Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in interviews on our site are not necessarily the views of Beta Pleated Chic.
Paula Brown Stafford is the President of Clinical Development at Quintiles, a Fortune 500 company and the world’s largest contract research organization. She is also my sister-in-law. I have always known Paula as she is at home – a true southern lady with a sharp tongue and her priorities in order. At family gatherings she’s noted for her great taste in wine, beautiful voice (ex wedding singer), and flat foot dancing. Although I had always known that Paula had a big, important job, it wasn’t until I became a bit older and interested in my own career that I thought to ask her more about it.
Paula has been with Quintiles from its beginnings, and is part of the executive team that has helped develop or commercialize all of the top-100, best-selling drugs on the market in 2013. In addition to her role with Quintiles she is a member of the Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium Board of Directors and sits on the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Advisory Board. In 2012 FierceBiotech named her one of the 10 top women in biotech. Her accolades go on, but in this interview I hope to provide a glimpse of the woman behind the desk and how she pulls it all off.
We met for lunch at the company headquarters in August, when I had just heard news of her plan to leave the company. I asked for Paula Stafford at reception, and was promptly corrected: “It’s Paula Brown Stafford – you can’t just call her Paula Stafford!” When I find her in her office, she is leaning back in her chair and chatting quietly on the phone to her husband, and my brother, Greg. She’s wearing a light blue paisley skirt and Jack Rogers sandals, and as we pop down to the cafeteria to grab some lunch, I can’t help but feel like I’m following a celebrity. She seems to know everyone in the building and as we wait in line for our food, there’s a constant stream of people dropping by to say hi or ask a question. We’re waiting by the elevator when a woman approaches her, clearly emotional: “Paula, I just want to say it’s been a pleasure working with you and having you at the company. I know you’re not leaving tomorrow, but I just really wanted to say.” It’s a poignant moment and I feel a bit intrusive standing by, but Paula thanks her and handles it smoothly. We get back to her office on the top floor and settle down in a conference room to chat.
Katherine: For somebody who’s not familiar with Quintiles how would you briefly describe what the company does?
So what’s your role in the company?
That’s a big responsibility!
So you’ve been with the company from quite early on haven’t you?
You started with Quintiles as an undergraduate, didn’t you?
So when you started as an undergraduate did you have any idea how successful Quintiles would become?
So when did you realize where Quintiles was going and how your career would be involved in that?
So when did your big plans come into the picture? You’re obviously a very high-powered executive now; did you always know that was something you wanted to do? Or did it just sort of evolve, since you were involved in the company quite early on?
So you mentioned you got married and everything got real. Family life is obviously very important to you as well. How did you manage to balance everything? It seems like you manage to do both at a crazily intense level?
I never felt like I was an expert in anything, but I knew a lot of things, and I had a lot of common sense, so it was just learning as much as I could from serving our customers."
So you think being a control freak, or paying attention to detail is part of what’s made you successful is part of what’s made you successful here.
Are there any other things that you would say have played a large role in the success you’ve had?
So it sounds like you’re really emphasizing competency. Feminist principles generally hold that men and women are capable of performing jobs equally; however, men and women clearly tend toward separate families of traits and certain jobs require a different combination of these traits. Does that mean certain jobs should more often be held by a man or woman?
So I guess the follow up to that is although you need all of those attributes in the team, if management particularly requires multi-tasking and women are usually better at multi-tasking, does it make sense to use more female leaders?
So the most important attribute in a leader isn’t the multi-tasking or any one of those skills, it’s knowing how to choose a team.
I’ve heard that you’re planning to leave Quintiles. What’s made you decide to move on with your career?
There was a wonderful article yesterday in the Wall Street Journal about how some of the best athletes, like Michael Jordan, took a break! And when they came back, they were stronger than they had been. And I feel like after 30 years, I need to take a break."
Do you have any plans for your break yet?
Stay tuned for the continuation of this interview, next Tuesday morning!