Inspirational Women Series – Meet Lydia McNally

This is the fourth post in the Be Your Own Best Blog’s Inspirational Women series. This series highlights exceptional women across a diverse spectrum of occupations and industries, and allows them to share some of their insights with an equally diverse audience.

Meet Lydia McNally
Vice President, Head Patents Oncology & IP Site Head
Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation
New York, U.S.A

   mcnally

Lydia’s Background
My current position is Global Head of Patents for the Oncology business at Novartis, and U.S. site manager for the U.S. patent attorneys supporting Novartis Oncology and General Medicines. The focus of my work is on patent strategy, procurement and defense, with extensive experience working on agreements and transactions. I manage a team of 18 lawyers located in the U.S. and Switzerland.

My background as a scientist made patent law the perfect fit. I graduated with a chemistry degree from Colgate University, followed by a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of Vermont. I decided that a career in Chemistry was not right for me, so I went to Albany Law School where I received my J.D. and that began my career as a patent attorney. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had the opportunity to work in diverse legal environments, including at a large NYC firm, a midsized law firm, a midsized US chemical company and a large global pharmaceutical company. That pharma company is Novartis, where I have been since 1999.

How would you define a “successful” career and what needs to happen for more women to achieve that level of success?
A successful career is one that satisfies you intellectually and one where you can make a contribution – whether to your coworkers, your company or to society. It is not about a specific job “title” or level, but rather about doing something that you believe in. In order to have a successful career you must also be fulfilled outside the workplace. The balance is necessary, and to meet the balance you need the support of your family, friends and coworkers.

What is your proudest career accomplishment and why?
I have been a people manager for many years, and one of my key responsibilities is to develop future talent. One of my proudest accomplishments was when a member of my team was promoted out of my team to a more senior position. I was proud to see this associate develop and grow in a way that was recognized by the company, and I was proud to be a part of that.

Please describe a challenging problem that you had to overcome in your career and the steps you took to do so.
I have had jobs that were just not a good “fit”. There was nothing wrong with the role, or with my skills, it was just that the “fit” was not right. To recognize that the issue was the “fit” and not me personally was one of the most challenging problems I have had to face. It’s hard to not blame yourself, and it takes courage to make a change.

If you could be mentored by anyone, who would it be and why?
I would encourage everyone to find a mentor as that relationship can be invaluable. If I had to choose a mentor for myself, I would choose Sheryl Sandberg. Her speeches and writings about gender equality at home and work are inspiring, and she gives good practical advice. But what I most admire is her genuine interest in seeing women rise to the top of their professions. It is that interest, along with her good practical advice, that I relate to and find inspiring.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be courageous, take risks and stand up for what you think is right. If you make a mistake, learn from it. Mistakes make you a stronger person and people will admire you for the courage.

What words do you live by?
A strong woman stands up for herself. A stronger woman stands up for everyone else.

If you would like to suggest an inspirational woman for consideration, please e-mail Lisa Mueller at llmueller@michaelbest.com.

Posted in Be Your Own Best, Inspirational Women Series, Lisa L. Mueller, Women | Leave a comment

Inspirational Women Series – Meet Kristen Pressner

This is the third post in the Be Your Own Best Blog’s Inspirational Women series. This series highlights exceptional women across a diverse spectrum of occupations and industries, and allows them to share some of their insights with an equally diverse audience.

Meet Kristen Pressner
Human Resources, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America,
Roche Diagnostics
Switzerland

Kristen Pressner

Kristen’s Background
Kristen earned her B.A. in Communication from Purdue University and her MBA in International Human Resource Management from the University of Dallas. She spent nine years at Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas, in various HR roles. Kristen moved to Roche Diagnostics in 2005 as an HR business partner before becoming Director of Talent Management. She was offered the opportunity to move to Switzerland in 2007 for a Group HR Learning and Development role and has been Switzerland-based ever since. In 2012 she took on her current role as Head of Human Resources, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

How would you define a “successful” career and what needs to happen for more women to achieve that level of success?
I would describe a successful career as one that makes you happy and fulfilled, and that leverages your special gifts and talents. I love what I do so much and I can’t fathom when people don’t feel the same way about their work. There is only one you! We all have certain gifts and talents that the world needs. I think a successful career is when each of us is bringing that to the world, in what we do.

I see a lot of untapped potential being left on the table when it comes to women. Somehow, we’ve all gotten these subtle (or not so subtle) messages that we don’t belong in leadership or we can’t have both a meaningful career and a meaningful life outside of work. It’s simply not true. I wish more women would reframe the “can we have it all?” question to “can I have what’s important to me?” – because the answer to that is “yes.”

