Susan Silbermann: Catalyzing Social Responsibility Across the Globe

Meet Susan Silbermann, the Global President of Pfizer Vaccines. Susan has a passion for being a changemaker and ensuring that people — regardless of where they are in the world — have the opportunity to lead healthier lives. Susan’s catalyzing work includes piloting a program in Ghana to explore how alternative cooking methods could share knowledge about healthy living. She believes in building teams of people who have diverse talents, strengths, and skill sets — and in creating an environment where all voices are heard. “A leader listens. Listens a lot.”

How do you connect moral courage with social responsibility?
Moral courage is defined by your words AND your actions. It means following your internal compass and doing your best every day to deliver the very best of yourself to all who surround you.

How have you used your passion for social impact to drive your work?
I’m committed to ensuring that people, regardless of where they are in the world, have the opportunity to lead healthier lives. While it starts with discovery and development of medicines and vaccines, it is only made a reality when individuals everywhere have access to these quality medicines and healthcare. Together, with partners around the world, progress has been made in advancing longer and healthier lives.

One of the most impressive private-public partnerships working towards that goal is being spearheaded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Pfizer is very proud to be part of this effort which is working to speed up access to life-saving vaccines. This partnership opens the door to good health to more children, helping to prevent disease especially in communities where healthcare systems are still developing.

What does resilience mean to you?
Resilience is the story of my father and his family escaping the land of their birth and heritage, divided and raised by strangers in a strange land. Many times he was alone, miles from his parents and siblings. Still, he worked hard to get perfect grades, a college scholarship, and advanced degrees and went on to open his own small engineering firm. He never gave up, never gave in and never complained. I think of him often when the challenge seems insurmountable, the road too long, or the hurdle too high.

Who and what are the inspirations behind your life’s work?
When I was growing up, my mother—a high school graduate who rose to the then unnamed “glass ceiling” in a major clothing store chain in Maryland—would tell her stories at our dinner table about her struggles to be heard as the only woman in the room, the lone female voice in a sea of men. While she traveled the world, she often found the doors to her advancement were locked in her very own country and by her very own company. Her perseverance, her determination, her sharp mind, and keen wit have always inspired me to bring my very best, most authentic self to work every day.

Are there religious or spiritual disciplines that make a crucial difference in your life?
I was raised in the Jewish faith, tradition, and culture and believe in the supreme hand that gently guides our paths in life. While I would not consider myself observant, I do see the importance of feeding one’s soul with friendship, respect, and compassion for our fellow man and woman.

What does it mean to be a leader?
Being a leader means looking ahead—setting a vision, an inspiration, a challenging goal—and then looking back to ensure the team supporting you is with you all the way. It means striving to make sure that everyone is accepted and respected for who they are and the unique perspectives they bring to the table. A leader ensures that theirs is not the only voice heard—they create an environment where all voices are heard. A leader listens. Listens a lot.

On a more personal level, I see my role at Pfizer as being a developer of people and a mentor to my colleagues. It’s important that the values we espouse as leaders are not just words but actions, and that each of us is accountable for our social culture.

I will always support the inclusion and advancement of women and all underrepresented groups in the workplace. Openness to diversity and inclusion is good for employees, and it’s good for business, in all industries. A diverse workforce contributes to major advances and an inclusive work environment attracts talent, builds collaboration, and fosters innovation.

Why are you are proud to receive a Life of Commitment award?
Joining this group of women is an honor and a privilege. To be recognized for the impact I have had only encourages me to do more to deserve it.

What guidance could you share with emerging leaders who seek to make a difference?
Surround yourself with people who have diverse talents, strengths, and skill sets—and then allow them to have a voice and help you see things through their eyes. And listen first, speak last.


Meet Susan Silbermann and join Auburn in its 200th at Lives of Commitment in NYC on April 26th, 2018 as we honor these women of moral courage, who are dedicating their lives to advance justice in our time.

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