Building Your Best LifeRichard Williams


HB: Alright, so today, we have a special guest on the Talk to Your Pharmacist podcast. Our guest, Richard Williams, is a fellow Ole Miss or University of Mississippi alum and mentor of mine. He’s newly retired from a long career in the pharmaceutical industry, where he served in a variety of roles, including overseeing national accounts. Richard is a gifted connector, just like Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book, “Tipping Point,” and he is always well in-the-know of connecting leaders in the industry and making great connections like that. He is incredibly intentional, a gifted coach, and has a huge heart for service through which he continues to give back to others and support the younger generations with values and skills to excel in life. Richard, welcome to the Talk to Your Pharmacist podcast!


RW: Thank you, Hillary. I’m excited to be here today.


HB: Well, now that our listeners have heard a little bit about your background, maybe you can fill in any gaps from that intro and maybe share a little bit more about your personal life.


RW: Well, I grew up in my mom’s drugstore. She was one of the first female pharmacists in the country. And I worked in retail and hospital pharmacy before joining big pharma over 30 years ago. I share with groups that I am a millennial wannabe because I had more than 10 different jobs over the course of that career. That included retail sales, hospital sales, international marketing plans, I spent a couple years in IT, long-term care, sales management, managed care, Medicare Part D when it began evolving a number of years ago, and most recently, have been involved with managing relationships with national insurance companies and regional accounts.

HB: Wonderful. So Richard, that is so fascinating to hear that your mom was even one of the very first females, and now, we’re definitely seeing a lot of females in the pharmacy profession, which is exciting. But seeing the second generation pharmacists and how much pharmacy has changed over the years is really fascinating. So what would you say are some of the skills that you have that really have lent themselves to some of the success throughout your career?


RW: I think a few things jump out, and it took me a long time to learn these, so I’ll share with your audience, and hopefully it will not take them as long. But first and foremost is listening. There are so many people with great ideas. And although I might not agree with them or understand where they’re coming from, being a good listener I think is an essential skill in any position that you have today. Secondly, I’d say being prepared. And that’s probably my reputation is to always be prepared, having reviewed the pre-meeting notes and researched the topics and understanding what is going to be discussed so you really maximize that one-on-one time when you’re together with somebody. And that really leads into today’s world of fake news and political bias is to double click on the source information. Reading the headlines is just not enough, and everybody’s got an opinion, so how do you truly go back to finding the research article and/or the government document that really talks about what’s happening? And study and make your own determination and make up your own mind on what that really means to you. And then most importantly — and I think we’re really losing sight of this — and that is the relationship with people, whether that be a patient, a patient’s family, an employee, a customer, a colleague. With all the excitement of all the technology that’s evolving, I am really concerned that we’re losing touch with the individual people and the connectivity. And I would say that that is one of the skills that everybody, even myself, needs to continue to really stay focused on and continue to develop.


HB: Absolutely. I love that you mentioned going beyond just the headlines and really understanding deeper on those source documents. Because it is hard to stay up-to-date with so much new information being thrown our way. But it is a very — you’ve got to be very intentional to be prepared and to just know all of that. So Richard, what are some of the initiatives that maybe you’ve worked on in the past that have been really some successful pieces throughout your career? Maybe share some of the things that you’re currently working on now.


RW: Yeah, Hillary, there’s probably two or three situations that I found myself in. And some of them, I went screaming and hollering because I really didn’t have an interest, but I was asked to participate in. And the first was developing and creating a global sales force customer relationship management platform. And I had no IT skills whatsoever. And that was over 20 years ago, and that segment was really starting to evolve. And I find every single day now, I use those skills to just better understand what’s happening with Artificial Intelligence and blockchains and some of those skills. So you never know when the experiences that you have been thrown into will come back to really play an important part in your career and your growth. So I’d say that was the first one. Secondly was over the course of my years, I had the opportunity to hire and construct and build some really high-performing sales teams. And I learned how to look for talent, looked how to motivate and understand people’s demotivators, which are just as important as an individual’s motivators. I understood the power of building a diverse team, and I always use the metaphor of building a baseball team. That if you need a first baseman, you need a first baseman. And don’t just take a shortstop when you need a first baseman. And I approached hiring and building teams in that same kind of spirit. And then finally, working with two of the largest healthcare insurers in the country over the last few years, understanding the flow of money, the misalignment that exists in today’s healthcare marketplace, the power of PBMs and the role that they play, the people behind the scenes called actuaries, which really crunch the numbers and how smart and sophisticated they are. But those would be three big areas that really, I think I learned the most from. And I think the second part of your question is what am I doing today. At this point in time, I’m really serving as an advisor to a number of organizations, just to help them to see clearly and set their missions and visions and be true to those. But I’m also volunteering. I’m on the board of a group called Hope Smiles that serves and builds dental clinics and mobile clinics in third-world countries, which is a fascinating experience. And also, I’m trying to figure out — and I could use your help — on how do we connect population health and street medicine here in Nashville for the homeless population who don’t have cars and can’t go to the clinics, how do we take care of them in a different way where we really redesign the entire healthcare system? And right now, I’m having a blast trying to figure that out.


