Mark Swindell’s 2010 Honorable Mentor Acceptance Speech

Mark Swindell, President, Pfizer Vaccines
HBA 2010 Honorable Mentor

Good afternoon everybody and thank you Ceci for that very generous introduction.

Sticking with the thank you theme for a moment… first, I want to thank the leadership of the HBA for this incredible honor in selecting me as your 2010 Honorable Mentor.

Within the HBA I’d like to single out Lee Ann Kimak for leading my nomination and the other HBA members who supported Lee Ann. I have only known Lee Ann for about 3 years but already she makes a mark as one of the smartest, most decisive and emotionally intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure to work with and I’m delighted she’s recently come back to my team in a new role in Pfizer.

Speaking of Pfizer let me take a moment to thank my other colleagues from Pfizer for joining us here today. I think there are around 60 of you here including my boss and a renowned mentor at Pfizer, Geno Germano, president and general manager of Pfizer’s Specialty Care Business Unit and Frieda Lewis Hall, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Pfizer.

I would like to take a moment to offer special thanks to my wife, Melanie who is here with me today and who has been a tireless supporter for 20 years, relocating with me through 2 domestic and 4 international moves. She has always found a way to thrive in our new environments. For example when we first moved to the US and Melanie was unable to work with the visa we received we bought a fixer upper house and she fixed it up. When we moved to Lisbon she was elected president of the International Women of Portugal Society. And today, she contributes to the community as a volunteer hospice visitor as well as running her own consulting business. If mentoring is listening, coaching and validating, then she is a past master and if I deserve this award it’s because she showed me the way.

We are very fortunate to work in an industry that does so much good for society. When I was 15 I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and I rely every day on insulin shots. Shortly after my diagnosis I did a school project on diabetes for the UK equivalent of a high school diploma, and after realizing that I probably wasn’t going to make it as a professional soccer player in England I decided I wanted a career in the pharmaceutical industry, a decision that I have never regretted for a moment.

I’m extremely proud of what we do and I’m incredibly fortunate to have been presented with opportunities for growth in an industry I love by each of my employers, starting with Cyanamid, then Wyeth and now with Pfizer.

Leaders in these companies first encouraged me to develop myself professionally through a series of roles initially in finance and then in the commercial arena, and secondly they gave me wonderful opportunities for personal growth through assignments in several different countries, exposing me to diverse cultures and rich learning opportunities.

These leaders helped me appreciate the value we gain by developing talent and the least that I can do is to try and pass on the benefits of these experiences to others.

If I have a mentoring philosophy, it can be traced back to a mentor of mine, a man I first met in 1990 and whose friendship and counsel I still value.  He always has the time to listen, sometimes in person, sometimes by phone. I don’t ever remember him offering up a solution but he has a knack for helping me uncover them for myself.

I didn’t know it at the time but my big professional break came when I first moved to the US from the UK in 1997. This was a big decision for Melanie and me, as Melanie would have to give up her promising career and we would also be leaving family and friends 3,500 miles away.

By talking things through with this mentor the issues didn’t disappear but they became manageable and both the professional and personal upsides of our transatlantic transfer became clearer. In the end it was a fantastic move for us both.

To me, effective mentoring is really about asking probing questions and listening, being a non-judgmental sounding board and helping the mentee think about his or her options – thinking broadly, but keeping it real – whether to fully leverage an opportunity or to address an issue.

Over the years I have experienced many examples of career counseling discussions where people came to me thinking they wanted direction but they really just needed help framing their options.

Many companies have recognized the value of mentoring and have instituted formal programs. This is great but when establishing these initiatives I think it’s important to not simply assign mentors and mentees at random and apply a cookie cutter approach to the process. Personal chemistry is crucial and the frequency and nature of interactions between the two parties should be driven by the situations the mentee is facing.

I am acutely aware that the HBA was set up to foster the growth and advancement of women in our industry, and I believe strongly that this is vital work. I am an advocate for diversity in all its forms in the workforce because diversity opens up new possibilities, new avenues of thinking, and a challenge to the status quo. The business and social challenges we are confronting today require fresh approaches to navigate through the difficulties, and we cannot afford to waste the gifts of insight that reside in our own workforce.

Think of it this way: If you look down the table at your leadership meetings and do not see your market looking back at you, you may be in trouble. And in healthcare businesses many of those faces should belong to women.  In our markets, whatever the product or service – even those destined to be used by men, women are likely to control the purchasing decision. Of course, market research and focus groups are useful but I believe our industry can help itself by leveraging the perspectives of a more diverse leadership base.

Women in particular have been under-represented at senior levels in the healthcare industry for years and although it is changing, it can, and it should change faster.

Last year Wyeth was acquired by Pfizer and people have asked me how going from a large company to the largest company in our industry has changed the way we work and the way we view our roles. First, I can say with complete sincerity that the power of an organization our size to do good, and we are absolutely committed to do good, is enormous.

Six weeks ago we signed an agreement with UNICEF – to supply Prevenar 13, our pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to many of the world’s poorest nations. Our NGO partners in this initiative estimate that, over the 10 years of this agreement, we will help save the lives of 7 million children. If that isn’t enough to make one happy and proud to show up at work each day, I am not sure what is.

It is also important in an organization of our size that each of us make our own Pfizer from the relationships we nurture, and the teams we build. And that is why mentoring is so important. Effective mentoring is critical to help talent find their own way and to make an impact.

Big companies can, and they should, do big things, but they depend on individual contributions to do them. Each of us who has advanced in whichever organization we work, has an obligation to help develop and prepare the next generation of leadership.

Again I am deeply grateful and very humbled by this honor. I was truly surprised and thrilled to have been selected for the award as I am sure there were many other worthy nominees.

I am excited by the opportunity to work closely with the HBA which does so much to promote the advancement of women in our field, and I hope to be as effective in this regard as the past year’s Honorable Mentor, Alex Gorsky.

Thank you all once again.


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