What is your proudest career accomplishment and why?
My proudest career accomplishment to date is probably taking my current role. It scared me to death. I had never done a job like this before. I was to be responsible for about half the world, geographically (Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America), and I didn’t know the first thing about those markets. In addition, the role was going to require a long 1.5 hour commute (each way) and a big increase in travel (over 50% of my time). I was convinced that, as a mother of four, it simply couldn’t work. I had to overcome my first reaction, which would have been to just decide it can’t work and turn it down.

Accepting the job was hard. I was scared nearly every day for months. But I learned that I could figure it out, I could be good at this role, and I could sort myself and my family in a way where the most important things fit.

Honestly, I am so happy and inspired by the work that I do, that I can tell, I am a much better mother than I would have been if I’d sacrificed the role “for the ‘benefit’ of the kids.”
Please describe a challenging problem that you had to overcome in your career and the steps you took to do so.
When our first child was born, my husband and I decided that he’d stay home and raise our children and I’d be the one who works. I probably underestimated, at the time, the pressure of being the ‘sole breadwinner’ for what ultimately became a family of six. Sometimes I think it kept me from really ‘going for it’ and I had to overcome that.

In addition, we kind of turned ‘traditional’ roles on their heads, with him staying home and running the household and me working. I learned I had to rearrange my view of what ‘good mothers’ do in my own head…I said to myself “good mothers” are at school plays and parent/teacher conferences and soccer matches and dinner every night. But I came to realize that having both of us at all of those things wasn’t realistic or even reasonable (both parents of other families don’t show up for everything) and one of us was there, it was the good father. For a long time I held myself to an unreasonably high standard that wasn’t really necessary, and it took me looking at the situation through a new lens to overcome it.

If you could be mentored by anyone, who would it be and why?
Sheryl Sandberg. She’s an amazing businesswoman, an inspirational advocate of women in leadership, and like me, a mother. I have a feeling she’d give great advice as a mentor and I know she’s someone I know I could learn a lot from.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not be so hard on myself – provided I do my best, my best really is the most I can do.

What words do you live by?
One of my favorite quotes is: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” T.S. Elliot. I’d tell myself to stop being so afraid and just go for it. It all works out great!

If you would like to suggest an inspirational woman for consideration, please e-mail Lisa Mueller at llmueller@michaelbest.com.

Posted in Be Your Own Best, Inspirational Women Series, Lisa L. Mueller, Women | 5 Comments

Inspirational Women Series – Meet Gael Tisack

This is the second post in the Be Your Own Best Blog’s Inspirational Women series. This series highlights exceptional women across a diverse spectrum of occupations and industries, and allows them to share some of their insights with an equally diverse audience.

Meet Gael Tisack
Vice President of Legal and Intellectual Property/Compliance Officer/General Counsel,
Terumo Cardiovascular Systems
Michigan, U.S.A.

gael tisack

 

Gael’s Background
I have a B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering and a J.D., all from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!). I worked as an engineer and then as a manager at Ford Motor Company for 11 years before going to law school, where I graduated with honors. After law school I worked in an intellectual property boutique firm for three years before going in-house. I have been at Terumo Cardiovascular Systems for 12 years, where I have received six promotions and am currently the Vice President and General Counsel. I manage multiple departments including Legal, Intellectual Property, Compliance, Human Resources, Import/Export and Distribution. I also serve as Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary for my company and a sister company Terumo Heart.

How would you define a “successful” career and what needs to happen for more women to achieve that level of success?
Success is having the career you want to have. It is not measuring yourself against what someone else has done but measuring yourself against your own goals.

What is your proudest career accomplishment and why?
I’m proudest of having created the Women’s Initiative Network at my company. It has given women a voice and a network. We have reduced the turnover rate of women from 33% to 12% and increased the women in executive management from 11% to 28%. So many women now say that is why they stay with the company.

Please describe a challenging problem that you had to overcome in your career and the steps you took to do so.
I was promoted from within my company and it was a challenge to get the titles and pay for the job I was doing. Almost all of the executive positions at my company are outside hires. I was performing the General Counsel role and reporting directly to the President/CEO, yet didn’t have the title. It was very hard for me to ask and took me two years to work up the courage to put a case together as to why I deserved it. When I presented it to my President he laughed at me and said he thought I already was a VP. I was my own worst supporter and that taught me an important lesson.

If you could be mentored by anyone, who would it be and why?
I would love to be mentored by Carly Fiorina. She is dynamic and reinvents herself and can make the hard decisions.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ask for what you want. Don’t wait for others to recognize you.

