Brennan Torregrossa is unshakable. When asked any question, even the most complex, there seems to always be “two things” that comprise his answers. But unlike the rest of us who default to same, safe answers, he calls his shot and hits his mark. Every time.
The senior vice president of global litigation at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has risen from assistant general counsel to vice president to his current role over a decade for a pharmaceutical company that is on the absolute front lines of finding a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. The week of speaking, GSK and partner VIR Biotechnology were okayed to progress their trial of an experimental antibody—genetically modified proteins found in people who have survived COVID-19–to treat the infection after a volunteer study proved hopeful. After the US-based study of twenty participants, it will now be expanded to 1,300 patients globally in Phase 3 FDA trials.
“The last six months have impacted me in two ways,” Torregrossa explains in his September 2020 interview. “First, my view that we have some of the absolute best people at this company has been confirmed by the way this organization has treated its employees every step of the way. Every time our CEO Emma Walmsley speaks to us, the first question is ‘How are our employees doing?’ She is not asking about how they are doing at their jobs. She’s asking if they have everything that they need to get through these difficult times.
“When you have that kind of support from something as important in your life as the company you work for,” he continues, “your loyalty and your ability to handle those difficult situations is just improved beyond a way that words can express.”
“No matter what waters you’re thrown into, how hot those waters may be, or the fact that you don’t know your way around, excellent judgment will always guide you.”
The second part is Torregrossa’s response is more personal to him as a leader and a motivator of his team. “I think I would find it very hard to get through these difficult times if I wasn’t working for a company that may have the keys to the problem we find ourselves in,” Torregrossa says. “It’s incredibly motivating. Even though I work on litigation and investigations, I work for a company that is helping to find solutions to COVID. You don’t feel helpless with the mission that we have.”
“Helpless” is not a word that comes to mind when running down the exploits of the SVP. Torregrossa has been pursuing his passion since the moment he left law school. Clerking for US District Court Judge Hebert J. Hutton was one of the most important decisions the lawyer says he’s ever made.
“I gave up a substantial salary to work as a federal employee for a year, but it taught me more about the law than any experience I could have gotten in that year otherwise,” Torregrossa says. “Judge Hutton was a mentor to me. He would take me back to his chambers and we would discuss what worked well in a trial and what didn’t. He’d ask me to think about how a lawyer could fundamentally impact the outcome of a case by trying something different than what I had witnessed.”
A courtroom addict, Torregrossa was amazed to find himself eventually searching for a new challenge in-house. “I came to find that I enjoyed the creativity,” Torregrossa says of his first, and he hopes last, in-house role at GSK. “I felt like more of a complete lawyer because I wasn’t so specialized. I wanted to use that creativity to solve problems in a way that felt like it had more purpose.” The former associate particularly disliked feeling like a singular tool of a toolbox, called on for a particular task but never able to see the finished product. This was entirely the opposite.
With this recent promotion, Torregrossa has had to take on a jurisdiction much larger than any given state or region. It’s now the entire globe. “I would say there are two elements to it that are very different,” Torregrossa starts. “The first element is that the breadth of your disputes can be national or international and they can cover any subject matter area: injury, anti-competition, investigations, whatever may come your way.”
Torregrossa says that he has to rely on good core legal judgment time and time again to act as a guide. “No matter what waters you’re thrown into, how hot those waters may be, or the fact that you don’t know your way around, excellent judgment will always guide you.” Torregrossa says he’s grateful to his own judgement in that he never turned down a single case that came his way as a litigator, and so his own breadth of experience provides a substantial net to brace the fall of any heavy issue.
But don’t forget about the second part.
“The leadership component of this is also challenging because everything that got you to a leadership position are all things you cannot rely on as a skill set to be a good leader,” Torregrossa explains. The lawyer always preferred to act independently and in his own way. “Now I’m responsible for inspiring and working with a broad set of lawyers and driving them to get their own best results in their own way, not mine. We have such a talented and experienced set of litigators and investigators at GSK, and it is vital we do not approach our challenging and complicated issues from just one point of view.”
Fortunately, Torregrossa says this lesson wasn’t a grueling proposition he had to have beaten into his leadership style. “It was more like a switch flipping,” the SVP says. “I have been fortunate and continue to be fortunate to have great leaders, like our General Counsel James Ford, who remind me to be a leader, not like him, but authentic and in my own way.”
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