Woman of the Year 2013 - Pharmaceutical Executive


Woman of the Year 2013

Pharmaceutical Executive

An ambitious goal

Fortunately, Merck has Bridgette to lead the change, starting with the company's next big consumer healthcare product launch this fall. Earlier this year, FDA approved an Rx-to-OTC switch for Oxytrol, a product in-licensed from Watson Pharmaceuticals, which will be the first over-the-counter treatment for overactive bladder in women. The market is big (overactive bladder affects 20 million US women) and there is a huge need, but 80 percent of women are too embarrassed to seek treatment.

The product can improve women's quality of life, but the branding is going to be critical. This has given Heller a chance to design the brand a different way—based entirely on detailed understanding of consumer insight. Bridgette says that's the piece that's new for Merck.

It's also the piece that Heller knows well. In the same way she has connected to people her whole life, Bridgette challenges her teams to find the emotional connection consumers can have with brands. "Bridgette loves brands and views them as living, breathing organic assets," says Mackey.

If Oxytrol meets expectations, both for the brand and the sales, it could set the strategy for future switches, and become an enduring brand. Claritin, for example, has sold as an OTC product for more than a decade, with sales in the billions. "In the traditional pharma model that would have died out," says Mackey.

But that's just one approach that Bridgette sees to growing the division. For Merck's consumer business to matter, it needs to transform. Heller seems up to the challenge, and says she hopes to considerably increase its size over time. Her staff refers to this commitment as their "stand." The language implies a perceived sense of importance and unity as people come together to achieve this ambitious goal. It also showcases Bridgette's prowess in connecting with her community to achieve a goal.

Reaching back

There are major lessons the rest of the healthcare industry can learn from Bridgette Heller. The societal trend toward a more empowered customer means that the industry as a whole has a lot to gain from their consumer counterparts. If Bridgette Heller has anything to do with it, everyone must also share in the responsibility to nurture the full potential of people.

That's a responsibility that goes beyond the workplace. "To whom much is given, much is definitely expected," quotes Bridgette. Indeed, Heller helps young girls navigate gender, economic, and social barriers through the non-profit Girls, Inc., most recently serving as board chair, so they can reach their best potential. By doing this, Bridgette is creating a nurturing environment and fostering a sense of community for the next generation.

It is these philosophies that Bridgette and her husband Eliott have adopted and hope to impart on their two daughters. According to Ann Fudge, "The care she brings to young girls in development and pushing for girls in leadership is not just something for her to do. It comes from the heart. Like a lot things, it has to happen and be nurtured and makes her who she is."

Joanna Breitstein can be reached at


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