HBA Mainline Montco Hosts ‘Managing Your Career in Times of Change’

HBA Mainline Montco in partnership with Pfizer’s Women’s Leadership Network hosted a panel discussion on ‘Managing Your Career in Times of Change’ at Pfizer’s Collegeville campus on 16 September. There was a great turnout with a full room of about 80 attendees. The evening started out with networking over refreshments.  

Jackie Franke (deputy chair, HBA Mid-Atlantic region) opened the session and gave an overview of the HBA and encouraged folks to join as volunteers to reap the personal benefits that the HBA has to offer.  

Dr. Brenda Cooperstone, senior VP and chief development officer for Pfizer’s rare disease unit and site lead, gave an overview of Pfizer, her career with Pfizer and mentioned that she had six different managers over the past few years without changing her role. Victoria Tamarkin (HBA Mainline Montco chapter president) spoke about the available volunteer opportunities and the overall vision of HBA Mainline Montco.

The panelist of speakers – Charlotte Sibley (independent board director), Dr. Saima Khan (VP, global regulatory affairs, internal medicine, Pfizer) and Sondra Leibner (principal, operations transformations, Grant Thornton) provided their personal stories on how they have successfully navigated their career in times of change. Each of the stories and authentic advice provided the audience with great takeaways. Dana Lewis (study manager, global site and study operations, Pfizer) moderated the event. Highlights from the evening are as follows:

What was the most difficult part of the change you encountered? How did you deal with it? 

Charlotte shared that she was fired in one of her roles at a big pharma by the president of her division, for telling the truth, later on, he was under investigation by the SEC. It was tried to be made into a performance issue and she worked hard not to take it personally. Charlotte used persistence, resilience and do-good energy to get through that time and her advice was to sleep well, eat well and exercise to take care of yourself, as well as to get involved and volunteer. Her friends and family kept her going and she ended up with her dream job at another pharma.  

One of the most difficult changes in a career are during times of transition, especially ones that occur unexpectedly. What are some survival tactics for making smooth transitions?

Sondra provided her perspective that one must make sure to participate on boards and build your brand as part of your daily lives. As you develop your point of view, connections happen naturally via LinkedIn and social media channels. Your career isn’t your job you do every day, it is what you are passionate about.

How have you dealt with the notion of ‘barriers’ i.e. were they real, perceived, self-imposed? What advice do you have on this?

Dr. Saima explained that everything we do in pharma is about change and whether you become a barrier is up to you. She has had to manage change through acquisitions and mergers, had to let people go and has held things up to herself and her team as a mirror. ‘Bamboo ceiling’ is a term that exemplifies a self-imposed barrier. 

Is there any situation where there was a personal change you were going through? 

Dr. Saima shared that throughout her career, she was very career-oriented and focused and let her personal life lag. She realized one day that she wanted to focus on her personal life as well, in order to have a fulfilling life and her advice to younger women is not to put your personal life on hold at the expense of your professional life. Women go through the Imposter Syndrome and should pitch in, be authentic and should not be apologetic. 

Charlotte mentioned that one of her friends died of stage four lung cancer and that had really affected her very personally. 

Sondra, having just sent her youngest child off to college, provided the perspective that we need to stop feeling guilty about using different work-life balance options that companies provide us with and to live life to the fullest expression, whatever that might be. 

What advice would you give to colleagues who are going through a transition? 

Helpful advice from the panel - We all know what to do, but when it comes to us, we don’t know what to do. It is important to network, don’t get under the covers and cry. You will find a job; however, the timelines are out of your control. Take the action, but don’t drive yourself crazy about the results. By the time a change is announced, the transition is already in motion and you have a choice on how to react to the change. Think about what you signal to folks around you and your management. Don’t resist the change, embrace it.  

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

The secret to life is to know to ask the right questions, to think about questions beyond and not to be always right. Don’t second guess yourself, turn around and if you have learned from the experience, that is good. Take full responsibility for your actions. Find your sparkle in what you love to do and do it.

Books on change recommended by the panel:

  1. The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle
  2. Who moved my Cheese? – Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson
  3. True North – Bill George
  4. ‘The Parable of the Oranges’ – Google search

The event used a polling tool to gather questions electronically from the audience for the panel. Feedback from folks was that they appreciated the tool to enable them to be open in asking any question. The evening ended with folks sharing that it was a wonderful event and they had some great takeaways.