A commercial leader, a woman, and a scientist walk into Mylan… And they’re all Adele Gulfo.
Adele is Executive VP and Head of Global Commercial Development at Mylan, one of the world’s leading global generic and specialty pharmaceutical companies. Being both a scientist and a corporate leader is unusual in the industry. Need we mention that she is also notable as a woman who is both? But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in her rather breathtaking career.
At AstraZeneca, she was Vice President of Healthcare Innovation and Corporate Strategy and Vice President of Business Development and Design. She grew Toprol-XL sales from $200 million to $2 billion and launched the cholesterol-lowering medicine, Crestor, bringing it to over $2 billion in a highly competitive market. She led the AstraZeneca Healthcare Innovation Center, which drove business growth and improved the delivery and management of healthcare. She collaborated with numerous sources—venture capital-backed startups, global giants, research institutions, technology players—to develop the mission of the center: to improve the patient experience through earlier diagnosis, broader treatment options, improved adherence, and enhanced interventions.
Following that, at Pfizer, she served as President of US Primary Care and Regional President of Latin America in the Emerging Markets Business Unit. Under her, their Latin American business achieved more than $3 billion in revenue. She developed the medical and public education campaigns and the launch for Lipitor, another cholesterol-lowering agent that became the world’s most successful medicine.
And that’s not even counting her positions at Warner-Lambert, where she partnered with the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, and leading academic institutions in developing award-winning medical and public education programs that helped to establish the significance of lowering cholesterol in preventing and managing heart disease.
Today, she also serves as Director of Bemis, Inc., a global supplier of flexible packaging used by leading healthcare and other companies worldwide. She is a member of the Industrial Advisory Board at Cleveland Clinic Innovations, an innovation adviser to Partners HealthCare, and a Director of Volunteers of America, Greater New York, Inc. Through its hundreds of human-service programs, Volunteers of America supervises over 55,000 people who affect the lives of over two million in more than 400 communities in forty-six states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. “We build schools; we teach people who have lost their way,” she says. “It is about helping people get on the right path.”
But we’re not done yet. She has been awarded five U.S. patents for innovative packaging designed to help patients adhere to their medicines. She frequently speaks at leading industry and business conferences, including The Wall Street Journal’s Women in the Economy: An Executive Task Force conference, and has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal. She is a member of the C200—the pre-eminent organization of women business leaders—the National Association of Female Executives, and the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. Adele is especially proud of receiving the 2012 C200 Luminary Award for Corporate Entrepreneurship.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE LEFT? PLENTY
Adele Gulfo is far from finished. In fact, she has barely taken a breath.
At Mylan, she is examining not just basic treatment, but the broader area of assisting patients in improving their health and wellness.
Adele is helping COPD patients to manage their condition. She tells us that “One way is by developing phone apps that monitor breathing daily, ask how patients are feeling, and provide feedback to their HCPs.”
Another area of focus is diabetes. “Healthcare systems need to make sure these patients stay healthy by adhering to their course of therapy,” she notes. “It’s also in the best interests of the industry, which has had to pay $500 million in penalties for hospital readmissions within 30 days. Patients respond to positive reinforcement, and there are apps that do that, as well.”
She points out that the American Heart Association looks for companies that measure clinical data, and have metrics to prove the value of their apps. “Venture capitalists have invested $3 billion in first half of 2017 in digital health, so you know something is working there. We can’t keep blaming cost of medications for non-adherence. There’s a lot more to the equation.”
She refers to Mylan’s corporate culture as “wonderfully unconventional” in its dedication to patients. “Mylan is a cause, not just a company.”
One of the things that drew her to Mylan was its focus on people. She refers to Mylan’s corporate culture as “wonderfully unconventional” in its dedication to patients. “Mylan is a cause, not just a company.” Evidence of this is that “more 40% of people globally living with HIV/AIDS who are receiving treatment depend on a Mylan product.” Mylan is also active with public policy, advocacy organizations and government, helping to provide access to treatment.
