by Frank Kalman
January 27, 2014
Had Pamela Puryear followed through on her original career plan, she might be poring over financial statements, placing puts and calls and trading as an investment banker on Wall Street.
That was, after all, the emblematic path for a Harvard Business School MBA and New York City native in the 1980s. “I had always thought I was going to graduate from business school, go back to New York and work on Wall Street,” Puryear said.
Yet today, some 26 years after graduating from Harvard’s training ground for future corporate titans, Puryear is making her mark in an industry known more for being nice than naughty: corporate learning and development.
As the vice president of organizational development and chief talent officer at pharmaceutical and medical device company Hospira Inc., Puryear is injecting her business acumen into the Lake Forest, Ill.-based company’s charge to develop global executives and create an influential organizational culture.
But don’t just call her a learning executive.
“My role might be a little bit more generalist than many,” Puryear said. “Part of that might be by design because the role didn’t exist when I came here. I had the opportunity to work with the head of HR to create it in a way that we thought could add value to the business.”
Getting Down to Business
Formerly the hospital products division of Abbott Laboratories and spun off as its own company in 2004, Hospira’s products include specialty injectables, medication management systems and infusion therapy supplies and products. It has roughly 16,000 employees and manufacturing facilities in locations including Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., Adelaide, Australia, and Liscate, Italy. Hospira’s had $4.1 billion in revenue in 2012.
Puryear is responsible for a bevy of human resources functions in Hospira’s organizational development arm. They include everything from organizational effectiveness and design to engagement, innovation and change management.
Her main focus of late, however, has been culture. When Hospira split from Abbott, the new company struggled to establish a unique culture. Most of its employees came from Abbott, including its first CEO, Christopher Begley, who announced his retirement in August 2010. That paved the way for the company’s first outside chief executive, Mike Ball, formerly president of health care firm Allergan Inc. Ball took over in March 2011, providing Hospira with an opportunity to build its own culture.
Since then Puryear has been systematically using her knowledge of Hospira’s core businesses to develop a common culture employees can rally around. A deep understanding of the business was a big reason she was hired in the first place. It also has become a major tool at Puryear’s disposal when creating learning and leadership development programs, said Ken Meyers, Hospira’s senior vice president of organizational transformation and people development and chief human resources officer.
“She’s a business leader,” Meyers said. “While she brings some really tremendous strengths in the areas of talent development, leadership development, organizational development, she really has a very deep business acumen.”
Outside of her Harvard MBA, part of the reason Puryear has such business acuity is because she spent a considerable part of her early career measuring financial assets. Her desire to work on the people side of things likely stems from her liberal arts education and interest in organizational psychology. Both are popular at Yale University, from which Puryear graduated in 1984 with a degree in psychology and a concentration in organizational behavior.
Her time at Yale coincided with the early years of its School of Organization and Management, which allowed Puryear to take traditional college psychology classes and some more closely aligned with business. As a senior she applied to business school intending to defer admission, reserving a seat in a future class while she built a foundation of business experience in the real world.
And she did. After being accepted at Harvard, Puryear spent the next two years working as a management consultant for health care firm Baxter Travenol Laboratories Inc. — now Baxter International — where she visited hospitals and helped them manage their cost structures.
“It was a very good job out of college in terms of developing presentation, client management and analytic skills,” she said. “It was a pretty high-powered job I think for someone with no work experience.”
Once entrenched on Harvard’s campus, Puryear said she did what many business school students do: She joined a lot of clubs, hoping to find a specialty to build her career around. The club she enjoyed the most was real estate. “I was really interested in the fact that I could be involved in the investment world with an asset that I could actually see and touch,” she said.
After spending the summer between her first and second year at Harvard working for a real estate investment adviser in New York, Puryear decided to make a career out of it. She graduated with her MBA from Harvard in 1988 and immediately jumped into the real estate advisory business with firms in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
That lasted until 1997. Puryear said her early career in real estate allowed her to focus on the parts of the business she enjoyed most — managing properties and working with tenant improvement and capital budgets. But as she rose through the ranks, Puryear was increasingly involved in financial analysis.
“When my job became reviewing numbers on paper to convey returns to investors, it became more of a financial exercise than a real estate job,” she said. “I was less passionate about it.”
She decided to make a career change. Puryear quit her last real estate job in January 1997, took her bonus and ventured off to figure out what she wanted to do next. Leaning on her Harvard MBA and professional network, she began doing independent consulting.
Puryear’s early consulting work dealt mostly with strategy for smaller companies and startups. As her word-of-mouth referrals ramped up, her consulting business evolved, and so did her clients, forcing her into areas she hadn’t previously touched. That led her more and more into organizational development, where she had her Yale undergraduate experience in organizational behavior to lean on.
“I determined that I had enough knowledge to be dangerous, but wanted to be more fully grounded in the work that I was doing,” Puryear said.
