Lynn Ridzon's “ah-ha” moment came early on in her career. It was the early 1990s and Ridzon was working as a planner in the marketing and communications department of Princeton, N.J.-based Squibb Corp. The company had just gone through a merger with Bristol-Myers Co. and things were a bit chaotic.

“I was in my office and a colleague came in and said to me, ‘I think you need to know something,’” recalls Ridzon. Her friend informed her that at a recent meeting, someone had inquired about what the meetings group at Squibb actually did. The answer from Ridzon's supervisor: “They go to meetings and hold hands.”

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I think we're in trouble,’” says Ridzon. “If that's all they think we do, then either we're doing something wrong or we are not getting the message out there about what we do.”

Convinced it was the latter, Ridzon began thinking about the perception of her department. “It occurred to me that we needed to be able to react and communicate in such a way that executives of the company would understand there is a core value to the meeting planning function. That is when I came up with the idea of meetings consolidation and a strategy for managing meeting expenses.”

The company already had mandated processes in place for managing individual travel and the expense side of the business, but meetings were largely an ad hoc function with various people booking meeting space and signing off on contracts without authority. Ridzon put a business plan together and filtered it through the executive ranks until it eventually reached the president of Squibb, who was intrigued by the idea.

With his buy-in, Ridzon began building the model for meetings consolidation, implementing the process — first for meetings within the Squibb Pharma Group, and following the merger with Bristol-Myers, she was able to grow the program to include all U.S.-based meeting requests within the company for all business units.

Ridzon and her team at BMS were basically writing the book on meetings consolidation at a time when the meetings category had yet to even cross the radar screens of most corporate execs. “It just made sense,” recalls Ridzon. “I never had anyone say to me they thought this was a crazy idea.”

Now, after 21 years at BMS, Ridzon is bringing her knowledge and expertise in this area to a new level. A known expert in the field of strategic meetings management and speaker at many industry events, Ridzon was recently scouted by Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen to join their team as director of strategic sourcing and procurement. We caught up with her to find out why she made the move and get her take on what the future holds for both pharma and the meetings industry going forward.

Medical Meetings: Last May, you made the transition from director of global meetings management at Bristol-Myers Squibb to director of strategic sourcing and procurement at Amgen. What prompted you to make this move?

Lynn Ridzon: Well, I spent 21 years at BMS and was very happy there. I had an incredible group of people that worked with me and we pretty much had things nailed down. It was sad to leave but to be honest, the opportunity [with Amgen] came out of the blue. They contacted me, and I questioned them about the position, because I wasn't interested in taking on an operational role. At this point in my life, I enjoy the strategic aspect of the profession. They explained to me they were building the strategic sourcing and procurement area and were looking for someone to come in and manage the meetings and events category. One of the biggest deciding factors in accepting the position was that my husband and I had been planning to move to California within the next few years, and with the offer everything sort of came together, and as they say, the stars aligned.

MM: How have your responsibilities changed with this new position?

Ridzon: At BMS I was responsible for tactical operations, sourcing and strategic management of meeting expenses. What I have found at Amgen is that they have some really good best practices for meetings but in a siloed environment supporting marketing and sales in North America. My responsibility is to help develop a strategy where we take the best practices already in place as well as other best practices and broaden the scope, creating an enterprise-wide, global strategy for meetings management. We are also looking at [implementing] a more formalized preferred-supplier program and all that goes with a robust meeting expense management program.

MM: You are a widely recognized leader in the industry. What enabled you to get to this level in your career?

Ridzon: I think a lot of it was just being at the right place at the right time. [While working at Bristol-Myers Squibb,] I had the opportunity to get to the right people and make a good business case to manage meetings as a true business category. I think it was timely and I was very fortunate in that I was given the opportunity to implement change and was recognized as someone who was doing something that was a little different, but something that was right for the company.

At that time there weren't many people consolidating the meetings function and as our program became more mature, it became important to me to get out there and help colleagues. I have always been happy to share experiences and information and say, “Here is what we are doing and here are some things you might think about doing in your company.”

MM: You gave a very passionate talk about meetings consolidation at the 2006 Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum. Why are you so dedicated to this issue?

