Why Immigrants' Resiliency Will be One of the Key Drivers for Change (With Pfizer's Lidia Fonseca)
Elias Torres: Hola. I'm Elias Torres, co- founder and CTO of Drift. You are listening to The American Dream Podcast. Did you know that Drift is part of just 2% of PC back startups led by Latin American founders? I'm on a mission to change that. On this show, you will hear from leaders who have achieved their own version of the American Dream. We'll talk about what the process looked like to get there, the obstacles they have faced along the way, and the work we still have to do to build the new face of a diverse corporate America. Bienvenidos todos to The American Dream Podcast, and Happy Hispanic Heritage Month. While I think Hispanic Heritage Month should be celebrated all year long because Latinas are not just celebrate one month and we like to party, I'm excited to wrap up the official month with today's guest, Lidia Fonseca. Lidia is the Executive Vice President, Chief Digital and Technology Officer of Pfizer. Not only has Lidia led the charge on digital transformation at Pfizer amids the COVID- 19 pandemic, but she's also heads up leadership and development and has been instrumental in creating more opportunities for underrepresented individuals to excel at the company. Today, Lidia and I are going to talk about how she got into the role of Chief Digital and Technology Officer, the risk she took to get there, and the work she's focused on to create a more diverse tech community. Lidia, welcome to the show.
Lidia Fonseca: Happy to be here. Thank you, Elias.
Elias Torres: No, thank you for making the time. And one of the things I love to hear about Latinos, especially in interviews is, I want to know a little bit about your story, your childhood, immigration into the US, were you born here, were you born outside? Tell us a little bit about that.
Lidia Fonseca: So, thank you, Elias. And for hosting me, I'm excited to be here with you today, especially as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. I can start with a little background on myself. I was born in Tecuala, Mexico. We moved to the US when I was 10 years old, and I grew up in Southern California. So, I guess you can say, it was the classic immigrant story. Like so many others, my family came to the US in the hopes of a better future and the promise of America. I lived in the inner city of Los Angeles, which helped me to appreciate people from all walks of life. And I learned to speak English by watching soap operas, the news and TV shows like CHiPs at that time, if you remember CHiPs with Erik Estrada.
Elias Torres: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Lidia Fonseca: Right. I was fortunate to have a great English literature teacher in middle school, Mr. Jensen, who saw my potential and encouraged me to apply to a magnet high school in the San Fernando Valley. It wasn't easy. My new school was a 90- minute bus right away, which took up a lot of my day. In fact, I was often doing my homework using a flashlight late into the night. I was able to make the most of this opportunity doing large part to my mother's support. She has been an inspiration to me. My mother had a hard start in life losing her father when she was only 9, and being married off when she was 13. But remarkably, she has always been a spiritual person who never felt sorry for herself and worked hard to rise above her circumstances. And while she only received an elementary school education, she was an avid reader, interested in what was happening in our community and around the world. She encouraged all of her children to have opinions and pursue our interests. She set a great example of what we could achieve through hard work and determination. She had multiple jobs, so that my siblings and I could have a better future. And I do see her, of course, as a role model, but I do feel that I wouldn't be where I am today without that support and that example. Taking a step back, Elias, I often think I'm living a life I was never supposed to have because my circumstances growing up were so different from where I am now. And that feeling of, I'm not supposed to be here. Was there for a long time from attending that magnet high school to getting into Berkeley. And even during my career when I worked for some of the most prestigious companies in the world, I suspect that all of us experienced that feeling at some point, particularly those of us from underrepresented communities. But that's precisely why I encourage people never to feel limited or defined by their circumstances because there's so much out there for us. With support from the right people, you can create change and write your own life story. I'm proof of that, and I hope that inspires others as well.
Elias Torres: Wow. And, oh, my God, so you have so many things you touched on. First, I think mothers are unbelievable, especially mothers like yours. I feel like we live in an age of internet and we need role models. And here, we're making this podcast for that reason and we use the internet to share this information across the world and mobile devices. And yet, your mother did not have that many people around her to guide her, but she had these things within her, these principles to make the right decisions, to know what the job was, to dedicate her life for you and your siblings in such a young age. And we're like, where sometimes we're lost, " And, oh, what do we do?" You're mother knew exactly what she needed to do.
