SPECIAL FEATURE: Leading With Gratitude
By Kristine Bruneau | Photo by ROCimage.com
Executive vice president and chief compliance officer for Bausch + Lomb Susan Roberts usually begins her day by running and praying. She says that faith, family, and friends are principles that guide her and have helped shape her into the woman she is today.
Roberts joined Bausch + Lomb in 1995 after several years as a trial lawyer at one of Rochester’s oldest law firms, Harter, Secrest & Emery. She then held positions of increasing responsibility in Bausch + Lomb’s law department, including serving as vice president and assistant general counsel. Today, Bausch + Lomb credits Roberts’ leadership and vision for building ethics and compliance into Bausch + Lomb’s global daily business operations.
When asked what she loves most about her job, the 2013 Athena Award nominee, who has played a leading role in navigating Bausch + Lomb through some of its most challenging legal issues, replied without hesitation: “The people. I’m blessed to work with more than 11,000 terrific people around the world. It’s the people that make Bausch + Lomb great.”
Born in Conklin Forks, NY – a hamlet south of Binghamton – to a warehouse manager and homemaker, Roberts was the youngest of five children.
“We didn’t have a ton of money, but we had a lot of love,” says Roberts, recalling that her parents made the best of everything. “We went camping, saw Niagara Falls, and then toured the Robert Moses Power Plant (laughs) – because it was free.”
Growing up, Roberts played football and baseball to keep up with her older brothers and friends. Competitive in sports during high school, she also earned good grades. Although she really wanted to be a forest ranger in Colorado, Roberts’ parents encouraged her to go to Binghamton University. There, she took Philosophy of Law and loved it. Her professor urged her to give law a try because she did well in the class.
While earning her bachelor’s degree, Roberts worked three jobs to put herself through school. When her parents dropped Roberts off at law school, her father turned to her and said “knock ‘em dead.” Minutes later her mother whispered “you can always come home.”
Mindful of her parents’ words of wisdom, Roberts was committed to working hard and staying grounded. Upon graduating cum laude from Albany Law School of Union University, she was recruited by Harter, Secrest & Emery in Rochester.
“They were the only firm that said if you pass the bar then within a year you could try your first case,” says Roberts.
Just six months after passing the bar exam, Roberts tried her first case – and won. This was a thrilling moment for a young woman who loved to think on her feet and do battle. She stayed with HSE for seven years and was on the partner track when an opportunity in Bausch + Lomb’s litigation department arose. She almost ignored it, until a couple of well-meaning friends dared her to submit her resume. Always up for a challenge, Roberts pulled her resume together, studied Bausch + Lomb’s annual report, and was offered a job managing the company’s global litigation.
“I enjoyed learning about the different legal systems around the world,” says Roberts, who also helped educate and train company employees how not to get the company sued. During her tenure, she built a reputation for her ability to consistently and effectively address the root causes of complex issues and manage risk within Bausch + Lomb.
In 2005, when Bausch + Lomb’s troubles with some subsidiaries escalated, the board of directors recognized the need for a standalone compliance structure. Who better to lead the effort than Roberts?
But Roberts, who had little experience in compliance, wasn’t so sure. It took a bit of self-introspection for her to get comfortable with this new challenge. “I read or heard somewhere that when opportunity knocks you have to answer the door – even if you’re in your bathrobe! This is so true; you never feel that you’re completely prepared to take on something new.”
Since then, Roberts established a best-in-class compliance function, implementing new online compliance resources and hiring a team that delivered results.
“As a company, we’ve stayed out of trouble and I believe that’s due in large part to our compliance program,” says Roberts. “We’re one of the very few companies in the medical device and pharmaceutical arena that doesn’t have a corporate integrity agreement (CIA) or a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the government.”
This is a big deal in these industries. CIAs are complex, multi-year agreements that require an organization to implement or maintain an effective compliance program with government oversight. DPAs are agreements in which a company agrees to specific actions in exchange for a dismissal of criminal charges.
Because of her success, Bausch + Lomb, in 2008, appointed Roberts to chief compliance officer and its executive leadership team, where she’s one of the first women to serve as an executive leader.
Roberts believes that it’s the job of leaders to earn the trust of shareholders, customers, and employees. It’s trust that sets Roberts apart as an inspiring role model for women in and outside of Bausch + Lomb. She is an in-demand mentor within Bausch + Lomb, sharing ways to achieve success and growth in all stages of career development.
Roberts is also the executive sponsor and an active member of the Bausch + Lomb Women’s Network. Its mission is to make Bausch + Lomb an employer of choice for women by promoting personal and professional development, enriching the community, and encouraging employee health and wellness.
A former recipient of Rochester Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” award, Roberts was also named a “Woman Worth Watching” by Diversity Journal in 2008.
In quoting Charles Darwin – ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ – Roberts offers a challenge to women and future leaders to “adapt to change and be flexible.”
Grateful for the people and blessings in her life, she adds, “My parents taught me that no matter what you do, you need to be courageous, be real, and be kind.”
Taking that mindset to heart, Roberts supports a variety of local, national, and international charitable organizations. For Roberts, however, the YWCA in Rochester shines bright.
More than two years ago, Jean Carroll, YWCA president & CEO, invited Roberts to tour the YWCA facility. Roberts was touched by the number of homeless women and children in our community and she wanted to do something about it.
“As a mother myself, I couldn’t imagine how it must feel for a mom to not be able to provide her children food, warm clothes, and a safe place to live.”
Roberts issued a personal challenge at the 2011 Empowering Women Luncheon, which raises funds that support YWCA programs and services. During the luncheon, Roberts gave a bracelet to every donor who pledged at least a dollar a day for the year. Engraved with the words “YWCA Empowering Women Every Day,” the bracelets served as a reminder of the impact each person can make in the lives of women and children in our community. In 2012, Roberts built upon the prior year’s success and sponsored the “Pathway to Empowerment” charm.
“Everyone,” says Roberts, “has the power to change someone’s day with something as simple as a smile or an act of kindness.”