Leadership Success: Lessons from Abbott Sales Exec Karina Schneider

This marathon-running executive started out as a sales rep. Now, she's in charge of diabetes sales for all of Canada.

REACHING YOUR POTENTIAL     |    Feb. 16, 2020

Karina Schneider will never forget the day her son came home from school and announced that his history teacher was wearing the FreeStyle Libre1, a flash glucose monitoring system. "Did you tell him that your mom works for Abbott?" she asked. "Yes," he said, "and he told me to tell you something. He wants you to know that it has changed his life."

As a national sales director for Abbott Diabetes Care in Canada, Karina had reached a new pinnacle of leadership success. Not only was she proud of the work she was doing, but so were her children.

"I'm passionate about helping people with diabetes, especially now with our new innovative technology. Every day, we have these great patient stories about how this product changed someone's life. That's why my job is fulfilling — because I know we're helping people and because I've had so many different opportunities at Abbott."

Moving On Up

Karina began her career as a clinical nutritionist, working in hospitals and then transitioned to food sales. She joined the diabetes care team as a field sales rep 15 years ago. In that role, she was responsible for meeting with pharmacists, physicians and other healthcare professionals within her geographical territory, keeping them up to date on all the diabetes products that Abbott had to offer.

Over time, she built strong relationships with her customer base and with leaders at Abbott. She was promoted to national training manager and then district sales manager. These were natural career progressions for a salesperson, but the responsibilities were changing to meet the environment to support diabetes management. 

"Abbott was pioneering a new business with our health education department," Karina recalls. "And they asked me to define the mandate for this department, develop programs and create the team. I said to them, 'Are you sure?' The role was really outside my comfort zone, but it helped me develop strategic thinking skills and understand what our customers need to be successful."

Now, as a national sales director, Karina makes sure to pass those insights on to her team. "My role is to motivate the sales team to successfully implement our plan of action, develop more comprehensive training plans, and make sure we have all the right tools to support the sales team," she says.

Marathon Mom

As both an executive and a mother of two, Karina is always on the move. Turns out, that's good practice for a marathon runner.

"I started running in 2010 to stay in shape. I ran a few 10Ks and half marathons. Then Abbott put me through a year-long leadership training program, and they asked us to commit to a business goal and a personal goal. I said, 'OK, I'll do a marathon.' Later that year, I ran the Boston Marathon."

Soon Karina was hooked and set her sights on becoming a Six Star Finisher in the Abbott World Marathon Majors. It’s an exclusive club of runners who’ve run all six world marathon races: Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York. “It’s not easy qualifying and getting a spot in the lottery for each of the races. I feel fortunate to have ran all six marathons and wearing an Abbott shirt in each race has been a big source of pride.”

Training for marathons is a huge time commitment. So, she runs whenever she can — in between meetings, while her kids are at hockey practice or in the mornings while everyone else is still sleeping.

"My role requires a lot of business travel, and it's easier to make time while I'm on the road. I remember going to a leadership meeting in Panama. We arrived Saturday night, and my long run was planned for Sunday morning. I woke up at the crack of dawn and ran in one direction through all these villages, turned around and ran back to my hotel to make it for my 9 a.m. meeting."

When she's not traveling, Karina makes sure to complete her Sunday run before 10 a.m. Family time is important to her, and she doesn't let running (or work) interfere.

5 Leadership Success Lessons

Karina has had many employee development opportunities at Abbott. Now, she pays it forward by getting to know her team members, discovering their career aspirations and helping them find opportunities to stretch and grow.

Here is her best advice for aspiring leaders:

1. Take Risks

"Look for stretch assignments. If you're interested, put your hand up. There are so many different opportunities to learn a new skill or area of the business."

2. Hold Yourself Accountable

"You're responsible for your career. Keep your manager apprised of what you want to do and where you want to go but seek out your own opportunities."

3. Find a Mentor

"My most influential mentor was someone I discussed different ideas with and gave me encouragement to take on new responsibilities. She urged me to take on the continuous health education role and had full confidence in my skills, even when I didn't."

4. Network, Network, Network

"I network with internal and external stakeholders. Even when I was a sales rep, I would go introduce myself to managers in other departments, and I would look for committees to be on. I got to know people and then people would vouch for me. I also network with other leaders in the healthcare industry — we meet for breakfast or lunch, just to talk about the market, where it's going and how we can continue to improve diabetes management education."

5. Get Sales Experience

"Of all the directors in our affiliates, everybody started in sales, in a territory, learning the business. It's the best school. You learn how to manage your territory, manage a budget, engage stakeholders. That opens the door to a multitude of leadership roles — in sales, marketing, operations or other departments. The general manager who was my mentor was a scientist with a Ph.D., and her bosses told her, 'If you want to move up in the organization, you need to go out in the field and, as we say, 'carry the bag' to learn the business from that ground-level perspective.'"

Karina says that "carrying the bag" made her a better sales manager and a better leader: "I have more credibility with my team today because I've been in their shoes. I understand the business, I'm close to our customers and I understand what our competitors are doing. That is really key to leadership success."

1The FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system, when used with the FreeStyle Libre sensor, is indicated for measuring interstitial fluid glucose levels in adults aged 18 years and older with diabetes mellitus. Always read and follow the label/insert for detailed instructions and indication of use.