What words do you live by?
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
If you would like to suggest an inspirational woman for consideration, please e-mail Lisa Mueller at llmueller@michaelbest.com.

Posted in Be Your Own Best, Inspirational Women Series, Lisa L. Mueller, Women | 3 Comments

Inspirational Women Series – Meet Funke Abimbola

We at the Be Your Own Best blog are very pleased to introduce a new feature to our regular blog postings. The “Inspirational Women Series” will highlight exceptional women across a diverse spectrum of occupations and industries, allowing them to share some of their insights with our equally diverse audience.

We are very excited to be sharing the stories of these incredible women. If you would like to suggest an inspirational woman for consideration, please e-mail Lisa Mueller at llmueller@michaelbest.com.

 

Meet Funke Abimbola
General Counsel & Company Secretary, Roche
United Kingdom

Funke Abimbola

Funke’s Background
I studied law at Newcastle University, a “red brick”, Russell Group University in the UK. After that, I returned to Nigeria (where I was born) for family reasons and for a summer holiday which ended up being almost three years! During that time, I studied for the Nigerian Bar and was called to the Nigerian Bar. I returned to the UK and was able to take the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test to re-qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. I gained the pre-qualification experience that I need with a large, fully listed PLC company within the entertainment field and was admitted as a solicitor in 2000. I then worked with a number of law firms (two in central London and two regional firms) before joining Roche as Managing Counsel in 2012. I was promoted to General Counsel & Company Secretary in 2015.

How would you define a “successful” career and what needs to happen for more women to achieve that level of success?
A successful career is all about a healthy balance and having a good support network in place. For women with children, this means having good quality, flexible childcare options. Without this, a working mother cannot achieve success – she would be forever worrying about childcare arrangements and unable to focus on her career.

I would describe myself as having a portfolio career – my day job is as a senior leader for Roche, the world’s largest biotech, leading the legal and corporate compliance functions supporting the company’s pharmaceutical operations in the UK, Ireland, Malta and Gibraltar. Outside of my day job, I carry out a substantial amount of voluntary diversity work within the legal profession and in supporting school children with their career options. All of my roles have an important place to play in keeping me balanced, grounded and fulfilled which is my ultimate definition of “successful” in a career.

What is your proudest career accomplishment and why?
Being appointed as Managing Counsel at Roche in 2012 and then, subsequently, being promoted to General Counsel & Company Secretary. Roche is an incredible company to work for and I feel very privileged to be in such a senior role within the UK organization of the world’s largest biotech company. I am also proud of the fact that the visibility and influence I have in this role means that I have been able to create countless opportunities for others whilst also having a positive impact on diversity within the legal profession.

Please describe a challenging problem that you had to overcome in your career and the steps you took to do so.
The toughest challenge by far was returning to work at a central London law firm after having my son. I returned after a year’s maternity leave and felt like a fish out of water. There were no other corporate solicitors who had returned from maternity leave as I had done so I felt very isolated. I was the first female solicitor to put in a request for flexible working at the firm, a truly nerve wracking experience. I had to ask some hard questions about whether or not I could continue working full time as a corporate solicitor and, if so, how this could be possible. In the end, I overcame the challenge by moving out of London altogether to a regional firm where I could work full time but still have a healthy life balance and enjoy quality time with my son. I feel very passionately about supporting women lawyers who return to work after maternity leave because I never want anyone to experience the isolation I experienced after returning to work.

If you could be mentored by anyone, who would it be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I – because she faced so much uncertainty in her early life, was not expected to succeed the throne, yet, as a single woman, she ruled England for 45 years! Elizabethan England is still considered one of the most glorious periods in English history. I would like to ask her how she remained so resilient and demonstrated such fortitude throughout her reign. Despite her autocratic leadership style, she still made some excellent decisions – for example, she made good choices in terms of advisers and ministers. It would be an honor to gain insights and to learn from this fascinating female leader.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not be so hard on myself – provided I do my best, my best really is the most I can do.

What words do you live by?
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

Time and again, I have come to realize that you can and should only be yourself – be who you are and say what you feel!

Posted in Be Your Own Best, Inspirational Women Series, Lisa L. Mueller, Women | 4 Comments

Women: Great Listeners are Great Leaders

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” -Bryant H. McGill

Every February, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the largest auto show in North America, the Chicago Auto Show. This year marks the 108th edition of the show. Exhibitions include multiple world and North American introductions, a complete range of domestic and imported passenger cars and trucks, sport utility vehicles and experimental or concept cars. In total, nearly 1,000 different vehicles will be displayed.