So she went back to school, this time to the California School of Professional Psychology. After spending four years from 2004 to 2008 consulting during the day while attending classes at night, Puryear received her Ph.D., and began to identify herself as an organizational development professional. Her clients got bigger, and her specialty areas grew deeper.
In April 2009, Puryear was brought on to do a consulting project for Meyers, a Harvard classmate, at Hospira. Eventually, Meyers asked her to be his organizational development head full time. She officially joined as Hospira’s vice president of organizational development in September 2009. Her title later expanded to include chief talent officer.
The Power of Culture
When Puryear joined Hospira, the company was just five years removed from its spinoff from Abbott. It had established little infrastructure related to learning, leadership and organizational development.
The closest thing to organized learning at the time came via a relationship with the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. Puryear said employees would often take classes there because it was located in the office park next to Hospira’s office. In-office workshops from faculty were also common.
“But by the time I got here we were a global company, so having a relationship with a local graduate school — I wouldn’t call that a learning infrastructure,” she said. Employees still take classes at the school, but because the resource was limited to employees in Lake Forest, Puryear said she recognized the need to build something that would encompass Hospira’s entire employee population.
Her strategy: Start from the top, target resources and figure out where to get the most leverage for the investment. By focusing on creating a robust leadership development program, the function aimed for a cascading effect. Leaders would learn leadership development content, and through their behaviors those skills and development values would trickle down throughout the lower ranks of the company. The leadership programs would also address the challenge of creating an organizational culture unique to Hospira, Puryear said.
Targeting leaders is often viewed as a prudent way to establish culture. By instilling a company’s desired values and vision in its most visible figures, and making sure those leaders exhibit those behaviors consistently over time, eventually values that create culture are replicated throughout, said Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School.
“Culture is a 24-hour-a-day training program,” Edmondson said. And by “enrolling people” through engaging leaders in culture content — vision, mission and values — companies should eventually see a sustained effect.
Puryear aimed to create a sustained culture through a core of leadership programs. The first is an annual leadership summit, where the top 100 company leaders — typically vice president and above — come to Lake Forest for a week of learning, alignment and strategy. The annual summit is supplemented with two other leadership development programs. One is called Leading@Hospira; the other, designed as part two, is called LeadingGrowth@Hospira.
“We also developed a front-line supervisor workshop called Global Manager Fundamentals so that we’re not missing the managers who actually lead the vast majority of our people day-to-day,” Puryear said.
To target learning for the vast majority of Hospira’s global employee population, Puryear and her team initiated a learning grant called the Ignite Grant. Because Hospira’s employees span 16,000 people across the globe, it would be nearly impossible for a centralized learning team to maintain a controlled, hands-on approach in identifying and designing programs for every learning need. So Puryear and the team decided to put the process into employees’ hands. The Ignite Grant, now in its fourth year, works like this:
Different teams across the globe identify their learning need and submit an application identifying what the business priority is and what the desired learning would address. Then the team identifies its desired medium for the learning, a speaker, a virtual or online learning course, and so on.
The team also identifies a projected return on investment. A selection committee then chooses the grant winners. Puryear said each year for the past four years the function has awarded between 35 and 40 grants from about 180 applications.
The grant model is effective on multiple fronts. First, Puryear said it enables employees to take more ownership in learning and development. It also helps the learning and organizational development team gain greater insight into global employees’ learning needs.
“The idea is if you’re sitting in Dubai and you know exactly what you need to be more effective in your role, and you can put a compelling application together, we may be able to get the money to support the learning,” Puryear said. “It’s about employee-driven ownership of their own learning versus a learning and development leader saying here are the things that you need to be successful.
“Because you [as a learning leader] don’t always know. We’re not close enough to the work to always know exactly what people need.”
The culmination of all these efforts came in the form of a workshop titled “MakingADifference@Hospira,” which is also the company’s cultural tag line. The two-day workshop, started in summer 2012, aims to reinforce the vision and values established by Ball when he started in 2011. The program is designed as a way for the company’s teams in its various plants to learn the culture and how to work together.
To date, Puryear said measuring the influence these elements have had on Hospira’s culture transformation has remained mostly qualitative. She said the stories she has heard from different locations have provided enough insight so far to argue that change is indeed happening.
Another helpful measure has come from customer service levels, which Puryear said have improved steadily over time. “MakingADifference@Hospira has been a huge success for the company,” she said, adding that the combination of the leadership and cultural programs have helped Hospira hit a tipping point in creating a unified, common cultural language for the company.
Her boss agrees. Meyers said Puryear has single-handedly led a culture change initiative. “She led that and worked with our senior leadership team, worked with the board of directors, the CEO, worked with me, all these important stakeholders to help shape the culture the way we want it to be.”
Still, Meyers was careful not to gloat too much on the value Puryear has brought to Hospira. “I’m thrilled that she’s being featured,” he said. “But whoever is reading this article, I hope they don’t start calling her and recruiting her. We need her here.”