2019
Photography by Peter Kim

Paying It Forward

Under the leadership of Heather Mason, ’86, Abbott revolutionized diabetes care for patients. Now, as a new member of the James M. Kilts Center for Marketing Steering Committee, Mason is giving back to Booth.

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For Heather Mason, ’86, life is clearly divided into two parts: before and after Booth. “Chicago really changed my career trajectory,” said Mason, who joined the Kilts Center’s Steering Committee in December.

An industrial engineer by training, Mason said she chose Booth because she wanted to learn to “speak the language of business” and become a product manager. At Booth, she was inspired by James E. Schrager, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management, who pointed out that, ultimately, everybody has access to the same information. “The objective is to ask the right questions earliest, so you can gain a competitive advantage—and that is the essence of marketing,” Mason said. Throughout her career, her ability to identify what sets a business apart from competitors helped her communicate those advantages to customers.

And that’s precisely what Mason did during her many years as an executive at Abbott—work that not only combined her entrepreneurial spirit with her multidisciplinary Booth education, but also led to life-changing products for people.

Mason, who recently retired from Abbott after more than two decades there, was executive vice president of Abbott Nutrition, a $7 billion global business, where she oversaw a wide range of products, from infant formula to nutritional therapy for the elderly. Before taking that role, she served as senior vice president of Abbott Diabetes Care, leading the firm’s global diabetes business. She held a number of other roles during her tenure with the company, including vice president of international marketing and vice president of Latin American operations in the international pharmaceutical business.

At Abbott, Mason put her Booth education to use. When prescription data from doctors first became available, her colleagues weren’t sure how to use the data for marketing. But Mason recognized that she could apply what she had learned from working with customer purchase data in a previous position at Quaker Oats. Analyzing prescription data at Abbott “changed the way products were positioned and sold, based on what doctors actually prescribed,” she said.

Later, while running the diabetes-care business, Mason played a leadership role in helping Abbott launch a product called Libre, an on-arm sensor that takes a blood-glucose reading when a patient waves an app-enabled phone over it. Libre collects and stores nearly 100 data points a day, giving patients access to critical trend information and helping them manage their disease. An ethnographic study following 150 patients with diabetes for two weeks with video cameras resulted in information that led to Abbott’s marketers positioning Libre as “friendly, discreet, and informative.”

The Libre project required an understanding of data capture, market research, and behavioral insights. Mason credits her Booth education with giving her the skills necessary to launch the product successfully. “Booth’s analytic heritage, applied to solving problems, makes the school uniquely positioned to be the leader of insights in analytics, and how we understand what unmet needs are out there and how to best meet them,” she said.

As a new member of the Kilts Steering Committee, Mason will help mentor the next generation of marketing leaders at Booth, instilling in them a passion for using data and research to make well-informed business decisions. In particular, she wants to convey her insights about how consumers use social media and apps to make purchasing decisions, based on her own marketing experience.

“It feels like a great way to meet my desire to be a part of the university’s progress, and to ensure that Booth is the number one cutting-edge school when it comes to today’s marketing education,” Mason said.

—By Amy Merrick
July 30, 2019