Phase Six: Regain Confidence - Pharmaceutical Executive


Phase Six: Regain Confidence
Not since 1997 has the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association given its Woman of the Year distinction to someone from the agency world. A former nurse, researcher and Big Pharma exec, Lynn O'Connor Vos, CEO of Grey Healthcare Group and this year's honoree, is on a mission.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Every Place Is a New Opportunity "My childhood was characterized by lots of moving," Vos says. "I was in about seven different schools before high school. It's not easy moving like that, and it's particularly challenging in September when you have to walk into the cafeteria and find somewhere to eat lunch and meet somebody. That gave me some internal confidence and the ability to recognize that every place is a new opportunity." She learned how to start anew—a lesson that would prove useful when, years later, she found herself in an industry that requires constant reinvention.

In her teens, Vos developed a taste for working. "It was tough to meet people in a school with four thousand students," she says, "but you always had a way to do that if you found jobs and volunteer work. I worked as a waitress and a short order cook. I was even an Avon lady at one point just to see what it was like."

That appetite for work meant that when Vos attended college, she was looking forward to graduating and getting a job. She loved medicine and took the prerequisites for medical school, and ended up earning a degree in nursing.

"The timing was perfect," she says. "Nursing was paying extremely well back in the Seventies. I landed one of the better jobs at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, working with adolescents, my favorite age."

A Lot of Rope But as the '80s began, wanderlust set in. Vos saw a newspaper ad that said Johnson & Johnson needed nurses who wanted to travel. She jumped at the opportunity and signed on as a clinical research associate.

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She liked the travel and recognized the opportunity the pharma industry offered. But clinical research didn't suit her personality. "It's something that requires intense scrutiny and detail orientation, and I'm actually the opposite of that," says Vos with a laugh. She moved to Novo (before its 1989 merger with Nordisk), where the team researched emerging protocols—including insulin pumps—interacted with thought leaders and worked in leading diabetic centers. "I worked for a man who gave you a lot of rope and a lot of opportunity to dream," says Vos. Up against Eli Lilly, the Goliath of the insulin business, they were successful at engaging doctors and helping to improve diabetes management in the United States.

The experience showed Vos how physician and patient education could be integrated to create awareness and enhance patient care. "It opened my eyes to the concept we later dubbed 'Phase Five market conditioning,'" she says.

Looking for a new challenge, Vos joined Pfizer—at just about the time the arthritis drug Feldene (piroxicam), Pfizer's first drug to cross the billion-dollar mark, and the antihypertensive Procardia (nifedipine) were launching. "What a fun opportunity," says Vos. "We developed unique programs educating doctors and patients with novel communications programs that really worked—big convention booths, a three hundred sixty-degree theater, walk-through holograms for Feldene.

"Pfizer was ahead of its time back then. We did a tremendous amount of work with medical associations, and developed the president's forum and the executive director's forum, where we recruited some smart thinkers like [Princeton's renowned healthcare economist] Uwe Reinhardt, to talk with pharma company presidents about the issues affecting the industry. It was an exciting, productive time."

Classic Market Conditioning While at Pfizer, Vos met Alan Gross, who had recently launched a soon-to-be legendary advertising and PR agency with his wife—Jane Townsend—Ronnie Hoffman, and David Frank. Vos and Gross talked for a couple of years about her crossing over to the agency side, and in 1986 she moved to Gross' company: Gross Townsend Frank Hoffman (GTFH).


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