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Pamela Puryear: “Life is a marathon, not a sprint”

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to pace yourself because the road can be long and stamina is absolutely necessary when working toward important goals. I have only done one marathon, but the parallels to life are often stated and absolutely accurate from my experience. As a part of our series about […]

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Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to pace yourself because the road can be long and stamina is absolutely necessary when working toward important goals. I have only done one marathon, but the parallels to life are often stated and absolutely accurate from my experience.


As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pam Puryear.

Pam Puryear, PhD is a Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Zimmer Biomet. Dr. Puryear has extensive global leadership experience in human resources, including three years with Pfizer, where she served as Senior Vice President and Chief Talent Officer. While at Pfizer, Dr. Puryear was responsible for leadership development, talent management, learning and development, employee engagement, organizational culture, diversity and inclusion and workforce analytics. She joined Pfizer from Hospira Inc., where she spent six years as Vice President, Organization Development and Chief Talent Officer. Before joining Hospira, Dr. Puryear was an independent external organizational development consultant for 12 years. Dr. Puryear spent the first 10 years of her career in financial services in the real estate funding advisor industry. Dr. Puryear holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in organizational behavior from Yale University.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I graduated from Yale University in the ’80s with a BA in psychology and organizational behavior, most of my classmates were going on to graduate school in the humanities, medical school, law school or business school. I chose business school because it felt like the choice that would give me the most flexibility for future employment. After completing my MBA at Harvard Business School, I pursued what was considered a “sexy” career path at the time — real estate.

During my 10 years as a real estate investment advisor, I experienced organizations and leaders who knew very little about leading people, building effective teams or managing diversity. I knew there must be a better way, so I quit my job in real estate, started an independent consulting practice working with a global roster of clients ranging from non-profits to Fortune 100 companies, and went back to school for my PhD in organizational psychology.

With a background in business and organizational development, I was well equipped to help organizations create and sustain excellence considering both financial and human factors, and to manage both using sound organizational management thinking and focused business metrics. Unlike many who cut their teeth in large organizations and then transition to start their own consulting practices, I followed a reverse path and left consulting to become a C-level executive at Hospira, Pfizer and now Zimmer Biomet (ZB), where I serve as Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading human resources at your company?

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one interesting story. The life of an HR professional is filled with as many interesting stories as there are interesting people! Arguably one of the most interesting professional experiences I’ve had while leading HR at Zimmer Biomet has been navigating the global COVID pandemic. While this was a challenging time to be an HR leader, it was heartwarming to witness the tremendous response that our team members exhibited to assist fellow colleagues in need. While thankfully we didn’t have to institute wide ranging or long-term furloughs or layoffs, many ZB families were impacted because their partners or spouses lost income during this period. To do our part and provide support, we set up a Team Member Relief Fund. Thanks to team member donations and company matches, we were able to provide nearly 1 million dollars in grants to about 1,000 team members globally. I was so proud to see everyone come together to support each other during a time of such uncertainty.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I know the powerful and positive impact that mentors can have. Throughout my career, I have formally and informally mentored and championed others and I have a couple of strong beliefs about mentoring and how it can be most effective.

First, formal mentor programs where people are paired with a mentor often don’t work because so much of the relationship is driven by chemistry, which cannot be anticipated or understood through an algorithm that pairs mentor and mentee. Second, no single mentor can provide everything that a mentee will need to navigate his or her career. That’s why I’m an advocate for organic pairings rather than structured mentor pairing programs. I also advise people to create a network of mentors, advisors and coaches in the form of a personal board of directors. The best personal boards mirror corporate boards — they are filled with people who bring different experiences, backgrounds and skill to the table.

So, when you ask who has helped me get where I am today, I have to say many people, not just one person. My personal board of directors includes my parents, siblings, friends and former and current co-workers. This board brings together people from within and outside my industry and function; people more senior, peers and direct reports; people younger and older; male and female; and from every ethnic background.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I’m a firm believer in the need to manage stress, particularly as I advance in my career and the pressures are amplified, as the decisions that I make and influence, affect thousands of employees. It truly goes beyond preparing mind and body, which is why I believe in holistic energy management –a comprehensive focus on managing physical, spiritual, emotional and mental energy. I do my best to get exercise and good sleep to support strong physical energy. I was fortunate enough to purchase a Peloton treadmill just before the pandemic, and strive for 7–8 hours of sleep each night! Spiritually and emotionally, I maintain a meditation practice, and recently led a 15-member group in a 21-day meditation focused on gratitude and abundance. Finally, I try to stay focused on what matters, which allows me to manage my mental energy. I don’t wait until the high stakes meeting, talk or decision. I try to maintain good energy management practices each day so I am prepared whenever the challenges strike!

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I would reframe the question to ask why it is so important for a business or organization to have diversity, equity and inclusion …not just diverse teams. Building diverse teams without equity and inclusion is meaningless. The evolution from focusing on diversity — defined as representation of people with varying characteristics, experiences, skills, cultures and traditions — to inclusion, where all diverse people feel a sense of belonging and that diversity is leveraged across the organization, to equity, which ensures that fair and impartial systems exist for all members of an organization, is important. So, we don’t want to go back to just speaking about the importance of diversity. In fact, much of what we are experiencing with regard to racial injustice in society is about equity — the extent to which our system of policing, for example, is not fair and impartial. In response to the George Floyd tragedy, Zimmer Biomet, like many companies, articulated a series of commitments to drive and accelerate change both within our own organization and around the globe.

