Merck's Wendy Yarno Is New Halsey Professor in the U.Va. Engineering School

October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009 — A professorship established to strengthen University of Virginia engineering students' business acumen and leadership will for the first time benefit from the experience and wisdom of a woman.

Wendy Yarno, the former chief marketing officer for Merck & Company Inc., is the new Brent Halsey Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The Halsey professorship – which is appointed by the University Board of Visitors and endowed by the James River Corp. – is annually awarded to an individual who possesses significant practical experience that can enhance the professional development of U.Va. engineering students, especially those in the engineering business minor. The chief responsibility of the professor is to use professional experience to craft a course that educates fourth-year students on the human values and practices associated with the field of technical business. Yarno is the 16th Halsey Professor.

"As I designed this course I really tried to think about what I wish someone would have told me before I started my career," Yarno said. "The syllabus covers the organization as a system, what makes a good leader, how to find a great mentor, what is the best way to approach ethical decisions, how teams work best in industry and other aspects of modern organizations."

Yarno spent 26 years in the pharmaceutical industry, much of it in leadership positions. Starting in 2006, she served as the chief marketing officer at Merck and was responsible for the global marketing and medical support organizations.

She also has held a series of other executive positions at Merck, including general manager of U.S. Human Health, executive vice president of Worldwide Human Health Marketing and senior vice president of human resources. Additionally, Yarno served as the vice president of the Women's Health Care Franchise at Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest health care company.

"When you are in these kinds of positions and have worked across these kinds of organizations, there are a lot of lessons you learn that you never would have found in college textbooks," Yarno said. "You really learn these lessons when you are faced with major situations and must make decisions with people of all types of backgrounds, experiences and points of view."

Yarno has also served on the St. Jude Medical & Co. Inc. board of directors since 2002. St. Jude Medical has been one of the companies on Fortune magazine's list of "America's Most Admired Companies" for the past five years.

"Whether these students are planning on becoming a part of a corporation or going out as entrepreneurs, it is essential for them to learn that the business they are a part of is still a system with people, processes and support systems that must be carefully aligned to successfully achieve the goals of the system," Yarno said. "Additionally, as we have progressed to a much more virtual and global workplace, the whole concept of what makes a good leader is very different from the past and does not exclude those who are not particularly charismatic or dynamic.

"It is important for students to understand these aspects of modern industry in order to set themselves up for successful careers as future leaders."

— Kathryn Welsh