Two voices are infinitely stronger than one — if you want to drive change, it’s important to engage others. One of my favorite quotes is the proverb “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy K. Butler, PhD, President of Biosciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific
Dr. Butler became President of Biosciences at Thermo Fisher Scientific in October 2019 after serving as Vice President and General Manager of Cell Biology. She is the site leader for the Carlsbad, CA campus of Thermo Fisher, which includes over 2,000 employees. Amy has held multiple general management and functional leadership roles at Thermo Fisher, including overseeing marketing & e-business, global customer care and gene expression profiling. Amy joined Invitrogen, then Life Technologies and now part of Thermo Fisher, in 2004. Previously, she was an engagement manager with McKinsey & Co. where she worked with large pharmaceutical companies on R&D, sales and marketing strategies. Prior to that, Amy was a developmental neuroscientist at the Salk Institute. An active member of the healthcare business community, Amy serves on the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine’s board of directors and has been recognized with several prominent industry awards, including the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Rising Star Award (2014) and was most recently named a finalist for the San Diego Magazine’s 2019 Woman of the Year award.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iam very fortunate to be in a career that combines several of my passions. It started with a love of learning and science, particularly biology and neuroscience. I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and how it plays a role in why we are the way we are. In addition, I am passionate about developing people. It started as a love for teaching, which I had the opportunity to do as a college, graduate, and post-doctoral student. As I moved into a role where I was running a business, this love of teaching transformed into a focus on developing professionals in their career. And finally, I’m passionate about having a positive impact on the world around me and I have been focused on contributing to advancements in human health throughout my career. My work at Thermo Fisher Scientific gives me the chance to develop people, engage in new science and build technologies that help our customers do amazing things to improve human health.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
What I have found interesting during my last 15 years at the company has been how much it has changed. The company name has changed (twice, due to mergers and acquisitions), the culture has changed and the size and complexity of the business has changed. But throughout each evolution, each transition, this growth has enabled us to bring increasing value to our customers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I made occurred when I first started at Invitrogen in 2004. It was then a moderate-sized start up in San Diego. I arrived in sunny California from a management consulting role in New York City, unaware of how dramatically different the company culture might be. I showed up on my first day in a blue pinstriped suit. Like a fish out of water, I realized that I had to adapt my wardrobe to fit the corporate ethos. I think it is important to make the effort to adapt, because you demonstrate that you appreciate a company for its unique workplace culture. For me, that meant quickly transitioning to a less formal wardrobe.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m honored to work for a company that believes as strongly as I do about leveraging science to do great things in the world. Our mission is to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer and we all share a collective passion for this vision. It drives everything we do.
There is one story in particular that comes to mind when I think about how this work inspires me. There was a young Marine, the son of a Thermo Fisher employee, who was seriously injured during a training exercise where he suffered severe burns. A customer of ours donated its incredible product, a tissue that contains stem cells and growth factors, that was used to treat his burns. With this treatment his wounds healed quicker and more fully than they would have with a traditional skin tissue transplant. It’s a remarkable example of how our work can make a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Thermo Fisher has been investing to grow our cell and gene therapy business, which is focused on supporting scientists and clinicians who are working to create new therapies in this exciting area of healthcare. For example, we continue to invest in developing new gene editing tools that enable our partners to more efficiently and effectively build new therapies. In addition, Thermo Fisher recently acquired Brammer Bio, a leader in viral vector manufacturing, which is enabling us to further help our customers in the development of gene therapies. Gene therapy has the potential to provide durable treatments, potentially after only one or two doses, to tackle a majority of the rare genetic-based diseases that have been identified.
I’m honored to be stepping into the role of president of the bioscience division at Thermo Fisher Scientific, which will give me even more opportunity to get involved in the groundbreaking work our company is doing.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
To me, the real question is “what advice would you give leaders?” I don’t typically give different advice to female leaders than I would give to male leaders. My advice would be — focus on building the strongest team you can, which includes building diversity of thought into the team. Then empower them, support them and make sure they can be successful.
One of the secrets to building a high-performing team is identifying the right roles for the right people. Or to put it another way — figuring out what each individuals’ key strengths are and determining the right place for them to do their absolute best work. To do this, I take the time to understand a leader’s personal brand and what they want it to be, and then work with them to address any gaps.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Part of my journey as a leader has been discovering the importance of leading in an authentic way. This applies for any size team. I also can’t stress enough the importance of building a diverse team and leveraging those differences and strengths. Lastly, if you have a large team, it’s important to divide and conquer. You don’t want to focus all your resources on one problem when you have a large enough team to tackle multiple challenges at a time.
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?
That’s such a hard question because I can think of so many people I’m grateful to have worked with across my career, but there are two individuals that come to mind.
One was a manager I had for a relatively short time, less than a year, but his leadership had a lasting impact on me. During one of my first interactions with him he made it very clear that he trusted me to make the right decisions for the business. I was faced with a hiring decision between two qualified individuals, one that was known to the leadership team and another that I personally knew would be a better fit for the role. I felt I needed to explain my choice to my new manager, but he told me he knew I would make the right decision and that he didn’t need an explanation. Considering he knew me for all of 2 weeks at this point, his trust in me was very empowering. I try to remember this and to instill this same level of empowerment in my teams.
Another is an individual I worked with for over a decade. Over those years he was a supportive colleague, a mentor, a sponsor, and for a couple years my boss. Of all of the support he gave me over those many years, what I appreciated most was his sponsorship — the way he worked to provide me with opportunities to take on new roles. It’s always meaningful when someone is willing to go to bat for you.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe in the mission of the company to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. That’s the goal of our work and it aligns closely with my own values. My position allows me to invest in issues that matter to me and to my family: healthcare, science and education.
On a personal level, I am passionate about helping people grow and develop to have their own positive impact on the world. Fortunately, over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to lead incredibly talented professionals and large diverse teams. I hope I’ve been part of their journey to become leaders themselves, as I know I have been able to learn so much from them.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You don’t need to plan out the next 10 years of your life, that’s not what career planning can or should be about. I couldn’t have possibly planned to go from engineering to biology to research science to consulting to business, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey.
- Don’t worry too much about titles and moving “up”. Look for roles that you enjoy and that you can learn from, that open up opportunities for the next challenge.
- Two voices are infinitely stronger than one — if you want to drive change, it’s important to engage others. One of my favorite quotes is the proverb “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Be your authentic self — In other words, don’t try to lead like someone else. Work somewhere you can be successful being you.
- On a lighter note, always bring carryon. Early on in my career I had multiple mishaps with lost luggage, now I always pack light and carryon my luggage.
You are a person of great influence. 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.
Investing in children can have a tremendous impact and can change their entire lives. All kids deserve to live without hunger and fear, to have access to healthcare, and to generally have the support they need to grow and learn. If I could inspire a movement, perhaps it would be a Put Children First movement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” This is why it’s so important to empower people and get them to believe in themselves, because people are really quite remarkable. It is amazing what people can accomplish.
We are 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 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
Some individuals that come to mind are those that have been courageous, overcome obstacles, and are inspiring change. I recently read Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime. He comes across as an intelligent and compassionate individual, not to mention he has a great sense of humor. It’s inspiring to see how he is leveraging the platform he has to be a positive voice for change in the world.