Lidia Fonseca: That's amazing. I always find that fascinating as well.
Elias Torres: It's not like she was reading books and mentorship and families and this and telling her, " This is how you raise your children. This is what you got to do." And she did a fantastic job, well done, well done for her. She accomplished our American dream. Without her, we wouldn't be here. Same with my mother, same with my grandmother. My grandmother is like, similar to... She crossed the river in 1975 from Nicaragua. And because of her, I'm able to be here today. So, if she hadn't done that, I would've never been able to get immigration status...
Lidia Fonseca: That's awesome.
Elias Torres: Thirty years late. We're living a life that we're not supposed to have. I feel like that every day. It's unfair. It's sad that we have to feel that way. And I try not to anymore and feel a little bit more like I earned it or it's fair that others can get this as well. You know what I mean? And the experiences that I'm getting to share and participate. And I'm always like, " I'm the only one here that looks like this. I'm the only one." It's crazy. And then, we're doing things by, how do we tell the younger generation about this feeling of we're not supposed to have that or be that or accomplish that or be at this place? What can we tell them about that? What would you tell yourself again, now that you know what you have accomplished?
Lidia Fonseca: Look, I think it comes back to what do you stand for and who you are. And work hard, get an education, determination. And I think the one thing is, you don't have to prove you yourself over and over and over again. That's what I would tell myself because I think when you're not working hard at proving yourself, I think you also get to appreciate and enjoy what you're doing and what you're achieving. So, that would probably be the one thing is. It's not self- doubt. Don't let doubt creep in.
Elias Torres: I love that, such a good advice. What is similar to what... What's the name of the economist of the Freakonomics, the author of Freakonomics. And I was watching a documentary and talking about the analysis of parents. Parents, we beat ourselves up all the time like, " Am I a good parent? Am I being a bad parent?" And so, he does this study and basically says like, " There's two kinds of parents. There's good parents and bad parents. But all you have to do is care and want to be for your children and you're a good parent." But people keep beating themselves up over and over and over forever. And so, it's like, you should know that if you are doing this, if you're meeting these needs, you are good parents because you're going to try and you're going to do and you're going to learn and you're going to have failure, but you're going to... You shouldn't spend all this time. And so, what you said is very wise because once you've proven enough yourself that you're able to go to magnet school, that you're able to get good grades, that you're able to hold a job, that you're able to treat people with respect, that you have ambition, that's it. Those are the ingredients. It changes a little bit as you go on in life, but it's almost not that different. It's still the same thing. And so, you did it once, you're going to do it again. You don't need to be beating yourself up every time at every level because every everybody else, that's the thing. Whether you're Latino, whether you're white, whether you're black, everybody has the same feeling and everybody's just figuring it out. Everybody's just learning how to do it. Nobody's born knowing how to run a company or being a chief digital officer advisor. It takes time to learn and experience. And once you knew you could learn once, you will always be able to learn. And most of us, most people have great abilities we're born with. It's like, there's no such thing as like, "Oh, you can't learn." And so, we got to get that out of our systems early. That's a good... Set a few things, prove those, and then don't need to be proven yourself again. Just go enjoy. And you'll get more out of the system if you're not focused on that, on the weakness. And another thing, I don't know, I think I always see that in Latinos, I don't know what it's like depending on an economic class, but we seem to appreciate our teachers a lot. They have specific. Tell me more about that, about your teachers.
