Amgen's Piano displays value on many fronts

Amgen is the world's largest biotech company and one of the most admired.

Amgen is the world's largest biotech company and one of the most admired.

However, now in its 25th year, Amgen has another tale to tell: the story of how it will build on its momentum - which has reached Big Pharma proportions - while still maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit of a biotech.

The person newly tapped to tell that story is Phyllis Piano, Amgen's VP of corporate communications and philanthropy.

"[CEO and president] Kevin Sharer really takes that very seriously," says Piano, who notes that the company's values include focusing on innovation, making connections with patients, and operating with less bureaucracy.

She adds that Amgen strives to ensure those values are first and foremost understood in-house.

To external audiences, the biotech is also communicating about the strength of its pipeline, which Piano describes as "very robust." Its product portfolio has grown further still as Amgen completes its acquisition of biotech Abgenix and gains full ownership of Abgenix's two oncology products.

Amgen's products include Neulasta, which helps reduce infections associated with chemotherapy, rheumatoid arthritis drugs Enbrel and Kineret, and anemia drugs Aranesp and Epogen.

The company's success has garnered constant media accolades. It has been a Forbes company of the year and is consistently ranked among the top 100 companies based on its financial results, ethics, and workplace environment.

"[Our] performance has merited that attention," Piano says. "It's remarkable for a biotech."

But no small part of Amgen's outreach is communicating directly with patients. In February, it held its first cycling event - the Amgen Tour of California - along the 700-mile stretch between San Francisco and Redondo Beach, CA.

"It is an opportunity for people to be aware of the company and its products," Piano says. "It's also a way to bring attention to the proper use of our medicines. Our connection to patients is critical."

Piano arrived at Amgen last summer after serving as VP of corporate affairs and communications at defense contractor Raytheon. She leads a group of about 50 people on the PR team, with duties that include media relations, corporate identity, philanthropy, brand management, and the Internet.

Jon Iwata, SVP of communications at IBM, met Piano during their work together on the Public Relations Seminar, which brings together about 200 senior business executives once a year to discuss how to advance the role of corporate communications.
Piano currently serves as chairman; Iwata is program chairman.

"I've seen Phyllis in action as a leader among leading senior communications executives in corporate America," he says via e-mail. "She's respected and admired for her belief that communications... is a strategic function, responsible for helping define and execute a company's core mission."

Piano's career began with a post at GE's medical business, now GE Healthcare. "I was very lucky to be at GE right after the introduction of CT scans," she says.

For almost 20 years, she helped GE communicate about its innovations in diagnostics and imaging equipment during the development of ultrasound technology.

She also spent time working at GE's corporate headquarters before being named VP of public affairs at Cooper Industries, which makes electrical and auto products, as well as tools and hardware.

Iwata notes that Piano's belief in the vital role of PR has shaped the tenor of her work at Amgen.

Piano notes that she hopes to continue to promote the bottom- line importance of corporate communications through her work on the Public Relations Seminar.

"It's really meant to be provocative; it's meant to bring new knowledge," she says of the invitation-only group. "To me, it's a wonderful way of linking to my colleagues and sharing ideas."

Phyllis Piano

Amgen, VP of corporate communications and philanthropy

Raytheon, VP of corporate affairs and comms

Cooper Industries, VP of public affairs

GE Healthcare, various posts

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