Meet Debra Bass, a growth-oriented business leader and brand builder with a broad base of experience in building beloved/iconic brands, she is the Global CMO and U.S. President for the Nuvo Group, an emerging leader in maternal-fetal connected health. She is a sought-after industry speaker with engagements at Cannes Lion's Health, Modern Marketing Summit, and New York Advertising Week
Who is Debra Bass? Define yourself
I would define myself as the consummate connector and someone who connects ideas, concepts, business models and reality across all aspects of my career. I also connect people to networks; I build roads within the companies in which I work, as well as externally through affinity groups and different types of professional organizations. I connect people to ideas and people to each other to leverage the power of networks—both professionally and personally.
How were you as a kid?
As a kid, I was very social and extroverted. I was also very goal-oriented, driven and focused on achieving—the typical first child of first-generation parents whose parents came to the U.S. from overseas. I participated in leadership opportunities within my community as well as academic programs and other extracurricular activities. I also always worked, starting with my first babysitting job when I was 10 years old. I worked through high school, college, and grad school. My parents taught me the importance of being financially independent—and they also taught me to earn it. This is a value I am instilling in my two children (one college-aged, one in high school), both of whom now have part time jobs.
You hold a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy at Duke University and an MBA in General Management, Marketing at the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Why did you choose those courses of study?
I chose Duke because I grew up in a homogenous community in New Jersey and really wanted to experience a different area of the country with people who had a different childhood experience than me. Duke drew a lot of people from the South as well as other parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world, so I chose the school for both the academics and to broaden my horizons. As a course of study, public policy intrigued me because it is so interdisciplinary and includes aspects of economics, political science, and policy. Public policy also called for understanding people, behaviors, and negotiations—all areas in which I felt I could excel. I was drawn to the University of Michigan because of its reputation as a top business school with strong marketing and general management programs, and because its recruiters included my target company, Procter & Gamble. I was also drawn to Ann Arbor, a renowned college town with a diverse community, which at the time was much larger than the small town of Durham.
“You have to own your career, know what you want and then make it happen through hard work, delivering results and building the right team of support around you—mentors, advocates, sponsors, etc”
You are currently Global CMO and U.S. President for the Nuvo Group, an emerging leader in maternal-fetal connected health. What does Nuvo make unique in the market?
Nuvo is a founder-led company born from a personal purpose and passion to give every life a better beginning, based on the founder’s experience with the birth of his third child. Additionally, Nuvo comes out of the Israeli startup ecosystem, which brings with it a certain culture and set of values, including an unflappable determination to solve big problems and leverage technology to advance care. Our mission of improving maternal-fetal health is noteworthy on its own, but what really makes Nuvo unique is the way in which we are working toward this mission—creating a mother-centric solution to advance care through better data and technology than anything currently available on the market. Finally, we are an emerging healthtech, but also a truly global company, with employees in Israel, the U.S. and Ukraine.
In your previous position at the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Consumer Companies, you served as President of Global Marketing Services. You worked as Global President of J&J's global baby care franchise and were responsible for revitalizing the growth of the iconic JOHNSON'S™ brand and the portfolio of broader baby equities including AVEENO BABY™, PENATEN™, ELSKER™, and DESITIN™. You have held marketing leadership positions in the medical devices sector at J&J and in pharmaceuticals with Bristol Myers Squibb Company. What are the biggest lessons you have learned over the years working in these important companies?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s never one individual; it takes a team—and the key to success is building the best team and being the most effective leader for that team. From my standpoint, it’s always about having a bold vision and then empowering and enabling others to deliver against that through their unique vantage point and role. The other lesson I learned working for big companies is to appreciate the privileged position of having a big brand name with clout within the industry coupled with big resources and muscle to make things happen. By contrast, at a startup, you really must earn your stripes. Finally, I learned how to make the most of the leadership development and networking opportunities that were available through different types of assignments over time. The networks I built over time at Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb and Procter & Gamble are still critical parts of my professional network.
