HBA Woman of the Year 2012 - Pharmaceutical Executive

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HBA Woman of the Year 2012


Pharmaceutical Executive


Early Role Models

If life begins as an empty vessel, Buck-Luce's was full to the brim early on. It was her mother who provided spiritual and intellectual replenishment. Entering the University of Chicago at 16, Minna Buck went on to become one of two female graduates in her class at the University's Law School—the other was Patsy Mink, a fixture of 1960s politics and family friend who served for decades as U.S. Representative from the state of Hawaii. In Carolyn's childhood home in upstate New York's Onondaga County, her mother taught her a job was not just a way for an individual to make a living—it could also change lives. "My mother seemed to be managing every one of President Johnson's Great Society programs in the county. She was a strong advocate for the war on poverty, and eventually became a family court judge, where she observed firsthand the role women play in keeping the social infrastructure intact."

Buck-Luce strikes a familiar refrain for all HBA winners in referencing what shaped her professional success. "It was first my mother's example, but in both my parents I was nurtured by the message that a woman could do anything. My father was older than my mother but he was a big promoter of my mother, sister, and me—never did I doubt that father saw us as able to do great things."

Buck-Luce also had the advantage of coming of age in the 1960s, a time of political and social upheaval. Her parents were avid Democrats and encouraged dinnertime conversations on how the world could be changed through politics. "I recall my mother pulling me out of a sweet 16 party with friends so I might see the riots at the 1968 DNC convention in Chicago."

Going Global

Given her parent's expansive views, Buck-Luce decided early to look beyond her own neighborhood, find a cause, make an impact—and become a world leader. What punched her first ticket on that journey was the discovery of a talent for languages. As a 15-year-old exchange student in Mexico, she learned Spanish. Her heart was then set on acceptance at Georgetown University's School of Language and Linguistics; the application fell short but entry did come a year later, as a transfer from Ohio State with straight A's. That in turn led to course work in business and the achievement of fluency in Russian. "It was the height of the Cold War, yet commerce was sprouting between the capitalists and communists—I thought, what better way to "spread détente" than to insert myself in the growing area of East West trade?"

Calling Mr. Rockefeller

Like most young people mapping their first moves into the workplace, Buck-Luce searched for a role model. She became fixated on David Rockefeller, CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank, who made Chase the most global of U.S. banks, with a strong base in East West trade. "I decided I was going to join him at Chase and grow their business in Russia." After a frenzy of calls and tapped connections, Buck-Luce was able to arrange a day of interviews at Chase headquarters in New York.

In preparing for the interviews, it did not occur to her that dress might be a priority. "Never having spoken to a banker in my life, I borrowed a black and red suede maxi-skirt that had snaps all the way up the front and combined it with a pair of knee-high lace up boots and a rather tight 'come hither' looking black blouse. Well, the conversations went fine but I got more than a once over, especially by all the female secretaries." Sadly, the candidate did not get the job—Buck-Luce was crushed. "Why hadn't I opted for the gray suit and frilly collar? It was a mystery to me that it could have mattered so much."

From this, Buck-Luce derived a valuable lesson—opportunity can come from failure, which she prefers to describe as the bounce you get coming back from the bottom. "Every organization has a unique culture and understanding that culture is vital to job success. Yes, you need to have the requisite IQ smarts and the emotional intelligence to relate to others, but what's also important is the OQ—organizational quotient of intelligence, which I call the capacity to anticipate and adapt to how that organization breathes, thinks, and feels. Realizing that I had flunked the OQ test because of my style of dress was an incredible learning experience for me."


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