Ridzon: Well it's been my life (laughs) and I enjoy it. I enjoy talking about it and doing it, strange as that may sound, but I think that's because I've been able to grow up in the industry and I do feel passionately about it. I think there are a lot of people out there who are desperately trying to put some sort of [strategic meetings management] program in place. I know that a lot of companies are looking to their corporate travel managers to lead that effort because, in many cases, it is the travel managers who have successfully consolidated individual business travel. But you need to be careful and understand that meetings are a whole different model, and you really need the meetings management expertise in order to successfully implement a meetings management strategy within a company.

MM: What do you think the meetings industry needs to do to develop more leaders?

Ridzon: I think the strategic work that a number of us in the industry are doing needs to be better communicated and understood. I actually enjoy going out and speaking to people or giving case studies because I am passionate about the idea of creating and implementing meetings strategies. I think meeting planners need to step out of their tactical role and become more strategic and less operational. Don't be shy about it, only you can develop yourself into a strategic thinker and leader. If you are asked to participate in an advisory board or council, do it if you possibly can. I know it's hard to make the time, but I would strongly urge people to participate in these types of activities outside of your company. Getting together and networking with people is a great way to get your ideas out there, learn from others, and develop your reputation.

MM: What are the three most important challenges facing the pharma industry today?

Ridzon: The scrutiny the pharma industry is under is certainly a challenge. Also, guidelines for dealing with healthcare professionals globally are becoming more restrictive, making compliance a greater challenge. With an election year coming up, there is going to be even more pressure on the industry. Unfortunately most people don't look at the pluses of what we do in pharma, particularly in the United States, with regard to how we are funding research and development and what it takes to actually bring a new product to market. I do think healthcare in America needs to be looked at and improved, but it's not just about pharmaceutical companies. We need to start looking at the whole picture including costs related to insurance carriers, hospitals, etc.

MM: What is the biggest positive change you've seen in the pharmaceutical meetings industry during your career?

Ridzon: The formalization and recognition of [the meeting planning] profession in a company. Whether it's in pharma or the meetings industry in general, meeting planning has grown up and it is recognized as a very valid career path. I think the recognition that meetings represent a huge area of spend and the professionalism of those managing that spend has grown substantially over the years and is a very positive change.

MM: In the next five years, what changes do you hope to see in the pharmaceutical meetings industry?

Ridzon: I'd like to see more clarity around the regulations and guidelines — particularly around state and country reporting [requirements] for [pharmaceutical company expenditures on] healthcare professionals. I'd also like standardized processes to be available so that each pharma company is not reinventing the wheel every time another state requires reporting. Perhaps that means having a national guideline. It has become quite complicated as to what you can and cannot do. Let's try to simplify and streamline things so pharma companies can continue to provide education on products and help to improve and enhance human life.

Find out about the cost-savings solution Ridzon implemented at Bristol-Myers Squibb, called CSM or consumption and specification management. Visit MeetingsNet.com and search for micro-management.

More On/meetingsnet.com

  • Find out about the cost-savings solution Ridzon implemented at Bristol-Myers Squibb, called CSM or consumption and specification management. Visit meetingsnet.com, and search for micro-management.

Lynn's Lighter Side

Lynn Ridzon, director, strategic sourcing and procurement, Amgen Inc., talks about music, superheroes, and her secret talent.

If you could be anywhere in the world, where would you be?

Right where I am — in sunny California

What is playing on your MP3 player?

Frank Sinatra, The Rippingtons

If you could be a superhero, what super power would you want?

The ability to fly!

It's time for a second career. What do you choose?

Travel correspondent

When your life story is made into a movie, who should they cast as you?

Doris Day (in her prime)

What's the best book you read in the past year?

The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman

What's your hidden talent?

I sing.

Who inspires you?

My husband

If you could trade places with anyone (living or from history) for a week, who would you choose?

Neil Armstrong during the week he walked on the moon

What is your favorite cause/charity?

Vocational Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides vocational and literacy training to youth (ages 17 to 21) who have dropped out of school and lack a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent educational degree

What do you do to stay healthy?

Walk and swim

How do you strike a balance between your work and your personal life?

I complete as much as possible in the office, and then leave it there when I go home.

What is your greatest strength?

A positive attitude and ability to communicate