Woman of the Year: Deirdre Connelly - Pharmaceutical Executive


Woman of the Year: Deirdre Connelly

Pharmaceutical Executive

Outwardly reserved, though not shy, she already commands the loyalty and respect of her GSK cohorts, as evidenced by the many WOTY nominations she received from, among others, GSK CEO Andrew Witty and Catherine Sohn, senior vice president of Worldwide Business Development for GSK's Consumer Healthcare division.

Sohn, who was the HBA's Woman of the Year in 2003, praises Connelly's openness: "I ran into her in the cafeteria one day, and I was amazed at how approachable she was, both for senior- and junior-level people," she says. "Our job [as an HBA Woman of the Year] is really to be a role model and an advocate for women's leadership," she says. That includes speaking to various HBA chapters and participating in Q&A sessions around the country. "They're always humbling, those Q&As," notes Sohn. The weight of leadership is never greater than when you're facing a crowd of 300 women.

In fact, Sohn met Connelly for the first time in November of 2008 at an HBA Leadership Conference in Chicago; she remembers Connelly as the clear standout among the speakers at the conference, and says she made quite an impression on the audience. "I still have the brochure from the lunch," Sohn says. "I use some of her bullet points in my presentations."

For symbolic reasons alone, Sohn encourages Connelly to strive for excellence in her current position at GSK, noting that she'll be a beacon to other women hoping to smash through the c-suite glass ceiling. Meanwhile, Connelly says she's committed to giving a boost to as many female pharma young guns as possible. "There's a new, plentiful generation of women in the groups that report to me," she says. "So I expect to work to ensure that many of them sit on our executive team in the future."

Family Matters

It was Connelly's father who inspired her career path. Born to Irish-American Owen Connelly and Puerto Rican mother Dolores Montecinos in 1960—the middle child of nine—she spent the first 18 years of her life in San Juan. When it came time to leave the nest, Deirdre decided to head to the mainland, choosing Pennsylvania's Lycoming College after hearing about its accounting program from her father. Three accounting classes in, she switched her major to marketing and economics.

"I love economics," says Connelly, with a smile. "It's just fascinating."

Connelly, who is bilingual, also says the college's small size was a boon. "My older siblings had grown up in more of an English-speaking environment," she explains. In a smaller, more forgiving setting, she was able to approach professors if she was having trouble understanding lectures.

Owen instilled in his children a sense of respect for the healthcare arena; several went into the industry, either on the pharma or physician side. One of Connelly's older sisters is a hospital rep for GSK in Texas. She was one of the first people Deirdre called when the GSK offer came—she wanted to make sure her sister was OK with little sis taking a job at the same company. "Though I didn't tell her I'd already accepted the job," she admits.


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