HB: Yeah, that’s exciting. And you know, a lot of the things that you’ve worked on all kind of have a similar theme of they revolve around people and developing and building relationships, which is just so important. And then you know, coming back to the mission of volunteering and serving others, and you know, oftentimes, pharmacists go into healthcare and into the pharmacy profession because we have that passion to give back and to serve and help others, and you clearly exemplify that.


RW: Hillary, if I can just jump in for a second. The one thing I’d like to challenge anybody listening to this, we get so busy with our day jobs that we don’t raise up our heads and participate and get involved in some other organizations. And I didn’t do this for probably the first 20 years of my professional career. But during the last 10 years, I’ve started volunteering more and getting involved and being asked to participate in different events. And I try never to say no to those opportunities. And I find that I’ve learned more from those experiences than any training class or national meeting that I ever participated in because there’s great people all around us, and when you have the privilege and opportunity to just sit in a meeting, whether it be a board meeting, whether it be a school board meeting or just a couple neighbors just trying to figure out how to change the sidewalks or do something in your local neighborhood, I’d encourage you just to become active, and you’ll find that you’ll learn a whole lot that not only helps you personally but helps you professionally.


HB: That is such a great advice to share with others because it is easy to get caught up in your day job and day-to-day busyness. But I, too, have found value in signing up for committees and volunteering and getting back involved in the community. And it’s OK to take some time off and not do that because I was not as involved when I first graduated from pharmacy school but I’m trying to follow a little bit along that path now. So Richard, talking kind of about some of the maybe real-world challenges that you and your organization or the industry may have faced, what are some of the solutions that maybe have been developed to help with some of those real-world challenges?

RW: Well, I think probably the two biggest challenges that everybody has in common, one is just managing the pace of change and how quickly science is evolving and how government is influencing healthcare. Keeping up with all of that is really so important. And the second part of that would be learning from your mistakes. I think of some of the things that I have read over the years in a book by John Maxwell, which he titled, “Failing Forward.” I think when we’re younger, we’re afraid to admit that we made a mistake, and the reality is, that’s where the richest learnings are. But regardless of your profession or what your practice site is, having those two thoughts in your mind on a continual basis is really powerful to just help you be successful. And I think of all the changes that are taking place with precision medicine and telehealth and I read today about Uber Elevate, which is the Uber air transportation system that they are working on. Who would have ever dreamed of that outside of sitting in front of the TV set watching the Jetsons back 25-30 years ago. And the reality is, we’re probably going to experience that in the next 3-5 years. And that’s really amazing.


HB: Wow. Well, you are always up-to-date on things. I didn’t even know about the new Uber Elevate, but that is really exciting. So speaking of failures or falling forward, a lot of times, we see people who’ve had really successful careers or they’ve done so many great things, and there have been something along the way where they’ve had lessons learned and things. Is there anything in particular that you could share has been a big lesson learned that’s helped to push you forward in your career?


RW: Hillary, there’s not enough time on your podcast to cover all of that. But I would share a couple of my big failures. And I think, again, it was really focusing too much on the business of medicine and not the heart of medicine. I think of there were times that I focused too much on the numbers and the metrics and not enough on connecting and motivating and inspiring and caring for people. There are a lot of exciting trends taking place in healthcare. We’ve mentioned a couple: Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, CRISPR with the DNA, we’re starting to understand the social determinants of health and how a person’s environment really influences and impacts their outcomes. And all of these are valuable and exciting. But at the end of the day, what we do, what we will be remembered for is how we treat our patients and the relationships that we foster with our colleagues and our staffs and our employees. And so I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned, and boy, I made that mistake over and over and over again. And if I had to go back, I think I would focus a lot more on the people than I would some of the numbers and some of the metrics that we were trying to chase.


HB: Yeah. That is great advice. And I love that you shared about, you know, kind of along the lines of people are going to remember how you made them feel. So you know, what about kind of flipping it, what would something along the lines of something you’ve been really successful in your career that you’ve been proud of? Or what are some takeaways that you’ve had from that?


RW: Yeah, I think if you asked people that have worked with me and for me and around me over the years, they would say my skill set and my legacy would be building really high-performing, diverse sales teams and marketing teams. And it was really intentional. I think you used that term, interesting when you introduced me earlier, to being very thoughtful about who do you surround yourself with? That begins with understanding the individual motivators and as I mentioned, even more importantly, what demotivates somebody? And if you understand those two things, you’re really in a good position to help them to achieve their goals and objectives and pursue their dreams. And so I think it’s really thinking through what are you trying to accomplish and not surrounding yourself with people that are yes people or people that are just like you. And as pharmacists, I think it’s a real challenge that we have because we’re all wired similarly in that we like science, and we like math. But when you throw in a nurse or somebody with a completely different background, often, we’re challenged by that. And that’s where we learn the best, and they bring the best out of us or in us as we take care of patients. So I think it’s again, there’s a common theme here as you’re starting to see. And it’s really about the people. And I think we’re losing sight of that today. But that would be my legacy.


