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Women in Business: Q&A with Deborah DiSanzo, CEO of Philips Healthcare

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DiSanzo was appointed to her current position in May 2012, and has since led the Philips' Healthcare sector with invaluable leadership, business acumen and industry expertise.

Prior to her position as CEO of Philips Healthcare, DiSanzo held numerous leadership positions within Philips Healthcare and other Philips acquired legacy companies. Most recently, she was the chief executive officer of Philips Healthcare's Patient Care and Clinical Informatics business group (2008 - 2012). She also served as senior vice president and general manager of Philips Patient Monitoring business, and held a variety of management positions in Cardiac Care, Cardiac Resuscitation, and Healthcare Information Management businesses, where she was instrumental in building the Automated External Defibrillator market.

DiSanzo was born in the United States. She holds a Master of Business Administration from Babson College, Massachusetts, and was inducted into the Babson Alumni Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. DiSanzo is also a Board Member of Project HOPE, the Steering Board Chair of the World Economic Forum's project on Health Systems Leapfrogging in Emerging Economies, and a Board Member for the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed).

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'll share an experience that guides me and inspires me every day. Early in my career, one of the founders of HeartStream [makers of automated external defibrillators (AED)], Carl Morgan, gave me a piece of advice: "Focus on saving lives and the money will follow." At that time I was eager to prove myself as a new manager of the AED business. I listened to Carl but I'm not sure I heard him -- until I met Bridgette McDonald. Bridgette is a Delta Air Lines flight attendant who went into cardiac arrest when she was working a flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta. At 10,000 feet, a co-flight attendant saved Bridgette's life using our product. This story was picked up by the media because putting defibs on planes was new at the time, and the flight crew had just been trained to use them the week before. When I met Bridgette McDonald, she was 41 years old, beautiful, thin, a runner, a gardener, and she had two little girls. She walked over, looked me in the eyes and said, "I was dead, and now I am alive. Thanks to what you do, I get to hug my two young children and smell the flowers in my garden."

From that day on, I have never forgotten that my work is important. I am very privileged to be part of an industry that can help save lives and make such a positive difference. Doing the right thing and working on behalf of others influences how I conduct business.

You were recently named to the Inspiring Fifty List of Women. What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in the technology and healthcare sectors?
This is such a nice honor, and it's particularly gratifying to see the great work and leadership of all the honorees. I'll share career advice that's not necessarily specific to women, but is a continuation of this idea of doing the right thing. I've always advised people that no matter what you choose to do with your life, work with integrity, ideally work with passion, and aim to make a difference in this world. All of us who were selected in the Inspiring Fifty work in healthcare and technology; these sectors are ripe with possibilities to do good and affect change. But working with integrity and passion and the desire to make a difference can be applied to every role and every job in any industry.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as CEO of Philips Healthcare?
I sold Girl Scout cookies. It was my first business experience. Selling cookies was good training for professional life - taking orders, delivering, working hard to earn top cookie salesperson status. Most of all, selling cookies gave me a healthy appreciation for what it takes to work with all types of customers. From an early age, I was aware that there was a purpose to every experience, good and bad. Throughout my career, I've made a point to learn and grow from every experience, and I always strive to put the lessons to good use and make a positive impact.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Focus. When I'm at work, I'm focused on work. When I'm at home with my daughter and husband, they have my full attention. But don't let me make it sound effortless. Work/life balance is a constant struggle for every professional, and of course we all must make sacrifices. Time is a precious commodity, but focus - whether at the office or at home - allows me to live an integrated life. I also laugh a lot, eat healthy, and practice martial arts, which helps me stay centered and balanced.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Sheryl is tough, honest, and compassionate. I like her 'never give up' message. I like her message of encouragement to women not to doubt our ability. And, I personally resonate with her message that professional success puts a person in a better position to make changes that can make a positive difference for others. There's also a poignant subtext to the book: gender bias notwithstanding, never use bias as an excuse. Believe in yourself and your capabilities.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring has played a key role throughout my career. Particularly as I took on leadership responsibility, I was fortunate to have mentors who, in addition to being wise, were very generous with their time. Mentors helped me with financial and strategy advice, but in particular I learned about leadership and human nature from wonderful men - yes, all men --- by listening and observing their interactions with their bosses, peers, and teams. Now as a CEO, I am especially appreciative to have mentors; they help me put complex issues into proper perspective.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Meg Whitman for her efforts to invigorate the great Hewlett-Packard brand. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for making her own mark in international diplomacy and working tirelessly on behalf of our country. And Mother Theresa for her compassion and dedication to help others and her focus and drive to achieve results.

Which one word describes best how you have got to where you are today?
Passion.