Deborah Tanner - Women in Biotech 2012

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Deborah Tanner
Company: Covance ($CVD)
Title: Executive vice president and group president, R&D laboratories
Industry experience: 25 years
Focus: Drug research

As a senior member of one of the largest CROs in the world, Deborah Tanner understands the stakes of what she does every day. "We make a difference in people's lives," Tanner said, and as part of an innovative industry "our job is really to work with our clients in biopharma to help make better decisions and to get the right drugs to the right patients at the right time."

Tanner is the executive vice president and group president of R&D laboratories at Covance ($CVD), one of the top CROs serving the biopharma industry today. Before being promoted to her current position in 2006, she took over and doubled the growth of Covance's central laboratories business, one of her proudest and most challenging achievements.

As CROs seek stronger ties with pharma companies, Tanner has been involved with Covance's strategic partnerships. In May, Covance partnered with Bayer HealthCare to benefit from each other's knowledge and experience. "We can be a strategic partner to biopharma companies because we both are looking at things we can do collectively better," she said.

Tanner's passion for her work stems partially from a deep respect and fascination she has with other cultures. "I get to work with clients and employees around the globe." Earlier in her career with Covance, Tanner went on an overseas assignment and lived in Europe for three years. She was a single parent with two kids, and she just picked up and went. It was the time of her life. While there, she was responsible for all of Covance's chemistry in Europe, though she spent most of her time there in the U.K. and Germany. Now, Tanner says, she "couldn't have fulfilled a global role as well had I not" had that opportunity in Europe.

And thank goodness she had that experience; since then Covance has opened a lab in Shanghai, a lab in Japan and has expanded significantly in Singapore. Sometimes, Tanner said, "we forget the rest of the world isn't on Eastern Standard Time." Perhaps this is one area of the biopharma business (and business in general), Tanner posited, in which it can be useful to be a woman. "Our emotional intelligence is really high," she noted, and is therefore often well suited to sensing the "nuances and subtleties in other countries."

Tanner also focuses on developing talent. "I spend a lot of time making sure that I've got the best people," she told us, and for that you need all sorts of skills. "If there's one quality I look for in people it's their ability to be resilient. Life is tough. This business is tough. If you have that resilience, it gives you confidence." She imparts such lessons on those who come to her for knowledge. "Be a lifelong learner," Tanner said. "You can take somebody who has no background in an area but if they have the ability to learn, and natural curiosity, it's amazing what they can do."

Deborah Tanner is unique and inspirational because she wants to work harder every day to use her background in both business and science to deliver solutions to patients. "When I'm comfortable, I'm bored," she said. "I honestly have never been bored in my 25 years at Covance."

-- Jennifer Levin (email | Twitter)