Bristol-Myers Squibb SVP Adam Lenkowsky: “I’d like to declare one day a week as a smartphone-free day; We need to find a way to connect person to person again”

I’d like to declare one day a week as a smartphone-free day. Too many of us are too attached to our phones, email, and social media. We need to find a way to connect person to person again. As the father of teenage boys, I’m looking to start this at home. As part of my series […]

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I’d like to declare one day a week as a smartphone-free day. Too many of us are too attached to our phones, email, and social media. We need to find a way to connect person to person again. As the father of teenage boys, I’m looking to start this at home.

As part of my series about companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of connecting with Adam Lenkowsky, Senior Vice President and Head of U.S. Oncology at Bristol-Myers Squibb. In his 20+ years at the company, Adam has cultivated broad expertise overseeing strategic and commercial operations in the U.S. and around the world. Throughout his tenure, he has sought to build a culture of collaboration and innovation to help patients prevail over cancer.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Adam! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I come from a family of educators, and so from an early age I wanted to help people. I studied biology in college and worked in a pharmacy, but it wasn’t until I met my wife, who worked in the pharmaceutical industry, that I saw how I could apply my interests and skills in science to make a difference in my own way. I’ve worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb now for 22 years, and have been very fortunate to support a number of innovative medicines to help people diagnosed with serious diseases.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your current leadership role?

I had the opportunity to participate in my company’s Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer ride last year, and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my career.

Six years ago, a group of employees at Bristol-Myers Squibb started this annual bike relay from Oregon to New Jersey to honor loved ones with cancer and to raise money for cancer research. Since its inception, more than 400 employees have participated, raising a total of $4.6 million for cancer research through Stand Up To Cancer and the V Foundation.

When I got on my bike last year, like many of my fellow riders, I hadn’t been on a bike in nearly 30 years. But, I quickly forgot any fears or frustrations I had by thinking about the friends and family with cancer I was riding in honor of, including my father-in-law who passed away from lung cancer, as well as the patients, researchers and loved ones we met as we rode from city to city. Those feelings continue to push me forward in my work today to find more ways to help the patients we serve.

Can you share a mistake or lesson you learned when you were first starting your career?

We all make mistakes, I still do, but what I’ve learned over the course of my career is that what matters most is focusing on the positive impact you can have in your place of work, and on the people around you.

Early in my career, I spent too much time in the office and too much effort trying to make every report or presentation look or sound perfect instead of developing thoughtful and strategic ideas. If I had focused on making the right impact at work, I would have found balance between my work life and my family life much earlier than I did. Because of this, one of the priorities I have for my team is making sure that they have the time and support to focus on what’s important at work and at home.

Can you describe how Bristol-Myers Squibb is making a social impact?

At Bristol-Myers Squibb, we’re strong believers in conscientious citizenship — doing everything we can to help all around the world. While our corporate social responsibility efforts extend across many different areas, we are particularly passionate about improving healthcare, advancing science and making a difference in the lives of patients and their loved ones around the world.

I’m proud to say that in the United States, we provide charitable funding or support to more than 300 third party organizations working to advance cancer research and support patients and their loved ones. More than that, I’m proud that our employees are as passionate about making an impact for patients as I am. As a few examples, together, we’ve granted wishes for children with cancer with Make-A-Wish® America, filled JoyJars® with the Jessie Rees Foundation, and many of us have cycled in Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer to raise money for cancer research.

Adam at Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer

Wow! Can you tell me a story about these efforts that stands out to you?

One moment that I’ll never forget was meeting John Martin, who, when we met, was four years old and had cancer.

Bristol-Myers Squibb has been a supporter of Make-A-Wish for a number of years, providing charitable funding to grant more than 200 wishes to date, but John Martin’s wish stands out to me because more than 1,000 of our employees were able to help grant it. Like Make-A-Wish, we believe that a wish come true brings powerful hope and positivity for a child with cancer to fight their critical illness, and being there with John Martin and his family, seeing the joy and hope he and his family felt from that one wish come true, was an incredibly special moment.

Adam and John Martin, Make-A-Wish wish kid

Are there three things society can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Our mission is to innovate medicines that help patients prevail over serious illnesses, like cancer, and so the most important thing that needs to be done is for everyone in the cancer community across business, science, healthcare and the government, to come together to advance science and help patients get the care and support they need.

How do you define “Leadership”?

At its core, leadership is establishing a vision and leading a team to achieve it, even if they don’t think it’s possible. A leader keeps the team centered on what’s important, in good times and in bad, and helps the team overcome obstacles to achieving their shared goal.

I believe strongly that leaders who are their true selves at work, who are transparent, candid and genuinely invested in the well-being of all of their people foster the most productive teams with the most diversity in thought and experience.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Cultivate a breadth of experience: While you might have a specific career-goal in mind, it’s important to learn from all areas of a business, and even from different fields, to grow your skillset and develop an enterprise mindset.

Look at every project as an opportunity to learn and to grow: You might be given an assignment that doesn’t appeal to you. Be open to it anyway, because it just might teach you a new skill or introduce you to a new person that will help you down the road.

Escape “group think”: It’s easy in the corporate world to find someone who thinks like you do. Challenge yourself to think differently and seek other people with unique perspectives; this is where the most innovative ideas come from.

View your career as a marathon, not a sprint: When I was first starting out, I was looking to sprint ahead, but I’ve learned that it’s important not to skip steps in your career. As you move along, you build your experience with every step toward your end goal.

Embrace change, the only constant: Change within an organization is just about the only thing of which you can be certain. Embrace it, learn from it and learn to lead through it.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to declare one day a week as a smartphone-free day. Too many of us are too attached to our phones, email, and social media. We need to find a way to connect person to person again. As the father of teenage boys, I’m looking to start this at home.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has been relevant to you in your life?

I had a mentor once who said, “don’t take yourself too seriously,” but I take my responsibility to help patients seriously, so I prefer how Ferris Bueller puts it: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I think it’s important to take what you do seriously, but to also take a step back to enjoy and take stock in what you’re doing and the life you’re leading.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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