Lidia Fonseca: Teachers and mentors over the years, I think I was fortunate enough. As I mentioned, Mr. Jensen, you can imagine when he, I thought, was a pretty critical character in my life's journey because he saw something. Maybe, it was like curiosity because I was always curious, I was always interested in learning about different philosophers and different characters in what we were reading. And he really pushed me and he would tell me, he says, " You have this ability to comprehend." And that was an interesting word. He said, " You have this ability to comprehend and see beyond what we're reading." And he said, " You should really consider going to this magnet school," this high school that was a magnet school. And you can imagine, first of all, I was very shy at that age. So, he helped me to get out of that shell because I was incredibly shy. And so, I live, I almost felt like I had created this other world in the books and in all the literature that we were reading. And I would read way beyond what was assigned in my class. That was another thing that he appreciated. And he had a whole collection. So, he would let me bring two, three books every week and I would read those and he would give me some more the week after. That, I thought, that's a teacher who goes way above and beyond. And I have always appreciated. And that's throughout, even at Berkeley or even when I was in masters, in my master's programs. I could always hone in on the teachers that I felt were going above and beyond. And for somebody like me at that time, you got to bear in mind that it didn't have any support around me. My family had no idea of what it's like to apply for a magnet school, for what it's like to apply to a university. I had to do that on my own and Mr. Jensen for that magnet school, he helped me obtain the... I had to get an application, I had to write essays. I had not that different than a little bit later on when you applied for college, but I didn't know any of that. And he took the time. And I even remember, Elias, he would even spent money off his own because there was even an application fee and I didn't have that. And so, I think not only is it important to have and to be okay with mentors and coaches and sponsors along the way, but also importantly, be one yourself. So, I think that we also have an opportunity to pay it forward, so to speak as well.
Elias Torres: Yeah, I think that that's something that everything that you're saying there happened to me. And that feeling when somebody says, " Take this book with you." And it's just, especially at that time, for me it was like, it's not like I had a lot of books at home. Growing up in Nicaragua, there was one house in the neighborhood that had a bookcase, a large bookcase. So, that's where we would go do homework because if we needed a book, there was no public library. It's like, where I grew up. And it's like we went to the house. If there was a book for that in the house for the homework, that's all I had. And so, not growing up like that, when somebody said to me, " Take this book, it's just such a feeling of like, wow, how much attention I'm getting, how much love and help, and you hit that the nail in the head." There was a period when I received those things, and to me, it was such a blessing getting that. And then, there was a period in my life where I was like, "I still cannot afford to do those things, I felt like." But I should have pushed harder. And now, that's my role, that's my responsibility. And the other day, I helped with the nonprofit. I interviewed him here and in Nicaragua, and his sons were going to school here. And so, his son and his cousin, and his son's cousin. And so, I said, " Tell him to come over to my house." So, they came to my house in Belmont and I got to host them. We had dinner, fed the college students really well. And then, they started talking about business, they're studying business. And now, I have like just so many books here. And so, they started mentioning some of the books that I've had and I just come out with a stack like this of books and they were so excited. And I just remember that moment. I was like, " I got to think more about like..." Because I read the books, and then what? They're just collecting dust here. And the kids need them, and they want to read them and it's going to make so good for them, so much good. So, I love that. We got to be a coach. We got to learn that we're capable early on, and we got to be a coach. This is so amazing lessons. Tell us a little bit about you immigrated, you moved, you took big risk. I think that's something I talk about. I moved around a couple of times LA to LA, LA back, Tampa. And then, left Tampa, which is nice, more Latino community, more comfortable. And I came to the Northeast and the Northeast is not comfortable. Tell us about your move and why you think is that important that we move, that we take big risks in going to different places?
