For the second interview of our Pfizer Spotlight Series, Zach sits down with Myron Terry, Senior Director/Team Leader at Pfizer. He and Zach discuss his role leading the team responsible for developing and implementing effective grassroots campaigns for government affairs and more, touching on everything from George Floyd to vaccine equity. Make sure to click the links in the show notes to learn more about Pfizer’s effort to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible for everyone.
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Zach: Myron, welcome to the show. How are you doing, man?
Myron: I’m good. How are you?
Zach: Look, I’m doing okay. We’re in the middle of–not in the middle, we’re coming towards where we’re progressing through this whole pandemic, and I’m just excited to have the opportunity to talk to members of Pfizer’s leadership team about Pfizer, what y’all are doing in this moment. And so there’s a bunch of different ways we could get started. I’m gonna start by asking you about your journey. What spurred your entry into government relations, and what does that really mean?
Myron: I’ve been in government relations most of my adult life. Actually, the way I ended up here was through an internship I had in college. I went to University of South Carolina, which is in the state capitol of South Carolina, in Columbia, and during my college experience I had a chance to work for my state senator. So I worked for him my entire college career and learned a lot about the state senate, ended up getting a job with his office after college, working for a committee for the Senate Finance Committee. Eventually, I did that for several years and then became a lobbyist and advocated for clients on their behalf with the state legislature. Did that for a while, and then out of the blue I got a call from a former house member who had just won the election for governor, and he asked me to come work for him, which I did, and I ended up becoming the deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs for the governor of South Carolina, a guy named Jim Hodges, and that was a great experience. And then, from that, I met a young woman at Pfizer, Melissa Bishop Murphy, who was in charge of government relations in the southeast. She said to me Pfizer was hiring and might have a new position and I should apply. I did, and the rest is, thankfully, history.
Zach: So that leads me well into the next question, which is you’ve been in this space for several years… What compelled you to join and stay at Pfizer for over 18, nearly 20 years? What’s been the pull for you to join and stay here?
Myron: Just the short answer is Pfizer has been a great organization to me since the day I started and continues to be. Well, it’s sort of a perfect combination. We literally save people’s lives. I work for a company that is enhancing and lengthening people’s lives, and that has become even more true during the pandemic, and we’re all really proud to be a part of a company that has led the way in hopefully navigating out of this pandemic. So it’s been a great experience. I’ve had multiple experiences and opportunities at Pfizer to participate on different teams, to work hard, to be recognized for that and have a few promotions. And so it’s just been an overall very good experience.
Zach: So your role, it involves building and coordinating, [inaudible:16] grassroots efforts and advocating with elected officials on key issues important to Pfizer, and it sounds as if this space–and we’ve talked about this before on Living Corporate–demands a high level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Talk to me about navigating governmental spaces as a Black man, especially in this past era where we’re talking about–we’re coming from different White House administrations. What has that been like over the last–I just want to zoom in on the last, like, 18 months.
Myron: So here’s the challenge. The challenge is–and I’m going to give the answer before I say this, the answer to the question I’m about to pose is no, but the real question is can you divorce who you genuinely are from the person that you bring to work every day? And again, the answer to that is no, because I bring with me all of Myron to work every day, and all of Myron is an African-American man with all those experiences, good and bad. Those are part of who I am, and I bring those with me every day. And I think what’s happened, particularly since George Floyd and the pandemic, two things which I think have highlighted some of the challenges African-Americans face in the country, with the pandemic the disproportionate rate we saw that it had on African-American communities, and the George Floyd (movement,) that’s kind of obvious.
: And so emotionally it takes a toll, because it’s not as simple as just walking into work, and I can’t pretend that I didn’t see the George Floyd incident happen as an African-American man in the United States. When I saw George Floyd–and I mean this literally–I saw myself as someone, and I preface (this) by saying I have never committed a crime. So I’ve led a crime-free life. However, I’ve had several negative interactions with police. I’ve had a gun drawn on me by a police officer. I’ve been hit by a police officer when he didn’t think that I complied to a demand in a quick enough fashion. And so when I see these incidents on TV, I have a flashback, and so I think for a lot of us, when we see, particularly African-Americans, when you see things like the George Floyd incident, it becomes much more personal. And as an African-American man, I have a younger sister who has two teenage sons, and on several occasions over the last year, my sister has called me in the middle of the night in tears.
