Stuart Sowder’s 2015 Honorable Mentor speech at the HBA Woman of the Year event

I have to tell you, I am both proud of…and surprised by…this award. Proud certainly, because it feels good to be recognized by those around me, and by all of you, especially for mentorship, which I care deeply about. And surprised to be recognized for a deed that I love to do—that is, to listen, hear, and give advice. Helping someone make the best of his or her talents – nothing is better than that!

Of course, there’s always the reality check, and in my case, it came when I shared the news of this award with my 9-year-old twins. At that age, they didn’t quite understand the concept of mentorship, so I tried to explain it—simply, as someone who gives advice. My daughter so candidly responded, “I can see that. Dad, you do give really good advice. You just don’t follow it, like when you say we shouldn’t snack between meals!”  Ah well, I guess I literally got my hand caught in the cookie jar!

My daughter’s reply not only made me think about my diet, but also, to concede her point. Mentorship is easier said than done. We’ve all heard it—Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

But do we make the time to do that? Is mentorship a genuine calling…or a box to check?

Today, I ask you to take up the theme of this event, and to imagine the possibilities if each of us took mentorship as seriously as we should. We all know the drill.

We run from meeting to meeting, sort through the emails, and deal with the urgencies of the moment leaving little time for reflection or for ourselves. We don’t leave work. We escape from it.

It’s said mentorship often feels like a luxury. We feel guilty just taking the time to step back from the trees, in hopes of seeing the forest. I’m always intrigued when one of my mentees comes to me almost apologetic—feeling guilty for taking my time, as if they are intruding.

They start the conversation with the question, “Is this a good time?” Yes, it’s more than a good time.

One of these mentees came to me and, though happy with her job, felt there was little opportunity for growth. Together, we matched her talents to opportunities across the company, developed a plan, and she ended up taking a position she never thought was possible. And from that story, my call to action for all of us is to make mentorship a priority. She didn’t even know those types of opportunities existed.

We need to allow ourselves the gift of working with one another to “imagine the possibilities.” It’s a gift we all deserve, and one that truly keeps on giving. I have seen the power of mentorship in my life, on both sides of the relationship. I have sensed the power that comes with being influenced, and being the influencer.

My first mentor was my father. He was a milkman—the old fashioned kind. He spent the night pasteurizing milk and delivering it to shiny metal boxes that were once a standard fixture outside our kitchen doors. When containers were invented for the longer-term storage of milk at home, the career he trained for became outdated.

Having seen his career vanish, he sought and found a new job—as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Lederle Labs—which, perhaps tellingly, is now one of the legacy companies of Pfizer, where I have worked for almost 20 years.In that role, my father interacted with many healthcare professionals.

One in particular, the pharmacist, struck a chord with my Dad. He talked to me about career possibilities and challenged me to consider becoming a pharmacist. A pharmacist!? I had my sights set on becoming the next JDTP_0936ohn Travolta, as I had just seen the movie, Grease. But at the time, I did not have the life or career experience to understand the possibilities.

But my father did and thanks to his mentorship, I found my way into pharmacy, and now, far beyond it. And looking back, I am really glad I listened.

That’s the great thing about mentors. They push us. They dare us to move faster than we believe we can, or to places we cannot envision. Mentors see something in us that we can’t see in ourselves. That’s why we must take our experiences as mentees and pay it forward to develop the next generation of able leadership. This is particularly important for all of us here.

Surveys show that women – in particular – lack champions in healthcare. Nearly two out of every three women surveyed said they lacked a mentor in the workplace. Imagine the possibilities if we could close this gap.

Imagine how much more power, creativity, passion, performance and commitment we could foster.

Imagine the impact this could have not just on us, but more so, on the people we are pledged to serve.

I consider myself very lucky to be surrounded by some of the best talent in the industry, most of whom are women. My External Medical Communications organization is 72% women and my leadership team is 60% women. These women have been part of my professional journey, and I am proud to have been part of theirs. Perhaps that’s why this award feels so special to me.

I’ll close where I started, from the mouth of babes, a quote from my son Lucas, “Dad, sometimes your advice is not always what I want to hear, but I know you really want to make me better.” And with that simple statement lies the beauty of mentorship. As mentors, we are invested in guiding those we care about to success.

As Dads to Lyla and Lucas, my spouse Rusty and I can only hope to have the same kind of positive effect that my first mentor, my father, had on me. More than that, I hope that Lucas and Lyla can find and enjoy great mentors along their path in life. They, like you and me, will be better off because of it.

Thank you again, for this honor, and for your inspiration!


One thought on “Stuart Sowder’s 2015 Honorable Mentor speech at the HBA Woman of the Year event

  1. Congratulations Stuart. I enjoyed reading your journey and your passion and being a champion for the mentorship program!

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