Lidia Fonseca: I think that's a great question because I do. It is never easy to get outside of your comfort zone and take a risk. I certainly, felt that way when I decided to move to the Netherlands, an entirely foreign place to me. I actually, went to the Netherlands to do my graduate studies. And you would think that having already come to the US as an immigrant, I would want to change. I wouldn't want to change things up even more. But I am forever grateful that I found the courage to do it. Being in the Netherlands exposed me to new cultures and people through my master's program. Just to give you a sense, I did my Master's in Business Administration and a Master's in Business Informatics, 90% of the students at the graduate program that I was in were from outside of the Netherlands. So, 10% of the students were actually Dutch. The other 90% were coming from all over the world, Latin America, Asia, the US, South America, the Middle East. And so, it was life changing. First of all, I gained a lot of confidence knowing that I could stand on my own anywhere in the world and succeed in navigating new cultures and challenges. I met many incredible people that I'm still in touch with today. And this was 25 years ago that I went to school there. And I also met my husband there at school. So, that was definitely life changing. And we have been together now for 27 years. I always say, " Do not be afraid to take risks," especially early in your career. Even if everything doesn't work out perfectly, I believe it's important to reframe failure as learning and experience, something that helps us come out stronger and smarter. I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't taken chances. Not only did I learn a huge amount from those experiences, but they make me a more compassionate person and a stronger leader. One of our greatest strengths for those of us who are immigrants is our resilience and our ability to adapt. It's not easy to embrace that level of change, but if anyone knows how valuable the outcome is and can be, it's us. And I think that that's an important piece, and we just have to find the courage to make those moves and they're going to make you stronger, more resilient even. So, I found it for me personally, absolutely, an important part of who I am.
Elias Torres: Yeah, no, I think so. I think that what makes us resilient is, we don't have anything to lose. And I think, so when you do that, I think people worry about failure so much. And there's so many wonderful stories of people that were super successful or super wealthy. And then, they lost everything, and then they were able to build it again. And so, people worry too much about a failure. We should be able to forgive and we should be able to let people learn from their failures, I don't know. I feel like there's almost nothing that you can't come back from, if you really want to do better and improve. And so, when we're immigrants and we don't have anything, we have that resilience built in because we get a lot of failures. But what I want is Latinos to aim higher. I think we aim too low sometimes because we're looking to cover basic necessities to live in this country and not to achieve great things for business, for society, for health, for communities, for education, and know that we deserve a spot anywhere in their professions. Tell me a little bit about Pfizer. What's your role? What do you do for people that might not understand this title? And how'd you get there? So, you did MBAs, you did... So, a lot of education. How'd you end up in the science business?
Lidia Fonseca: Sure. So, as I mentioned, I went to the Netherlands to earn my masters and I then after I graduated, I went to work for a Philips, it's a Dutch company. And I got interested in healthcare and technology because I was fascinated by the power of connecting the dots and applying technology to improve people's lives. And so, I joined Philips Healthcare after graduate school and began my career in healthcare. That was 25 years ago. From there, I took on the role of CIO, Chief Information Officer at the two largest diagnostics companies in the US. It's Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics. And in 2019, Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer invited me to serve as the company's first ever Chief Digital and Technology Officer. My remit from Albert was to harness the power of digital, to impact every aspect of our business from how we discover and develop medicines, to how we manufacture them and commercialize them. And how we engage with patients and customers, which I'm proud to say that we have been doing. In fact, I'm proud to say that our digital team played a significant role in helping Pfizer reach 1. 4 billion patients in 2021. That's more than one out of every six people on the planet. So, leveraging the power of digital also enabled us to bring the COVID- 19 vaccine and oral treatment, Paxlovid to the world in record time. And this is what motivates me every day. And Elias, I'm excited about what more we will do. But for those, just to give you a little bit of a sense, my team and I, and my responsibility includes all digital strategy, digital products and solutions, technology analytics across the company. And I also lead learning and development for the company. And I also lead business process excellence. And more recently, earlier this year, I actually, created the digital health and medicines unit. And so, this is, think of it as a new venture where we are launching new digital diagnostics, digital medicines, digital therapeutics products into the market. And so, I'm right, that's probably my latest venture so to speak. We did launch that unit earlier this year, and it wouldn't be Albert Bourla without us having some pretty aggressive targets. And so, we have some pretty big revenue targets that we have to deliver. But that's what my role entails.