Additionally, as a black female corporate executive who has risen through the ranks to become a Chief Human Resources Officer at a Fortune 500 company, I know firsthand the value of gender and racial diversity on the executive team. One of my top priorities at Zimmer Biomet is to integrate diversity, equality and inclusion into the fabric of the corporate culture, and I am committed to bringing a sea of change in how we apply these principles to every aspect of our work at Zimmer Biomet.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I don’t know if I am the right person to speak broadly about society, but let me draw upon my experience as a business leader to address how we can do it in companies. First, we must build these concepts of diversity or representation, equity and inclusion into our corporate cultures. They must be embedded and woven in, not stand-alone and disconnected concepts. At Zimmer Biomet for example, we have Culture Promises, or commitments we make to each other, which include specific behaviors and habits we expect as we bring the Culture Promises to life. One example is “Empower Every Voice” which speaks directly to the need for inclusion of all points of view. Second, we need leadership to role model, reward, develop and, sometimes, reprimand behavior that is not aligned with the culture that we aspire to realize. Finally, we need systemic practices for hiring, pay, opportunity for development and promotion that are equitable.

If we do these three things while connecting diversity, equity and inclusion to the success of the business, we will see the sea of change that I previously referenced. At Zimmer Biomet, we have launched some exciting work tying DEI to innovation, a critical business priority for us, and I am sure many other companies.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

As an introvert, I was thrilled when the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain was published in 2013, because it gave voice to what I’ve known and thought my entire career — it takes all styles and personalities to run a company. Diversity of every dimension is necessary and neither an executive boardroom full of introverts, nor a board room of extroverts will be successful in today’s world. The myth that CEOs and executives must have “big” personalities is one that I would like to dispel. In my experience, great leadership comes in different packages. The key is to be authentic, transparent and a good communicator that connects well with people.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

When I hear this question, I am reminded to be careful applying stereotypes by gender. While challenges faced by executives are not always related to gender, there are some gender dominant value orientations that can apply. For instance, there are some values or patterns of behavior women may ascribe to more so than men, and vice versa, which may influence how they’re viewed in the workplace.

There are three “C”s that come to mind — communication, confidence and consensus. Women can struggle with effective communication, such as overuse of upspeak, uptalk or upward inflection at the end of a statement, as if the statement were a question. This speech pattern is rarely observed in men and can suggest a lack of conviction. Lacking confidence or suffering from imposter syndrome is another that women may suffer from disproportionately in comparison to men. For example, it has been proven that when applying for a new role, women focus on what small percentage of skills they don’t have, while men focus on the skills they do have. Finally, women can over-rotate to gaining consensus to the detriment of moving forward or taking action. Again, men may face these challenges, but likely to a lesser extent.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I have long ascribed to a theory of leadership that says that successful leaders are three dimensional, — They possess head, heart and guts, as outlined by Dotlich, Cairo and Rhinesmith, 2006. What do I mean by that?

Head leadership means demonstrating a strategic approach to understanding and managing the complexities of your executive role using analytics, often rethinking and reframing as new data emerges. Heart leadership suggests balancing the needs of people and the business, while creating trust, exhibiting compassion and driving commitment and engagement. Lastly, guts leadership implies taking risks, exhibiting courage and making tough decisions. While everyone likely leans toward one or more of these leadership attributes, all can be learned or softened. Therefore, in my opinion, anyone who is willing to learn, grow and take this multi-dimensional approach to leadership, can aspire to be an executive.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We all hope that we leave the world a better place than we found it. While I hope that I’m doing that in small ways every day, one area of passion and commitment has been my desire to affect positive change for women and girls. This dates back 30+ years to my time as an MBA graduate to today in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company, and throughout my volunteer service.

And on a personal level, I feel like I’ve been mentoring young girls for most of my life. I would argue that it started when I was a teenager as the eldest of three girls, with sisters eight and 12 years my junior. And now as Auntie to two teenage nieces, I continue to try to be a role model and make this world a better place for them, and other girls and young women.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to pace yourself because the road can be long and stamina is absolutely necessary when working toward important goals. I have only done one marathon, but the parallels to life are often stated and absolutely accurate from my experience.

Enjoy the moment. I am one who can too often be so focused on what’s next that I am at risk of missing the here and now. I am increasingly trying to relax into the moment without too much concern as to what’s coming next.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. No one achieves anything alone, so the sooner we learn to partner with and rely on others, the better. Many of us are trained not to show our frailties or reveal our gaps, but true strength is doing just that, so that we can learn, grow and benefit from others who help fill those gaps.

Trust, but verify. I have found that there are generally two approaches to trust. Some trust unconditionally until they are proven wrong by a betrayal. Others don’t trust until trust is earned. I have learned over time that something in the middle might be best. Trust, but verify.

Follow your internal compass. We all have that internal compass, voice in our head or intuition that shows us the way. Too often we don’t follow it, we don’t listen or we get distracted by outside influences. I wish I had learned that sooner, but it’s never too late!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is a parable that teaches “this too shall pass.” While the full parable is too long to share here, a quote from it reads, “As night changes to day, so do moments of joy and despair replace each other. Accept them as the nature of things, as part of life.”

This parable is a reminder to me that nothing is permanent or lasts forever, so it’s imperative to truly experience things in the moment and to relinquish control as change is constant. I consistently try to incorporate these learnings in how I manage my life through good times and bad.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I’ve been fortunate to know and meet many prominent people across business, sports, entertainment and government so no one person comes to mind. In fact, the opportunity to have breakfast or lunch with any one of the millions of Americans, particularly people of color, who have been negatively impacted by COVID or Black Lives Matter, would mean more to me than time with a celebrity. People are suffering, and any words of wisdom, comfort or gratitude that I could deliver would be a blessing.

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