HBA Woman of the Year 2012 - Pharmaceutical Executive

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HBA Woman of the Year 2012


Pharmaceutical Executive


The Beatles and the Human Touch

The rejection also strengthened the young linguist's resolve to contribute to East West détente, even though there were few other options at the time. Through good luck she found one such opportunity when the U.S. Information Agency went looking for Russian speakers willing to spend several years on a good will exchange in the Soviet Union to tout the advantages of the model American home. Buck-Luce received special status as a foreign service officer and toured with the model home to sections of the country normally off-limits to foreigners. "Tens of thousands of ordinary Russians came to see the home. I was stationed in the living room, where I was very popular due to the fact that I had a stereo and played the Beatles White Album full blast."

From this, Buck-Luce gained an insight on how to connect with people at a human level. "During an era where the Cold War propaganda was intense, I had to stand in that fake living room and make people believe and trust in me, as a person who could spark a connection across language, custom, and politics. I realized that what you say is less important than how you say it. Before cross-cultural awareness was touted as a leadership trait and a source of competitive advantage for companies able to tap diversity in the marketplace, I understood it as that desire of all people to understand and be understood."

The 10-year Plan

A sweet irony from her time in the Soviet planned-paradise is a commitment to making long-term goals for each of the three pillars of her life—family, work, and community. "I am a believer in the 10-year plan, which is based not on my current capabilities, but what I hope to learn, the critical experiences I hope to have, and the people I'd like to meet and impact over that period of time."

Buck-Luce's 10-year plan after Russia was one in which she sought to build business credentials as a complement to her linguistic skills. She began the trek with an MBA at Columbia Business School followed by—at last—a successful appointment in banking, with Citibank. Buck-Luce spent her 10 years there, but not in the region she had hoped: Citibank downgraded its East West trading business right after Buck-Luce had joined with the expectation of being posted in Vienna. Instead, she spent her time at bank HQ in New York, learning about corporate lending and helping to build the leveraged buyout business. Midstream, she attracted the attention of senior bank leaders and was asked to take a year "off the line" to drive recruiting for the next class of MBAs. "Many people thought I was crazy to go into HR, but I thought it would be a great way to learn how to represent the institution as a spokesperson. It didn't feel risky at all—just strategic," she recalls.

The assignment introduced Buck-Luce to an issue—workforce diversity—that became a career interest and priority that continues to this day. "It provided my first exposure to the talent planning field and made me aware of the hurdles that women with the same educational credentials as men faced in navigating the fast track. Even in the early 1980s, it was clear the work force was changing into a denser fabric of color, ethnicity, and gender. Citibank had to reflect that in the faces it presents to the world."

"My time at Citi under a transformational CEO, Walter Wriston, also taught me how technology changes everything. Wriston invested in a satellite so that we had global e-mail in the early 1980s; he put the very first ATM in the Park Avenue HQ. He said, it's not the money but information about money that will make our money." Buck Luce told Pharm Exec that much of her assessment of the pharma industry is based on what she learned in financial services. "Drugs today are an information business," she says flatly.

Work on leveraged buyouts led her from collegial Citibank to the testosterone-fueled world of investment banking, where she did a brief stint at First Boston. Juggling a surfeit of deals, she confronted some tantalizing choices: to stay with First Boston, accept an offer to join Wasserstein and Perella's new boutique investment firm, or agree to a standing offer from Canadian billionaire Robert Campeau, who was impressed by her prowess financing a buyout for the Allied and Federated department store chains.


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