Interview With Lillie Talon
Lillie Talon is a Cell Therapy Proposal Lead at Catalent Pharma Solutions. In this role, Lillie is responsible for the authorship of proposals supporting Catalent’s Biomodalities business unit in order to win new business. In addition, she serves on the global steering committee for Catalent’s intergenerational employee resource group. Prior to this, she was a part of Catalent’s Global Organizational Leadership Development (GOLD) program in which she did three rotations in different roles at various Catalent sites.
Lillie will also be speaking in a live panel discussion, Excelling in a Multigenerational Workplace, presented by the DCAT Alliance for Industry Women, on December 13, 2022. This live webinar will feature three panelists representing different ages and stages of their careers, discussing how intergenerational employees, with a variety of experiences and skills sets, can create significant opportunities and ensure success in today’s workplace. Registration is complimentary for DCAT Member Companies.
What surprised you most about your career?
- I am always surprised by how often I deviate from my original plan. Early in college I was dead set on graduating, then accepting a laboratory position, preferably in R&D, through the University of Wisconsin or one of the many local biotechnology companies in Madison. It wasn’t until a close friend of mine told me about her internship in pharma that I even knew that was an option. I pursued many pharma internships the following summer and was only extended an offer for one: QA-Operations at a biologics facility. While at first, I was slightly disappointed, I soon grew to love the dynamics of working alongside multiple teams while also balancing cGMP standards. When the summer ended, I realized that I enjoyed the scrutiny that can come with a quality role and finally had confidence in what I wanted to do post-grad.
- Following my graduation in 2020, I joined Catalent’s Global Organizational Leadership Development (GOLD) program in which I was able to experience three unique positions across three emerging technologies within two years. I was incredibly thankful for this opportunity as I still was unsure of where I wanted to grow my career. I assumed lab work or manufacturing would be a good fit for me and was eager to test out these roles. However, this was not in the cards for me and surprisingly, I didn’t find myself wishing that I was in a lab or on the manufacturing floor.
- One position allowed me to return to my quality roots, as a QA supervisor while being able to gain leadership experience. This shook me to my core and gave me a very different perspective on leadership than what I was accustomed to. First, the site was approximately 100 people, so my reach felt a lot more impactful. Second, I was working in cell therapy, which I had no prior experience with. I enjoyed the challenge of comprehending a new science while sharing the knowledge I had acquired throughout my career while continuing to balance my day-to-day activities.
- I currently sit as a proposal lead for Catalent’s cell therapy business and am loving it. Throughout my academic studies and early career, sales and business roles had never been appealing. However, now I am able to leverage my biochemistry knowledge while learning about a new side of the business in a modality that didn’t even exist until recently is mind-blowing!
- In short, I will always be surprised by the opportunities that arise due to my willingness to try new things and deviate from a plan that I perceive as foolproof.
What role has mentoring played in your career, either as a mentor, mentee, or both?
- As a mentee, I most valued receiving candid advice from those who care about my personal and professional growth. As I am very early in my career, I find the advice of mentors invaluable. I tend to be headstrong, so I appreciate those who call me out and know that it’s okay to break away from my plans and see something new.
- As a mentor to newer employees, I am constantly shocked by what I don’t know and the unique experiences they are able to introduce me to. I love the ability to share knowledge with each other as most of my mentoring has been with peers.
- In both relationship dynamics, I really treasure being transparent, genuine, and supportive as I feel the key to growth is having a team in your corner. Having a strong network is key to new opportunities, good advice, and overall comradery for when you need support.
What do you see as the future of women in the Pharma Industry?
- What I hope for the most is equity for all. Being a young black woman, the first and only member of my extended family to work in biotech, and the second to graduate with a degree in STEM, at times it feels like my career has been an uphill battle. What I want for the future is for all to know that there can be a place for them within pharma, regardless of socioeconomic background, race, sexuality, or gender identity.
- In the future, I believe the pharma industry will be a place where all feel welcome and an industry that is known for its innovation and inclusion. I think there are key steps many companies are taking to get here, such as employee resource groups. Also, programs such as DCAT’s Alliance for Industry Women are key to helping women build networks and seek guidance.
- It is my honor to be a trailblazer, and in the end, I hope that I can uplift those like me, those who feel as though they are unable to get a seat at the table, and educate the ones who have always had a place.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to women in the Pharma Industry that will help them become better leaders?
- Though my career is still relatively young, in the leadership positions I’ve held, I am always humbled by my team. I struggle with knowing what energy I should put out and how I should approach relationships with those on my team. As a woman, it can sometimes be a hard balance to strike as sometimes you aren’t taken as seriously. I also think it is key to be genuine and open with your team. The leaders I have always looked up to were the ones who were willing to go to bat for their team and that created a culture of honesty, not hostility. In the future stages of my career, that is the type of leader that I strive to be. Know that your ideas are worth being heard. You were hired for a reason, you are qualified and deserve respect.