Interview With Jeanne Thoma
A global executive in the pharma/life science industry, Jeanne Thoma is an experienced turnaround leader with a track record of outperforming peers against strong market headwinds and is currently a Non-Executive Director on the Board of ANI Pharmaceuticals.
Previously, Ms. Thoma was the President and CEO of SPI Pharma Inc. a global pharmaceutical ingredients company, with manufacturing and R&D centers in the US, France, India, and Australia.
Prior to joining SPI Pharma, Ms. Thoma worked with a variety of companies, providing consulting services on consequential topics such as business strategy, business development (M&A), and integration projects.
Ms. Thoma worked for Lonza in Basel, Switzerland from 2004-2014, initially as the Chief Human Resource Officer and then starting in 2007 as President and COO of Lonza’s Microbial Control Business.
Prior to joining Lonza, Ms. Thoma spent 14 years at BASF Corp. in the Pharma Solutions business.
Topic: Career Development
What risks have you taken in your career that have paid off?
- Calculated risk taking is critical to a dynamic career. A few years back, I changed companies and moved to a new country, for a staff position when I had always worked on the commercial side of business. It was very risky, but it changed the trajectory of my career. It was a challenging and very positive experience.
What career advice do you have for someone new to the industry?
- Know that you will meet everyone at least twice. Be thoughtful. Always be honest and ethical. Careers are long and so are people’s memories.
How do you approach personal branding?
- In general, women are less skilled at self-promotion. I admit that I struggle with this. There have been times when this has been to my detriment. Even so, in the end it is not about how you position yourself, it’s about the decisions you make and the actions you take. One of the highest compliments is when colleagues and customers follow you to a new company, and when people you have worked with recommend you for a position. Essentially, this is an affirmation that you have earned their trust.
Is there anything specific training / education that you found helpful in your career development?
- Be a lifetime learner. Remain curious.
How do women lead differently?
- I think the question is – do women lead differently? Women are not a monolithic group. There are many types of leaders, those who empower and encourage, those who challenge their teams, giving then responsibility and accountability, there are those that are top down commanders, there are political strategists, there are bureaucrats, and many variations in between. None of these leadership styles are gender specific.
How do women get a seat at the table?
- Since I attended my first DCAT Week in 1990, I have seen a dramatic change in the number of women in the industry and the number of women in critical roles. The world is changing. Women are well represented in professional services, retail, healthcare, education, and many other industries. Even so, there remains industries were women are underrepresented, this despite all of the studies indicating the economic benefits of diversity. Industries that do not find a way to bring more women in will become increasingly less competitive. I remain hopeful that enlightened self-interest will continue to drive positive change.
What role has mentoring played in your career, either as a mentor, mentee or both?
- I have not had a formal mentor in my career. However, I have had the opportunity to work with smart, successful people. I try to watch and learn. Sometimes to emulate someone’s approach, how they solve problems, how they set priorities. Sometimes to remind myself of what not to do, how not to behave. When I look back on my career, the achievements of which I am most proud is seeing people that I have mentored, coached, encouraged, and challenged, striving in their careers and their lives.I had a manager once, many years back that said you should always be working to eliminate your position. The underlying message is that you should strive to build a capable team by effectively delegating responsibility, clearly communicating expectations, and then holding people accountable. The success of a team or an organization should never come down to one person at the top.
How did you become a mentor? What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a mentor?
- I think that all leaders should be mentors to their teams and organizations. I have also mentored people outside of my organization. In these situations, I was approached by the mentee.As a mentor, it is critical to be frank with a mentee and provide direct feedback. Review their skills and experiences and how to fill gaps. It is also important to focus on the person’s strengths and how they can leverage their strengths, rather than focusing on weaknesses. Eliminating all weakness, is essentially the pursuit of perfection. That is a pursuit that is destined to fail, as none of us will ever achieve perfection.
Final Piece of Advice:
- Always be yourself. You can learn from others but you cannot imitate someone else’s leadership style. You need to find your own, authentic approach or you will seem disingenuous. Trust is critical in leadership. Trust is the basis of every relationship. If you are not yourself, people will sense a lack of honesty in your approach and they will not follow you. They may do what is required but they will never be inspired to do more.