“Some people mistake kindness for weakness”, Ester Banque of Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Embrace movement, and practice self-knowledge and self-care . Be a caring and firm leader. Some people mistake kindness for weakness. I believe you can be kind, caring and human yet firm, driven, to make tough decisions and be successful. My teams know that I lead with my heart and execute with my brain, neither have let […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Embrace movement, and practice self-knowledge and self-care . Be a caring and firm leader. Some people mistake kindness for weakness. I believe you can be kind, caring and human yet firm, driven, to make tough decisions and be successful. My teams know that I lead with my heart and execute with my brain, neither have let me down, but they definitely work better in tandem. Showing love and appreciation is the basis for happiness and success.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ester Banque.

A successful global executive with a portfolio of accomplishments in multiple geographies Ester Banque has consistently delivered significant innovation while remaining patient-centric, ensuring the broadest possible access to critically-needed treatments. In her current role as SVP & Head of Intercontinental, Ester oversees the diverse & dynamic Intercontinental region, with responsibilities over 70 markets and 3000 employees across the globe.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Ester! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Barcelona, Spain to a very loving family, and never followed established norms. I was the only girl in school that played soccer; I was gay in a conventional society (so I stayed in the closet for years) and later in my career I was often the only woman at work in a Board Room and a Hispanic in Anglo-Saxon corporations. Therefore, I grew up feeling very different, like an outsider. Little did I know at the time this was the beginning of a career as a change agent. How I embraced being different, would shape the person and the professional that I am today

I met my wife Eva 25 years ago when she played defense, and I played forward on different soccer teams in Barcelona. I am so very proud of where I came from, and the family we now have including twin daughters Erin and Zoe. My family is the most important part of my life.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I would not say I was inspired by a person: I have always been inspired by purpose. I want to help make a better world. You can call me naïve but I think that if everyone tries their best to do good, the world can be a better place. I come from a modest family and I was the first member in generations to graduate in the University. So, I did not have a role model for a career, they came later, inspiring leaders like Christi Shaw, Susanne Schaeffer to name a few. But I did have the best role models in my family for the values that have guided my life (honesty, caring, resilience, compassion, fairness, quality) and keep my feet on the ground. My family was modest in money but rich in values. I could not be prouder of them and my origins.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I come from a loving family that always supported and encouraged me. My father encouraged me to pursue a life without boundaries, where I could be myself and not emulate someone else’s preferences. This was quite forward looking in a male dominated society as Spain was, at the time. He inspired me to become a leader in the male dominated fields, such as football and science. There was a moment that became pivotal in my life, when I came out to my family in my youth, 30 years ago, when in Spain and the rest of the world, being gay was a taboo. My dad said that he loved me unconditionally and was proud of who I was. He said that there was nothing wrong with me or my sexuality that I had to follow my feelings and enjoy love. He also said that I had to be discrete as society was not ready yet. My dad was a wise, visionary, intelligent and caring man. Even if he passed away some years ago, he is still my hero.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

There is only one thing I would do differently in my life; the rest is part of the journey of growth. I would come out sooner in my professional life. While I came out to my family and friends early in my life, I stayed 17 years in the closet in my professional life. I was so afraid that it would affect my career, that I would be excluded, judged in my ability to perform and lead. If I had come out earlier, I would not only have felt happier and freer to express myself but it would have saved many embarrassing moments, as well. For example, when I had to share about my personal life and answer questions like: Do you have a boyfriend? I would reply “No”. But I would omit the most important part. “I do have a girlfriend”

Interestingly, when I came out, I was able to connect with people better; they could see who I am. They felt encouraged to express themselves freely. I was more energized; I did not carry the burden of hiding. My career took off.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

The first thing I’d say is don’t emulate anyone’s success, carve your own path. It’s ok to seek inspiration, but each path is individual. Be yourself always.

Lead with purpose and be a blended leader. Lead with your heart and execute with your brain. People can mistake kindness for weakness but I believe you can be caring, compassionate, human and firm, make tough decisions and successful.

Make choices. Be bold when pursuing your dreams. Be bold when giving career opportunities to talented people

Do not be afraid when taking on a new job, a new challenge. You are ready for the challenge. You may not have all the experience and skills for the job on day one, but that is OK. Focus on the growth, on the journey of becoming better. You will step up and you will be successful. Support and coach people in new roles so they can be successful too.

Lean on people, ask for help. Create an A team that can be empowered. Develop a supporting system with family and friends.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love reading so it is hard to pick one book. One that I very much enjoyed and made me reflect deeply is “Letting Go” by David R. Hawkins. This book explains that thoughts create our emotions and these affect our energy that ultimately affects our body. Positive thinking has a positive impact in our body while negative thinking can be detrimental to our body. Paying attention to what we think can change our lives.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Be the change you want to see in the world”, by Mahatma Ghandi. This especially resonates with me in my personal and professional life.