HB: Awesome. So Richard, you also are always just in-the-know, and we’ve mentioned, you know, change is happening at a rapid pace. What are some tips that you can share with the listeners on how to stay current about what’s going on in healthcare and more specifically, within the pharmacy field?


RW: Yeah, I wish I had a real easy answer to answer that question. But it’s really hard to say, although we’ve got better tools than we’ve ever had. I start each day reading about seven different newspapers. And I read them just to get varying viewpoints. And I read the headlines but then always double click and trying to get to the source document. I’m not just reading the tweet or the headlines of the tweet, but I’m actually going to go, and I’m going to listen to Secretary — or read Secretary Azar’s speech or Dr. Gottlieb’s speech because I want to see it, I want to hear exactly what they said. I don’t need somebody to interpret that for me. I think the other part is picking those channels that you’re going to pay attention to. And that’s really true of podcasts. I still try to read about two books a month just to stay current on different topics, but I’m also finding that most authors today, before they launch a book, they’re going to be interviewed by five or six different people, and if you listen to the interview, you really get a good synopsis of the book. And so as I try to balance working out and exercise, I’ve always got a long list of podcasts that I’m listening to to stay current as well. But those would be the two things, plus all the different meetings that you can attend, being deliberate and selective on those, being prepared when you go to those meetings. Those are the things I’m doing to try to stay current. But it’s really hard, and I think I’ve realized there is absolutely no way to stay current. And the couple words that I now use more often than not is, “I didn’t see that. I didn’t know that. I haven’t read that,” and not be embarrassed by that because I don’t think there’s anybody that can keep up today.


HB: It sure is hard. But I’m impressed you read seven different newspapers today. You probably are one of those that doesn’t require a lot of sleep or that gets up early and is just a go-getter from the early morning. So that’s impressive. So what are some of the things that excite you about the future of pharmacy?


RW: Oh, Hillary, pharmacy and the practice of pharmacy is just in such a terrific position today more than it’s ever been before. I think there’s two things. One is all the opportunities that pharmacists have to improve patient care and demonstrate their value. There are so many different career opportunities for pharmacists, whether it be in retail or hospital or some kind of clinic and/or industry. As I mentioned, I’ve had 12 different jobs, and they’ve all been really different. But the skill set you learn as a pharmacist and the training that you go through really prepares you to be involved in so many different facets of pharmacy. And I think for the very first time, the business leaders and the decision makers are starting to understand the value that a pharmacist can bring in not only delivering quality care but also decreasing the cost of care. And so I strongly encourage your audience, step up and step out. And be great at what you do because the environment is ripe right now for pharmacists to go out and do things that we’ve never been able to do, we’d never have dreamed of doing. And I think of some of the practice acts that are taking place. I think Ohio last week just approved a recognition of pharmacists as providers. That’s really, really exciting. And then the second thing that I would point out with pharmacists is all the science with the human genome taking place and DNA, and we’re going to have hopefully in the next few years cures for diseases we never dreamed of. It’s going to be in specialty pharmacy, it’s going to be tailored therapeutics and individualized medicine, and hopefully and prayerfully one day, we find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, whether it’s to slow it down or to prevent it. But we’re just at a remarkable age of scientific discovery, and the pharmacists are going to have to be at the center of that. And so I think that’s the other part that gets me really excited about the practice of pharmacy.


HB: Yeah, definitely. It is exciting that Ohio is leading the way too on some of these new provider status regulations and I mean, just all the things you mentioned with new drug therapies and cures for diseases, and pharmacists are going to be right there in the mix. So Richard, as our final question, what is some advice that you would tell your younger self or for other pharmacists who are out there just getting started in their career?


RW: Well, I’ve watched a lot of people do this over the years. And a lot of dear friends who really stepped out of their comfort zones. They volunteered for assignments, additional work where they weren’t going to get paid more money. But when you look over time for those individuals that would step up and offer their assistance or volunteer to be on a committee, those are the people that are really the leaders of our profession today. It’s people like you, Hillary, that are doing things that are a little bit differently. I’ve got friends that are leading academic institutions now. I just think it’s an opportunity, and I would encourage everybody to just get out of your comfort zone. And if you’re doing the same thing every day, and you’re starting to get bored, I challenge you to say, “You know what? It doesn’t have to be that way.” Find something else that’s a little bit different, read something that’s different. But don’t just get up and go to work every day. Get up and change the world every day.


HB: I love that. Get up and change the world every day. I am super motivated right now. Richard, it was such a pleasure to have you as a guest on the Talk to Your Pharmacist podcast.


RW: Well, thank you, Hillary. I’ve followed as you started this several months ago, and I’ve listened to a number of your guests, and I always learn from them. And I appreciate the work that you’re doing just to help all of us stay current and realize that this is an amazing profession, and there are a world of opportunities.


HB: Love it. Thank you so much.


RW: OK. Bye bye.


Hillary Blackburn

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