Take Career Chances

Larry Pickett took a “no risk, no reward “ approach to his career path.

Now CIO at Purdue Pharma, he had to take a chance—leaving a top company in his field, Glaxo, after many years—to become the leader he wanted to be.

“Sometimes you do have to take a side step, or move horizontally for a period, to go up,” he says. “It’s not a ladder so much as it is scaling a mountain.”

As soon as he moved into IT middle management at Glaxo in the late 1980s, Pickett knew that he wanted to become a CIO in the pharmaceutical industry. He set himself a deadline: Become CIO within 10 years, by age 40.

He never viewed himself as a techie—he holds an MBA in addition to his technical background—but rather as a general manager of technology. So over the next several years, he sought out duties that would get him business and strategic experience, from sales to R&D. He gained broad experience within IT, too, not confining himself back-end systems. He helped design the graphical dashboard for the executive support system used by Glaxo execs. The project required technical expertise, but also in-depth knowledge of business needs and how executives think, making it a perfect vehicle for stretching into the strategic arena.

When Glaxo merged with Wellcome in 1995, creating new positions, Pickett felt he was ready for a role leading commercial systems. When he went to the CIO to lobby for the spot, however, he was told they had gone with someone else.

Although he had a young family and a new house in North Carolina, Pickett went straight to his office and started sending out his resume to any company that might help him move forward. Two months later, he moved to New Jersey, where he’d taken a director-level position with Merck on the commercial side of the business—the one area where he didn’t have much experience. There, his primary task was to mine the company’s massive customer databases for information that would help drive business growth, which he did know how to do. It was an attractive challenge and a learning opportunity, while also not completely out of his comfort zone. Within a year, he had an offer to become CIO at Purdue Pharma.

Setting the goal early on to become a pharmaceutical industry CIO shaped Pickett’s road map. But the biggest lesson he learned—which he passes on to his direct reports and as a member of the CIO Executive Council—is to be flexible, to be willing to take risks and to make dramatic changes if they seem necessary, instead of focusing so narrowly on a single path that you’re blinded to alternative opportunities.

Larry Pickett, VP and CIO, Purdue Pharma

This story, "Take Career Chances" was originally published by CIO Executive Council.

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