Related Expertise: Biopharma, Health Care Industry

"A Million Miles an Hour" to Make A Difference

An interview with Kristin Peck

“You’re too outspoken,” they said. “You’ll find it boring,” they said. “You won’t want to stay,” they said.

Kristin Peck (New York, 1999-2004) says she received such comments from those who know her well, when she announced she had taken a job with pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer. They were comments fueled, she adds, by the misconception that life at a large drug company must, necessarily, be slow-paced.

“Slow paced? I’ve got things coming at me at a million miles an hour,” Kristin said. “And it’s been like that since day one.”

“Day one” being seven years ago.

Not only has she stayed, but a succession of promotions finds Kristin today in the position of Executive Vice President for Worldwide Business Development and Innovation.

She is the youngest member of Pfizer’s Executive Leadership Team, responsible for the company’s merger and acquisition, licensing, venture capital, alliance management and business model innovation activities.

Kristin is also leader of a team that launched a web-based platform designed to harness the creative energy and innovation of Pfizer employees as a way to drive continued growth for the company.

“That’s the crux of my mission,” she explained. “To create growth and value at a time when traditional pharmaceutical operating models are under siege and the healthcare industry is facing unprecedented change.

“It used to be that if a company like Pfizer wanted to grow, they could count on their pipeline and could supplement when needed with a little business development,” she added. “Today, in large part because of economic and research and development challenges, we must change our R&D operating model and be much more selective and creative with our business development efforts.”

She points, as an example, to Pfizer’s 2010 partnership with Brazilian company Teuto to develop and commercialize generic medicines. “We structured a staged acquisition, meaning that initially we acquired just 40 percent of the company, and set profitability milestones for payouts over a number of years with the intention of eventually buying the company in its entirety at a fixed multiple of earnings. This structure allows us to learn from the owners about a market in which we have limited expertise and to minimize the risk of our investment in a high-growth emerging market.”

Kristin is also proud of her team’s contribution since Pfizer’s $68 billion acquisition of rival drug maker Wyeth in 2009.

“Once that deal was in place, we had to think strategically about how best to integrate the two companies to achieve the acquisition’s intended value,” she explained. “Too often, large-scale M&A fails to deliver on its promise. My BCG training and experience was instrumental in providing the framework and approach to ensuring the integration’s success. Eighteen months after the deal’s close, we have met or exceeded all of our integration goals.”

Indeed, she says three lessons learned at BCG have paid big dividends. “First, always start with strategy; everything ties back to that,” she said. “Second, make sure you’re working with concrete facts and solid analysis. And third, those first two will get you nothing unless you can align your organization around your strategy and plan.”

Case in point: Kristin lead the project that developed an enhanced operating structure which saw Pfizer create nine diverse business units, each led by an executive with clear accountability for results, from product development to the end of a product’s life cycle.

Kristin—who keeps in touch with many of her BCG “classmates” and regularly attends alumni get-togethers—laughs when she recalls that some were concerned she might not have the proper “temperament” for life in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I’m passionate, I’m fast paced, I’m outspoken, and I am very direct,” she said. “My BCG friends were worried that I would be bit of a square peg in a round hole.” Kristin points out that strategy, business development and innovation are fast-paced disciplines regardless of where you work and that companies rarely win if they cannot move faster than their competition.

It might surprise some of those friends to learn that at Pfizer, Kristin’s candid style is not just tolerated—it is valued.

For instance, as the mother of one biological son (Connor, 5) and one adopted daughter (Taylor, 5), she was shocked to discover that adoptive parents were given no paid time off to bond with their children. “This was no great problem for me, I could afford to take unpaid leave, but many could not,” she said.

Kristin pushed for the company to provide paid leave for parents of newly adopted children. Not only was this idea well received, but her CEO insisted it be developed further. As a result, Pfizer instituted a parental leave policy, providing six weeks’ paid leave for adoptive parents, and biological mothers and fathers.

It’s turned out to be a win-win policy, Kristin says. “Employees will give back more to an employer when they feel they are valued by that employer.”

Her success with this issue is indicative, too, she says, that even at a company as large as Pfizer, great individual ideas can have impact. “It’s exciting to work at a place where people want to hear differing opinions,” she said. “I cherished my time at BCG because I was working with such clever, dynamic people. It’s the same story at Pfizer—people here are wicked smart.”

It will surprise few who know her that, despite the rapid pace and complex challenges of her job, Kristin still finds energy to burn. “I carved out time to train for and run in the Disney Half Marathon last year,” she said. “Me—and 27,000 close friends. It was tough going, but I enjoyed it.”

And even though the Pfizer headquarters are in New York City, she prefers to make her home in the far-flung suburbs. “We’re an outdoor family, and we love to get outside as much as possible. I’m willing to take on a long commute if it buys us a little more freedom.”

She also loves that her job at Pfizer gives her an opportunity to bring what she calls her “real self” to work every day. “I’m driven by the myriad of challenges in front of me every day, and by the chance to make a difference. The impact of what I do here gives people better health and saves lives. I’m proud of that.”