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

This was a turning point for Vos. The first statin, Merck's Mevacor (lovastatin), was about to launch, and Boehringer Mannheim (today a part of Roche) had developed a convenient, portable cholesterol screening device. GTFH went after and won both accounts.

Barbara Blasso, president of GHG's accredited continuing education unit, International Meetings & Science, says, "As a result of Lynn's thinking, leadership, and dedication to understanding the true impact this drug would have on people's lives, GTFH got the business—and she played a significant role in how cholesterol is perceived."

The GTHF team understood that the new combination of a screening device and a drug to treat cholesterol could revolutionize patient care—and the pharma industry. For Vos, it was one of the most significant experiences of her career. "We learned that you can really create a market and help doctors and patients. It's an exciting, complicated business that requires thorough medical education planning and associating yourself with the right issues," she says. "We connected early with the National Cholesterol Education Program [NCEP] and developed the first consensus conference with Merck and Boehringer Mannheim and the NCEP, which helped create new cholesterol education guidelines."

The Mevacor experience had two immediate effects. One was that GTFH was so successful that Grey Global Group acquired the agency in 1987. And GTFH expanded its range of services with the launch of its own med ed company—Phase Five. In charge: 28-year-old Vos.

"I launched Phase Five with a phone and a desk," says Vos. "It was probably the first model for raising consumer awareness, educating doctors about the new goals, training them how to treat, and then bringing those two together to drive change."

"What Lynn did at Phase Five is now classic market conditioning. Back then it was pioneering," says Ilyssa Levins, who headed GTFH's PR business at the time. (It later became Grey's wholly owned partner GCI. Levins continues as executive vice president of GCI, a wholly owned partner of GHG, and managing partner of the GCI/GHG joint venture BrandEdge.)

"I'd Like to Run It" In 1991, GTFH suffered a round of devastating losses. Partner Ronnie Hoffman suddenly died of a cerebral aneurysm. "Ronnie was the creative genius of GTFH," says Vos. "She was also one of the most brash, direct, exciting women you'd ever want to meet, and a brilliant copywriter and someone who was my personal coach and cheerleader. It rattled all of us."

Alan Gross and Jane Townsend retired and moved to the island of Bonaire. That was potentially fatal news for the firm they had founded. "It's highly unlikely that a communications company can survive when all the partners leave," says Vos. But Gross, Townsend, and Hoffman were people who inspired loyalty, and a group of executives kept the company alive.

Eventually Vos went to Grey with a proposal. "I said, 'Look, I'd like to run it.' So I jumped into being the CEO of GTFH. We renamed it Grey Healthcare Group. It was an opportunity to reinvent a company."

The renamed company had strong leadership. Wendy Balter (currently president of Phase Five) and Blasso, Vos' partners, took over Phase Five. Cindy Machles, currently president of BrandEdge, represented advertising, and Levins ran the PR business. In 1998, Vos recruited Jane Parker, who had extensive experience on the consumer side, to be group president, worldwide advertising.


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