: And she’s not a paranoid person. She’s very competent. She’s out in the world, she and my brother-in-law, et cetera, but she just sometimes is overwhelmed with fear, and I think a lot of us can relate to that. And again, it’s a challenge sometimes to divorce those feelings from when you come to work every day. Because part of my job is I keep up with the news. And so you watch the news, there it is again. There are clearly challenges.
Zach: And so it’s interesting you talked about you’ve had guns drawn on you, and as have I. I’ve had guns drawn on me by police when I was 14 years old, and pointed to my head, cocked, ready to go. And so you hold those traumas. Well, it’s interesting, even to that point. I recall, Myron, I had a job–so I’m a consultant, and I was on a particular project–this was some time ago–where there were security before I got to the elevator. So you pass security, go on the elevator, and these were police. And so every day I’m seeing these police, I’m seeing these guns, and I’m reminded back to when I almost lost my life some years ago.
: And you’re carrying that, but you have to almost compress that down because that’s literally right before I get on the elevator to go to work. And so, to your whole point around just the different experiences, the things that we hold and that we carry with us, it’s hard to divorce those things. And so, with that being said, as you get into work and you’re carrying yourself and you’re doing your job, you have to build alliances, I would imagine, and you also have to build some sponsors. Talk to me about what that looks like in your role, what that looks like to build relationships, sponsorships and alliances with folks that you may have genuine disagreements with. How do you navigate that in this space? And I continue to say it, but it just seems fraught with challenge, Myron. When I think about public affairs today, when I think about the last 18 months and just where we are politically and I think about–it seems like you’re having to juggle multiple priorities and tensions. And so am I overthinking it?
Myron: No. I think you’re exactly right, but here is something that is a little bit extraordinary. I grew up in the deep south. I’m from South Carolina, grew up in South Carolina, et cetera, but what has been–and it was extraordinary. I’ve been in New York 11 of those almost 20 years, but what has been extraordinary from the first day that I began with Pfizer is I had an immediate community. I had an immediate group of people that surrounded me, and they were proactive in their outreach, and then they encouraged me, “Don’t wait to come to us when you have a problem.” And so what happened in my early career–and I cannot overstate the importance of this–I had particularly two or three people who were relentless in their proactive approach, engagement to me.
: And making me feel there was no question that was stupid. I could come to them for anything. And they helped me navigate my professional space. And I think that was—I don’t think, it WAS absolutely essential to my success and successes. So that was number one. So I had a small group. I had a larger group of people who were also very supportive of me, and even today, I look at the last 18 months, and two things that I really have to give the enterprise credit for (are) one, we have our colleague resource group, and I am lucky to be a part of the global Black community. And it’s a community, one, of really smart people that are really good at the jobs they get paid to do every day at Pfizer, and so they are just a great and inspiring and motivating group of people to be around.
: Number two, they are people who are genuinely interested in the success of colleagues, and particularly because it’s the global Black community, there’s a particular interest in the success of Black colleagues, their Black colleagues within the enterprise. And so I think that is critical, but here is what really puts a bow around it. What I’ve seen in the last 18 months or so, well, before I say 18 months, what I’ve seen at Pfizer post-George Floyd is a very aggressive willingness to sit at a table, hear, and be a part of sometimes uncomfortable conversations and figure out a path forward, and there has been great receptivity to feedback, to concerns, to recommendations about what does the path look forward for Pfizer being what it should be for all colleagues.
: And I’ve got to give the enterprise credit, and our CEO credit, for willing to have what were very likely some very challenging and tough conversations. But we had those, and I’ve witnessed those conversations firsthand, but even more importantly than that, they took those conversations, and that was converted into actions, into specific steps, into a specific plan with tangible, actionable, metric- based results.
Myron: So last summer we had all these great back and forth conversations with our CEO and our executive leadership team, a lot of those members, and those conversations went from really dynamic conversations to, in the fall and ongoing, we now have on paper, and it’s been communicated within the enterprise. There’s a plan forward. And the enterprise has said, “We can and should do better, and this is what we thinks that looks like.” But to put an exclamation point around that, I think the enterprise also recognizes it’s a dynamic conversation. It’s not a static conversation. So we had those great conversations. We’ve got a target. We’re working towards those targets. And let me say, I honestly feel–this is not what I think should happen, but I honestly feel if we don’t do anything else in the next five years but what we’ve said we’re going to do, it will be nothing short of remarkable.
