PharmExec Blog

HBA Leadership Conference: Day 1

Reporting to you from Chicago at the Sixth Annual Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association leadership conference, where the story—set in this city of the new US President—is all about change.

The Pharm Exec crew arrived in a surprisingly tranquil Windy City—the only explanation that it was the calm after the storm of Tuesday’s election. Certainly, many HBA members had been up all night watching the election, with a dozen members who took to the streets and joined the rally for Barack Obama at Grant Park.

“It was like being at Woodstock,” said Nancy Larsen, President of PROmedica Communications, who was part of a group that attended the rally. “Even though we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in this massive crowd, it felt serene to be with all these people—it gave me goose bumps.”

“It’s not watching history—it’s actually being a part of it,” said Eve Dryer, Principal and President of Vox Medica Public Relations.

Yet even with the election front-and-center in the nation’s consciousness, executives here seem more focused on pharma’s patent cliff crisis and the latest round of layoffs, instead of major healthcare reform.

“We get the sense that there is some pent-up demand for talent,” said one attendee. “We think people might begin hiring after the election—we’ll be able to tell by year end if that is happening. People may begin hiring because we don’t get the sense that Obama will get to healthcare first.”

The focus of the conference is leadership development, and many conversations and presentations were peppered with concern over how tough times will affect careers in pharma, particularly for those who have been traditionally underrepresented.

“Many of the banks were at the forefront of setting up on-ramping and off-ramping career tracks for women—they had to—and really paved the way for other industries,” said Meryl Zausner, CFO of Novartis. “But now, those efforts will be hampered.”

Still, it seems that many companies are trying their best with programs to bring up women and other minority groups. Novartis CEO Ludwig Hanston accepted the HBA’s 2nd Annual ACE Award on behalf of the company for  its Empowering Women Impacting Novartis and Women in Leadership program.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson (the 2007 ACE Award winner) had a chance to take the stage to talk about how it is seeking to expand its workplace program for women, all 60,000, with new efforts to focus on its European affiliates, sales force in Japan, and even to its group in Cape Town, South Africa while Adrian Sax, who heads business development for King Pharmaceuticals, spoke about the grassroots efforts for inclusion happening at smaller companies.

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