HBA Woman of the Year: Freda Lewis-Hall - Pharmaceutical Executive

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HBA Woman of the Year: Freda Lewis-Hall


Pharmaceutical Executive


Patient Focus at Pfizer

That patient-centeredness and respect for diversity has transferred to Lewis-Hall's current role as chief medical officer (CMO) of Pfizer. "At the end of the day, I believe we as a company are accountable for the safe, effective, and appropriate use of our medicines," she says. "This is a really good opportunity for us to live our word that the patients are at the center of what we do."

Being at Pfizer—where she administers a division budget of more than $600 million annually—has given Lewis-Hall time to reflect on why she transitioned from direct patient care into the private sector and the pharma industry: "What attracted me to it and what ultimately won me and kept me is the idea that probably the most incredible science ever happens in this environment," she says. "It's a data-rich environment where you have the ability to help not just one patient at a time, but millions of patients at a time. I would never, ever have guessed that this was what I'd be doing now."

Part of the way Lewis-Hall keeps her focus on the patients through her work at Pfizer is by stressing the importance of clinical trials. "If medicines are going to be evolved so that they properly serve the people that are going to use them, then the globalization of our clinical trial effort is critical," she explains. Pfizer is the only pharmaceutical company to be accredited by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP) for ensuring the protection of human subjects taking part in early-stage clinical trials.

Finally, Lewis-Hall notes how important her role is as industry representative on the new federal Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute's (PCORI) governing board, which will fund studies to evaluate the clinical effectiveness among the patient population of drugs and other medical treatments. "It is a striking opportunity to really be able to focus on patient-centered outcomes with a group of people that are dedicated to that task. And I'm especially excited because pharma's there at the table."

As CMO of Pfizer, as well as being an Executive Officer and member of the senior leadership team, Lewis-Hall is one of the highest-ranking women in the industry. (And best paid, with a $4.5 million total pay package last year.) Lewis-Hall has tackled the highly sensitive issue of increasing the effectiveness of internal systems for collection and reporting of adverse events, particularly through the integration of Wyeth's safety reporting system with Pfizer's—a complicated process that was completed ahead of schedule.

Reflecting on her own leadership role at Pfizer, Lewis-Hall recognizes that a certain skill set and leadership style is necessary in dealing with the uncertainty in the industry going forward. "I think the more mature you are as a leader, the better able you are to manage uncertain or ambiguous environments, because that's what's required," she says. She believes that a new form of leadership—quite the opposite of the old "command and control" model—is required now, "which isn't, 'Do what I told you to do,' but 'Do what you think you should do.'"

Looking beyond her current role, to what else she'd like to accomplish professionally, Lewis-Hall says, "Introducing new treatments and new preventions is part of it, but I think that our ability to serve in a broader way and to really change the face of global health is really profound.

"I think Pfizer has a lot of experience, and we're doing a lot of good work in this space," she says. "I would love personally to become more involved in that and to apply the medical community of Pfizer to this work in a bigger way."

Industry Perspective

Lewis-Hall's many years as a physician and industry expert have given her the multifaceted perspective she needs to understand the complicated changes facing the industry today, from health reform to patent cliffs to R&D cost concerns. "We deal with this uncertainty every day, and I like to think that we do it well," she says. "We strive for the right amount of information to support our decisions. And for me, that's the trick in senior leadership—making sure that you've asked all the right questions and that you've pushed to acquire as much of the information as you need to make a good decision."

From her vantage point at Pfizer, Lewis-Hall can see the industry shifting, and recognizes collaboration as the only possible solution to the new problems it's faced with. "When I look at what I came into in 1994 [at Lilly] and what we look like as an industry now in 2011, I feel that we've changed in a very profound way," she explains. "It used to be that we went down in the basement by ourselves with our best scientists and had a 'eureka!' moment—finding something that was going to cure something—and then came to the light of day and sold it. That's not happening anymore. Now it's all hands on deck. It's partnerships with other big companies, with small companies, with academic institutions, with nonprofit organizations. This is an ecosystem for problem-solving around the still vexing issues that face us." Lewis-Hall told Pharm Exec that being able to reach out to a range of new stakeholders is going to be a critical skill for the next generation of industry leaders. "We are already seeing it in the actions of individual company CEOs."

Advice for Future Leaders

Mentoring has always been a natural part of Lewis-Hall's personal and professional life, and in that way she is well suited for the role of HBA Woman of the Year, to offer advice to the future female leaders of pharma.

In addition to leadership through listening, one piece of advice that Lewis-Hall received from Sandro Franchi, a former HR employee at Lilly, has stayed with her, and she often passes it on to others: Think of your career in terms of your pinnacle role. "When I mentor people I always ask, 'What do you want your last job, your pinnacle role, to be—the place from which you will be able to make the greatest impact?'" she says. Once you can figure that out, she says, all the career moves you make from then on should be stepping stones that will lead to your pinnacle role. "This isn't about where you will have the greatest glory, the biggest title, or the most money. People should tag where they believe they can have the greatest impact and then begin to accumulate the skills, behaviors, and experience that will allow them to have that impact."

Lewis-Hall's mentoring and leadership skills—along with her patient care and industry experiences—make her ideal to represent the HBA in a more turbulent era of transition from the traditional business model. "I think women leaders already have a running start on the kind of leadership that's required to run such a complicated ecosystem of different interests," she says. "We're collaborative leaders, we are motivational leaders, we're about relationships. These are all the kinds of things that are perfectly positioned to advance women to solve the problems that are facing us—the ones that are facing us as businesses, but also as a global community around healthcare." Is there a next step in this record of success? "I intend to stay committed to the path of public health and to do what I can to ensure the private sector is there in full, to meet the needs of all patients worldwide through better access and more treatments."


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