Zach: So that’s encouraging, because my followup question was going to be “So you had the conversations, cool. And then what are the actions?” And I’m glad that you said that. I would imagine considering your role, your former role in Pfizer, that you appreciate and respect the need for actual policy and process changes.
Myron: Oh, absolutely. Again, that’s what I go back to, where Pfizer–excuse me, I don’t want to sound arrogant, but we got a lot of friggin’ smart people that work at Pfizer. We just do. I’m sorry, but I don’t apologize. We’ve got a lot of smart people, and a lot of those smart people are on the leadership team for the global Black community, and so and what I think is such a great part of that title is the global Black community. And it literally is a community effort. It’s really a group. When they come together, they’re really about “How do we advance, make sure that our membership is properly positioned to make sure they can have the input to the enterprise?” And the enterprise is recognizing that and able to fully leverage their talent.
Zach: And so then we touched on it a little bit, but I want to go back to it, this whole idea around sponsorship and building relationships in the context of your job. Can you give me an example of, in your role, where alliances and sponsors are critical for you to do what it is you do?
Myron: So on a scale from one to 10, I think–and there’s a difference between mentors, sponsors, et cetera, but I want to group that together. So I want to describe it as having people that support you, because that takes on–depending on the colleague and the person it can take different shapes and forms. But I honestly don’t think you will really advance if you don’t have that community around. And it’s a two-way street. I think part of it is, as colleagues, we have to try to find those people and cultivate them. But from the enterprise level, at the leadership level, there’s gotta be an effort to find people to cultivate and grow. So it’s a two-way street. But for me, personally, I talked to you about there were three people for probably the first two-thirds of my career who I talked to, and I’m not exaggerating, I probably talked to one of those three people at a minimum of once a day. And that’s a lot.
: And they weren’t always phone calls. It might be an email, it might be a text message, but those folks, some of them still today, help me navigate the enterprise. Because I’ve been at Pfizer almost 20 years, but I’m not a perfect person. I don’t know the answers to all the questions. And sometimes I want to know “Okay, I’ve got this new project or this new challenge, and I want to make sure I’m successful,” and so I recognize the value of having more seats at the table. And so I like to go to people, people I can trust and people who I know are genuinely interested in my success, and those people are going to give me honest feedback. And that’s the other key. I’m fortunate, blessed, cursed by people who give me very blunt feedback. “Myron, that’s not what you want to do.” “Myron, you should do this, you should have done that. You need to go back, fix this, correct that.”
: So it’s not always what I want to hear, because sometimes I think I know the best approach, and sometimes they make me understand I don’t. And so I think that’s good.
: But the other thing where I’ve seen people make mistakes and the advice I would give is you have to be careful and you have to be deliberate of who mentors or sponsors you. You have to watch them. You have to see, “Does that person have a track record of attaching themselves or allowing people to attach themselves, and then that person gets promoted, gets more opportunities?” Or you can make sure you’re not aligning with someone who’s just giving you some good words and not necessarily good advice.
: Because as one of my sponsors told me, you need somebody to advocate for you when nobody else is in the room, and I just think that is so important, and I feel pretty confident that I’ve had people that can say positive things about me and my work and my work ethic when I’m not in the room. And I think that’s really, really important.
Zach: No, that’s great. And that’s what I was looking for, Myron. I appreciate this. So let’s talk a little bit more about Pfizer, about the work that you’re doing. As you look back in your space and what you’ve been personally proud of the past 12 months, 12 to 18 months, if you could give me three things, what would they be?
Myron: Three things. One, I just spoke to that. We were able to take some incredibly challenging conversations with the leadership team of our company and translate those into actionable items that have very strong support of our leadership, and I say that because we’ve seen comments from our CEO, we’ve seen a plan that has been circulated. So it’s out there in the universe. So that’s done. So that’s number one.
: Number two is I’ve seen the results of the work–and I’ve been just on the periphery but I’ve seen it, I’m so proud to even be a little bit a part of it–the work we have been and are doing to educate what I consider very vulnerable communities around the pandemic. Because as we’ve seen–and it’s not unique. So let me be very clear. Building vaccine competence is not just an issue for Black communities or communities of color.