“I have humility. I learn from my mistakes and am comfortable sharing my failures for others to also learn from my bumps and bruises”
Do you have any philosophy that guides your career decisions?
First, I believe in the saying “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” I see people sometimes try to delegate their career decisions to others, thinking those people are going to champion what they want, guide them on the right path or otherwise take care of them, but you really have to do it yourself. You have to own your career, know what you want and then make it happen through hard work, delivering results and building the right team of support around you—mentors, advocates, sponsors, etc.
The second philosophy is that I don’t believe there’s one way to navigate your career; I believe there’s “my way,” “your way” and so forth. In other words, there’s not a single path for everyone, but rather the best path—or set of paths—for each of us. A lot of times when you’re navigating a career, people try to steer you to stay on one path. For example, people told me it was a big mistake to veer away from consumer marketing. Within consumer-packaged goods, there was a clear path and set of opportunities, but I was curious about healthcare and wanted to experience different sectors, industries and company cultures. I like to say that my career has been more of a lattice than a ladder, with different “zigs” and “zags” along the way. I shaped my personal path for the kind of experiences I wanted to have in my journey, and their desired collective impact.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
A normal workday for me starts early to accommodate the time difference with my Israeli colleagues. I’m usually online by 7:00 am, with a Nespresso. I start with calls and emails to get the workday going. The top half of the day is usually very Israel-centric until they sign off for the night. Then I try to do my U.S.-oriented meetings in the afternoon. The new “wrench” in my day is managing my family’s new 10-week-old puppy, Jasper, with the eating and sleeping schedules and the need for walks. It’s like having a newborn in the house. The other wrench is the new reality of COVID-19 because my entire household is either working from home or home-schooling because of COVID restrictions. This challenges everyone to find a quiet place to do what they need to do. Typically, my work would also involve more travel, but for the time being, it’s been tethered to the house. A silver lining is the bonus family time!
“I think a lot of women opt out early in their career or don’t reach their full career potential because they’re concerned that they can’t juggle their family needs with work. I believe that you can find a way. You definitely need to build a team of support around you”
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
I love the ability to be part of creating and building something that doesn’t yet exist. I was attracted to the opportunity to really build something new, meaningful, and needed in the underserved area of women’s health. I also love learning new skills that I haven’t used before, like raising capital and participating in investor roadshows. Finally, I appreciate having the ability to leverage my network to build up some of the infrastructure around the company, including Nuvo’s U.S.-based team, the board of directors and our advisors. The most difficult part of my job is the rollercoaster reality of a startup. There is no playbook to build something that does not exist. There are often more naysayers than believers. I often feel that we move two steps forward and one step back. Our meaningful mission keeps me future-facing to realize our ambition to better serve women and our next generation.
You are the U.S. President for the Nuvo Group, and a sought-after industry speaker with engagements at Cannes Lion's Health, Modern Marketing Summit, and New York Advertising Week. You were recently recognized with the "Top 100 Women in Brand Marketing" Award by Brand Innovators. What´s the recipe for your success?
Hard work, determination, and the humility to recognize that you can’t do it all alone; you need to build strong teams internally and externally. A big part of my success has also been building the right external partners, including agency partners, vendors and mentors who support me and help me do my best. Last, I have humility. I learn from my mistakes and am comfortable sharing my failures for others to also learn from my bumps and bruises.
“Know your strengths, discover your passion areas, and marry these with the needs of organizations to unleash your best value”
What are the dos and don’ts in female leadership?
Be yourself. Be authentic. Be collaborative. Women succeed because they tend to be more collaborative. Don’t conform to male stereotypes, norms, or expectations. Don’t be deterred by your need for balance. I think a lot of women opt out early in their career or don’t reach their full career potential because they’re concerned that they can’t juggle their family needs with work. I believe that you can find a way. You definitely need to build a team of support around you, whether that’s caregivers or family or a partner with whom you share life’s responsibilities, but don’t be deterred by family needs or achieving work/life balance. There’s always a way to navigate it and you have to be intentional about how you build the support around you.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like talking walks and I often listen to podcasts. I read constantly—usually novels, memoirs or business books. Pre-COVID-19, I really enjoyed recreational travel and experiencing the world. I hope to get back to that when the world returns to a normal state.
