I’ve never thought of myself as someone who takes risks. However, as I look back on my career, I’ve noticed a pattern: I’ve been at my happiest and most effective when I’ve taken chances, stepped outside my comfort zone, and thrown caution to the wind.
When I was in global marketing for Warner-Lambert (now Pfizer), I was approached by their marketing organization to lead Accupril, one of the company’s most important brands. It was a brand I knew well, and it would have been a promotion and a very comfortable move for me. Simultaneously, Warner-Lambert was putting together a small team to better understand the potential of the statin drug Lipitor, which was in trials at the time. They approached me about a lateral move to the Lipitor team, to begin strategizing its potential launch into an already very satisfied and crowded statin market.
So I had a choice: take the promotion and an easy transition to Accupril, or make a lateral move to join the Lipitor team, an unapproved drug facing some daunting odds.
I took the chance on Lipitor, which became the best-selling medicine in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. This move gave me the foundation to succeed beyond my wildest imagination.
But taking a risk isn’t just about taking a chance, it’s also about innovation. By definition, innovation is about risk because you’re striking out into uncharted territory.
In the data-driven pharmaceutical industry, the unknown can make us uncomfortable, and I’m no exception. But the doctors and patients we serve are counting on our innovation and our ability to challenge orthodoxies. It’s not always easy to be innovative in today’s complex healthcare environment, and it’s a real demand that out-distances the capacities of any one individual.
As a result, it’s my job as a leader to harness the talents, expertise, and insights of my team to truly drive the innovation physicians and patients expect. I seek team members who are bold, hold disparate points of view, and are comfortable bucking conventional wisdom.
Someone once said that the world is changed by people who say yes. Although I have never used that phrase, I feel I’ve lived it. My advice to someone young and hungry to make his or her mark in the pharmaceutical industry is to go with your gut, embrace risk and take a chance.