Headliner: Lonnel Coats of Eisai
Eisai COO Lonnel Coats considers himself a living, breathing example of the positive impact mentorship can have on a career. That’s why he feels both honored and humbled at his selection as 2007’s Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Honorable Mentor of the Year, he tells MM&M.
“I’ve experienced firsthand the difference mentoring can make in a person’s professional and personal development,” he says. “On the other hand, I really have yet to give back as much as I have received from so many who took a personal and professional interest in me.”
Eisai’s CEO Hajime Shimizu says of Coats’ mentoring contributions, “He has devoted significant time and attention to mentoring employees on a regular basis. He fully believes that people are our greatest asset at Eisai and he has enhanced our focus on employee development, specifically in the areas of career management and leadership development. Many have benefited from his expertise and insights.”
Coats’ road to the pharmaceutical C-suite began after graduation from Oakland University in Rochester, MI in 1986. He was hired by PepsiCo as a management trainee upon completion of the company’s Minority Scholar Program. But after a short time at Pepsi he decided to go back to school to pursue a career as an attorney. That’s when a “wonderful friend” working for Johnson & Johnson informed him of the opportunities and experience he could gain by getting involved in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I don’t want to say I sought the pharmaceutical industry out but I would say I found it quite motivating,” Coats says.
“When I was given the opportunity to get into the industry, I became even more inspired. Here a person’s life work comes back to what it is driven by as an outcome—being able to create patient value day in and day out. I don’t know of anywhere else that I can get that kind of reward.”
In 1988, Coats joined J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutica unit as a sales rep. During an eight-year career there he held various positions within sales management.
In 1996, Coats joined Eisai as southwest region sales director as the Japanese company established its sales force to gear up for the launch of its first US pharmaceutical product, the Alzheimer’s treatment Aricept. Coats quickly ascended through the ranks at Eisai.
In 1997, he became director of managed care, where he led the creation of Eisai’s managed care group. Later that year, he was appointed national sales director, taking on the responsibility for building a US presence in neurology and primary care. In 1999, he was promoted to executive director of sales. In 2001, Coats was named VP of human resources and a member of Eisai’s executive committee. Soon after being appointed VP of sales and marketing in 2003, he was named COO in 2004 and found himself in charge of Eisai’s $2 billion US business and as one of the pharma industry’s top-ranking African-American executives.
Coats explains that having a sales and marketing background has been instrumental to his current role as COO. “I tell people, I sell more today in this role than I ever did when I was a sales representative. Part of it is trying to connect people who have seemingly disparate ideas and trying to find common ground by which we can transact an outcome that everybody can live with.”
Coats somehow finds the time between his work and mentoring to spend time with his wife and two daughters, in Bergen County, NJ, where he resides. As for the future, Coats aspires to continue to learn and grow both as a person and as a business leader.
“I hope to be able to inspire the next generation of leaders in this industry,” he says. “The future of the industry will be what they make it. And no matter how challenging the times may be, or seem, the opportunity to contribute to patients and families far outweighs everything else. If that message can come across to every generation that comes into this industry, then I think we will always be able to provide value for patients.”
President & COO, Eisai
Eisai, various sales positions rising to VP of sales and marketing
Janssen Pharmaceutica sales rep, sales mgmt.