You are actively committed to Advancing Women's Leadership, you served on the Global Women's Leadership Initiative Steering Committee at J&J Companies and as an Executive Director of the powerful #SeeHer Advertising Industry Initiative. You are currently a member of the P&G Alumni Women's Forum and you were recently recognized with a Tri-State Diversity "Most Powerful and Influential Women" award for your commitment to Women's Leadership. What does it drive you?
I believe women need to support each other. Men have such entrenched networks and pillars of support, and women really need to help each other to address our unique career or personal challenges. I am driven by this belief because women have backed me at various times throughout my career, so now I’m paying it forward by putting my time into places that elevate women’s voices. I am uniquely suited to support female founders and female-led businesses given my collective experience and passion here.
What is one strategy that has helped you to grow in your professional ladder?
Building a broad network has helped me navigate different kinds of roles by having foundational support from peers or others. Another strategy is bringing a broad base of experience and perspective. I’ve diversified myself—from consumer packaging to pharma to medical device and from BigCo to NewCo—which has enabled me to bring a broad perspective that draws on different types of roles and settings from throughout my career.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, you have kids, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I think you can have it all, just not all at the same time. At different phases of your life and different phases of your career, different things take priority. Early in your career, when you’re striving and climbing, you can be more focused on yourself, your career and your interests. Once I had kids, I needed to find a way to balance things out. Promotions and opportunities declined during this time as I couldn’t relocate because it wasn’t right for my family. Now, I am at a phase where my kids are more independent, so I have more opportunities to focus on starting a new chapter working with startups, developing technologies that support other women and serving in an advisory role. At different stages, you will have different areas of focus and ways to prioritize your time based on what’s most important at that time.
“My parents taught me the importance of being financially independent—and they also taught me to earn it. This is a value I am instilling in my two children”
What are your plans for the future?
I've made a shift to the startup world, and I want to focus on the success of Nuvo in the immediate term. But I also really enjoy working with growth stage companies focused on meaningfully improving life through new technologies, approaches and solutions that make life better. That's what drew me to healthcare. Giving back in that way is part of my focus.
I want to continue to contribute to society outside of the day job through my mentorship and board/strategic advisory roles, given my collective know-how, network and experience base. I also hope to see, explore, and experience more of the world through business and adventure travel.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? If yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I actually don't feel like I've been held back by the glass ceiling within the workplace. I feel fortunate that I haven’t been denied any opportunities or personally found it to be a barrier, but at the same time, I know the reality is that women do face different challenges, especially when it comes to caregiving. Whether it’s caring for our children or dealing with aging parents, the broader life demands place a heavier toll on women, making it more of a challenge to advance as far as you might otherwise. Women need and deserve more of a care-giver support system—an opportunity that has become more visible and pronounced during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
What tips can you give to young girls who want to become like you?
Know your strengths, discover your passion areas, and marry these with the needs of organizations to unleash your best value. Don't beat yourself up for what you're not good at. I really believe in hyper-focusing on your strengths to put your superpowers to work. Address your development areas in parallel, but don’t let them hold you back.
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are, and what do you (professionally), with this idea in mind, what is being Debra and what´s not?
Debra is bold, passionate and authentic to her true self. Debra is not the person to bring on board to maintain the status quo of “keep the ship humming on a slow speed.” I thrive on envisioning the future and creating new paradigms to advance the state of play for all eco-system stakeholders.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
I admire my mother most in this world. She raised my sister and me to be strong and independent, and to have the courage to be true to ourselves. Sadly, I lost my mother this past year to heart disease. I hope to celebrate her legacy by advancing women’s health and women’s stature in a new world order.
Name: Debra Bass
Sector: Maternal Health
Company: Nuvo Group
Designation: Chief Marketing Officer and U.S. President
Social media: https://www.linkedin.com/in/debra-j-bass-3775372/