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2016 WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: Aarti Shah

Chief Information Officer Eli Lilly and Co.

November 3, 2016
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(IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Before her promotion in July (“I am in the learning mode right now,” she said), Shah was global brand development leader for ixekizumab, a new psoriasis drug marketed under the brand name Taltz. That’s just one of several life-changing drugs she has managed through multiple phases of development.

Rising up: Born in Gujarat, India, Shah earned a bachelor’s in mathematics and a master’s in statistics from Gujarat University. She worked briefly at Indian Space and Research Organization, then ventured to the United States for a doctorate at University of California, Riverside, and eventually to Lilly in 1994.

Career turning point: “The opportunity to do an international assignment and work in both the U.S. affiliate and in Australia was definitely key,” she said. “I am particularly thankful to my family as this would not have been possible without their support and willingness to move.” A takeaway from her work in other countries: “You realize how blessed we are in the U.S. … how spoiled and blessed.”

“Made it” moment: “When I received my Ph.D. and my wish to work in a pharmaceutical company came true. Everything after that is icing on the cake for me.” Although her parents didn’t graduate from college, they taught their children that education was the way to a better life. “I never came to corporate America thinking that one day I wanted to become an executive. Things happened and one experience led to another and added to my confidence and aspirations; I kept enjoying and growing through the various roles and saw the impact of my team’s efforts on the millions of patients we seek to serve every day. The cause is so noble and rewarding.”

Choosing boards: Shah looks at the objectives of the not-for-profit, her personal interest, and the amount of time required to do the job well. With those criteria, she now serves on the boards of the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation (“The best insurance policy that any parent can give to a child is the gift of education”) and the Center for Interfaith Cooperation. (“We are blessed to have diversity of so many different faiths in our city and state. We should use this to our advantage.”)

Beyond work: A self-described “huge Bollywood fan” and cricket lover, Shah teaches Sunday school for Jainism. “We are here to make a difference,” she said, adding that her faith helps keep her from getting caught up in the material world. “We say. ‘I want peace.’ Drop the ‘I,’ drop the ‘want,’ and you get peace.”

Mentors: Will Dere, Don Therasse and Carmel Egan. “Common to all three: They all had more confidence in me than I had in myself and all along the way they were always there to support me, guide me and bring the best out of me.”

Advice for young women in business: “Know yourself, be yourself and bring your full self to work.”

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