- 8 months ago
16 June 2023
When asked to give career advice, Eli Lilly’s Tori Brown just tells people, “Go where it makes your heart sing”.
It may seem strange advice but for a woman who started out as a civil engineer before somewhat accidentally entering the pharmaceutical industry, it makes perfect sense. You see, Brown learned early that just because you’re good at something, it doesn’t mean you should do it.
“I had everything in the world that I wanted, needed, or could imagine,” Tori says of her first job in construction engineering. “I made great money, worked 6am to 3pm, lived with great friends in Chicago, yet I was miserable.”
Deciding to quit and move back in with her parents, the 20-something took a retail job that paid a quarter of her previous salary while she set about figuring out what to do with her life. Marriage and a move to Peoria, Illinois didn’t bring her any closer to an answer, so she applied for a sales job with Eli Lilly.
Almost two decades later, Brown is still with Lilly, has moved countries multiple times, but most of all has found a life of passion and of purpose.
The 4Ps of leadership
“I found I had an intense passion for what I was doing,” Brown says of her first job at Lilly. “It probably took me about six months to realise that I could see the impact we had on patients day to day, and I loved it.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would still be here, but life is not just about finding what we are good at. It’s also about finding what we are deeply passionate about. It’s about purpose.
“To this day, it’s the patients that keep me here and the people at Lilly who challenge me and make me better every day.”
Brown counts herself as fortunate in having realised so early that purpose was more important than talent and that interpreting, strategising and communicating fuelled her, not crunching numbers. She relies on what she calls her 4Ps – patients, passion, purpose and performance – as she builds a culture able to create and sustain growth in multiple areas, and deliver for patients.
There’s no doubt it’s an exciting time to be at Lilly, the company just surpassing J&J as having the largest market capitalisation of any pharma globally. The future is indeed very, very bright as Lilly’s pipeline of therapies in areas as diverse as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, dermatology and precision oncology starts to pay dividends.
This presents both opportunities and challenges for Brown, whose job is to get these products to patients as quickly as possible once approved. To do this, she relies on building high-performing, problem-solving teams and “launch greenhouses” where capability can be cultivated and grown.
“At Lilly Australia, we don’t think about where we are today, but where we could be,” she says. “We think about what happens if we were able to change the political landscape, or change the way patients get treated, or open up broader access to [diagnostic] testing. What would that mean, and what are we willing to invest if it will make a difference?
“I want a culture where people wake up in the middle of the night thinking about patients and how we can better serve them.”
How disaster delivered a life lesson
Brown’s reliance on the 4Ps can be traced back to her first country manager opportunity which came about in 2017 when sent to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The island was soon hit by successive hurricanes, knocking out both power and communications.
Using a CB radio to locate staff and ensure they were safe, Brown turned the focus to getting insulin onto the island and to the patients. The logistics of landing planes, refrigerating products, and managing distribution proved both challenging and rewarding.
“Our goal was simply not to let a patient die on our watch – that was all we cared about,” she says. “Puerto Rico changed my leadership philosophy as I recognised how important the patient is to what we do, but more importantly, how critical a common purpose and a clear vision is.”
Brown returned to the US in 2018 as Brand Lead for Lilly’s US Diabetes Marketing and, somewhat ironically, was to move again when when another disaster struck in Covid – although this time to a very different economic and weather climate in Switzerland.
Almost three years later the family is now settled in Australia, Brown having already managed Lilly’s move from a sprawling campus in the Sydney’s suburbs to the CBD. She is now focused on achieving faster access for Australian patients to new therapies and giving clinicians a louder voice in health technology assessment (HTA) processes, saying healthcare professionals “can be an amplification for patients”.
“If we don’t do the right thing by patients, all of society will suffer,” she says. “Healthcare professionals see medicines available in other parts of the world that are not available here and recognise their patients are missing out. We need to support their patients to get access to medicines, especially in areas of high unmet need, but we also need our medicines to be valued appropriately.
“The work Medicines Australia is doing in this space is extremely valuable, along with the collective work being done on the HTA Review. The reality is, we are fighting to get medicines into Australia but unless we have a healthcare system where medicines are valued, it’s hard to get them here early – and they will continue to be available in other markets sooner.”
A long journey in Alzheimer’s
A significant moment for Lilly was the recent release of topline results from a late-stage study of its investigative biological antibody in early symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease.
The results have sparked enormous hope for patients and clinicians alike and Brown recalls witnessing the despair of patients when an earlier Alzheimer’s treatment failed in trials, and is now setting her sights on achieving access for Australian patients.
“It has been really incredible to see Lilly stay the course with Alzheimer’s but there’s work for us to do in demonstrating the value for caregivers and patients of getting access to the right treatment,” she says. “To do that, we need to better understand how the medicine impacts specific measures within the healthcare system and in people’s lives.”
It’s a big ask, but for this company leader who has overcome natural disasters and gone places that made her heart sing only to discover her true purpose, she will undoubtedly persevere, her 4Ps also her guiding lights.
“If you go where it makes your heart sing, you will perform and if you perform, you will go to the next place you want to go to,” she says. “You have to go after what you’re passionate about, otherwise, it just doesn’t work.
“You can fake it for a while, but you can only fake it for so long.”