By Joann S. Lublin
On the personal board of directors, top business leaders talk about who they turn to for advice and how those people have shaped their point of view and helped them succeed. Previous versions of the series are here.
Michelle McMurry-Heath, head of a global biotech group, knows how to break the mold.
About two decades ago, she became the first black graduate of Duke University with combined medical and doctoral degrees. Last June, she became the first black executive to lead the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. BIO represents approximately 700 small and large biotechnology companies.
Dr McMurry-Heath is aiming to shake the status quo in an industry dominated by white men, criticized for the high cost of drugs – and struggling to end the pandemic through accelerated research. BIO members include statrtup Moderna Inc. and industry powerhouse Pfizer Inc., which back competing vaccine candidates that have been shown in recent days to have shown efficacy rates of over 90%.
Among other things, Dr McMurry-Heath defends greater minority participation in clinical trials of potential Covid-19 vaccines
“Improving access to scientific innovation is a matter of social justice,” says the 50-year-old leader of BIO. Otherwise, “we are locking underserved communities into inequality for generations to come.”
Dr McMurry-Heath took the top spot in BIO after her mentors, mostly women, assured her she was ready to become CEO. They also proposed that the novice CEO overcome any weaknesses by building a diverse management team whose different strengths “come together as a stronger whole,” she said.
Born and raised in Oakland, Calif., She said at the age of 8 that she wanted to be a doctor – or president of the United States. Caring for vulnerable people “was basically in drinking water when I was growing up,” recalls Dr. McMurry-Heath.
Her mother, a public health nurse, worked to reduce local child mortality. Her father, a U.S. government psychologist, helped design drug addiction programs for Native American reservations.
Dr. McMurry-Heath majored in biochemistry at Harvard University, where she met her future first husband. He was battling cystic fibrosis. Her roommate at Harvard had a severe bout of lupus during their first year.
She says she obtained degrees in medicine and immunology in order to “take care of sick patients, but also to discover new scientific solutions for serious diseases”. The young doctor-scientist decided to pursue a career in science policy, working for US Senator Joe Lieberman and two thinktanks.
In 2010, Dr. McMurry-Heath landed with the US Food and Drug Administration as associate director of its Center for Devices and Radiological Health. She broadened patient involvement in medical device development by leading the creation of an unusual public-private partnership that included patient groups.
The difficult effort “took us almost two years”, she observes. “I put all my heart and soul into it.”
At the end of 2014, Dr McMurry-Heath held a management position at health giant Johnson & Johnson. It initially focused on the regulatory affairs of its medical devices. She eventually got a larger management role, overseeing around 900 employees.
“I don’t hesitate to take a decisive step in my career,” she emphasizes. However, “I never take these steps lightly.” Dr. McMurry-Heath relies on her personal Board of Directors to guide her professional progress. Here are four of his most trusted advisors:
Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the National Academy of Medicine and former Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration
The women met in 2002 when Dr. McMurry-Heath was drafting a bioterrorism preparedness bill that Senator Lieberman was to co-sponsor. Dr Hamburg was Vice President of the Nuclear Threats Initiative. The non-profit organization tries to prevent catastrophic attacks of weapons of mass destruction.
Dr Hamburg hired Dr McMurry-Heath during a subsequent stint as commissioner of the FDA. She recommended that her recruit face the rather hectic world of medical devices by adopting a highly collaborative management style.
“Never use an iron hand if you can use a velvet glove,” recalls Dr. Hamburg. Yet “never compromise your integrity and never weaken your resolve.”
Dr McMurry-Heath came to see Dr Hamburg as an important role model as well. “Witnessing (his) grace under pressure still stays with me today.”
Marsha B. Henderson
FDA Retired Associate Commissioner for Women’s Health
According to Dr. McMurry-Heath, Ms. Henderson became a highly regarded advisor because she shrewdly understood internal FDA policy.
The agency’s veteran official educated his less-experienced partner about the main power brokers and “what levers would influence these various centers of power,” notes Dr McMurry-Heath.
Ms Henderson also suggested that her mentee “stand firm and always look fabulous,” adds Dr McMurry-Heath. As a result, “I stopped apologizing for enjoying my style and my boast.”
Ms Henderson says she encouraged Dr McMurry-Heath to be her unique personality without fear. “I think it worked!”
Dr Shamiram “Shami” Feinglass
Chief Medical Officer of Danaher Corp.
Drs. Feinglass and McMurry-Heath discovered they shared similar childhoods following a public FDA meeting in 2010. The latter was on the panel for that meeting on low racial and gender diversity in the industry. medical devices.
“We both grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with mothers who were public health workers and advocates,” recalls Dr. Feinglass. “The desire for social justice runs deep and we spend a lot of time talking.”
At the time, Dr Feinglass had recently left another US government agency to join the private sector. His business background came in handy later while Dr McMurry-Heath evaluated J&J’s job offer.
Dr Feinglass persuaded his protégé to be a fierce negotiator – and to retain the services of a lawyer before signing an employment contract with the company. Women often find that they have to negotiate on their behalf “a little late in their career,” concedes Dr. McMurry-Heath.
Co-founder of Genesis, a leadership development consulting firm
When J&J offered to pay for an executive trainer, Dr McMurry-Heath chose Dr Watkins. The leadership development specialist had already advised several of her colleagues.
He has continued to train Dr McMurry-Heath since joining BIO. “Michelle inherited an unusually complex political environment – with a large board of directors and a wide range of external stakeholders, all at a time of extraordinary turmoil,” notes Dr. Watkins.
He says that is why he wanted the new leader to forge “less than obvious alliances” with members of BIO’s board of directors who have different interests and agendas.
Dr McMurry-Heath also appreciated his reminder to “get to know people and listen to them before you necessarily act”. Thus, she quickly organized individual Zoom video calls with 100 of BIO’s 106 directors. She asked them what they liked about the industrial group and what drove them crazy.
The CEO intends to hold similar one-on-one sessions with the other members of BIO’s board by the end of the year. Despite her demanding job, she says she strives “to do better tomorrow than I did the day before.”
Questioning myself in this way “makes me the most creative,” says Dr McMurry-Heath. And “it prevents me from resting on my laurels”.
Write to Joann S. Lublin at [email protected]
(END) Dow Jones News Wire