When the next career mile­stone for Chris­tine Cournoyer was to become CIO of IBM’s soft­ware group, she real­ized that she wasn’t excited about the company’s mis­sion. “And that’s when I real­ized I couldn’t lead any more,” she said. “The only way I can inspire others is to feel inspired myself.”

Cournoyer, now CEO of the leading per­son­al­ized cancer care com­pany N-​​of-​​One Ther­a­peu­tics, addressed the chal­lenges and rewards of being a leader in the drug dis­covery industry last Wednesday evening at the sixth event in North­eastern University’s Women Who Inspire series.

She was joined on a panel by fellow female CEOs Deb­orah Dun­sire of Forum Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Ade­lene Perkins of Infinity Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. Ann Taylor, global head of the pro­gram office at Novartis Insti­tutes of Bio­med­ical research, mod­er­ated the dis­cus­sion, which was hosted by NIBR.

The event drew more than 250 people from the region, including North­eastern stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff as well as researchers and pro­fes­sionals 65 leading biotech and phar­ma­ceu­tical companies.

The Women Who Inspire series is designed to pro­mote the advance­ment of women and inspire the next gen­er­a­tion of female leaders in tech­nology, engi­neering, sci­ence, and sus­tain­ability. Kate Car­leton, who cre­ated the series and serves as a spe­cial adviser to the senior vice pres­i­dent of uni­ver­sity advance­ment, framed the evening’s dis­cus­sion in opening remarks: “We have some very inspiring and tal­ented leaders on the panel who all under­stand that the vision is the reason their com­pany was born and lead­er­ship will be the reason it thrives.”

During a net­working event fol­lowing the talk stu­dents had the oppor­tu­nity to talk with Deb­orah Dun­sire (center) and the other pan­elists. Photo by Alec Chvirko.

Vision and mis­sion were common themes throughout the dis­cus­sion, which focused on pro­viding invalu­able advice for the next gen­er­a­tion of biotech­nology leaders. But, the pan­elists agreed, the mis­sion is only the starting point. For that mis­sion to be suc­cessful, one needs to assemble a good team and keep them inspired.

After all, Taylor said, “Suc­cess in this busi­ness is really about how you work with other people.”

The beauty of our industry is that we all realize that we can’t accom­plish what we want to accom­plish on our own because there is no one dis­ci­pline that is ade­quate,” Perkins added. “The right deci­sions require get­ting the right team of people.”

That team, Dun­sire said, drives innovation-​​oriented com­pa­nies like her own. “How those people feel about the job they’re doing and the com­pany they’re with is what allows you to gather the resources that allow you to win against the prob­lems,” she said, adding that it is incum­bent upon mem­bers of the senior lead­er­ship team to instill a pos­i­tive work environment.

On the flip side, the pan­elists said, employees must find orga­ni­za­tions where their own values and goals align with those of the com­pany. “Is your boss serious about your suc­cess?” Dun­sire asked. “If the answer is they’re not, then it’s time to find a new boss.”

During the Q-​​and-​​A, audi­ence mem­bers asked the pan­elists to elab­o­rate on how they achieved career suc­cess. “It wasn’t the school and it wasn’t the degree,” Cournoyer responded. “It was per­se­ver­ance, it was con­fi­dence, it was taking risks, it was embracing challenges—it was all the inner qualities.”

Perkins noted that while all of those qual­i­ties are indeed impor­tant, suc­cess also requires recog­ni­tion of one’s tal­ents and then putting them to best use. “As long as you’re living up to those gifts that you have, I think that’s suc­cess,” she said.