WOTY Speech 2010 Dierdre Connelly

Deirdre Connelly Healthcare Businesswomen's Association Woman of the Year
Deirdre Connelly Healthcare Businesswomen's Association Woman of the Year

Good afternoon, everyone.  What a wonderful event this is.

It’s been very exciting for me to see so many friends and colleagues here – from GSK, from Eli Lilly and from many other companies and organizations I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years.

Let me begin by stating the obvious –I am deeply honored by this recognition.

I’m also humbled, especially when I see so many talented women here who have accomplished so much, and who will undoubtedly, accomplish so much more as their careers progress.

Let me also acknowledge those who are participating today in San Francisco – welcome!

I also want to acknowledge the leadership of the HBA and its officers: Laurie Cooke, CEO; Susan Toroella, HBA president; Lori Ryan, HBA president-elect and Ceci Zak, past president.

I also want to offer my congratulations to the others being honored here today –Mark Swindell, the 2010 Honorable Mentor,Charlene Prounis, the Star Volunteer and all of the Rising Star honorees.

What a truly impressive group of young women! It gives me great confidence in the future of healthcare in our country and particularly the future of our industry.

I must say that seeing all of you brings me back a few years to an earlier time in my career.

As you may know, I started my career in the healthcare industry as a professional representative for Eli Lilly in my native Puerto Rico, “carrying the bag,” as we say. It was a great job and a great learning experience for me. It wasn’t always easy, but it gave me an opportunity to learn every day.

I took full advantage of that opportunity and I learned from those I worked with and from those I called on – the doctors, nurses and office staff.

The most important lesson I learned was that I was doing very important work. Work that mattered and made a real difference in the lives of patients every single day. That is a learning that I’ve carried with me, and which guides my actions every day.

But I have learned many other things along way as well.  And, in fact, being open to learning, looking to learn, and incorporating what I’ve learned into how I do my work is something I pride myself on.

I am never embarrassed to say, “I don’t know,” or “can you teach me?” I believe that’s the only way you can grow as a person and as a professional.

I’m a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and I think he captured the way I like to look at learning, when he said, “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” Of course, it is easy to say that, but it’s not always easy to do. We have to be willing to humble ourselves.  And that often times means admitting when we’ve made a mistake and being willing to learn from it.

Some of you may not know this, but I come from a large family – eight brothers and sisters — which, in my opinion, is a great way to grow up. There are many advantages – you always have someone to play with, you always have someone to fight with, and you always have a lot of people who will keep you honest. Oh, and by the way, that doesn’t change as you get older. Even though HBA is recognizing me as Woman of the Year, I might have a hard time getting recognized as sister of the year by my brothers and sisters!

So, humility and a willingness to admit mistakes and learn is something I was fairly well grounded in when I began my career as a sales rep. As you would expect, I had been given very good training on the medicines I was detailing before I ever entered an office on behalf of Lilly. In a sense, I had the “book learning.” But I didn’t know the ropes.

Fortunately, I was on a team where I had a lot of great teammates.  They provided me with the guidance, the encouragement and the feedback that helped me learn the ropes and helped make me a successful professional representative. Thanks to their help, I did learn and that gave me opportunities to succeed and to take on new challenges.

And the basics – of learning and hard work – were absolutely necessary with some of those challenges because they were totally outside my comfort zone and beyond any previous experience I’d had. For instance, at one point in my career with Lilly, I was appointed a Global Product Team Leader. Up until then, all my experience had been in marketing and sales. Suddenly, I not only had responsibility for the commercial part of the business, but I also had responsibility for clinical development.  So now, I had a team of physicians and statisticians reporting to me.

To say the least, this was a little daunting. I needed to quickly become conversant in their language –p-values, the mean, the median, the mode; washout periods, crossovers, clinical equipoise. I knew I was never going to have the technical expertise of those who reported to me, but I needed to understand their work and their issues.

And, I had to earn their respect. I did that first by listening and learning, and then by focusing on what I was good at: leading our group. I was able to help our team identify issues that needed to be resolved; make decisions that enabled us to move ahead, and secure the resources we needed to succeed. I demonstrated to them that I recognized and valued their expertise and, over time, I earned their respect by supporting them in their work and in their careers. It was a tremendously rewarding learning experience for me.

Moving into situations like this can be difficult and can cause us to question ourselves, what we think are our strengths and how we do our work. That’s when it’s important for us to have a core set of principles that can serve as a foundation and provide us guidance.

For me, I rely on: transparency, respect, integrity and focus on patients. Transparency about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, respect for those I’m working with and for, integrity in my actions and a focus on what’s in the best interest of patients. As long as I’ve been able to keep those values at the core of everything I do, I’ve been satisfied that I’ve done the best I could.

I encourage you to think about that, and find those core values that are important to you and to incorporate them into your work and your personal life. You know, this all sounds very serious, and it is. We’re working in healthcare and that is a responsibility that we should not and cannot take lightly.

But there is another value that I also want you to consider. And it’s probably just as hard, and just as important, as any of the other values I embrace. And that is joy.

I recently met with a group of employees and I mentioned that when I am surrounded by family and friends, I’m happy and feel a great deal of joy. I said to them that we need to provoke that feeling at work. I think some of my colleagues were, to say the least, surprised to hear me say this. But for me, it’s pretty simple.

We often times spend as much or more time at work than we do with our families. Why wouldn’t I want the people I lead to have the same feeling of joy that I want my family and friends to have? Work isn’t always pleasant and it’s often hard, that is after all why we call it work.  But I would encourage you to bring as much joy as you can to your work.

Well, before I finish, let me again say what I tremendous honor this is for me. I’m humbled by this recognition. But I also realize that it comes with responsibility – responsibility for me to lead and perform in a way that all of you, as members of the HBA, and leaders in our industry, can view with pride. The same pride I feel when I think about the contribution we as Healthcare Businesswomen make to serving patients on a daily basis.

Thank you.

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