Personally, being a woman, gay and Hispanic, I had tried to fit in so many times in my life and became so frustrated until one day I realized that it is not about fitting in but driving the change so organizations, society and the world can be more diverse and inclusive.

Professionally at BMS, in my role as Senior Vice President, Intercontinental Markets, we work together with my leadership team, united by BMS’ mission: help patients prevail over serious diseases. The Intercontinental Region has 70 markets across 5 continents and while highly diverse countries there is one common element, patient access to innovative medicines can be challenging for a multitude of reasons, including maturity of healthcare systems, political and economic stability. Therefore, together, we work to widen and deepen public access to life saving treatments. No matter if it is our Head of IT, our Head of HR, our General Managers in China, Argentina, Russia, we are united by the same purpose and we do drive the change we want to see in the world.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

It is a very exciting time for the Intercontinental region as we have developed a long-term strategy for the whole region including a dedicated plan for China. We are implementing the strategy with the objective of helping more patients prevail over serious diseases by becoming a leader in core therapeutic areas, such as oncology, hematology and immunology. This region covers close to 5 billion people across the world so accelerating patient access to innovative medicines it is critical to what we do.

We work to continuously widen and deepen public access and government funding to life saving medicines, in Latin America, in Brazil, across Asia, Eastern Europe and Middle East. We work closely with multiple stakeholders to make it happen, internally and externally.

I am also very excited that we are creating an even more inclusive work culture. At BMS, we know that if we are not actively including, we may be unintentionally excluding, so we work every day to help make a more diverse organization and inclusive culture. I’m fortunate to be serve in two councils: as the co-chair of the Commercialization Diversity and Inclusion Council, and as a member of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Council to actively include and role model behaviors that showcase what we stand for.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

I found that creating good habits allowed me to lead my life. When I was a kid, I would do this intuitively, as a student and a soccer player. I did not realize how important it was until I found myself really struggling when the twins were born. Paradoxically, the most important time of my life, giving birth to our twin daughters and becoming a mom, became the hardest time. Eva, my wife, and I were all by ourselves taking care of the babies that were so active and energetic that would not sleep at night and hardly during the day. I was recovering from a severe anemia post labor and I was very weak but it did not matter, as I had to be there for the babies. There was not time for a break, it was like being on a hamster wheel all day, and up most of the night. I also had a demanding job at work and I had to perform even if I would only sleep an average of three hours. That craziness lasted almost three years. I did not lead my life. I was carried away. I was in survival mode.

I became conscious about how important is to take care of your body, mind and spirit. Self-care is key to take care of others. I regularly exercise, eat well, sleep enough, meditate every day and enjoy learning new things.

I also realized that I had to ask for help. It’s important to lean on others when needed and helping others when they need it. This is what makes us strong as an individual and as a community.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I have learned from experience of the importance of leading your life as opposed to be carried away. During the pandemic we are all experiencing very intense days. We have to combine working from home with our personal responsibilities, including parenting small kids with online school, taking care of our families, and elderly family members.

The routine had completely shifted. We had to get in the habit of creating healthy boundaries. While we are all working 12-hour days, I focus on giving each of my leaders the time they need, emphasizing self-care. I encouraged everyone to take time to meditate (or just pause) and exercise, to balance the long days at the kitchen table.

I’m in constant contact with all our leaders around the world, to learn directly about their needs, how we can support each other better. I intentionally thank them for their incredible leadership during these unprecedented times, challenged by ensuring our medicines get to patients in need. I encouraged best practice sharing amongst my countries. It’s important to note that my countries were the greatest sources of resilience. In Australia, the team sent “care packages” to employees. In Brazil, lunch-time became “no-meeting” time. We saw so many photos of employees with children on their laps saying “hi” to colleagues across the world. Although we are still living challenging times, the experience has made us more human, brought us closer and broke down barriers: we are all more similar than we thought and going through the same joys and challenges.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

I believe in having the right foundations in anything you do. I know I am grounded by my family and focused on serving my team and the purpose of our company. The two are connected, without one I couldn’t do the other. Start with where you are, and where you want to go. Consider the habits you need to adopt and be intentional, systematic about them. I know how hard it is to commit to good habits, but celebrate the successes and the moments that matter. Be kind to yourself when you have an off day. Get up the next day and recommit.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Wellness, Performance and Focus are interconnected. You take care of yourself and focus, you will perform at your best. I have 5 habits:

Take care of your body, mind and spirit. Have the discipline of an athlete, the curiosity of Einstein and the balance and soul connection of a Yogi

Ask for help. You can’t do it all by yourself.

Manage your energy, not your time. Build your resilience.

Make choices. Be bold pursuing your dreams.

Let go. Get in the zone and flow.

I do practice meditation daily, which helps me stay grounded in what is important. Exercise, eating healthy and sleeping is also basic care of our bodies. I love learning new things, some related to work many others totally unrelated. I’m still working on the very long hours and taking breaks more often. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe. I’m not mastering my habits yet and I have good days and bad days. But I always come back to these habits, because they work!