Elias Torres: Wow. I cannot imagine the company that I founded is, we're about 600 people and I'm learning how to grow and how to lead and develop and guide and execution of all these people. I cannot imagine all those roles that you have. You must be an incredible, incredible leader to be able to delegate, to guide, to set the right vision and strategy for all those teams, for all those... Respect to you. I'd love to see someone like us, kind of Latina at the pinnacle of science and the impact that you're making in the world, wanting six people. I mean, it's just incredible. And without technology, we couldn't do it. If we had to, I mean, obviously, what happened... You tell me stories, but it's just what happened in this pandemic that I remember being reading some articles saying, " The fastest vaccine that we ever made before was seven or 10 years, the last one." And people are talking about we're going to have a vaccine and no, it's not going to happen. So, I was on that boat before, I was like, " Yeah, we never done it that fast. What makes this thing that we're going to do it in a few months?" And what happened was just incredible. It saved the world, I think. Tell us any cool stories you can tell us about that.
Lidia Fonseca: I think, you know what? So, when we started to see what was happening in China, and we have operations in China. So, we realized that this was big and we realized that just given how the world and how connected we are, that this would spread and that it would spread quickly. And our CEO, I remember that we as a leadership team, we came together and this was right before we went on lockdown. And we had our conversation and he said, " Okay, so we got to find the solution. We got to find the solution to this. We're going to focus our resources, our energy, our know- how, everything that we have to find the solution to this pandemic." And I remember Albert saying, " If not us, then who?" So, this is what it's about bringing. And then, if you think about our purpose, our purpose as a company is to deliver breakthroughs that change patient's lives. So, there was no other kind of calling on our purpose. Then, all of a sudden, a virus that's harming the entire world. So, immediately, he said three priorities for the company. One, the safety of our colleagues, number one priority. Number two priority was, we got to continue to deliver medicines to patients around the world because they're relying on us. We have a lot of other medicines and supplies that we provide to hospitals around the world. And the third priority was, to find the solution to the pandemic. And that was our focus. And so, we were like single- mindedly putting everything that we had. And that was how we approached it. And by the way, he also said, " And we needed to find a solution this year." This year meaning, 2020, right? So...
Elias Torres: That's the deadline, deadline.
Lidia Fonseca: Exactly. It's like, by October. And you know what? We codenamed our COVID efforts, light speed, it was... And the other thing that Albert did is that, he gave us assignments, like each of us on the leadership team got assignments. So, my assignments, next to my day job were to protect our IP and our data, to ensure that our colleagues could work from home because we anticipated and that at some point we were going to go on lockdown. And then, the other assignment I got was new ways of working, Elias. And because it really required us to think differently, to work differently, to collaborate differently. And so, I got that assignment and I was already deploying at agile for the company the year before. And so, we really leaned on agile ways of working and light speed, which was our code name for the COVID effort, actually became light speed principles. It's actually, our new ways of working as a company from what we were able to learn and do from through the COVID. And I remember Albert and I sitting together and he said to me, he said, " Lidia, use this opportunity, think of this as the biggest pilot to really try new ways of working and to apply digital in everything that we can." And that's exactly what we did. So, just a couple of quick examples. Take the clinical trial, for example. We were able to, through digital, be able to run a clinical trial with 46,000 participants, which is a very large trial in six countries at 150 sites. And we leveraged digital workflows data. For example, we used to provide the data to the clinicians three weeks after each participant visit in a trial. We changed that during COVID to refreshing the data every four hours because we couldn't wait for two weeks. If we had to have the data ready for us to submit to the FDA for approval in October. We had to fundamentally, do things completely different. With our scientists, we leverage AI and machine learning to fast track the vaccine and the treatment. We did, for example, one of the capabilities we deployed was, when we were trying to set up which sites for the trial is that, we were able to apply analytics to identify where we felt the rates of infection. So, we could actually see at an individual county level the infection rates, so that we can then guide and provide insight to our clinicians, so that they could select the sites that had the biggest recruitment opportunities. Because all of this had to happen very, very quickly. So, those were a couple of examples. And then, the manufacturing is another great example of really, applying digital to scale manufacturing. Just to give you a sense, before COVID, we would produce 210 million vaccines in total in our portfolio, 210, 220 million. And that was our entire portfolio of vaccines that we would manufacture in a year.
