Medtech POV Blog

Paths to the Top: Elizabeth Kirkland Woody, BD

  1. Tracy MacNeal Chair, Women’s Executive Network; President and CEO, Materna Medical
Elizabeth Woody

Whether in the halls of Capitol Hill, at the offices of a national advisory and advocacy firm, or among the laboratories of a major medical device manufacturer, Elizabeth Kirkland Woody has always worked under the goal of improving public health. Right now, as senior vice president of public affairs at BD, Elizabeth leads the company’s efforts to manage government relations and ensure market access for its innovative technologies. Her leadership has proven effective: During her time at BD, she’s advanced several successful initiatives, ranging from updating regulatory and payment systems to improving tax and trade policies. Not to mention, Elizabeth’s work has earned serious recognition from both the CEO Excellence Award and the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Luminary Award.

Recently, Elizabeth linked up with Tracy MacNeal, President and CEO of Materna Medical and national Chair for AdvaMed’s Women’s Executive Network, to discuss her career journey and the lessons she’s learned along the way.

Tracy: What led you to specialize in advocacy and public affairs?

Elizabeth: I grew up in a family that was dedicated to community service. My dad was the Executive Director of our local United Way. He actually just retired about a year and a half ago after over 30 years of service. I learned from him the importance and value of helping all members of our community to be successful, and I watched him build trusted relationships with business leaders, public officials, volunteers, etc., that enabled him to bring about positive change.

At a young age, I became interested in politics, and I started working on local campaigns when I was in high school. I remember when I told my parents that I was going to major in political science. My dad asked me what in the world I was going to do with a degree in political science?! I honestly didn’t know at the time, but I viewed a career in public service as a way that I could give back to our community.

After I graduated, I worked at the state legislature in North Carolina, and I saw firsthand the impact that shaping laws and regulations can have not only on our local community but on our entire state. I aspired to work on national issues in Washington, and I eventually got that opportunity, first working on healthcare and other issues for a member of Congress, then at a national advocacy firm where I represented a variety of health and life sciences clients, and then at BD. I don’t think I ever imagined the opportunity that I have had to contribute to international policy through my role at BD.

What do you consider to be the hallmarks of leadership in public affairs?  What are the key attributes needed for success?  

I have a page from an old desk calendar on my bulletin board at my office that sums up how I view leadership: “A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon. I think leaders have to possess a “can do” spirit in order to inspire their teams to deliver results; impeccable integrity to develop trusted relationships internally and externally; and resilience to persevere. Said another way, I think leaders need to be strategic thinkers that have a vision, but they must be able to articulate goals and objectives into actionable plans that can be executed and deliver results. I believe a leader’s effectiveness is reflected in the quality, caliber, and character of the team that leader builds. I could not be prouder of the team that I have the opportunity to work with at BD.  

I have another page from a desk calendar that I think sums up the attributes needed for success: “Hard work. There is no short cut.” – Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. I have often said that I may not be the smartest person in the room, but you would be hard pressed to find someone willing to work harder than me. So, at the top of my list of attributes needed for success is a tireless work ethic followed by intellectual agility and dynamic collaboration skills.

As you look at the upcoming election, what are the issues at stake with the biggest potential to impact the MedTech industry?

One of the things that attracted me to BD nearly 12 years ago is that the breadth of our portfolio means that there is hardly a public health issue out there that we can’t help address. That has never been truer than it has been in the face of the pandemic. And that goes not just for BD but the entire MedTech industry.

When Vince [Forlenza, fomer CEO of BD and current chairman of the board of directors of BD] was chairman of AdvaMed, I had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the great work done across the membership. I think no matter the outcome of the election in the U.S. or other elections outside the U.S., access to high quality, affordable health care will continue to be a priority for governments around the world, and our industry is uniquely equipped to partner with them to deliver solutions to help them address the challenges they face.

I think a couple of issues to watch include:

  1. Innovation – Are policymakers advancing the right incentives (R&D, reimbursement, tax, etc.) to encourage the development of new technologies?
  2. Regulatory environment – Are the regulations that govern our operations and our products reasonable and predictable?
  3. Trade – Is the ability to freely move goods to support global supply chains and global demand constrained?

As a Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at BD, you must have overcome quite a few challenges.  Can you share a personal story of grit and determination that led to your success?  

It is hard to pick one! It is also hard not to zero in on the here and now, because COVID has presented so many challenges. But one challenge that sticks out as a bit of a turning point for me was when I returned to BD after my first son was born. We had a relatively small public policy and government relations team at the time, and I quickly realized that the workload was unsustainable. I talked to my boss about bringing on a couple more people to support the additional work that our team was being asked to do. He quickly said that there was no way that we would get one let alone two new employees. But I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, because I knew we would risk losing talent if we didn’t do something differently.

With guidance from senior leaders, I put together a strong business case for why we needed the additional resources, and I outlined exactly what our team would have to stop working on if we didn’t get them. I count my lucky stars every day that we got approval for those two roles right before we announced the acquisition of CareFusion and Vince was named Chairman of AdvaMed, because our workload increased significantly after that. I learned from that experience the power of building a strong business case – it is hard for people to say no when the data and facts are on your side!

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