In honor of Women’s History Month – and in keeping with March 8th’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge – Cardinal Health’s four female presidents share some of the challenges they’ve faced in their careers, the decisions they’ve made in juggling work and family, and how they think about the next generation of working mothers.
(Note: This is the second in a two-part series celebrating women’s leadership during Women’s History Month. You can read part one, about how our senior female executives overcame challenges and found strength in their own perspectives, here.)
Suzanne Foster, President, Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions
Early in my career, I practiced law. When my kids were just seven and eight, I was working in a law firm – and working lots of hours. With my husband, I made the very difficult decision to leave the firm and join a small company as general counsel, so that I could have more time with my children.
I honestly thought the move would be a disaster for my career, but I knew it was the right thing to do for my family.
It turned out to be the best decision for my career, too. A couple of months into the new job, my boss came to me and said he needed me to run the Human Resources department. I knew nothing about HR, but I had good people around me and I learned. That was the start of a great growth cycle for me. Every three months or so, I was asked to take on more responsibilities. And when our company was acquired by Medtronic, I led its successful integration, and ultimately became Vice President and General Manager of Medtronic Advanced Energy. That opened the door to a leadership position at another healthcare company – which in turn led me to Cardinal Health.
As a working mother, I have been very fortunate. I’ve been in roles that offered flexibility: Even when a job demanded lots of hours, I could put in those hours any time of day (or night). We know that makes a huge difference, and that women excel in the workplace when there is flexibility.
This past year, many employers have had to allow more flexibility to help employees, particularly women, manage work and family life. When we move into a post-pandemic world, we need to take what we’ve learned and figure out how to define jobs, not by the clock, but by the work to be done.
For me, as for other women, one of the biggest challenges throughout my career has been finding the time for self-care. That all changed in 2015, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day I was diagnosed, I realized that nothing mattered except my children and my husband, and I swore to myself that I would never let those priorities slide. I knew I had to take care of me, so that I could take care of my family. And I do. I meditate, I run, I eat healthfully. And today, whenever I feel myself losing balance, I go back to that year and remember why I shifted my priorities so dramatically.
Suzanne Foster is president of Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions, a market-leading medical supplies provider, manufacturer, and distributor serving people with chronic and serious health conditions in the United States. She is a Fellow with the International Women’s Forum, an invitation-only organization of diverse, accomplished women, supporting women leaders.
Heidi Hunter, President, Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions
From very early in my career, I wanted to make a positive impact. I never saw boundaries, and I found myself always going for the harder choice. Some of the decisions I made along the way looked very risky to others, I think, but they just seemed like good decisions to me.
For example, I left the workforce to get an MBA, and people said I would never be able to get back to where I’d been in my career. I decided to take a position in Europe, and people said, “You’ll never be able to get back to the U.S.” But I’ve gone back and forth many times.
Frankly, the risks that I took only worked to my advantage.
My two children are now grown. But when they were young, finding any kind of balance was difficult – even with the help of my very supportive husband. Now, when I’m talking to working mothers on my team, I tell them about the best gift anyone ever gave me. It was from our children’s pediatrician, who said to me, “It’s very good for your kids to see you working.” With that simple phrase, he took away so much guilt – guilt I didn’t even realize I was carrying. He made it okay for me to not be with my kids 100 percent of the time. I share that story with younger women often.
I also advise women to pick your bosses carefully – and to speak up as often as you can. And when you become the boss, help other women to find their voices, so they can speak up, too.
Heidi Hunter is President of Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions, a specialty healthcare business that helps healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies optimize business success and drive improved patient care. Before joining Cardinal Health, Heidi served as Senior Vice President of the Global Immunology business unit at UCB in Brussels.
Tiffany Olson, President, Nuclear & Precision Health Solutions
I knew from the time I was a child that I wanted to run a business. When I was with my friends, they wanted to play with their Barbies – and I wanted to play “store.” This source of inspiration came from my grandfather. It was he who taught me the importance of listening to my customers.
My mother also greatly inspired me. Single and with no college degree, she worked many jobs but rarely had much money. She encouraged me every day to further my education and get my degrees. Her best piece of advice that has guided me throughout my career was, “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
I changed roles and companies because I wanted to have a lot of diverse experiences, particularly when it came to P&L responsibility. And with these moves, I always looked for a boss that I could respect, and who would respect me.
I try to be that kind of boss. In Nuclear, we have a “ONE TEAM” culture that helps us to overcome some unique challenges. Our radioactive products decay very quickly, so every minute matters when there is a patient who is waiting for his/her dose. We work together across teams because sometimes we have to be really creative in order to deliver our products on time to patients. Because of this, we place a very high priority on diversity, equity and inclusion so we have different viewpoints and out of the box ways to solve challenges.
Over the past several years, we’ve made dramatic improvements within our business after hearing from our customers that we were really no different than our competitors. We created new ways of working that resulted in a Six Sigma-level of accuracy and 99.6 percent on-time delivery, which has led us to drastically improve our Customer Loyalty Index scores to 87 out of 100 versus 67 for competitors. It is our “ONE TEAM” philosophy that made that possible: Every single person on the team contributes to our success.
When my now-grown children were very young, women didn’t really talk about family at work. People thought that talking about family made women seem less committed to their jobs. But the pandemic has forced different conversations. We’ve learned a lot of important lessons over the years – and particularly over the past year – about what working moms need, and I believe we are now in a different place with different options for how we think about work and family going forward.
Tiffany Olson is president of Nuclear & Precision Health Solutions, which develops, manufactures, compounds, dispenses and delivers time-critical patient-specific doses via a network of nuclear pharmacies and manufacturing sites across the U.S. She was the first woman to receive the Life Science Alley Luminary Award, in 2013 she received the “Woman of Wellness Award” for extraordinary contributions as a volunteer working in oncology, and was recently named one of the “10 Best Women Leaders of 2020.”
Debbie Weitzman, President, U.S. Pharmaceutical Distribution
Managing a team is all I’ve ever wanted to do, because I have always believed that’s the way I could make the biggest difference.
Four years ago, when I was promoted to president of our pharmaceutical distribution (PD) division, I inherited a very tenured team. Most had been in their roles for five to 10 years. But they’d gone through a tough couple of years. I knew I could add value by helping them get their swagger back as a team, and helping us find a team identity. We did a lot of talking and team building work. Today, we have a great team culture that has been sustained even though several team members have changed.
When my two children were young, I spent a lot of time talking with them about what I did every day and why – and what my work meant for them. Today, my kids are in college, and we are incredibly close. I’m most proud of the level of trust and communication that we have.
There’s no question that I’ve had to choose between my family and my career more than once – most recently when I became president of PD. At the time, I was living in Puerto Rico with my husband and children, who were in the 11th and 12thgrades. Those are really tough years to transfer kids to new schools in a different culture. So we made the decision that the kids and my husband would stay in Puerto Rico, and I would move to Ohio. I was so conflicted over that decision; it was really hard. The one upside was that I could devote 100 percent of myself to my new job.
In order to keep women on track in the workforce, the burden is on me and my generation, I believe, to figure out how to be flexible and adaptable for working mothers of young children. If we can think back on the years when our own children were very young – and multiply the stress 10-fold, thanks to the pandemic – I think we can find new solutions.
Debbie Weitzman is president of Pharmaceutical Distribution at Cardinal Health where she is responsible for enabling the power of pharmacy with scaled solutions and distribution throughout the care continuum. Previously, she served as the senior vice president and general manager of Cardinal Health Puerto Rico.