Elias Torres: Wow.
Lidia Fonseca: We scaled to more than 3 billion COVID doses in 2021. And that was possible because of digital and leveraging digital capabilities to not only accelerate manufacturing, but to be able to have this ability across our entire manufacturing process, so that we could proactively ensure that we could scale up production. But also, not have any interruptions because we couldn't afford to lose any time. Time is life in those moments. So, that's just to give you a sense of what it was like. And, for me personally, this is what I love. I'm a transformation person. So, this opportunity that I've always had this vision that through data, digital and technology, we could improve patient health outcomes. We could improve people's lives. Absolutely, came to bear with COVID as an example. But Pfizer, we do that with our other medicines as well. It's just that COVID had just such a pressure and you saw the suffering, you saw what was happening around the world. There was an extra urgency to that. But yeah, that's what it was like. It was amazing on the one hand. It was also very like; we asked a lot of our team because we needed thousands of people to believe that we could do the impossible. And I'm happy to say that we were able to do that. And that was because Pfizer, all of us, scientists, clinical commercial teams, digital teams, our finance folks, our business development teams, we all came together for this common purpose and for this calling. And that was our focus. And manufacturing, of course, was a big, big part of our success as well.
Elias Torres: I mean, yeah, sometimes I worked at IBM, right? And I'd say, that now I have the more much respect for what it takes to run a larger company. And I appreciate what things I had to do at IBM. And sometimes, I'm skeptical, I say, " When you're too large, you can't move that quickly and you cannot..." And Lou Gerstner, Elephants Can Dance, in his book. But what you did, there's no way to doubt it because you execute it and you deliver on the results to generate billions of vaccines. And I would say that, I don't know, I say that you were able to do what you did because you were a Latina, you were an immigrant, that resilience. I think that a lot of people, when you grow up comfortable and you don't know how to handle stress and urgency and emergency situations like this, but you were more prepared to handle this. And you said, to be in control and to be able to say, " We got to do what we got to do. We got the mission and not freak out, not breakdown in that situation." And you rose above it. Yeah, I mean, I think we can talk for hours about that in leadership and in execution, in planning. I can't... Yeah, that's incredible. And I'm sure you're hiring too. You must have been hiring like crazy.
Lidia Fonseca: We were. We certainly, had to strengthen and bolster our ranks. I would tell you, for my group in particular, it was more about making sure that I could retain the talent because we were asking a lot of them, right?
Elias Torres: Yeah.
Lidia Fonseca: And we did. I mean, we were able to really, I think that mission, that purpose anchored everybody. But yeah, we did have... I mean, we had to hire quite a number of people, especially in our science and our clinical trials. And we had to really, mRNA was new technology. It was a new scientific platform for us. So, we had to really grow that. We did a little bit of growth on my area. For me, like I said, it was more about prioritizing and focus and that was more of what we did. And then, retaining our talent, making sure that... Because it was also a big change in the circumstances of everyone. All of a sudden, I had a team that was mostly working remotely. But it wasn't just the change to virtual work, it was also they had kids that were probably doing distance learning. So, they were looking after them. They had family members that were probably, impacted and I'm sure were impacted by the virus. So, you had to do a lot more as a leader, I can tell you, to stay connected with the team and to support them and to have a very... Have different conversations. It wasn't just about how are you doing on your projects. I mean, my first question was, " Hey, how are you doing?
Elias Torres: Yeah, what's happening at home?
Lidia Fonseca: What's happening at home? How's your family? How are your kids? And it was really, really important to make sure that we were connecting because everybody's reality had changed so much. And don't forget, I still had 22% of the company, of our employees that were coming to work every day. They never stopped going to work. They were essential. So, also making sure that we took extra steps, so that those that were coming in every day into our manufacturing plants and into our science labs and into our... That needed to be on site, that they were safe. That we took the extra steps and measures for not only them, but also the families as well. So, it was an interesting time. I do think we learned a lot. I think as leaders, I would hope that every single leader out there that had leadership roles during the pandemic, there were some great lessons and takeaways. And I for one, I'm taking that into the future with me for sure because it was a different kind of engagement.
