Some people just change direction when they run into barriers. Others meticulously plot their strategy for breaking through. Neither is Betsy Blee's style. "I've never been that sophisticated in my decision-making," she says. "I either don't see things as hurdles or barriers, or if I do, I don't let them trip me up. I just keep going."
She started with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in 1981 as a sales representative in Los Angeles and six years later joined Pfizer Pharmaceuticals' award-winning training group in New York as a trainer for sales representatives. Her next promotion took her to Salt Lake City to serve as a district sales manager. In 1997 Blee's diverse successes propelled her to Pfizer world headquarters when the ceo decided it was time to create a management development program for both corporate businesses, much like the one for pharmaceutical sales managers.
Blee's tenacity was soon evident. "We started in 1997 with one class, called the Leading Edge, and 28 participants," explains Blee. "Now we have close to 4,000 graduates of that program alone, and we've created two additional training programs: Sharpening the Edge and the Virtual Edge."
Under Blee's watch, the corporate management and leadership development group has grown from three to 18 people. While she is proud of the group members' accomplishments, she takes even greater pleasure in the way they go about doing what they do. "They are a living model of how groups should work. They are very high-performing," she says.
Part of the group's success is Blee's knack for hiring with an eye to balance the overall strength of the organization. "If someone is consistently weak in one area, I don't try to fix them. I look at an organization as a whole and spend my time leveraging people in positions and projects where they have a great chance of success." Blee finds her time is better spent optimizing talent in people and making assignments according to their strengths.
With an attitude that is fundamentally optimistic, Blee leads as much by instinct as plan. She is relentless in getting things done and believes that nothing is impossible, although some things may take a little longer. "I have an action-bias," Blee explains. "It's better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan that's too late."
Blee's bias for action flourished during her years in the U.S. Marine Corps where her accomplishments were multiple: serving as a platoon commander for women attending Officer Candidate School; managing the Camp Smith, Hawaii, Officer's Club that served the top commanders of the Pacific Fleet Marine Force; and being the first woman to command a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve F4 Jet Squadron.
"My grandmother claims I was always managing everybody and everything, but the Marine Corps really taught me about the business of leadership," she says. "Joining the Marines was the best decision I ever made." She admits to running her training sessions at Pfizer a lot like bootcamp, "but we laugh and have a lot of fun."
Among all of the accomplishments of Pfizer's corporate management and leadership development group, Blee is most proud of the Executive Forum, a program that gives managers a chance to learn from top Pfizer executives who share their own experiences and knowledge about leadership development. It's a program that exemplifies Blee's calling to teach others how to lead.
"Leadership and teaching are related passions," Blee believes. "If you are knowledgeable about something, you have an obligation to pass that knowledge along."