1998 pharmaceutical rep of the year

December 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Bill Sullivan of Roche Laboratories wins the prize in '88.

Bill Sullivan moved to Honolulu, HI, from Carroll, IA, in 1982. Responding to an advertisement in The Honolulu Advertiser, he took a part-time, six-month job at the Straub Clinic and Hospital. Educated at Northern Iowa University with a degree in therapeutic recreation, Sullivan worked in the clinic's wellness program, where he quickly recognized a need for a cardiac rehabilitation program.

He drafted a proposal for the formation of rehabilitation services at the clinic, and wrote the job description for its director. He then promptly applied for the job. Not surprisingly, the clinic hired him. He worked in that capacity for seven years, serving local physicians and their patients.

"I always used to joke with my Mom that it turned out to be a long six months," Sullivan said jokingly.

During that time, Sullivan went back to school to earn his master's degree in public health from the University of Hawaii. A classmate of his worked for Merck & Co., and their conversations about pharmaceutical sales piqued Sullivan's interest. He applied for a position with DuPont Pharmaceuticals and was hired.

What followed was a crash course in time management and pre-call organization. Because Hawaii is a sparsely populated state formed of seven different islands, most pharmaceutical reps frequently fly from island to island.

"It's a little different when you have to fly to your locations," Sullivan said. "You spend a couple of hours packing your clothes and materials, bind everything together with strapping tape so you can check it at the airline, as opposed to using the shipping agent, drive for an hour to the airport, fly for an hour, rent a car when you arrive, reorganize your trunk and then start your day. There's a lot of planning involved."

While he was with DuPont, Sullivan earned his MBA at Chaminade University. He also took the initiative to create a new sales position that he thought could better serve physicians and their patients. He wrote a job description for a managed care specialty rep who would be a consistent contact for Hawaii physicians. DuPont hired him to do that job until he left to work for Roche Laboratories in June 1997.

Career highlights

When asked what the highlights of his career have been, Sullivan doesn't quote his sales successes, although he certainly could.

During his brief tenure with Roche, for example, he has worked aggressively with seven territory teammates to advance two newly launched products. By the end of 1997, his territory was among Roche's top 25 in the nation, and was number two in the nation in sales of one of the two products.

According to his regional manager, Eileen Silverman, who nominated Sullivan for Pharmaceutical Rep of the Year, "Bill's territory is currently 252% of quota and…[he] volunteered to launch this product for us in a vacant territory. That territory is now 131% of quota due directly to Bill's rapport with key physicians who are writing for the product."

It's Sullivan's intense and varied commitment to volunteer work, however, that truly distinguishes him as an exceptional role model.

He works diligently to support and promote awareness of three major health care issues: Parkinson's disease, hypertension and stroke awareness and breast cancer.

When he was promoting a Parkinson's product for DuPont in 1990, he began attending support group meetings and socializing with some of the group's members in 1990.

He quickly found unique ways to contribute to the group. With the help of his employer, he organized several support groups throughout Hawaii's less populated islands, and encouraged a national Parkinson's organization to locate a branch in Hawaii. During the holiday season, he became personally involved in a local support group. "They wanted to have a Christmas party and the person who had been their Santa in the past couldn't make it. So I filled in," he recalled. "From that point on, I have been their one and only Santa."

Sullivan continues to attend meetings, has competed in fundraising relay races to support Parkinson's disease research and annually organizes a statewide symposium. In 1993, DuPont recognized his significant volunteer efforts in the Parkinson's community with its highest honor, its prestigious Summit Award.

Most recently, Sullivan was elected to the Hawaii Parkinson Association's board of directors. "Bill is atypical of what lay people think of as a pharmaceutical representative," said Katherine Kim, the association's coordinator. "In my 12 years working in the health field, I have never met another drug rep who volunteered so much for a non-physician group."

Sullivan is also on the board of directors for his local American Heart Association. Sullivan has initiated Stroke and Hypertension Awareness Month in Hawaii, organized public symposia on prevention and treatment for hypertension and stroke and represented the American Heart Association at the Governor's mansion. He also serves on the association's health care site task force. In July 1998, he was awarded the American Heart Association's Chairman's Award for his efforts to fight heart disease and stroke in Hawaii.

But the cause closest to Sullivan's heart is the one in which he has most recently become involved: breast cancer awareness.

Sullivan's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and was treated with what her family and physicians thought was success. However, in November 1997, just before Thanksgiving, her physicians discovered a large, malignant tumor that had metastasized on her liver. Within two weeks, she was gone.

"I thought she would live to be 100, she was always so darn healthy," said Sullivan, who was deeply affected by her death. "I told her before she died, 'Mom, I'm going to do everything I can to fight cancer and maybe find a cure.'"

After the funeral, Sullivan returned to Oahu and made good on his last promise to his mother. Without having trained, he signed up for and completed the Honolulu Marathon, which was a fund-raiser for breast cancer research. The T-shirt he wore during the race featured a photograph of his mother. It read: "Mom, I love you. Fight breast cancer."

The American Cancer Society heard about Sullivan's efforts, and asked him to do a television interview about how men can help fight breast cancer. He agreed, and the newscast was so well-received that the American Cancer Society asked him to serve as a community spokesperson at future events. He has since become a member of the society's breast cancer detection core committee.

Sullivan is dedicated to overcoming his previous lack of understanding, and to helping others do the same. Of his involvement, he simply said: "It's a good cause, and I'm committed to it."

Aside from his volunteerism, Sullivan prides himself on his creativity.

His most recent holiday greeting card, for example, featured his wife Cher and him riding a camel in Africa. He has named his home: Hale Ikea Kai, home of the mountains and the sea. He has lured physicians to dinner programs with "surf and turf" dinner displays strategically placed around hospitals. He has also sponsored clam bakes to complement continuing medical education events.

"Too many people stagnate and don't put time or thought into the little things they do that make a big difference," said the industry veteran. "If you host a program, be creative."

Being innovative does not necessarily mean being extravagant.

"You have to [be creative] in a conservative fashion…you don't want to be excessive," Sullivan said. "Whatever we spend comes out of the patient's pocket one way or the other. That patient could be you or me or anybody."

Being a responsible yet innovative rep is more important today than it ever has been before. Sullivan stresses the importance of credibility, knowledge and trust in his professional relationships, and encourages new reps in the field to do the same.

"Always be honest with your physicians," he advised. "Tell them the whole story - the good, the bad, the indifferent. Tell them about any potential problems their patients might run into so they can educate their patients. Physicians respect that."

Standard of excellence

In her nomination letter, Silverman enthusiastically wrote, "…There is no other rep on this planet who gives so much to their company and to their community and still manages to have a personal life! Bill's philosophy is that giving back to the community should be part of what every rep does, and that we can make a difference through volunteer work."

Our distinguished panel of five pharmaceutical sales executives (see p. 17) concurred with Silverman's testimony and, based on their recommendation, Pharmaceutical Representative is proud to give Sullivan the 1998 Pharmaceutical Rep of the Year Award and $1,000. We offer a hearty congratulations and a warm mahalo (Hawaiian for "thank you") for setting such a high standard of professional and personal excellence. PR