Woman of the Year: Deirdre Connelly - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Woman of the Year: Deirdre Connelly


Pharmaceutical Executive


The Transition to TRIP

The road to GSK began some six months before CEO Witty extended the offer. Connelly had been approached for the position by a recruiter, but was perfectly content captaining Lilly's team. However, a Wall Street Journal profile of Witty (and his efforts to steer the British juggernaut in a more global direction) caught her attention. "I thought, 'This seems like a guy you would like to have coffee with,'" she says. Soon enough, the two had a coffee date, originally slated to last 45 minutes.

"We stayed for two-and-a-half hours," Connelly says, laughing. "We talked about everything pharma. It was fantastic."

More to the point, Witty impressed her with his strategy of melding business and values, and putting the company's money where its mouth was. And he himself was new to the job; Witty had just taken over as CEO in May of 2008. Connelly saw an opportunity to slip into a leadership role that would put her in a prime position to drive GSK's global diversification strategy.

Witty and Connelly's personal values were similar, as well: "For me, faith is important; family is important; integrity and transparency are vital too, so people know who you are and what you stand for.

"The business we're in is very serious," she says. "People's lives depend on it."

One year into the assignment, she's already a company woman through and through, preferring to talk up GSK's strengths and values rather than herself. She speaks at great length about the company "performing while transforming" in the US, as well as GSK's many Physician-Patient Assistance Programs (P-PAPs) and the volunteer work the company does.

This emphasis on transparency cuts right to the heart of GSK's US strategy, which comes with its own acronym—TRIP (Transparency, Respect, Integrity, Patient focus). And though the patient comes last in that acronym, Connelly says the patient perspective is always foremost in the company's mind. So she champions Glaxo's Bridges to Access program, which offers non-oncology medicines to low-income patients whose medications aren't covered by insurance; CARES, a new program launched last month that offers oncology copay assistance; and several other similar programs, including a new offer to provide vaccines free-of-charge to eligible patients in the US. It all goes back to the company's raison d'ętre: "We bring medicine to people who need it."

Other company outreach efforts include "Orange Day," during which teams of GSK employees around the globe pick a day to tackle a community project (on company time). Connelly has participated in several of these days, but two stand out in her mind:

During a GSK sales convention in New Orleans, the execs took all 3,000 of the convention-goers to build bookshelves for schools still struggling to crawl out from under Hurricane Katrina's shadow. And they brought books to fill the shelves as well. "At the end of the night, we had thousands of books and hundreds of bookshelves," Connelly says.

Another group she was part of built desks for schools in a similar predicament. "It made me miss the bookshelves," she says. "I volunteered to do the screws. I was drenched in sweat—it was better than my treadmill." Though Connelly says she doesn't do this volunteer work for the good press, it's an important part of educating the public about the good GSK—and pharma in general—is capable of.

A large part of the aforementioned "transparency" comes in the form of a more flexible approach to intellectual property, especially when it comes to efficacy patents relevant to neglected diseases in developing countries. In January, the company made 13,500 malaria compounds available to researchers and set up an "Open Lab" (with $8 million in seed funding) to underwrite work on the most promising compounds.

Another element of GSK's transparency is payment disclosure. With physician payment "sunshine laws" cropping up across the nation—and a federal act looming in Congress—pharma companies can either voluntarily shift their policies now or wait for government to give them a solid cuff to the head. Several companies have already switched gears, including GSK, which will report all payments to US healthcare professionals and publish the names of all its clinical trial investigators. Furthermore, as of 2009, they've placed a hold on all US political contributions.


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