The auto show started me thinking about General Motors (GM) and their CEO and Chairman, Mary Barra. Ms. Barra took over in 2014 and became the first woman CEO of an auto company. Ms. Barra has been with GM for 35 years and during that time her responsibilities have spanned multiple departments and jobs – from executive assistant to communications and human resources. Prior to her appointment as CEO, Ms. Barra was Executive Vice President in Global Product Development and Global Purchasing & Supply.

From the moment she became CEO, Ms. Barra faced a full-blow crisis. Specifically, GM had recalled over 2.6 million cars for a faulty ignition switch problem that resulted in 124 deaths and was the subject of a government investigation. Eventually, GM settled with the U.S. Justice Department and paid a $900 million dollar fine.

From the beginning, Ms. Barra opted not to handle the ignition switch crisis in the traditional GM manner (such as by minimizing the importance of the problem, fighting any associated lawsuits, deflecting media assertions, etc.) but instead chose to use it as an opportunity to change what she perceived to be a cultural problem within the company. In fact, at a town hall meeting, she told employees that she never wanted them to forget what had happened, but instead wanted them to “put this painful experience permanently in our collective memories.”

Ms. Barra’s leadership style has been praised for creating an inclusive environment where employees feel that they can voice their opinions. Specifically, she is known for having excellent listening skills. It has been reported that she will ask for and listen to every opinion in a room and once she receives diverse input, will gauge the efficacy of all ideas and provide feedback. Co-workers and those she mentors praise her listening skills and as a result, her approachability.

Ms. Barra is a great leader because she is a great listener. Not surprisingly, extraordinary women are those that are trustworthy, solicit feedback, listen to opinions and act on that intelligence. Listed below are some suggestions for becoming a great listener.

  1. Free yourself from distractions and be engaged. When listening, give the other person your undivided attention and maintain eye contact. If your attention is somewhere else, you run the risk of sending a message to the speaker that his or her message is unimportant. Furthermore, splitting your attention prevents you from seeing the whole picture and you risk missing nonverbal clues which may be critical in understanding the complete dynamic of the situation. Do not check e-mail or text messages, silence your phone and put away anything that might distract you.
  2. Be empathic – but not sympathetic. People respond better and work harder for leaders that care about them. Pay attention not only to what you are being told verbally, but observe nonverbal clues (facial expressions, tone, body language, etc.) as well. Probe for what the person might not be saying in addition to what he or she is actually saying. Acknowledge that you understand the other person’s perspective and point of view.
  3. Control your body language and do not judge. Judging others is not listening. Be careful to control your body language (such as crossing your arms or how you sit at your desk) and reaction, avoid verbally snapping or disagreeing. Maintain receptive body language, and if possible, avoid the rush to respond or contradict. When possible, nod and smile to encourage the speaker to expand upon his or her remarks.
  4. Don’t inject or interrupt the flow of the dialogue. Be careful when the other person is talking not to interrupt. Do not jump in and say things like “What I think you are trying to say is…” Such statements imply that you know how to state the issue better than the speaker and this will stifle further communication from the speaker. Be patient and give the speaker plenty of time to communicate his or her thoughts. Suppress the urge to validate or clarify or refute – this is their time to express their concerns.
  5. Ask questions, acknowledge that the listening occurred and encourage it to continue. Leaders who are great listeners do not hesitate to ask as many clarifying questions as necessary and never make any assumptions. Drill down into the content and context of the conversation, and verify what you have heard by stating it in your own words. At the end of the conversation, summarize what was discussed, next steps for both of you, and encourage the communication to continue.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” — Ralph Nichols

This post was written by Lisa Mueller.

Posted in Attitude, Be Your Own Best, Lead, Leader, Lisa L. Mueller, Michael Best, Michael Best & Friedrich, Women, Women Blog Posts, Women Blogs | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women: Lead by Being Kind at Work

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

One of the activities that I enjoy over the holidays is reading or watching the movie version of A Christmas Story, by Charles Dickens. For those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the story involves a bitter and cranky old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is transformed into a more kind and gentle person after a visit by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of the Christmas past, present and future. One person who is particularly pleased with the transformation of Scrooge is his employee, Bob Cratchit. For many years, Cratchit had suffered under the hand of his mean and cantankerous boss.

The transformation of Scrooge to a more kind and gentle person (and boss) made me think about kindness in the workplace. I think as women we often struggle with understanding what role, if any, kindness has at work. I believe that as women our natural inclination is to want to be kind at work but we worry that if we are, we will be perceived as being weak or soft, particularly when compared to our male colleagues. Once considered to be weak or soft, we fear that we may not or ever be respected.

