2001 Woman of the Year
Carrie S. Cox
Winning through teams:
Everyone has a secret or two, and most successful executives share the same ones. Teamwork. Tenacity. Positive attitude. Do these things sound familiar? If not, you might want to study the string of HBA "Woman of the Year" (WOTY) award winners. These women know where they're going-and how to get there. They don't spend all day planning it either; they're too busy doing it.
Carrie S. Cox, the 2001 HBA Woman of the Year, is an understated example of everything it takes to receive this honor. Now Executive Vice President and President of Pharmacia's Global Prescription Business, Cox's path to the post is illustrative for industry novices and veterans alike. During a recent interview with the HBA, she highlighted steps on this path via six career lessons.
Lesson one: You don't have to stay with the first function you get. Explore the landscape, and find a niche that you truly believe in. Cox's entry into pharmacy was "pure serendipity"-a family friend worked in a pharmacy and knew of an opening for an after-school job when she was 16. No plan, no grand design. But once there, Cox found a way to parlay what she did into what she loved. "I fell in love with the whole concept of interacting with patients and quickly found that while it was great fun to be working the retail segment of the store, the part I enjoyed most was understanding the science behind the medications, and most of all linking that to patient benefits and helping patients understand that. So it was a pretty short leap from there to the pharmaceutical industry."
Making the connection did not come all at once. Cox went to pharmacy school with the plan to enter retail pharmacy. But her curiosity and instincts again led her in the right direction for her talents-toward patients. "I undertook an internship with Sandoz because I was very interested in finding out where the medicine came from so that I could do an even better job explaining to patients what the medicine was, how it was made, and how it would help them. So I actually came to the internship to prepare for a career in retail. But when I came into the internship and got a taste of marketing, I said, ‘Ah, this is where it really happens."
Lesson two: gain broad experience early on. Upon graduating, Cox strategically decided to try her hand at pharmaceutical R&D in the area of solid dosage form development. "I never felt that I was well suited to be a serious scientist, but I was interested in it and thought I should try it sooner rather than later, before I went into a sales and marketing-oriented career." However, she discovered her job was almost exclusively manufacturing oriented. "Solid dosage formulation at that point was, ‘How many of these can we run as fast as possible on the machines we already have?' The patient, at least in that organization, was considered very much tertiary, not even secondary. People there were teasing me that what I really should do is go work in the marketing department, because that's where they cared about things like what color of medicine."Cox got her chance. In 1981, she was recruited by Sandoz to join their market research department, and she stayed at the company for a decade in various marketing, sales, and product management positions.
Lesson three: if you have a chance to gain global experience early in your career, take it! "It was a very good experience to start work in a global, multinational, non-U.S.-based corporation. While I was working in the U.S. division, it was controlled fairly tightly by the Swiss parent. So it was a great way to learn the global nature of the business as well as get an idea about how a division works with a corporate center. Those were things that became very valuable later in my career."
Lesson four: Don't forget the products. While at Sandoz, Cox developed an innovative distribution and monitoring system for Clozaril, a breakthrough schizophrenia drug that otherwise might not have been brought to market. "The ability to bring Clozaril through the FDA process and onto the market was a significant experience," Cox told the HBA Bulletin. She also cited working on the brand protection aspects of Melaril as an important career stepping-stone. "That was at the time when the whole genericization of brands was an early issue, and it hadn't happened very often. Generic entries into the US market were still a relatively new phenomenon. So, I learned a lot about the concepts behind what makes generics appropriate and how the [brand] erosion can be a challenge and an advantage."
Cox continued her product success at Wyeth-Ayerst, where she joined in 1990 and became Vice-President of Women's Health Care. At Wyeth, she was credited with driving the company's hormone replacement franchise to blockbuster status and for making 50-year-old Premarin the most prescribed drug in the US. "The Premarin story is quite incredible-from the sales and marketing aspects to the regulatory and scientific aspects, the development of new clinical uses, and ultimately new forms and indications. "That's an entire career's worth of experience rolled into one area," she said.
Cox also noted that two of her most influential mentors while at Wyeth were Bob Essner and Fred Hassan. "I have been very fortunate to have each of them individually, and both of them together, as mentors. That has made a huge impact on my career.
Lesson five: "the ability to maintain the kind of mentoring relationship I have with these two individuals. They have provided me with extraordinary opportunities and then helped me to succeed in them."
Taking care of business
Indeed, it was Hassan who recruited Cox to Pharmacia & Upjohn (P&U) in 1997 as Senior Vice-President of Global Business Management. Her mission was to drive the market turnaround of several of the company's lagging portfolios-which she did through proactive brand management and a renewed emphasis on staff participation in all phases of development. Her latest accomplishment helping to navigate the merger of P&U into Pharmacia Corporation. "The transition has actually been very smooth. Going through a major merger is one of those events that, while never fun, is an extraordinary career experience that everybody should have, and ultimately in this industry probably everybody will have. It's a great way to learn more about organizational dynamics and the importance of keeping the right things in focus-the customer and the business-and moving as rapidly as possible through a merger process. The thing that harms companies most in these situations is going slowly and becoming too internally focused."
In the new organization, Cox's responsibilities have increased with her promotion to a new position as President of Pharmacia's Global Prescription Business Unit. In addition to her previous responsibilities as head of Global Business Management, Cox now oversees Pharmacia's North American pharmaceutical operations.
Lesson six: "Teamwork determines success in the end. We were very proud of the working process that we had in place at P&U. This process has become even stronger in its conception at Pharmacia. It is now called Customer-Focused Product Flow. The idea that there is joint ownership and joint decision-making across the company, whatever functional organization you may be in, is a fundamental tenant of building a successful business. It is a very sophisticated way of saying ‘teamwork.' Although it is quite difficult to build those kinds of mechanisms in large companies, if you're successful in doing it, it creates an enormous competitive advantage."
In fact, teamwork is one of the main reasons that Cox is Woman of the Year. Her long line of supporters within the company cite her ability to build the business while building talent and her efforts to mentor, support and advise other team members. "That has always been one of the most satisfying aspects of my job: the ability to work with very talented individuals and to create teams and motivate people to develop themselves to their fullest," Cox concluded. Class dismissed.