: But that’s one of the areas that we have been focused on, and I feel really proud of the work we’ve done in that space, and I genuinely feel we have gone beyond the development with the tech of the vaccine. We have literally made a difference in the trajectory of people’s ability and access to vaccines and people’s ability to have their lives back, because we did an event just last week on vaccine confidence, and just the questions that were asked–and one, I was so comfortable that people felt so comfortable asking really, really tough questions, and questions they were hearing in their respective communities, but we had the opportunity, Pfizer had the opportunity to be a part of a forum, and we were able to share fact-based information, and what we were told–and this was a very significant group of people that we were able to share information that they in turn feel like the groups could share with their respective constituencies.
: And they feel like so somebody else is going to take a vaccine today that probably wouldn’t. So I feel extraordinarily proud in that space, and again, I can go on the third thing, and this is more so nothing I’ve done directly, but I’ve been again on the periphery of that. Leading up to the pandemic, prior to the pandemic, Pfizer was very aggressive in efforts to diversify clinical trials for a lot of the same misconceptions and some truth to why there’s vaccine hesitancy. You know, there were concerns about “Should we be involved in clinical trials?” But, again, pre-COVID, several of my colleagues were very involved in efforts to dispel myths around that. And because of that, when the pandemic hit and when we saw potentially a vaccine on the horizon, the first thing we had to do was build a trial.
: And because of the work we had done prior, we were able to get high numbers, considerably higher numbers of minorities, and particularly of Black people, in the clinical trial. And so where we are today–because this comes up all the time–it’s like we’re able to stick our chest out, at least I am a little bit, when we’re asked the question, “Were there Black people in your trial for this fight for this vaccine?” We can say yes, we can give the numbers, and we can say that the numbers we’ve had for this are higher than we usually have in a clinical trial. And so, again, I’m on the periphery, so I’m not trying to claim credit for what some of my extraordinary colleagues have done. But it’s something, nevertheless. I wear Pfizer blue, so I’m sticking my chest out about that too.
Zach: That’s incredible. And honestly, Myron, I know that y’all had a bunch of Black folks in the trials.
Myron: We did. We do. And I’m doing this off the top of my head, so hopefully after this, I still have a job, but I want to say that number is about 10%, which is higher than we’ve normally had in our trials. So we’ve got, when we’re talking about the efficacy of our vaccine and people are asking us about the diversity of the trial–and diversity is a broad question, it’s about age, it’s about race, et cetera, but we are able to say “Black people were in this trial,” and more importantly, or just as importantly, “and we saw similar results.” “The Black people who were in the trial saw the same benefits or extraordinarily similar benefits to everybody else who was in the trial.” So it’s really helped as we’ve been having these vaccine confidence discussions with a lot of groups.
Zach: And I love the fact that you brought up two other words too, because it’s this idea around–I do believe that we frame, especially with Black and brown communities… consistently talking about vaccine hesitancy without talking about confidence and access, I believe, misses the mark. So I appreciate you bringing up those two other variables, because the truth of the matter is that if I had hesitancy about the vaccine it was because I had issues with being confident in the distributors of the vaccine.
: Now, I have taken the Pfizer vaccine, and I’ve got both doses, I’m done. That was about a month ago, I’m complete. But what would have helped, and what has helped, is me learning more about the process, learning more about the background, how the vaccine was made.
: I think the other thing is learning more about COVID too, to be honest about just how–and really coming to grips with the seriousness of the virus. It was a scary thing for me, to be honest. There wasn’t anyone in my family who passed away from COVID-19, but I definitely had a cousin who was on a ventilator, was knocking on death’s door. It was always my friends, the family of my friends, everyone else around me was just passing away. So it was scary stuff.
: I’m curious, Myron, as we get out of here, what has it been like for you? We’ve talked about George Floyd and police brutality and ongoing police brutality, because now we have several other viral instances of Black bodies being brutalized by police. But I’m curious about, when we talk about COVID, what was that dynamic like for you being in this pandemic, working at this company that’s creating this vaccine? You have family members, you have loved ones. What did that look like for you? And were you a point of information and confidence for your family? What did that look like?
