work, community, and family. "I have only one job in lifeā€”to make a difference. I see my life as a journey to be a good leader, whether it's inspiring a team at Ernst & Young, building strategic plans for the organizations I support; or being that little voice for my kids." Stepdaughter Nina Church relays how Buck-Luce showed her ways to balance professional success with a larger social objective. "She helped me transition from an analyst position at American Express to the Nike Foundation, where I now apply my business expertise to help adolescent girls overcome the cycle of poverty."

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