Elias Torres: I am thankful for you and your team because I'm team Pfizer, so all my shots are Pfizer. I wanted to stick with one, and it protecting my family and myself.
Lidia Fonseca: Me too, by the way.
Elias Torres: Yeah. And then, I remember friends from Israel said that, Israel did all Pfizer so you can analyze all the data and that was really, really important.
Lidia Fonseca: Israel was a phenomenal partner with us in generating real world evidence along the way for sure.
Elias Torres: And we need it because we needed to compress time and everything. It's incredible what you're doing at Pfizer. You must not have time to do anything else outside of Pfizer, right? You don't do any work outside, no involvement or do you do other stuff too?
Lidia Fonseca: Besides my work at Pfizer, I do serve on the board of a couple of companies. And I do represent Pfizer, the US- Japan Business Council, I'm on the board of that. And that organization we have, we work together with the Japanese government and Japanese industry to advance trade and relationship between the two countries. Japan is a pretty large market and for medical and healthcare, it's actually usually in the top three for any company. And so, I get an opportunity to just get a different perspective, because you learn a lot from, for example, in that case about what trends Japan has, population trends, how are they dealing with geopolitical aspects. You can imagine energy is a big topic these days. Semiconductors, huge topic. Supply chains. So, that gives me another perspective that's... And some similar, compared to Pfizer but also some very different, which just gives you an appreciation. And then, serving on the board of public companies that one is in healthcare. Again, you hear perspectives from others. And if you think about a board, a board is usually composed of a CEO that is considered part of the company. And then, usually, the rest of the board are independent directors. That means that they're coming from other companies. And so, for example, on the Medtronic board, they are CEOs of very different industries. One is from an energy industry, one is a CEO retired from airlines. And so, you have... And others from the medical or that have run for example a major health system in the US. It just gives you very different perspectives and views that actually enrich your own experience. And you can bring back some of that. One company that I serve on the board of, they are a television broadcasting and media services company. So, it's a very consumer- oriented business. And so, I've been with that organization since 2014. And I got to tell you, what I've been able to bring back to healthcare because for a very long time, we always worked through the doctors. It was more about B to B to C, and it was the doctors that then take care of the patients. Where the last couple of years, we have been more in contact with consumers...
Elias Torres: B to C.
Lidia Fonseca: ...more directly. And having that experience of this company that's very consumer, their entire world is... They've been around for more than a hundred years, very consumer- oriented. I can bring that perspective to my day job, to my day- to- day. And it has been really, phenomenal because that has helped me create, and my team create much more and cooler consumer kind of products than I probably would've done if I didn't have that kind of engagement. And plus, you just learn a lot. You meet other executives that they share the lessons, they share the decisions that they make in business and it just makes you more well- rounded. And then, Elias, I would tell you also that boards, they do influence how company's cultures, of companies and decisions and priorities of companies. And so, I think part of what I also appreciate about my work in those settings is that, I can bring the voice of underrepresented communities. And also, the voice of Latino into that boardroom. And I think that's an important room. You remember in the play Hamilton where he says, " I want to be in the room." I fundamentally, believe that conversations especially about representation, especially about how do we guide the future, need to happen in a lot of different rooms. They need to happen in the living room. They need to happen in a conference room at a company. They need to happen in the over rooms, right? Like for example, in government key rooms. But I think also very importantly, they need to happen in boardrooms because when those conversations happen in all the different rooms is when we can really advance and make sure that we're addressing topics that are important for all of us in society. So, I do engage. And then, my family we do support some, for example, an organization that delivers meals every week to families that are food insecure. That's an important component for me. And then, the other big area that I'm very supportive of is around education programs. I'm Pfizer and I'm the sponsor of our Girls Who Code, and having more women, more young people coming to STEM. So, I'm very supportive of programs like that. And that's just to give you a sense of some of the things that I do outside of my Pfizer work.
