The power to connect
Spurring this growth is a shift in the culture at Merck brought on by the "out-of-the-box" style that Bridgette and her strong
consumer background brings to the business.
» Bridgette's upbringing imparted within her a deep sense of community. These values inform many of her decisions and actions
as an executive and provide her with the ability to connect with people and the curiosity to seek and understand diverse perspectives.
Employees notice—and say this makes Merck a better place to work.
» Heller is a strong advocate for a more holistic and engaging approach to marketing and communicating to patients—one that
modernizes the company's communications and reshapes the way it thinks about consumers and brands.
» Bridgette is proving that the consumer division can matter to Merck by reimagining the role it plays in the business as
a whole. Rather than being considered just another entry into a diversified portfolio, Bridgette envisions the consumer arm
of the business as a real contributor to the company's bottom line.
This mix of freshness combined with results helps explain why the Healthcare Businesswoman's Association (HBA) named Bridgette
Heller the recipient of its highest honor in 2013. In its statement on the choice, the HBA said "we are very proud to have
Bridgette Heller as our 2013 Woman of the Year, as her strong business leadership skills embellish rather than dwarf her even
stronger strength to connect: to connect to colleagues, to employees, to consumers. She remains vigilant in unleashing the
power of these connections by creating a nurturing environment that is often missing in corporate settings."
Making business more personal
In many ways, what defines Bridgette is her unique approach to leadership. She is a product of her upbringing and values as
a key management trait such personal attributes as connectedness, integration, and the ability to see things from many perspectives.
She learned her most important lessons from her great grandmother. Of Seminole descent, Bridgette's great grandmother Louise
married into a small, well-connected African American community.
And yet, even though she was different, Bridgette's great grandmother was loved by everyone in the community. "She just had
this ability to find connections with people," says Bridgette. "Everyone was welcome at her table."
Heller remembers when her great grandmother fished nickels out of her purse for a huge group of children to each buy an ice
cream from Mr. Nick's, the local ice cream truck. "I said to her, you know, those kids are not in our family," said Heller.
"She said 'no, every child out there is a part of my family.' I've never forgotten that. It stuck with me as sort of a mantra.
It reminds me that I am part of this bigger global community—part of my broader family network."
Bridgette left St. Petersburg—the small city she had known so well—to attend Northwestern University. The move proved formative
for Bridgette. It opened her eyes to an entire world that she didn't know anything about. She had a desire to meet new people
and learn about their perspectives. "I began to develop this real love of talking to different people and understanding about
how their experiences brought them to this place," says Bridgette.
Early in her career Bridgette joined General Foods, which seemed better than other companies with regards to employee diversity.
Heller remembers old people, young people, some African Americans, and others and "they had an appreciation and seemed to
value everyone that was there, whereas that was not true in all the environments I saw. They valued diversity in thinking
and diversity in perspective."