Mylan CEO Heather Bresch continues to expand access to medicine for patients across the globe


The all-new Robert J. Coury Global Center in Southpointe bustles with international activity. Home to Mylan, Inc., the 280,000-square-foot building welcomes visitors with a calming waterfall and architecture of clean, modern lines. As one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, the Fortune 500 organization has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. With a workforce of more than 20,000 around the world, it provides products to customers in approximately 140 countries and territories, and has a mission to provide high-quality medicine to the world’s seven billion people. In part responsible for Mylan’s success and valiant vision is CEO Heather Bresch. Her roots mirror Mylan’s, which were first established in West Virginia. Today, the institution reigns supreme, as does she as the first female CEO in the pharmaceutical industry. The global powerhouse’s history spans more than 50 years — Bresch’s tenure, 22 of them.

Mylan CEO Heather BreschAs I follow Bresch to her corner office and comfortable meeting lounge to conduct our interview, I find features and amenities particularly intriguing. The five-story facility has inspirational wall murals; a host of windows and natural light; stylish, studded furniture; and open workspaces to encourage collaboration. The environment is part of Bresch’s approach to teamwork. “As we continue to mature as a global company and enhance our processes, it becomes more and more important how we work together,” she says. “The way we’re set up today is very cross-functional with multi-disciplinary, global teams. It’s really about maximizing all that Mylan has to offer. It’s about bringing the best experience from around the company to the table, hearing the different vantage points, and leveraging the range of expertise and assets we have across disparate aspects of our business. Through this collaborative approach, we can bring something different to our customers and become a more meaningful partner to them.”

Growing up, Bresch was surrounded by a slew of hard workers, many of whom were in politics, including her father Joe Manchin, U.S. senator and former West Virginia governor. Though, she admits she never had goals to run a multibillion-dollar corporation. “I knew I wanted to be independent and, other than that, I had no set course,” she says. “I started with very humble beginnings and grew up around a lot of family businesses and a big, Italian family. I wanted to pave my own way.” From 2002 to 2005, she served as head of Mylan’s government relations, where her exposure to politics at a young age came in to play. “I certainly never envisioned being on the front end of politics,” says Bresch. “Though, I did understand the role politics and legislation plays in every facet of business and the importance of understanding how laws get made and govern all businesses. In the government affairs position, I was able to marry up my understanding of the system and identify where there were or could be significant legislative opportunities or hurdles to our business goals. That was a real inflection point for me in my career.”

Part of her duties as CEO include frequent travel to numerous operational facilities and Mylan’s additional global hubs in Europe and India. Her personal business philosophy knows no hierarchical structure. “I believe in much flatter organizations that are built by dynamic teams,” she says. “We’re all better together than any one of us apart.” And, caring for the company’s thousands of employees is at the top of her list. “Today, the opportunities are borderless. As an employer, what’s important to me is that our employees see that we care at the highest levels. They are our greatest assets.” Bresch dubs her weekends, cooking for her family, “sacred.” Influenced by her Czechoslovakian grandmother and Italian grandfather, she often emulates family recipes in the form of pierogies and Haluski, and spaghetti and meatballs. And, quality time with her four children, Kelsey, 18, Madeline, 17, Chloe, 13, and Jack, 10, and her husband, Jeff, means time together at home, outdoors, with their horses, and water- and snow-skiing. Her work and her children are her focus, and she credits much of her strength to her role models. “I had a lot of very strong men with strong personalities in my family from a business and political environment, but I also saw from the eyes of the women in my family, who were really the backbone,” she says. “I believe I took the best from both — a strong kind of independence and compassion that makes for good balance.” Her time working directly under Mylan co-founder Milan Puskar also inspired her to push forward. “I got to experience first-hand the impact of generosity and giving back to the community, and then as Mylan evolved under [Executive Chairman] Robert J. Coury’s leadership, I saw a domestic, global company bringing the same kind of passion around the world and that’s why I feel blessed every day.”

As for women in the workforce, Bresch’s bucket list includes creating a program to mentor women and girls to enhance their leadership capabilities and expand their business acumen using real-world life practices in order to position them for greater opportunities. “I was fortunate to have a woman, Agnes Varis, in the industry counseling me,” she says. “Agnes said, ‘You’ve got to push yourself, and you’ve got to take jobs you’re not comfortable with. Every day should be a challenge. You should wake up saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ which is how you grow.’ I would like to see our pool of talent expand as we are basically only leveraging half of the population, and I think that starts with building confidence and leadership skill in girls from a young age.”

Similarly, Bresch foresees powerful advances in the future of conventional medicine. “The way traditional, conventional medicine is delivered is going to dramatically change, as health care needs to be where the patient is. I foresee an evolution to more efficient and effective delivery of medicine, with mobile technology playing a transformative role,” she says. Bresch also advocates for greater consumer involvement in health care. “We shop for everything in this country — we’re great shoppers, except when it comes to health care. We need to increase the consumer’s role in their own health. As consumers, we need to demand the best, because that raises the bar and the competitive landscape for the entire industry. At Mylan, we are focused on driving that kind of awareness internally across our operations and externally — demonstrating our commitment to one global quality standard and driving consumers to understand that all companies aren’t created equally.” Bresch’s mission is simple: “We believe we’re an employer of choice. We want this to be a place where people want to work. You can make a difference, have a great time doing it, and have great experiences and global opportunities. What I value most is the impact we have across the globe for patients. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s extremely rewarding.”

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