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

A key principle is to listen to yourself, your body, your mind and your soul. They are wise and always speak to us, but we often do not listen enough. This is especially true these days with so much information and digital connectivity, which keep us distracted and focused externally. When you pay attention, you can sense if you aren’t eating right, or your workload is making you feel anxious or depressed. We just need to listen and act to change it.

The other principle is to make the time to meditate, exercise, sleep and eat well. I wake up an hour and a half before I start my workday so I can complete the daily routine.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

I believe it is important to manage your energy, not your time. In addition of taking care of your wellness, build the resilience that will help you stay on your game when things get challenging. Ensure you are at peak performance for important events. Planning ahead to be prepared, as athletes will train before a game, and visualize how you will perform at that event have become key for my teams and me.

Ask for help, get comfortable leaning on others. You can’t do it all by yourself. A person I always ask for help is my younger sister, Marta. She is an extraordinary therapist who combines conventional and traditional medicines. She is also my best friend. At work, I learned to lean on my team. When you have an great team and provide them with a vision and purpose, you empower them as key contributors and extraordinary things happen. This is when new ideas flow, people see and capture opportunities and together, we elevate to a higher level of performance. It feels like magic, but in reality, there is a lot of literature that shows how the brain works when we feel safe, valued and supported. We have better neurologic connections, we expand ourselves as opposed to feeling contracted when we are afraid and do not feel valued or encouraged. Consciously choose to help people expand!

Be a blended leader. Lead with your heart and execute with your brain. You can be kind, caring and human and yet be firm, make tough decisions and be successful. The way you lead is critical to the way you make people feel, including yourself. Great leadership leads to great performance.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

I try to listen actively. I listen to my heart, soul and brain; they sometimes have different points of views! I’m also listening more than I speak. I used to be the one that had to know everything, talked more than listened, and wanted to be right. With experience not only comes age but also wisdom. I realized how important is to listen and learn from others. It’s a myth that leaders must have all the answers. Leadership is a team sport, and galvanizing a team means every member has a voice, and it will be heard. I try to be a leader that gives people the space to take risks and ownership.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

You have the power of your own destiny. Be bold when pursuing your dreams and do not compromise because of fear. I had so many dreams in my life that required me to be bold. When I became a soccer player and played in the national team, at a time when girls were stigmatized for playing ‘male’ sports in my country, that was bold. When I pursued an international career that required living abroad, starting a new life with each new role and learning foreign languages to connect, that was bold. Creating a family with my wife, when in many countries we would be not accepted or even criminalized, that was bold. Every time, I had to make a conscious bold decision. Even if I was afraid of failure, I always looked at my dream as the North Star for each decision. Those choices helped me stay focused and determined to be successful. The same applies at work. When you align decisions to a greater purpose, results always come.

Many athletes describe that they performed their best game when they felt totally “in the zone” meaning that they were so focused that nothing else was distracting them from being totally present in that moment. When you achieve this state, nothing else matters but that present moment, your energy is at highest level, your concentration is phenomenal, and you simply know what to do. Just flow with the moment. Meditation, mindfulness and wellness helps to practice focus.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Be yourself and encourage others to express themselves freely. Act with purpose and do not compromise on your dreams. It’s important to empower people to be at their very best.

It takes discipline to make those habits an integral part of your life. Do not give up, even if it is hard to see results at the beginning or you have days that you think you are going backwards. Stay with it.

Be curious about who you are, how you operate, what makes you happy, what makes you successful, where you get your energy from. Listen to your body, mind and soul and act accordingly. Help other people do the same.

Be a student of life. There is much more than we can perceive, and life can be magic. Quantum Physics and spiritual traditions are not so far away from each other.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

I think my athletes analogy in the previous question addresses how I feel about the value of being in a state of flow. It’s about being aware of our own script and thoughts that get us distracted. Once focused, let go of fear, this is key to achieve a state of flow.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Embrace movement, and practice self-knowledge and self-care . Be a caring and firm leader. Some people mistake kindness for weakness. I believe you can be kind, caring and human yet firm, driven, to make tough decisions and be successful. My teams know that I lead with my heart and execute with my brain, neither have let me down, but they definitely work better in tandem. Showing love and appreciation is the basis for happiness and success.

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

If I were to have a private meal with anyone outside my network, I would say either Michele Obama, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Arianna Huffington. They represent strength in every way, humanity and very interesting life experiences.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

On LinkedIn

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Jean Van Damme of ESTER: “Entrepreneurship is hard, and sometimes lonely”

by Fotis Georgiadis
Work Smarter//

Why Workplace Kindness Is Necessary

by Jennifer Lea Reynolds
leadership lie
Community//

“Kindness Equals Weakness” is a Leadership Lie

by Alyson Van Hooser
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.