- Christi Shaw oversees Lilly Bio-Medicines, the business within the pharma giant that comprises neuroscience and immunology.
- A longtime pharma veteran, Shaw is one of the top female executives in the industry and has held senior positions at Novartis and at Johnson & Johnson.
- She told Business Insider that the career advice she wished she’d gotten early in her career would be “to not let failure go to your heart.”
It’s rare to find women in top executive positions within the pharmaceutical industry.
Women make up about 21% of the executive positions at Fortune 500 healthcare companies, according to Rock Health. At the CEO level, GSK CEO Emma Walmsley made headlines just last year for becoming the first female CEO of a global pharmaceutical company.
This makes Christi Shaw a bit of an anomaly. Shaw is the president of Lilly Bio-Medicines, the business within the pharma giant that comprises neuroscience and immunology. Before taking time off in mid-2016 to care for a sister who had cancer, she was the president and U.S. country head of Novartis, and she held executive positions at Johnson & Johnson before that.
Shaw returned to pharma after her time off in April 2017, rejoining Lilly where she started her career almost 30 years ago.
“I just felt like I could impact so many more people in big pharma than I could working for a smaller company or even working part time,” Shaw told Business Insider. Lilly Bio-Sciences plans to launch four new medications treating 10 disease areas over the next decade, including treatments for migraines and forms of chronic pain.
Looking back on her career, Shaw says there are a few pieces of advice she wishes she had when starting out.
“You always heard the term, ‘Don’t let success go to your head,’ but the second piece of that is to not let failure go to your heart,” Shaw said. Women in particular have a fear of failing, she said, not just in the workplace but also at home.
Along those lines, Shaw said she’d give others career advice about the power of risk-taking.
“Leadership isn’t knowing the direction – it’s about being able to make a decision when the direction is uncertain,” Shaw said.
“I would tell myself: ‘Don’t be so worried, because if you don’t have a job or you have to take time off or you can’t make that meeting because of a personal thing, just do it. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re going to get fired. What if you get fired? You’re going to get a new job or you take the time off,'” she said. “I wish someone would’ve said to me, ‘Go ahead and take the risk and do what you think is right versus what you think other people think is the right thing to do.'”
For example, after Shaw’s sister died in May, she took two additional weeks off and a vacation with her family rather than go right back to work.
“It was the most cathartic thing I could have done,” Shaw said, “versus throwing myself right back into work.”