Elias Torres: You started with Pfizer, you impact one and six. And then, if we add TV, if we add Japan and trade in the US, you must be impacting about three out of 7 billion, three out of seven and change the world. Wow. What an honor and privilege, and I definitely, believe about... I love Hamilton and I love the inspiration, we have to be in the room where it happened because if not, they will forget about us. It's easy. It's easy to not think about the different needs or the inequities that we are seeing and how imminent it is that we're going to be 40%, 50% of this country, and that's something that every business needs to be aware of and be ready to make sure they welcome us as customers, they welcome us as leaders, as builders, and that we need the training and the opportunity and we will rise to it.
Lidia Fonseca: Absolutely. And Sol Trujillo always says that the Latino cohort is becoming the more, and one of the most consequential and influential. So, how do we really take that and turn it into a force for good that will rise the circumstances of Latinos because we still have a voice to go. So, I do think we need to harness that buying power, that impact that we can have in the economics of society and there I think there's a lot of room, there's a lot of room for us to build that and continue to harness that. I'm sure, you feel the same way.
Elias Torres: Yeah, and in fact, there's something that I think about it right now every day, it's what do we need as a community to be... We need to be organized to be able to grow better and faster because we got a lot of catching up to do for the numbers of Latinos that are in this country to be trained, educated, networked, prepare, mentored, and wealth. We need a lot of those things in order for this community to thrive. If not, you probably, could go the other way and we could be in a lot of trouble. So, it's something that I am now thinking every day about it, of what do we need in terms of infrastructure and organization because I think we're so spread out and we're not that well- connected. And there's only, I know it feels like a small group, but it's a large group like soul for example. It's just not many souls. And so, not many Lidias, right? And I think that we need to figure out how to connect all of us and start planning for what's to come. But I love what you're doing with STEM and education. I'm doing the same now. I sponsor a scholarship for women in computer science at USF where I went to school and focus on women. I said, " I want women in STEM, Latinas." Because we need to undo the balance and switch it, tilt it to the other side for some time to make it better. It's not such thing as balance. People want balance. But thank you so much Lidia. I learned so much, and I'm an honored. And wow, I mean, to talk to the person behind so much of that, I make sure, I don't want to take too much credit for... You take the credit for a lot of it. But to say that, to get a glimpse into what was happening and there was an amazing Latina right in the room where this was happening and those conversations with Albert is really inspiring. And I hope that he inspires whoever is listening. Thank you so much.
Lidia Fonseca: Yeah. Thank you so much, Elias. And thank you for all you do to advance our community.
Elias Torres: Thanks for listening to The American Dream Podcast. Make sure to hit subscribe, so you never miss when a new episode drops. If you like this episode, please leave a six- star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're interested in learning more about my American dream mission, subscribe to my newsletter, link in the show notes.
"I always say do not be afraid to take risks, especially early in your career. Even if everything doesn't work out perfectly. I believe it's important to reframe failure as learning and experience."
Lidia Fonseca (Chief Digital & Technology Officer at Pfizer) immigrated from Mexico when she was 10 years old. She taught herself English by watching television shows, and she paved her own way to the University of Berkeley. Then, she traveled abroad again, moving to the Netherlands to earn her Master's degree.
All of these situations made Lidia uncomfortable, but she kept going. Now, Lidia credits her immigrant resiliency for getting her to the position of leadership she holds today.
In this episode of the American Dream, Lidia and Elias discuss the importance of mentors at every age, the importance of taking risks and not fearing failure, and how Lidia got into the "room where it happened" at Pfizer.
- (1:48) Lidia’s childhood
- (11:36) The importance of teachers and mentors
- (18:10) Why Lidia believes in taking risks
- (22:48) Lidia’s career journey to and at Pfizer
- (27:29) How the Pfizer team jumped into action with the emergence of Covid-19
- (35:00) What the Covid-19 pandemic taught Lidia about leadership
- (41:00) What Lidia is working on outside of her day-to-day at Pfizer
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