Deborah Waterhouse - GlaxoSmithKline

Deborah Waterhouse
Title: SVP, Primary Care

Doing sales and marketing work in the auto industry was glamorous, sure--but after 6 or 7 years, it wasn’t cutting it for Deborah Waterhouse.

“It was great, but for me there was just a part of my heart that wasn’t quite fulfilled,” she said. “I thought, ‘So what? What difference am I making to the world?’”

And then came a call from a recruiter for a job at GlaxoSmithKline.

“I just felt a connection between my values and what I wanted to do with my life and contribute through my career ... and to be honest, I haven’t looked back since that day,” she said.

In the 20 years that have passed, Waterhouse has worked for the British pharma giant in marketing, sales, and yes--even R&D, as the global commercial strategy leader for what was to become the company’s best-selling med: Advair.

And today, after working in various other GSK roles around the world, a “big chunk” of Waterhouse’s job is once again centered on Glaxo’s critical respiratory field--only this time, she’s working to grow the company’s next generation of products, meant to fill the void left by the aged blockbuster she helped shepherd into the world.

Much of her time is spent with customers, be it on ride-alongs with the sales force or in meetings with big payers, and those customers are usually connected to Glaxo’s Ellipta portfolio or new severe asthma drug Nucala, she says.

And thanks in part to her efforts, the respiratory portfolio has seen a turnaround over the last couple quarters that may have critics eating their words. Slow-starter Breo has finally stepped up, and with Nucala and other young meds Anoro and Incruse chipping in, the recent launches are actually offsetting Advair’s decline for the first time, the company announced after this year’s Q2.

But the in-progress respiratory turnaround is just one piece of Waterhouse’s contributions to the pharma giant. She also participates in GSK’s Women in Leadership initiative, for which she shares her career journey and personal experiences in videos, conference presentations, lunches, coffees and other events, explaining what’s gone well--and what hasn’t.

In that role, the questions she most often fields have to do with balancing home and work, and how she’s managed to do just that with a husband and two kids in the mix.

“People have this kind of view when you get to a senior level that you either don’t have a husband or family, or you live for work, and everything else comes second,” she says. “That is absolutely not how I live my life.”

That’s not to say that having both a family and a demanding career is easy. Accepting that there will be tradeoffs is part of the balancing act--and understanding the consequences of each of them before you make a decision is key to not regretting that decision later.

“I’ve given up guilt,” she says, and she recommends other women do, too. “If you’re not happy with the tradeoff, choose a different avenue and pursue that instead, but do not let guilt ruin your life. It is a wasted emotion.”

Waterhouse has been active in helping women professionals outside her company, too, working with the Australian government to secure equal pay for women and participating in U.K. groups that help women build their professional networks.

One reason why she devotes so much of her time to the cause? While she had great coaches and mentors along her journey at Glaxo, none of them were female. “I didn’t have a senior woman to kind of trailblaze for me and help talk about some of the things I struggled with during my career,” she recalls--and that’s because “there weren’t many senior women” around the company at the time.

These days, of course, that’s changed. Not only does GSK have equal representation between men and women, but it also just became the first Big Pharma to promote a woman--Emma Walmsley--to it’s CEO spot.

“We’ve set out systematically to ensure that women have every possible opportunity, and ... I’m so proud of what we’ve done,” Waterhouse says. “We’ve got a lot of senior women in the organization right at the top of the house, and I’m just glad I get to be a part of that cohort.”

Deborah Waterhouse - GlaxoSmithKline