October 9, 2017 Meet Our Members

Athena Member Feature: Robin Carmichael

Interview By The Athena Alliance

Last month, we introduced you to Athena woman, Billie Otto. This month, just in time for our Seattle launch, Robin Carmichael is in the spotlight.

We are incredibly proud to represent each of the amazing women in our network and organization, and Robin Carmichael is one of those outstanding executive women. Successful, experienced and determined to rise above gender barriers without batting an eye, Robin Carmichael embodies the Athena woman, and we are excited to celebrate our growth with her!

What does your career journey look like?

My career has been primarily based in the Life Sciences and medical devices. My degree is in Nursing, and I tutored Chemistry in college. While I only worked in a hospital for a couple years, my nursing background has helped my business career immensely. It gave me a holistic view of the healthcare industry and how to navigate products through the system. It also eased my early path in the [male dominated] corporate world, as nurses are perceived as credible, resourceful and steady in a crisis.

I was recruited by Baxter Travenol to be a diabetes clinical specialist, and as it happens in big companies, programs come and go, so I moved into Sales and Marketing and found that I was really quite good at leading a sales team. Later, I went back into the clinical research at ProCyte, a peptide-based biopharma and quickly moved up into the VP of Marketing position once commercial products began to roll out. I launched seven major product lines using the company’s technology, built the international distribution business and established core licensing partners. I served as Chief Operating Officer at DERMAdoctor, Inc., a leading health and dermatology product e-commerce retailer, which gave me a solid understanding of the transitioning internet platforms and consumer engagement.

I came to my current company, Helix BioMedix, Inc., in November of 2007 as VP of Marketing & Business Development, then was promoted to COO and am now President & CEO.  I also serve on our board of directors. At Helix BioMedix, I have worked to leverage the company’s core IP efforts in multiple pathways including the drug, device and personal care markets. While I have not taken a traditional career path, I think the common theme is loving a technology and the people I work with while making things happen that move the company forward.  

Can you highlight ways in which being a female particularly shaped that journey? Are there female or male mentors who supported you as you developed?

I’m not sure that being female really shaped my career journey other than I did change jobs so that I did not travel as much when my father was terminally ill. I think tweaking your job for family reasons is a fairly typical career decision for most women.  

By way of mentors, I have been very fortunate to have had several, and each imparted wisdoms that have helped me be successful. John Fowler at Baxter Healthcare was an ex-marine, and he taught me discipline, planning and execution. John Walsh showed me how to manage people. Jack Clifford, President & CEO of ProCyte Corporation, pushed me out of my comfort zone, gave me extensive boardroom exposure and gave me the opportunity to lead on critical projects. He turned around a distressed company and drove a lean team to produce impressive results – it was an incredible learning experience to be part of this evolution.

When did you decide board service was the next step for you?

I’ve been actively presenting board meetings for twenty years, and it was just a natural progression to put my skills to use by serving as a board member. I joined my company’s board several years ago. My former board members have often recommend me to start-ups they are working with, as I am able to contribute in a variety of areas from strategic to practical. Being on an outside board is also a great way to connect with a group of colleagues who have a depth of experience and expertise that are valuable resources.  

How did you hear about Athena?

My wonderful friend, Liz Tinkham, invited me to the Seattle Athena launch event. Coco Brown, Founder & CEO of Athena Alliance, gave an overview of its success in fostering women on boards and in networking with each other. The more I learned, the more I wanted to be a part of it!

What are you hoping to achieve through your membership with the Athena Alliance?

I think the Athena Alliance is an important resource for learning about new board opportunities as well as networking with other successful and dynamic women. And hopefully, I will be able to give back to the group as well by being a mentor or resource for others.

What is your proudest moment in your career so far?

There are a lot of career moments that have made me happy, but overall it is really a journey – like chapters in a book. Hitting breakeven and moving forward to profitability at ProCyte was one of them. Navigating an exit in a difficult M&A was another. Seeing those who have worked (or interned) for me go on to find success and then take the time to keep in touch as they grow in their careers has been very rewarding.  

Will you share a time in your business career when you felt being a woman was used against you?

Personally, I don’t dwell on this, because everybody has something they have to overcome in life, and I believe mastering challenges leads to inner strength. My father always told me I could do anything I wanted in life: “Just focus on your goal and move forward.” For me, it’s about personal grit. Handling objections was something I learned early in my career when I was in sales, and it is a necessary skill for overall success.

If you look at Russell Wilson, of the Seattle Seahawks, many people would say he is too small to be a quarterback and, in fact, he was a third round draft pick. But he shuts out the crowd noise, focuses on winning, executing the task at hand and getting to the goal line. I like to think about great role models like Gertrude Boyle, Chairman of Columbia Sportswear. An accidental CEO, she resourcefully and successfully turned around a struggling company and kept her own persona in the process. She is on my list of great women I’d like to meet.  You can find more of her inspiration wisdoms for daily encouragement here.

What would you say to women who are just beginning their careers and hope to make a difference as you have?

Find your passion and follow it. If you love what you are doing, you will find your own self-motivation to get through challenges. Passion radiates and stimulates your team.  It also makes you memorable.

Work hard, work smart and fail fast. Cliché but true. If you do your job well, people will notice, but you also need to showcase your successes as well – don’t be a wallflower. Mistakes are opportunities to grow, so take that situation and make it a new asset: what did we learn, what can we do to correct it, what can we do to prevent it happening again, and with this new knowledge, can we do it better in the future?

You are always selling. When I left nursing and went into the corporate world, my boss told me that regardless of your title and your department, you are always selling – yourself, your personal brand, your projects and your team. So develop your pitch, make it clear and concise and go for it! This mantra has served me well.

Network, network, network. Both in your industry as well as outside. My career has been in the life sciences, but some of the best inspiration for new ideas has come from networking with Washington Wine industry executives and tech industry leaders.  

Be there for other women. We don’t seem to mentor our own in the same way men mentor other men or women. This is changing, so be part of that revolution! You have something you can give at any point in your career; don’t think you have to wait to hit the C-suite before you reach out! If you read about a woman’s success, send her an email with a pat on the back. Getting involved in various women’s business groups, even as an event volunteer, gives you great exposure in so many ways.  

We’re grateful to Robin Carmichael for sharing her journey and insight with us and future Athena members across the country. We are so excited to work with you!