At Boehringer Ingelheim, Heidi Nolte is helping to lead innovation
She's also involved in business initiatives, using technology to differentiate how the company operates and learn what's working and what's not
The healthcare industry is changing rapidly, and many of the changes are only possible through the application of technology.
At international pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, Heidi Nolte works with the global head of IS innovation and U.S. CIO, Dr Georgia Papathomas. The two are based in the firm's Fairfield, CT U.S. HQ, where they're developing a strategy for building an enterprise-wide approach to innovation, and they collaborate with the business on innovation opportunities. They're planning pilot programs to solve IS challenges using innovative approaches and tools.
Good for the job
With a multifaceted industry background and experience across all IS domains, Nolte is certainly in a position to get the work done. In the past she's run organizations as large as a thousand people.
Her current assignment doesn't come with a large staff, and Nolte is less involved in day-to-day operations than she is in developing the strategies and processes to build a new business capability.
She also works on business initiatives, using technology to differentiate how the company operates. "I spend time building my network across the organization to find out what other innovation activities are going on and learn what's working and what's not, so we can integrate it into the capability we are building," she says.
Leading change management
Nolte is also responsible for leading change management in the U.S., as a single global IS organization is formed across Boehringer Ingelheim. She works with small teams and individuals to communicate changes, help them understand what the changes mean and convey their feedback and questions to the global IS leadership team.
As a manager Nolte is highly engaged, "passionate about the company's work and ensuring that it aligns with business goals." She also has a "genuine interest" in developing people by challenging them to reach their full potential. "I look for diversity of thought and perspective in my teams," she says.
"Everyone has great ideas"
The real challenge in managing innovation is that "Everyone has great ideas, but many of them never get acted upon," Nolte observes. But she sees an opportunity to clearly define business challenges, come up with solutions, run pilots and then decide whether to proceed. "Failure is not a bad thing, as long as we recognize and apply what we learn to our future solutions," Nolte says.
She likes the 125-year-old, privately-held company's collaborative culture, which focuses on producing products that improve lives. "Boehringer Ingelheim is committed to the research and development of innovative medicines that improve the lives of patients and their families. If you maintain that perspective in your daily job, it's really pretty easy to get up in the morning excited to go to work," she says.
Nolte grew up in Summit, NJ and Westport, CT. Her work has taken her all over the world. "At a previous company, I was on a commuter assignment and had an apartment in Basel, Switzerland," she notes. "When I was at Quebecor World I spent time in printing plants all over the U.S. Midwest. I've had the chance to work in Versailles, France and Versailles, KY, although the name is pronounced very differently in the two locations!"
College used to be different
When Nolte was going to Princeton University (Princeton, NJ) in the 1970s computers were still limited in the business environment and the PC didn't exist. Princeton had only gone co-ed a few years before. Nolte played varsity basketball; "We had a very successful team and won three Ivy League titles. I was asked to play in a women's professional league but at the time there wasn't much future in that," she says.
"I loved the world of IT"
She got her BA in history in 1979 and discovered computers by a wonderful accident. She was interested in business but didn't have a clear idea of what she could do, and just by chance she entered an IT training program offered by U.S. Surgical, a small medical device manufacturer. "From almost my first day I loved the world of IT and how it provided value to the business," Nolte says.
The amount of learning every day was phenomenal, she recalls with pleasure. The six-month training program taught her computers from the bottom up, as she ran the mainframe computer in the data center on a rotating shift. After that she learned RPG and Cobol programming and then moved into supporting various parts of the business.
The years at U.S. Surgical
Nolte worked at U.S. Surgical for fifteen years. She was a programmer and management trainee, operations manager of the data center, project leader/business analyst for international systems, manager of marketing and sales systems and director of sales admin and international systems. Her last job was senior director and MIS applications director, from 1990 to 1994.
World Color Press
Nolte moved on to World Color Press (Greenwich, CT), a major magazine printer, and worked there until 2003 as VP/CIO, then senior VP/CIO. "It was a great opportunity to build an enterprise IT organization from the ground up in a company that grew primarily through acquisitions."
Eventually World Color Press was itself acquired, by Quebecor, Montreal, Quebec. "We had to determine the IS strategy. It required some strong negotiating and influencing skills, particularly since we were the company that was acquired," she says with a smile.
Making the move to pharma
In 2003 Nolte moved to Roche Pharmaceuticals (Nutley, NJ), first as VP of the global infrastructure and services organization, then VP of the global supply chain, finance and HR apps, and finally VP of life cycle and partnering apps in addition to her other duties. In 2008 she joined Boehringer Ingelheim.
Today, Nolte enjoys mentoring colleagues through the company's self-guided mentoring program. "I enjoy working with people who like to be proactive in shaping their careers and futures in the organization," she says.
Outside work Nolte is involved with Operation Santa, started by a friend of hers. "We are affiliated with an elementary school in a very poor section of the Bronx in New York City and provide necessities to kids who otherwise would not have any Christmas presents at all. There's a big logistical component to doing this, and I'm working with the group to bring in some technology to help," she says. She's also an avid golfer and on the board of the women's group at her club.
Nolte advises other women to "be clear on the experience you want to gain and determine how you can get there.
"Having advisors to help you think that through is helpful, but don't expect them to give you the answers. Look at things that could be obstacles and determine how you can navigate around or over them. And always maintain your integrity; it's the single biggest asset you have!"
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