Myron: So I’m going to be honest. It was tough. It was tough. I live in New York City, so I was at the beginning. We were the epicenter at the beginning, and I think because I work at Pfizer, because I’m able to see a lot of the information that I see, I took this very seriously from day one. I, not literally but almost, locked myself in my apartment. I only went out–I have a bike in the city. I’d ride my bike, but outside of that, I only really went to the grocery store and the Target. That’s how exciting my life was, and that was my life for months and months and months and months. I did not go visit my family, and for the first four months of the pandemic, I didn’t even see anybody that I know.
: Because I wouldn’t let anyone in my apartment. I didn’t go to any of my friend’s apartments. So it was tough. It was really tough, and I literally just got back last night from visiting my family, some of my family for the first time, and it was remarkable, and we laughed over the weekend. We were just saying, “Look where we were a year ago.” They were joking like, “Thank you, Myron, and thank you, Pfizer.” And we were joking, but it’s fairly remarkable, because my oldest brother had COVID, and he has some other conditions, and he had a pretty bad case. And to be candid, we did not expect him to survive. He did, he did. But he was in real bad shape.
: And so in my neighborhood there’s a hospital in my neighborhood, which had a mobile morgue outside. And so I would walk by and see that. So emotionally, it was a lot. And then, particularly in New York, seeing the disproportionate rate that it had on Black and brown people. So one, it was a lot generally. And two, it was a lot personally, because it raised my personal fear of the disease. And so it really drove me in that. Even my friends were amused at what they said was the over-precautions they thought I took, because I wouldn’t go to any “Oh, we’re only gonna have two or three people over for dinner. I’m (like), “No, I’m not coming, because I don’t know if those two or three people could have COVID.”
: And so I wouldn’t do any of those things that some of my friends were doing. So it was a really, really tough year, and then living in New York, our city really changed. Things were closed and are beginning and haven’t really, really re-opened, but we’re getting there. So we’re getting back there slowly. But surely, for a lot of people, it was a tough year. But I think the world sort of changed when we got—initially the Pfizer vaccine got the emergency use authorization and then the subsequent vaccine. So now we just have to get people to get the vaccines in their arms so we actually have vaccinated people, and then hopefully we’ll get back to some semblance of what we used to have.
Zach: Man, Myron, I just really appreciate this conversation. It’s been great. We could chop it up forever. And it’s funny because as we were coordinating this, everyone was talking about you. They were (like), “Yo, Myron is the greatest.” I’m serious, [inaudible:42].
Myron: I had to Cash App a lot of people. I had to Cash App a whole lot of people.
Zach: Hey man, I’m gonna slide you my Cash App after this. But anyway, it’s been a pleasure. It’s been an honor. Last thing before I let you go is if you were to talk to a Black and brown person about just why Pfizer and why someone should apply to join Pfizer today, what would you tell them?
Myron: A couple of things. One, say what you will, it’s the truth, we’re saving people’s lives. You work for a company, even pre-COVID–we were doing this pre-COVID. We’re getting a lot more credit now.
Zach: Talk it. Talk it.
Myron: But we were doing this pre-COVID, saving, enhancing people’s lives every day. Don’t you want to be a part of an enterprise that is doing that? Particularly if you’re Black and brown, your grandma, your aunties. Growing up, my mother used to (be like,) “Myron, where are my pressure pills?” Then, you know, people got (diabetes?), people got sugar. So I grew up, you grew up seeing all of that disproportionately in Black and brown communities, and to be a part of that. Number one.
: Number two, I look back on my career. I’ve had extraordinary opportunities. I’ve worked really, really, really, really hard, but I’ve been recognized for that. I’ve been promoted for that. And so it’s like the perfect combination. I’m working for a company that is doing extraordinary things, and I’ve been afforded extraordinary opportunities from our hard work. So I think that’s what–ideally I think that’s what you look for in a career opportunity.
Zach: Myron, I appreciate you, man. This has been great. I want to thank you again. Shout out to you, Myron Terry, senior director, team leader for a government relations political action committee and grassroots.
Myron: Senior director of political–it’s changed. Senior director of political outreach and senior director for government relations for the great New York City.
Zach: Whoo. Hey, man.
Myron: [?] great, but that’s a fact. [?]
Zach: Come on, now. Yes. Put some sauce on it when you say it. I appreciate it. I respect it, Myron. All right, we’ll talk to you soon, man.
Myron: All right. I enjoyed it. Thank you.
Zach: All right. Peace.