No Generic Success Story
West Virginia native and Mylan CEO Heather Bresch—the first woman to lead a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company—opens up about her childhood, her career, and how she juggles it all.
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How many chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies are women? Only 18. How many of those are from West Virginia? Exactly one.
When Mylan, a pharmaceuticals company that got its start in White Sulphur Springs in 1961, named Fairmont native Heather Bresch to replace CEO Robert J. Coury, who moved to executive chairman this year, she joined a distinguished group—an accomplishment few men or women ever achieve. Not only is she the first West Virginia woman to climb onto Fortune magazine’s power list since it was created in 1955, she’s the first female CEO in the pharmaceutical industry. She is responsible for a workforce of nearly 20,000 and oversees global manufacturing of more than 45 billion doses (including a U.S. output of approximately 22 billion doses from one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the world, located in Morgantown). She doesn’t wear the stereotypical navy power suit. She doesn’t play golf. She’s the mother of four. And she’s only 42 years old.
Yes, her father is U.S. Senator and former West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. And yes, she is no stranger to controversy. Some say she’s risen to the top because of her family connections, and although it never hurts to be from a well-connected family, one doesn’t become the CEO of the third largest generic and specialty pharmaceutical company in the world because of a last name. It takes work. Lots of hard work.
“Heather is a time-tested warrior who, over the past 20 years at Mylan, has earned the respect of her fellow employees, our industry, and our external stakeholders because of her passionate and visionary leadership, a work ethic that is second to none, and her track record of driving operational excellence through the organization and getting results,” Coury says. “Heather has a strong appreciation for the policy and social environments in which we operate, which will be critical in our quest to provide high quality medicine to the world’s 7 billion people. She has worked by my side to help build Mylan into the powerful global company we are today, and she is absolutely the right leader to take Mylan forward.”
Heather says she has always been driven, and she credits her family for fueling her inner fire. She grew up in Fairmont and Farmington in a Catholic, Italian-American family that was always involved in business and politics. “My grandfather was a great man, generous and smart, but believed that a woman’s place was in the home, serving him and whoever he might bring over for dinner. That was just his world—that paternal Italian tradition,” she laughs. “I have 12 first cousins and half of them are women. What always frustrated me was that the family believed that the boys were somehow entitled to all the opportunities, which left the girls to create their own opportunities if they wanted to succeed professionally. I wanted all of us to be treated equally. I also didn’t see any reason to overlook the potential of half the talent pool in the family! I was fortunate to have a strong-minded mother who supported the idea of women being independent, which gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my ambitions.”