Former Merck executive urges students to stand out through actions not words

Nov 22, 2013

Dr. Gagnon talks with Erica Blazer '13, after his presentation.

Dr. Gagnon talks with Erica Blazer '13. This year, some young alumni joined the current students at the event.

Dr. Jean Pierre Gagnon, a retired Merck executive, told Delaware Valley College students it will be their actions, not their words, that will help them stand out as young professionals.

Dr. Gagnon spoke at the College Thursday, Nov. 21, as part of the Watson Executive-In-Residence series, which brings top executives to campus to share candid advice and stories from their careers with current students. The events give students a chance to network and learn from the successes and failures of others.

When Dr. Gagnon was young he had no idea what he wanted to do. He considered being a rock star and a motorcycle rider before deciding he wanted to travel the world and run a business.

Before getting a first job, he told students to write a wish list about what they want from their first positions.

“Be bold about what you would like to do, but be realistic about what you can do,” said Dr. Gagnon, who quickly found playing guitar wasn’t on his “can do” list.

He started at Merck as a pharmaceutical sales representative and stayed with the company for more than 30 years. He worked his way up to holding high-level positions such as vice president of brand marketing for the U.S., and most recently CLO & global vice president for Global Human Health Learning & Development.

In his most recent position with Merck, Dr. Gagnon ran aspects of learning, development, and performance for more than 40,000 employees working in 136 countries.

He stood out by always delivering on his commitments and taking on challenging territories.

“I asked for the toughest assignments,” said Dr. Gagnon. “I took the territory that was in trouble and turned it around and I became known for that.”

He warned students not to minimize the impact of their personal support systems. He said that his family’s willingness to support him, cheer him on, and move so that he could take positions, made a big difference for him.

“I’ve seen people who could have had great futures fail because they couldn’t mange personal relationships,” said Dr. Gagnon. “Don’t minimize the impact of your family. They can be your best supporters or, cause you a lot of pain. You’re not an island and you can’t succeed alone.”

He left students with six key suggestions to keep in mind for success:

1. Be the best at what you do and remain calm.

2. Communicate with others in a simple and clear way.

3. Innovate- Don’t just look for problems because anyone can see problems, offer solutions.

4. Make it happen. Always deliver on or exceed promises. Be careful not to promise more than you can deliver.

5. Build trust and respect.

6. Help others. Improve the lives of the people around you and work to energize them. If you inspire individuals on your team to do more and become more, you will be on the team that wins

Thomas W. Watson ’57, created the speaker series in 2004. Watson is a co-founder and vice chairman emeritus of Omnicom Group Inc., one of the largest advertising firms in the world. Dr. Gagnon was the 20th Watson-Executive-In-Residence speaker.