Gwendolyn Whitney

October 12, 2016

Senior Director of Sales Analytics and Operations, Gilead Sciences

Moving Those Metrics-Up 

Gwendolyn Whitney, Senior Director of Sales Analytics and Operations, Gilead Sciences

In today’s pharmaceutical marketplace, it pays to keep moving-complacency is not an option. Gwendolyn Whitney’s 17-year career in biopharma has been shaped by successive waves of disruptive change in the commercial and customer-facing sides of the business. That dynamic reinforced the 40-year-old pharma leader’s commitment to sharing her talents widely, taking on multiple roles, drawing fresh insights from the external environment, and always thinking forward on strategy while never forgetting that ultimate success depends on fast and flexible execution to plan. The learning curve is ever upward, even as she has spent time in horizontal roles contributing to and leading across a breadth of commercial functions and therapeutic divisions. 

As a first-year student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Whitney pursued a nursing degree. Her parents, who both made lifelong careers at Boeing, wanted Whitney and her sister to explore career paths that offered stability. During her junior year, several mentors urged Whitney to consider a business degree. She did and landed her first post-college job in 1999 with Roche Pharmaceuticals, as a sales representative. Positions that interact with and focus on sales continue to be Whitney’s favorites. “When you are able to evolve a customer’s thinking through data and science in a way that helps them help more people-that’s such a huge win,” she said. After a year and a half with Roche in St. Louis, Whitney signed on as a diabetes product salesperson for Takeda Pharmaceuticals, where she further sharpened her skills carrying the bag for two years in her hometown city. 

Several of her mentors encouraged Whitney to aim for positions with greater responsibility. So by June 2002, just three years after college, she became a district sales manager at Takeda, overseeing the Actos, Niaspan and Advicor business in three states. The St. Louis native took a larger leap in responsibility in October 2004, when she became hospital district business manager for a heart failure drug made by Lexington, MA-based NitroMed, a company bought by JHP Pharmaceuticals in 2008. During her four years with NitroMed, Whitney continued to move up the ranks. In 2006, she became senior manager of sales operations, where she focused on sales training, commercial analytics, incentive programs for sales and managed markets operations. Whitney oversaw national “pull-through” strategy with managed care contracts. 

In January 2007, Whitney was promoted to a national account director of managed markets. In just one year’s time, she nearly doubled access in Michigan’s market for NitroMed’s BiDil by getting the drug placed on the Tier 2 formulary without the leverage of discount pricing. Whitney worked tirelessly with national, regional and group purchasing organization payers and accounts, including Express Scripts, MemberHealth, Harvard Pilgrim and state Medicaid programs to ensure the best possible positioning of BiDil on drug formularies.

As NitroMed prepared to sell, Whitney decided to sharpen her business acumen by enrolling in St. Joseph’s University executive MBA program in Philadelphia. Emboldened by a challenging internship with Abbott Pharmaceuticals, she set her sights on a role with even greater demands. In December 2009, she hired on as Gilead Sciences’ regional director of HIV sales, leading a team of therapeutic specialists in the Midwest region. Once again, under Whitney’s guidance, key metrics began to rise. Gilead colleagues noticed Whitney’s strong leadership and a managing style that blended collaboration and execution. 

After a promotion to director/function head of commercial learning and development in Gilead’s Foster City, Calif., HQ office, Whitney began guiding team members to become managers themselves. “Our growth and development support philosophy was 70-20-10,” Whitney said. This meant that 70% of a person’s development should come from on-the-job experience and assignments. Another 20% should stem from coaching and the final percentage should come from what the individual chooses to pursue personally, whether it be instructions in new skills, text-based learning or extra training. 

Throughout her career, Whitney has been on the frontline of business transformation, holding increasingly high visibility positions in the commercial leadership, including senior field sales management. “I’ve tried to make sure I possess a 360-degree view of the field,” she said. “The more of the picture you understand, the more strategic value you are able to add.” 

All of this has led her to her position today, as head of sales analytics and operations for Gilead’s North American market. She leads a team of 27 in commercial operations that work across four verticals, seven therapeutic areas and managed markets. She and her team rely heavily on data and analytics to measure the impact of commercial decisions or consider how to better allocate sales resources. Her team’s ability to identify, assess and execute among a diversity of options, from both a strategic and operational perspective, for both the short and long-term, is perceived by Gilead’s top management as increasingly valuable-for example, there are many trade-offs that have to be navigated to ensure a strong product launch. The proof point? In her seven years with Gilead, Whitney has helped usher more than nine products to market in therapy areas ranging from HIV to hepatitis C and cancer. “Every day is different,” Whitney said. “I might be talking to one group about sales force optimization, addressing issues around commercial effectiveness, discussing payer analytics trends or answering questions on specialty pharmacy data strategy-all in one day,” she said. 

Whitney also is expansive about sharing her insights and expertise with others. She is a mainstay of Gilead’s Corporate Mentoring Program, and she has personally supported the career progress of dozens of individuals across the entire commercial organization. In fact, developing people is the activity that she enjoys the most. For younger people joining the pharma industry, she encourages flexibility around relocating if it means better alignment with career goals. It’s also important to join the industry for the right reasons. “If your core doesn’t align with patient care, then it’s probably not an ideal industry for you,” she said. 

Whitney also warns against chasing the next role. “Put your head down, do your current job well and by the time you look up from that focus, there will be something new waiting for you,” she said. Through it all, Whitney has kept up the energy and stamina that first caught the attention of her mentors in college. “Sometimes my mentors pushed me when I didn’t want to be pushed. But the more you take on roles that you didn’t know you could do, the more you learn and the more likely you are able to successfully to do that again and again in broader roles as your career grows.”

- Kathleen Raven