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Female pharma CEO’s advice for women in business Set goals and be assertive

Nancy Lurker is the CEO of PDI Inc. in Parsippany.

When Nancy Lurker got into the pharmaceutical industry, she started setting goals for herself, always aiming to make a little bit higher a little faster than she thought possible.“By the way, never thought I would be a CEO,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean she didn’t entertain the possibility. And once she hit senior VP, she realized she could do it. So the new goal became CEO.

In time, she got there. Nancy is now CEO of PDI Inc. in Parsippany, one of only four female CEOs among the top 111 companies in the state. And she said setting goals along her path was critical in her success.

So she tells other women to set goals. 

That seems like an easy thing to do, but so many women don’t. I have to confess, I’m guilty of that myself. When people ask where I see myself in five years, I’m reluctant to answer. I don’t want to focus solely on one particular goal and then miss another interesting opportunity that may come along. I like to keep my options open.

Nancy said she’s met a lot of women like me, who are not clear about what they want and incorrectly assume that goals are limiting.

“I tell this to my two daughters and I tell this to women who I mentor and coach,” Lurker said. “You have to have a goal.”

“You have to state clearly what you want,” she added. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t change course; you can.”

She always voiced her intentions to management, and that’s what put her on the list for promotions, she explained. If they don’t know you’re interested in the job, they won’t put you on the list.

Part of convincing women to set goals is about convincing them to be more aggressive about what they want and not be afraid to ask.

That’s something Nancy sees even in her own daughters, ages 10 and 16. They come home from school talking like valley girls and raising their voice at the end of every sentence, making what would be a statement more of a question.

“And I tell them, ‘Stop it,'” Nancy said. “They’re afraid to be definitive, and that goes back to assertiveness. Don’t be afraid to make a statement and put your flag in the ground. And then you can argue your case.”

So when her 10-year-old asks Mom to call the teacher and ask for something on her behalf, Mom refuses.

“I say, ‘No, you can do it. You go talk to the teacher,'” Nancy said. “And boy do I see a lot of moms who are not doing that.”

It’s tough, and she gets that. You want to help your children and be there for them. But these lessons are important, she said.

“Don’t underestimate yourself,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to take unpopular positions, but have your facts lined up.”

“And that doesn’t mean you can’t be a beautiful, feminine woman.”

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