Jennifer M. Smoter, Former VP of Public Affairs & Brand, AbbVie

Three of my mentors have in common is that they are all engineers who have become strong business leaders.

June 2015

Can you name a person who has impacted your professional career and how did this person do so?

I won’t name one person, but what three of my mentors have in common is that they are all engineers who have become strong business leaders. They taught me to understand how to reverse engineer—literally. When you are faced with trying to solve a business problem, the strategy and tactics will come from having a fundamental and core understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and what the desired outcome is. Over the course of my career, I’ve been able to marry that problem solving mindset with the idea that for every problem, communications can be part of the solution.

What is AbbVie’s purpose and how do you inspire employees to deliver on it?

Our vision is to be recognized as a biopharmaceutical company delivering a consistent stream of innovative medicines that solve serious health issues and have a remarkable impact on people’s lives.

For people to see what we do and the value we bring to society, we need our employees to believe what our purpose is on the inside. They fundamentally know why we’re in business, what our goal is and what their direct role is in helping to achieve this. We are creating the culture to amplify our brand. Behind the scenes, we call it “brulture” (brand + culture). When you have a motivated workforce who understands our brand and our purpose, they will deliver on that, and people will see it and feel it on the outside.

What was your biggest challenge with AbbVie?

We came from Abbott, a 125-year-old company with a very strong heritage. When we separated, the biggest challenge was to help create the identity of who and what AbbVie is and build company awareness. Building the reputation is part of that identity. It was important to think about the total picture and what it takes—from core public relations, to digital communications, to integrated marketing and advertising.  All of it stems from what you want people to believe and understand about who you are and what you stand for. Our strategy around communications and brand is all designed to accomplish this outcome for AbbVie.

Are you a mentor?

Yes, I am to a few people within the company and outside. I encourage my staff and tell my children this, when God gives you gifts and talents you should share them. I like to be able to share my thinking and experience with others, so it can help them make decisions about what it takes to build their career.

What would you like to leave behind as a communications leader?

It’s not going to be any campaign that would make me most proud. It’s helping the next generation of business and communication leaders. The imprint I want to leave is that I have been able to shape the public relations and communications professional of the future—that I have built the right capability and framework for those people as communicators to truly add business value. I spend an equal amount of time between developing my staff and looking at the environment to determine what needs to be done for our company, so we are very focused, integrated and engaged in our business strategies.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for communications leaders today?

The lines are becoming gray as we get so much information from a variety of sources. We can’t keep applying traditional approaches to the new world order. From the beginning, my approach with common disciplines including human resources, the product brand team and governmental affairs for example, was to work with such extreme collaboration that you almost don’t recognize the differences between our teams. Externally, people don’t see 25,000 AbbVie companies. They only see one.

What is your advice to another woman or man who wants to be a leader in the field and balance a career, family and everything else in between?

It’s a blend. You have to figure out at what given point and time what is most important to you. Balance implies something is offset by something else, where a blend is a constant flow of everything in your life including career, family life and personal. My husband and I jointly made decisions about our careers and how to raise our three boys. My advice is to put in a support system outside of the office, so that when you’re with your children, that is your sole focus and you can be the best parent you can be.

I am very fortunate to have a great job and career. I often wonder if my experience as a mother prepared me to be a better communications and business professional or if my experience as a business professional prepared me to be a better mother. Life as a mother is just as dynamic as my professional life with unexpected twists and turns along the way.


Interview By Lily Kim

Fast Facts

North Chicago, Illinois
Number of employees:
25,000 globally in 170+ countries
Number of years in current role:
18 months
Previous experiences:
I worked at Abbott for 14 years, and most recently served as Abbott’s Divisional Vice President of Nutrition, Public Affairs.
First job:
I was a birthday hostess at Chuckie Cheese. It was the most fun but the worst job when I had to dress up as Chuckie. Kids love it, but what a real eye opener for a young girl who wanted to pursue her dreams. I've come a long way.
Leader you admire the most:
CEO and Chairman, Frank Blake, Home Depot. I heard him speak recently, and he really understands how to motivate his workforce to a purpose. He has Ivy League training and can be a very down-to-earth person who relates to his team. The customer experience is reflective of the brand, and his employees live it every day.

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