Not surprisingly, she is also a passionate advocate for women getting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational opportunities and going on to work in pharma. Although women are 46% of the U.S. labor force, they comprise only 26% of the STEM workforce, and of course even fewer in the executive ranks. “To address this problem, intervention is required at the grade and high school levels,” Adele says. “Hands-on experience that excites and entices must spark initial interest and make a STEM education a desired pathway for female students. Having obtained their undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM, we need young women to see female role models who have leveraged their STEM training to secure vital, powerful and influential C-suite roles. If you can’t envision it, you can’t pursue it. I know from firsthand experience, sharing my personal story with female science majors, the dramatic eye-opening impact we can offer.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that STEM occupations, on average, earn higher salaries and have higher employment rates than non-STEM jobs. What Adele finds more exciting is that “STEM education and job experience can be leveraged to secure corporate leadership positions and boardroom spots, where we also see a significant shortage of women.”
Adele sees this effort as having wide-ranging implications for all of society, not just female STEM students or the healthcare industry. “For example, until women researchers became involved, mastectomies, not lumpectomies, were the mainstay of breast cancer treatment. Without women researchers, we would not know HIV to be the virus that causes AIDS. Before women scientists engaged in cardiovascular research, it was not considered a major health threat to women. We now know that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, but drugs were developed for men—animal models used to select and advance drug candidates were not tested in female mice. Yet, pathophysiologically, there are significant differences between men and women that only recently are being explored, again, because of the involvement of women scientists.”
IT BEGAN EARLY
How did she become inspired to achieve all this? “When my father, who was a mechanical engineer, observed my interest and aptitude in math and science he quickly became my biggest champion,” she says. “His support of my achievements and positive reinforcement throughout elementary, middle and high school provided the initial catalyst for me to pursue STEM education. This combined with growing up in New Jersey, the ‘nation’s medicine chest,’ made a career in STEM not only attainable, but also, desirable. Again, if you can’t see it, you can’t pursue it.”
“I now see the inflection points where intervention can be critical for women: advocating for yourself, taking risks, working outside your comfort zone, making personal sacrifices, and seeking stretch assignments and special projects”
She started out at academic institutions and research labs in serious scientific roles, but also saw the importance of understanding the business side of medicine. “My foundation in science gave me the discipline, problem-solving skills and intellectual curiosity to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry.”
But she got a lot of pushback from people who felt a scientist was not qualified, didn’t understand marketing or sales, and had the wrong skills for corporate leadership. Fortunately, she didn’t take that seriously. She saw how to commercialize products, and, more important, how to expand therapies to larger populations of patients. Going back to school for her MBA, she emerged fully prepared to helm launches of some of the most famous brands we know today.
She found her voice in corporate meetings, realizing what skills she could bring to the table—understanding the science and connecting with opinion leaders. Launching Lipitor gave her the insights into how to bring a product to market and assume a strategic role. “It was a heady experience, to influence the life of millions,” she says. That experience motivated Gulfo when she decided to make the jump to Mylan, She was inspired by the company’s mission to deliver better health for a better world.
“From my current perspective, I now see the inflection points where intervention can be critical for other women,” she says. “These include advocating for yourself, taking risks, working outside your comfort zone, making personal sacrifices, and most important, seeking the stretch assignments and special projects that get you noticed by a broad range of people in the company.”
She has noticed that women frequently don’t ask for what they want or can accomplish in corporate America. Adele believes that this will change with the emerging coterie of role models for STEM-inclined women.
One of those is Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, who has inspired Adele. “At Mylan we have a bold mission: to provide the world’s 7 billion people access to high quality medicine. We know this is possible if we continue to encourage half the talent pool not to sit on the sidelines, but to be captains on the field.”
THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
Adele Gulfo has a multi-faceted vision for how we must go forward. Just a few of her key observations:
- The blockbuster model is not sustainable, and the industry faces heightened regulatory hurdles, pricing pressures, and challenges to its reputation
- We are finally moving to more value-based care, which will be supported and enhanced by technology and innovative thinking
- Women empowering and supporting one another is more important than ever, and their advancement in all industries will help everyone
- She wants to make people inspired to come to work every day. She describes the work they do at Mylan as “personal” and “meaningful” and considers it an honor to be part of a company so aligned with her own values
She says of her outlook, “You have to want to save lives around the world. It is not just about your product. You need the powerful culture of a purpose-driven company. That’s the true beauty of Mylan. Making a positive impact around the world really is personal to everyone who works here.”