Most Powerful Women

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch on why she admires Bill Gates

November 21, 2013: 1:23 PM ET

The pharmaceutical executive reflects on moments throughout her career.

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FORTUNE -- Heather Bresch has been at the helm of pharmaceutical-maker Mylan (MYL) since 2012. During her time as the Fortune 500 company's CEO, she's overseen a $1.6 billion acquisition of India's Agila Specialties and recently helped the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which will both boost Mylan's profits and save children's lives, get signed into law.

Fortune's Most Powerful Women started as a list in 1998, kicked off its annual Summit the following year, and has since become a community of the preeminent women in business, government, philanthropy, education, and the arts. This weekly Q&A features one MPW's personal take on leadership, aspirations, and (of course) balance.

1. What is the best advice you ever received?

One of my mentors taught me the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. She taught me that sometimes you can see more from the edge than from the middle, and that sometimes it takes looking at something from the extreme to get to the right place in the center.

2. What would you say to a group of young people looking to enter the tough job market?

Don't expect to come into the company as the president; take the opportunities that come your way and make the most of them by working harder than everyone around you.

3. What currently excites you most about your industry?

The health care industry is ready to be redefined and, in fact, must be redefined in order to meet today's challenges and the rapidly changing policy environment. I believe Mylan has a unique opportunity to lead the way in redefining this industry, for instance by driving access to affordable, high-quality medicine for all and by engaging the consumer in their health care decision making.

MORE: CST Brands' Kim Bowers on balance: Wobbling can be kind of fun

4. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

How much I didn't know. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia and had a pretty limited worldview. At school, I majored in international relations, which for the first time gave me perspective on how big the world was -- a world that had felt very small prior to going to college.

5. What do you do for fun?

Cooking is my favorite form of stress relief. I love being in the kitchen and around the dinner table with my family. I also try to go horseback riding when I have time on weekends.

 6. What business or technology person do you admire most? Why?

I have a lot of admiration for Bill Gates. While he is of course a brilliant and innovative business leader, what separates him from others like him is his Foundation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization that I have tremendous respect for due to its willingness to tackle really tough problems, take risks, and measure results in meaningful ways. Historically, when philanthropists set up their foundations, the founders were willing to take risks, but over time these foundations became institutions concerned primarily about the perpetuity of the foundation. Gates has taken a different approach, and I admire that.

 7. What other companies do you admire? Why?

I admire companies who have reinvented themselves and transformed from a business on the verge of extinction into something new and thriving. It takes a lot of courage and innovation to rethink the status quo and become something different.

 8. What is one trait every entrepreneur needs more today than ever?

Agility and speed. We operate in an incredibly fast-paced global environment where information and ideas flow freely with no geographic boundaries. If you don't bring a great idea to life quickly, a competitor -- somewhere in the world -- will jump ahead of you.

9. What was your first job?

My first job was bagging ice and stocking shelves at my family's grocery store. I started my career at Mylan 22 years ago as a data entry clerk.

10. What's your take on the "having it all" debate?

My first issue with the "having it all" debate is that it shouldn't just be a discussion about women. It shouldn't have anything to do with gender -- no one has it all. For me, it is all about balancing priorities and juggling. In order to manage work, life, family, etc., I'm constantly juggling and making sure that all the balls stay in the air.

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About This Author
Colleen Leahey
Colleen Leahey
Fortune

Colleen Leahey joined Fortune in May 2011 to cover leadership, technology, and small business. She also focuses on building the Fortune Most Powerful Women franchise in the digital and live media space and manages programming for the MPW Summit. Previously, Colleen worked at The New Yorker and Bicycling magazine. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and lives in Manhattan.

Email Colleen Leahey | @cmleahey
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