As a member of the Zeta Charter Schools and New York City’s Board of Trustees, as well as senior counsel at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Samara Penn Savary explores her passion for education. “Neither of my parents had personal higher education experiences upon which to draw; they both grew up in the Jim Crow South. The opportunities my mother had coming out of a segregated high school were not the same opportunities she and my late father worked to ensure that I would have,” Penn Savary explains. “But, because of their experiences, they instilled in me from a very young age a conviction in the importance of education and educational opportunities.”
That emphasis on access to educational opportunities is exactly what drew Penn Savary to Zeta Charter Schools, a New York City-based charter school network that focuses on holistic education.
“I believed in the mission of Zeta, in the values of ‘strong mind, strong body, strong soul, strong connectedness,’” Penn Savary says of her decision to join the board. “Emily Kim, Zeta’s CEO, really is seeking to develop the whole child and to provide unique learning and cultural opportunities for students. For example, students learn taekwondo, they practice healthy eating habits, they celebrate Pi Day (as kindergarteners and first graders!), and they work on building their confidence. It has been amazing to see how the students are thriving and how excited they are to go to school.”
In her role as senior counsel at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Penn Savary extends the idea of comprehensive learning to her legal practice. She operates in a hybrid role, balancing litigation duties with commercial law work, but she is determined to learn about all aspects of the pharmaceutical company.
“Sometimes input from someone in a completely different group is most valuable to what you’re doing,” Penn Savary says. “Many of my greatest lessons learned at BMS have come from sitting down with a regulatory, commercial, or medical colleague and really learning about what they do—hearing their perspective. It’s helpful because when you’re providing advice to an organization in a regulated industry with so many different departments, it’s important to understand how they all work.”
“If I was a lawyer working only with members of the law department every day, I would be failing,” Penn Savary continues. “I wouldn’t have a clear understanding of what drives BMS, the wide-ranging effects of my legal advice, and how that advice fits into our company’s strategy and business goals.”
“When the employees within the company collaborate well and communicate clearly with one another,” she explains, “the company as a whole is better able to deliver clear and helpful information to the patients it serves. It is incumbent upon a pharmaceutical company to do what it can to convey information about our products in a responsible and understandable way.”
“I think that focus on patients, and delivering medicines to appropriate patients who need them, drives everyone at the company, regardless of their department.”
According to Penn Savary, that sense of teamwork and meaningful collaboration is vital to the company’s ability to achieve its goal of discovering, developing, and delivering innovative medicines. “The focus on patients, and delivering medicines to appropriate patients who need them, drives everyone at the company, regardless of their department,” Penn Savary says. “Bristol-Myers Squibb has a culture and a deliberate commitment to making sure that every voice is heard and that all perspectives are considered.”
As one of the only lawyers at the company to have been hired into a hybrid legal role, Penn Savary is in a unique position to deliver clear and responsible information to the company. “On the litigation side, I learn a lot about the company’s history, our business, and our products, including products that the company no longer markets,” Penn Savary says. “And that gives me perspective when I advise my clients at the company of how decisions have been made, the results of our decisions, and the lessons we’ve learned.”
For Penn Savary, working as senior counsel at Bristol-Myers Squibb is the culmination of her past and the lessons she’s learned in multitudinous ways. “Both of my parents were actually union employees at BMS,” Penn Savary says. “My mother worked here for almost forty years before she retired, and my late father for over twenty-five years. The core values they taught me have guided me throughout my education and career and have been at the forefront of every major chapter in my life, including my current role at BMS.”
And, throughout every new chapter, Penn Savary strives to continue learning and growing as a lawyer, reflecting the values of her parents, the aspirations of the students who inspire her, and the mission of the company she’s taken on as her own.
Bristol-Myers Squibb partner Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with more than 2,500 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. Kirkland congratulates Samara for her accomplishments and wishes her continued success in her role.