So, does kindness have a place in the workplace? Absolutely. In fact, I believe that kindness is one of the most important traits that a leader can have. Being kind demonstrates strength and courage and fosters the development of these traits in others. Colin Powell in his book It Worked For Me, talked about the skills needed to be a drill sergeant. While soldiers are taught to fear his or her drill sergeant, the best drill sergeant aims to also instill strength and courage in their soldiers. By building strength through kindness, drill sergeants are better able to deliver tough decisions.

By being kind, you empower those you work with by increasing their self-worth and giving them the strength and courage they need to be the best that they can be. This certainly is not being weak or soft. In fact, by being kind, you will make those around you happy and they will be happy and engaged co-workers and employees. Moreover, your kindness will have a tremendous impact on your organization because more times than not, kindness breeds more kindness. Think of what your business or company could achieve by embracing a culture of kindness and think how respected you will be for leading the way.

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

This post was written by Lisa Mueller.

 

Posted in Be Your Own Best, Corporate America, Gender Equality, Kindness, Lead, Leader, Lisa L. Mueller, Michael Best, Michael Best & Friedrich, success, Women, Women Blog Posts, Women Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women: Be Joyful in Everything You Do

Like many people over the holidays, I ate WAY too much of everything. During one of my food comas, I started to think about some of the greatest chefs of all time. Ultimately, I put Julia Child at the top of my list. Ms. Child was a unique character – she stood 6’2” and possessed a very usual, yet charming, warbly voice. She revolutionized cooking by bringing French cuisine to the United States with her seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. 

Mastering the Art of French Cooking was one of the first cookbooks I ever purchased, and I still use it. One of the things that has always struck me whether reading Ms. Child’s recipes or watching her on television, was the absolute joy she exhibited when cooking. It was clear that she loved what she was doing and it showed.

So, how was Ms. Child able to achieve such joyfulness? Let’s look at some of the ways she was able to do so.

  1. She was never afraid to try new things and stretch herself. After World War II, Ms. Child and her husband moved to France. Not long after their arrival, she grew frustrated that she could not speak the language and enrolled in French classes. Also, after developing a love for French food, at the age of 37, she enrolled in culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu), and the rest is history. According to Ms. Child, “The more you know, the more you can create.”
  2. She was fearlessly passionate. As mentioned above, when Ms. Child decided that she wanted to learn how to master French cuisine, she enrolled in culinary school. Every day, after her classes were over, she would go home and practice her cooking techniques for hours. Throughout her career, whenever she created a new recipe, she would test and re-test the recipe until it was clear and precise. She would often ask family and friends for their feedback as well. She had a constant thirst for knowledge and never quit until she mastered what she had learned. Ms. Child said it the best when she said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
  3. She was confident. In Ms. Child’s mind, she was going to speak and understand French, she was going to master French cuisine, and she was going to show Americans that they too could love French food and prepare it at home themselves. There was no doubt that she would achieve these things. According to Ms. Child, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘what the hell’ kind of attitude.”
  4. She wasn’t afraid of making mistakes and when she did, she made no excuses for them. Ms. Child had many recipes that were complete failures. However, she used these failures to motivate her to work harder, find the problem and adjust the recipe accordingly. In fact, she said, “I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecation such as ‘Oh, I don’t know how to cook…,’ or ‘Poor little me…,’ or ‘This may taste awful…,’ it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, ‘Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!’”
  5. She was calm under pressure. During one of her cooking shows, Ms. Child attempted to flip a potato pancake directly in the pan. Unfortunately, the flip did not go well, and the pancake ended up on the stovetop. What did she do? She calmly slid the pancake back into the pan, straightened the edges with a spatula and kept on cooking. She looked directly at the camera and stated that the flip failed because she did not have the “courage of her convictions.”
  6. She worked hard. Ms. Child tested and retested, wrote and rewrote her recipes to make sure that they were clear and precise. She wanted to make sure that people could recreate her dishes and have fun. She did not believe in short-cuts. To her, quality came from methodical testing, and constant revision and tweaking.
  7. She followed her dreams. Whenever Ms. Child wanted to learn something new, she just did it with fearless passion. As she said, “Life itself is the proper binge.”

As we begin a new year, we as women should seek to be joyful in all we do – whether it is launching a new product, managing a team, conducting a research project, negotiating a deal, teaching our kids or a class, caring for a sick parent, etc. If we are joyful in whatever we do, it will show and we will inspire those around us to become joyful in what they do too.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller.

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