Pyles, industry trailblazer, retires

November 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

In highly competitive industries, there are often two types of career-minded individuals, according to Jim Keith, associate director of Horizons at Bristol-Myers Squibb: ladder climbers and ladder builders.

In highly competitive industries, there are often two types of career-minded individuals, according to Jim Keith, associate director of Horizons at Bristol-Myers Squibb: ladder climbers and ladder builders.

"Ladder climbers climb up as fast as they can, and they step on anything that gets in their way," he explains. "Sometimes those things are people. But ladder builders build their ladders from the bottom up, developing departments and organizations and people. Margaret Pyles is a builder of ladders."

On September 15, Margaret Pyles, vice president of training and development for Bristol-Myers Squibb, former president of the National Society of Pharmaceutical Sales Trainers and editorial advisory board member for Pharmaceutical Representative, retired to the echo of kind thoughts and good wishes such as those expressed by direct reports like Keith.

A former school teacher who assumed her late husband's pharmaceutical sales territory in West Virginia in 1976, Pyles leaves behind legions of Bristol-Myers Squibb success stories and an outstanding example for women in the industry who aim to be trailblazers in the field.

Pyles was 40 and watching the last of her three children graduate from high school when she first began carrying a bag for Mead Johnson, her late husband's employer.

"I knew a lot about the business because my husband had been in the industry for 18 years," she said. "I had been to lots of medical conventions, and there were lots of times when he was out of town and I would deliver his samples for him."

While Pyles felt familiar with pharmaceutical sales, however, pharmaceutical sales in her region wasn't familiar with her: She made her mark as the first female sales rep in West Virginia. "The company had other women reps in the field, but I was the first in the state," she said.

Pyles worked her territory for three years before she was promoted to senior medical sales representative and then, five months later, to instructor. From that point on, she was showered with promotions.

In 1982, she was promoted first to regional sales trainer and then, eight months later, to district manager. In 1984, she was promoted to manager of sales training instructors and in 1987 to director of sales training. In 1990, she earned the title of director of sales training for the U.S. Pharmaceuticals Group. Just over a year later, she was promoted to senior director of sales training. Ultimately, Pyles was named both senior director and vice president of training and development for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

"I don't think there's anyone in the field for Bristol-Myers Squibb who hasn't been associated with her," Keith marveled. "When new hires first come to training in what we call Phase I, they're scared to death. And then Margaret - this vice president - comes in and makes them feel comfortable and talks with them about the company and their careers. The majority of managers come through training in one way or another, too, and I don't know any who haven't been influenced by her."

Pyles' influence on the training department extends to the furniture and audio visual equipment in the training classrooms, as well as to sophisticated training programs such as the company's Horizons program, which she implemented.

In Horizons seminars, sales reps, trainers and managers are trained in family finances and stress management as well as pertinent managed care and pharmaceutical selling issues.

"Her genuine concern about not only how people were doing on the job, but how they were doing at home was really important to her," said Larry Dryer, director of management and development training for the U.S. Pharmaceutical Group at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Industry influence

Pyles' influence didn't stop at the doors of Bristol-Myers Squibb. She was a member of both the American Society of Training and Development and the National Society of Pharmaceutical Sales Trainers, and held a number of offices in the latter organization.

In 1989, Pyles was named the first woman board member of the NSPST and quickly enlisted two other women. By 1991, she was elected president. During her tenure as president, she established an editorial and industry partnership between the Society and Pharmaceutical Representative that still exists today. Beyond her year-long term, she proposed an NSPST "Train the Trainer" program, specifically catering to the needs of the pharmaceutical industry, and initiated the first of a series of NSPST benchmark studies that gather specific data about the industry as a whole.

For Pyles, her role in ensuring the health of industry training and development grounds is one of the most satisfying things she'll remember about her career.

Post-retirement, Pyles plans to spend time with her steady beau of 22 years, David Swartz. They plan to travel the upper Northeast and watch West Virginia college football before scheduling river cruises through Europe and a foray to Panama's Canal Zone.

Her parting words? "It has been loads of fun," she wrote in a farewell letter to Pharmaceutical Representative. "It is important work and [reps] should take pride in playing an important role in health care. The people in our industry truly are the best…remind them to have fun along the way." PR

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