Barbara Troupin is a seasoned executive and board advisor in the biotech, pharma, and life science industries. Currently, Barbara is the Chief Medical officer at ERX Pharmaceuticals, previously serving in C-level positions in areas of clinical development, regulatory affairs, and medical affairs at Aquinox Pharmaceuticals, Apricus Biosciences, and Vivus.
Barbara is engaging in Athena’s executive development program, expanding on how to craft her message, hone her voice, and leverage her network in preparation for board service. Barbara worked with our lead executive writer, Adriana Azuri, to craft her board bio and positioning statements—with incredible results. Read on to learn more about her takeaways related to preparing for the boardroom, understanding the value you bring to a board, and the impact of her work with Athena’s journey advisors.
Tell us about your executive journey so far.
I started working in biotech 20 years ago on the development side, focused on program strategy and design to bring a new compound to market. I lucked out in my first job in the industry as I was the first physician to join the company. Even as a director-level employee, I ended up on the executive committee. As I continued to move between companies and expand my skills, I’ve continued to be a pivotal part of the executive team.
With 15 years of drug development experience as an executive, I was part of core strategic board level discussions including management. I was part of a company that had an activist shareholder takeover, and their concerns centered around believing that the board wasn’t taking on its fiduciary responsibility and that it was an inappropriate board makeup for that stage of the company’s life cycle. I became quite interested in how boards and management interact and what it means to have a board that is or is not meeting the current needs of the company.
After several years of C-level positions, about two years ago I decided I was ready to prepare myself to seek out board positions. I spent a year trying to do it on my own, not knowing what I didn’t know, and not knowing how to present to my network appropriately. About a year ago, I came across Athena.
What have you learned about yourself as a leader through your Athena membership?
The most notable part of my journey was reframing in my mind my role and my value as a board member versus as an executive. Going into it, I thought it was my executive skills that would make me a good board member. But the skills to be a good board member are somewhat different. I needed to better understand what are the things that make me unique and valuable as a board member. How do I complement and frame my value? How do I find a voice for that? That intellectual journey of differentiating who I am and the value I bring to the role was an unexpected benefit. And it carried through all the other Athena activities in terms of how you write it, present it, network based on it—everything follows from there.
Let’s dive down a bit into your executive writing sessions with Journey Advisor Adriana Azuri. How did the process go for you?
I had two prior sessions with Cate Goethals to explore and reframe my value proposition. The raw material from those conversations and my executive CV went to Adriana. She spent a lot of time helping me understand what the first paragraph of a board bio looks like—what you must have, how to add the punch, how to organize it. I worked on the “What do I want” question with both Cate and Adriana—what would your perfect board position be? How do we ask for it, how do we reflect that in your tagline?
We had a lot of fun, we went back and forth with 11 different versions of a tagline. What are those few words that create an upfront punch? An example of an early tagline draft was “Maximizing compound positioning and success from early development through commercialization while addressing business needs of emerging or evolving companies.” In the end, we landed on “Strategically optimizes/engineers product development to maximize portfolio value for emerging biotech/pharma companies.” We moved to a more active, strategic, and broad statement of who I am as a leader and the value I bring to the boardroom.
The second piece of the process was to reflect on my executive experience to support my boardroom value proposition. Reframing what was in my CV to talk about decision-making and understanding of the environment in life sciences, as well as understanding the perspectives of a broad range of stakeholders. There was a lot of visioning about “How does what I do help support my value proposition and how do I reflect that in my materials and pitch?”
Adriana was dedicated to understanding my industry and put a lot of effort into reflecting those nuances in my board materials. To give one example, pharma guidelines dictate that the sales side of the business must be firewalled from the medical and scientific side. There are strict guidelines with significant penalties starting at 7 figures. We had to get that language exactly right to reflect my understanding of launch readiness without including anything that implies I don’t understand pharma guidelines. Although it seems very nuanced, the reality is that this would stick out as a glaring issue to anyone who is a CEO or board member of a life sciences company. She invested the time to understand and help me frame these nuances.
How does it feel to using your Positioning Statements with others?
I was part of the Harvard Women on Life Science on Boards Executive Education Seminar in the spring. We were given a very high-level format as a model for a board bio, but I submitted Adriana’s bio instead. A board recruiter for Korn Ferry was going through them and critiquing them pretty harshly. At the very end, he said, “We’re almost out of time, but I want you to know what perfect looks like,” and he held up my board bio. No critiques, no comments, just… “This is what perfect looks like.” Athena’s understanding of what these materials should look and how to frame them is totally on point.
What advice would you have for a woman who is contemplating the next phase of her career, entering the C-suite for the first time or continuing into the boardroom?
Make sure to give yourself time to think through your next steps. What is important to you? What do you want to learn and experience and do? I chose to join Athena when I had taken a few months off from work. I spent a lot more time really thinking about what was important and what I wanted to bring and what kind of company I thought I could bring value to through board service. Give yourself the time to do it in a way that honors the process.