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Matching Personal Interest with Corporate Investment

Matching Personal Interest with Corporate Investment

How Academy Governor and Pfizer executive Toni Hoover gets "more bang for sponsorship bucks."

Long before Toni Hoover became a senior vice president at Pfizer, she honed an interest in psychology by keeping an eye on the street life in her hometown of New Orleans. The odd behavior of some of the local denizens fascinated her as a teenager, even if it was largely indulged as harmless eccentricity or regional flair. Today, she acknowledges that much of what captured her interest was in fact psychopathology.

Hoover took her early passion for understanding the underlying causes of abnormal behavior to Harvard, where she earned a BA, MA, and PhD in psychology. Early work as a clinical scientist in the neurosciences area at Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis in Ann Arbor, Mich., led to a project standardizing clinical assessment outcome measures to be used in clinical trials of treatments for Alzheimer's patients. She went on to lead central nervous system drug development at Parke-Davis, overseeing the development of several medications, including Pfizer's Lyrica, and has now worked for Pfizer and its legacy companies for 23 years.

Since 2006, Hoover has been site director of Pfizer's Groton/New London Laboratories, the company's largest research and development facility. Her focus is on creating a vibrant, innovative, and productive environment for discovering and developing new medicines. In addition to making sure that the needs of the R&D colleagues are met, Hoover is responsible for the site's compliance with state regulations, serving as the public face of Pfizer in dealing with legislative, public policy, and community relations.

Three years ago, she was tapped to reassess Pfizer's relationship with the New York Academy of Sciences, and set out to identify new ways in which Pfizer R&D could get "more bang for its sponsorship buck." Encouraged by discussions with the Academy's Chief Business Officer René Bastón, which yielded new strategies for rejuvenating the relationship, Hoover made the case to Pfizer's worldwide president of R&D to continue major sponsorship of the Academy. Given the location of Pfizer's corporate headquarters in New York City and the close proximity of its large R&D site in southeastern Connecticut, she argued that the visibility of Pfizer as a corporate sponsor of the Academy was invaluable, making support of high-profile Academy initiatives a natural fit. Upon approval of Hoover's proposal, Pfizer renewed its support of the Academy as a Mission Partner.

Subsequently, President Ellis Rubinstein asked Hoover to consider joining the Academy's board. She accepted the invitation, and in 2009 became a member of the Board of Governors. Meanwhile, she has stepped up her own investment in the Academy by directing her personal contribution towards programs focused on advancing women and people of color in the sciences. She says these mirror similar educational outreach efforts by Pfizer in Connecticut to "support, spark, and delight" young people about scientific careers. Hoover takes special delight in witnessing the first green shoots of youthful inquiry, remarking, "You can see the 'Aha!' moment as they watch hands-on demos of the wonders of science."

At the college level, Pfizer offers summer internships aimed at getting undergrads interested in discovering and developing new medicines. Some of Pfizer's collaborations with university science departments focus specifically on increasing the diversity of the pipeline of new talent, and Hoover believes that the Academy can further such efforts by developing skills among women and ethnic minorities, and by working to facilitate networking among scientists from those groups.

Hoover's growing personal investment in the Academy capitalizes on the Pfizer Foundation Matching Gift program, which allows her to double her impact. And since Pfizer renewed its sponsorship three years ago, the number of Pfizer scientists who have joined the Academy has increased from 20 in 2005 to more than 366 today. This represents the largest number of scientists from any company and from any single corporate sponsor. Just as Hoover has watched young people from Pfizer's student programs go on to become working scientists—sometimes as researchers at her Groton/New London laboratories—she hopes to see the Academy raise its own crop of scholars and scientists. Scientific curiosity came naturally to Hoover as she was growing up in New Orleans, but she knows that it doesn't grow on trees.

Adam Ludwig is a writer in New York City.