Speech: Jeff Winton, 2017 Corporate Honoree


ROSEMARIE YANCOSEK: Good evening. My name is Rosemarie Yancosek. What a privilege to be here tonight with so many recipients of The Plank Award for Mentoring. I have the honor of introducing my dear friend and mentor, Jeff Winton, who is currently the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Astellas.

I have worked with Jeff at three different pharmaceutical companies over the last two decades. Every day I’m thankful that he chose me for a position on his Pharmacia and Upjohn communications team in late 1998, as that offer literally changed the course of my career. I’ve thought a lot about what I would say this evening, as it’s very hard for a communicator to condense 20 years into three minutes or less.

Jeff Winton is well-known in the pharmaceutical communications community. Everyone knows his name or has heard about him, and they smile when you mention his name. So many people who knew I was presenting this award tonight told me to make sure I said hello to him.

I have observed three key attributes in Jeff that I hope I have displayed in my own career. The first is respect. My mom told me that when you choose a friend or a life partner, watch closely how that person treats others, as it tells you a lot about the person and how he was raised. I evidently applied that advice to my boss too. Well, Mrs. Winton, you did a great job.



As I’m sure Jeff’s team at Astellas has likely noticed, that he knows the name of every single person, from the security guard all the way up to the C-suite. If you are a true mentor, then your mentoree needs to see you respecting them as well as the others around you. The second item is to be relatable to your team. Get to know your employees and what is important to them, as diversity on your team is what will make it strong. Jeff always asks about my family, my pets. And I actually got my first dog at his encouragement, which turned out to be an amazing 15-year relationship.


ROSEMARIE YANCOSEK: We spend more time at work than at any other activity, and although you can respect your employees’ privacy, you can still be interested in them as people. As I learned from Jeff, take the time to get to know what makes others tick, as you can then tailor your guidance based on what they share with you. And Jeff, you have done this brilliantly.

The third attribute is resilience. I learned from Jeff that we need to be able to bounce back, as there will be remarkable days at work when it is all worthwhile. It’s a time to celebrate. And there will be really difficult days where a part of you wants to throw up your hands and quit. Jeff, you told me to stop and breathe before I did that.

To sum up, I want to read you a note that Jeff left under the windshield wiper on my car many years ago, as it sums up everything that a mentor should be. And I have read it many times through the year. I want to point out that he left the note on the back of his business card on my then brand-new car, which he found in a really dark parking lot.


So here goes, Jeff, in case you forgot: “What a beautiful car, congrats. Don’t let the team get you down. Tomorrow will be a better day, I promise.” Signed, Jeff.

Thank you, Jeff. You were right. It was. And what a great day today is to celebrate all that you have done for so many of us through the years. Thank you.


JEFF WINTON: Well, first of all, Elaine, I guess the 64-point type wasn’t big enough, so the glasses came out. Thank you, Rosemarie, very much for those generous and kind comments. For those of you who work for companies that require pre-employment urine drug testing, you may appreciate this. Rosemarie has told me and a few other people over the years that I was the only person that she had peed for at three different times in her career.


Evidently, that was in her speech, but she pulled it out because her teenage kids are watching online tonight. So sorry about that. Sorry, Christopher and Cameron. It was a real honor to have Rosemary come out from New Jersey to introduce me tonight.

First, I’d like to congratulate the other recipients being recognized here. I’m certainly humbled to be in your company. This certainly includes the late and great Al Golin, who is a respected and admired mentor of mine. I’d like to thank The Plank Center, Dr. Karla Gower and the rest of the team who was involved in selecting me for this award. When Keith Burton first called to tell me this unbelievable news during one of my several trips to Tokyo earlier this year, I had to ask him twice what he said, because I thought I was hallucinating due to jet lag and the 14-hour time difference.

I moved to the Chicago area four years ago, and within the first week of beginning my job at Astellas, I was invited to attend my very first Plank dinner by my friend, Lisa Ryan and Meryl McDonald. I was very impressed with the people whom I met and with the mission of The Plank Center. And I was blown away by the hospitality and friendliness of Chicagoans. I realized that I had made the right geographic and career move that evening.

I’m humbled that many of my mentors for my personal and professional lives are here tonight, starting with my mother, Elaine; my brother, Scott; and my partner, Jim. Because of these three, I’ve had a wonderful, fulfilling, instructive and fun life. We just celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday back at our farm in upstate New York, and I was once again reminded how fortunate I am to have been mentored throughout my life by this woman of unparalleled grace, dignity, compassion and humility. I love you, Mom. Thanks for being here.


I’d also like to thank my boss and my friend, Jim Robinson, who is the President of Astellas, and his fiancée, Brie, who are also here tonight. Jim and I had the privilege of working many years together at another pharmaceutical company back in New Jersey. And it’s such an honor and a pleasure to work with him once again at Astellas. I learn something new from Jim each and every day. Thank you, Jim.


Many of my Astellas team members, agency partners and other external partners are here tonight, and I learn something new from these awesome professionals each and every day. This award is actually for all of you. Last but not least, I’d like to thank the patients we serve who are living with cancer, organ failure, urological disease, and many other conditions, for entrusting companies like Astellas with their health and their well-being. It is not a responsibility or a privilege that we take lightly.

I’d like to leave you with one thought. Mentoring starts by showing up and by being present. It comes in many shapes, sizes and forms, and whether we know it or not, many subconsciously, throughout our everyday lives, are mentoring us. In turn, we mentor others without even thinking about it by our behavior, our attitude and our actions.

All too often people think that mentoring has to be this onerous, fancy and formal program. I’ve always believed that if we truly listen and watch the people around us, we will learn a great deal, and in turn, we will hopefully teach them something. But the key is always show up. Thanks once again for this honor. I am beyond humbled.


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