Havas has hired a longtime WebMD exec to lead Havas Life New York.

Dorothy Gemmell, who was SVP, sales and sales operations at WebMD, becomes president of the 170-person shop, which was formerly known as Euro RSCG Life MetaMax.

Gemmell spent 13 years at WebMD, where she sat on the executive leadership committee. In her most recent role there, she was responsible for leading WebMD’s global biopharmaceutical and medical device businesses, along with WebMD The Magazine and its sales, revenue and advertising operations groups. She grew the company’s sales staff from 20 to more than 130 employees as sales rose from $20 million to $400 million on her watch.

Gemmell got her start in healthcare marketing as a sales rep for Upjohn in 1989. She calls herself a career “serial monogamist” – by the time she left ten years later, the company, now part of Pfizer, was called Pharmacia and she was working in global marketing, on the antibiotic Zyvox. She joined Medscape, a client from her Pharmacia days.

“I’d spent money with them back in ’97, because I worked in HIV and I saw the power of the Internet at disseminating clinical information,” said Gemmell, “the speed of it. At that time, everyone wanted the data yesterday because it was saving lives.”

When she joined the professional portal, two years before its acquisition by WebMD, it had a staff of 100.

“It was a great team of people really passionate about this new thing, The Internet,” she said.

In the intervening years, she ran both the consumer and the professional sides of the business, selling DTC and direct-to-physician advertising and services as the portal snowballed in size and reach.

She takes the helm of Havas’ most global shop. Sixty percent of Havas Life New York’s business involves ex-US work, with clients including Sanofi, Genentech, Biogen Idec, Teva and Santren, along with Walgreens, Nestle Nutrition and consumer packaged goods giant Sun Products, which owns the Wisk and Snuggle detergent brands. Gemmell would like to see the agency’s portfolio diversified further still.

“They’ve been really successful at diversifying the brands they work with,” she said, “and there’s a huge opportunity to continue that growth path. Whether it’s pharma/biotech or CPG, customers need better partners that can deliver full services across unified platforms and help them navigate better ways to communicate, engage and connect with people. Havas is well-positioned to address that need because of their expertise and their broad range of services.”

Her availability, said global CEOs Doug Burcin and Donna Murphy in a statement, “presented us an opportunity to bring in a fresh leadership perspective on one of our most significant unified health and wellness agency brands. She will help us drive continued agency growth and diversity.”

Gemmell replaces a team of co-managing directors, Laurel Rossi and Marc Porter, at the shop. Rossi is back to running the agency she founded and sold to Havas, Strat Farm, full time, while Porter has left the company.

Havas reported 2012 revenue this morning. Details on the French holding company’s healthcare business were slim, but the report flagged new business wins with GSK, Novartis, Sanofi and Mead-Johnson Infant Nutrition.