Colleen (Ranney) Ostrowski '95 has vision. She's known she wanted to be in the business world practically since birth. Okay, okay, since high school, right after she applied to attend the Governor's School for Business, where the 16-year-old spent part of a summer at Penn's Wharton School. But even before that, if she saw a goal to attain, she would map a path to fulfillment worthy of Ferdinand Magellan.
That doesn't mean, however, that she refused to take a few abrupt turns or reversals when she realized she needed to make a change. Vision, by definition, means taking in everything and interpreting the information. It does not mean steaming toward a goal with no deviation—that's tunnel vision.
Take Colleen's college search, which she put together in her tiny hometown of Mifflinburg, Pa. Her Wharton experience left her so jazzed about opportunities in the corporate world that she started searching for big-name, big-city schools that combined language programs and business programs, all of which would result in a big-time job. She applied to Penn, Georgetown, George Washington University, and American University. Acceptance letter: GWU. Score!
"I got there, and the language programs were scheduled at the same times, the campus wasn't really a campus and the course work wasn't very challenging. It was a hard school to get into but after that the work wasn't hard," she says. A transfer was in order. "I did an extensive search—I had 30 schools on my list and Juniata was not at the top."
But she visited the College, met a couple of people she knew from high school, took a campus tour conducted by her brother's best friend, and realized there were scholarship opportunities that big-rep schools couldn't match. She enrolled. "I was excited, plus I thought it would be pretty easy."
Hah! "(Ron) Cherry '53 told our class he was going to read from a few of the worst papers—and he started reading mine," she recalls one of her first business classes with regret. "I got a 47 on the paper. I realized then you couldn't just take notes and pass the test."
Colleen's rude awakening also made her realize that Juniata's liberal arts core would give her a window to explore her vast curiosity for topics beyond business. That innate exploratory feeling has served her well in a career that could best be described as meteoric, where at age 43, she is treasurer and head of global investor relations for Mylan Inc., with revenues of $12 billion, the largest manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals in the world.
Colleen credits most, if not all of her abilities in teambuilding and leadership, to Juniata's idiosyncratic but enveloping curriculum. Let's let her explain it more succinctly. "I (earned) my MBA at Penn State, and it's a credential you have to have, but I don't think I've used much of what I learned there," she says. "I use everything I learned at Juniata every day. I talk to scientists in our R&D department, to financial professionals, to marketing people, and they all communicate and think differently. That was one of the first things I learned on the HOBO Hike." (For those who may not know the reference, the business course, "Behavioral Analysis of Organizations" has as one of its perennial experiences a day-long hike in which teams compete and utilize skills and knowledge attained in the course. The nickname "HOBO Hike" contains an acronym that refers to the same course under its previous name, "Human Behavior in Organizations.")
Among the other things she learned: two languages (Spanish and Japanese), public speaking, and how to throw a pot. She also learned a card trick from Chris Ostrowski '94, a psychology POE with an interest in ceramics. He used the card trick at a party in South Residence Hall as an opening gambit to learn Colleen's name. The couple has been married 21 years and have two children: Anelise, 11, and Ronan, 2.
In addition to admiring a well-done bit of magic, Colleen developed an acute sense of how the business world worked by going beyond hitting the books. She also found value in her work-study job in Juniata's enrollment office, so much so that she was offered a job as an enrollment counselor covering south-central Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Maryland, and Virginia. She loved it. She loved Juniata. She loved her job. (She still can recite her enrollment-speak description of Juniata verbatim when colleagues ask where she went to college.) She and Chris got married. They bought a house. Life was set. Then, a Juniata vice president for development, Don Moyer, suggested that she come work for him in development, further suggesting that earning an MBA might be a good career move.
Well, yes. Yes it was. If it's possible for an institution of higher education to make a mistake with a talented employee, Juniata made a doozy when they sent Colleen Ostrowski to business school.
"Getting the MBA reminded me what I loved about business—learning how things work, problem-solving," she says. "It all came flooding back that when you are in business, you have your hand in everything."
In 1998, Colleen was hired by Pfizer Inc., one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, as a corporate finance associate, and soon entered the company's corporate finance rotational program. Each associate is expected to work in four areas of the massive company's operations, with the expectation that an area of interest or specialization will arise from the experience. She worked in treasury benefit financing, global manufacturing, international banking (in Dublin, Ireland), and business analysis.
"I loved treasury," Colleen explains, "Because you're looking at all aspects of the company and you have to understand how each part of the company works. You work with benefits, pensions, investments, insurance debt, cash flow, and working capital." In 2001 she started as a senior financial analyst in Pfizer's treasury department, working on the firm's investments and pension plans.
By 2008, she was senior director for pension and investments for Pfizer and managing $40 billion—all the global investments for pensions. Her management sense proved acute. For example, just before the 2008 real-estate bubble burst, she and her team decided to pull all of the pension investments out of asset-based instruments such as mortgage securities. While Colleen navigated the business world, Chris was able to stay at home for Anelise by operating his own business "O-Town Pottery," and working as an educator.
"I use everything I learned at Juniata every day. I talk to scientists in our R&D department, to financial professionals, to marketing people and they all communicate and think differently. That was one of the first things I learned on the HOBO Hike."Colleen Ostrowski '95, Treasurer and head of global investor relations, Mylan Inc.
Although Colleen's Pfizer work was challenging, she also wanted to get more experience as a treasurer beyond pensions and benefits. She found her new challenge at ITT, a $12 billion diversified company classified by business historians as one of the first "conglomerates." Starting as assistant treasurer in 2010, she continued her work in pension investment management and global cash management. When she moved up to vice president and treasurer in late 2010, she received a rare opportunity, managing all treasury activities at ITT, spun off into three separate companies: Xylem, which holds water-related companies; Excelis, which holds defense-related companies; and ITT, which holds the remaining industrial businesses.
"At ITT, I wanted to see treasury from a different perspective," Colleen says. "ITT was perfect. It had a pension and a tightly focused treasury operation. We achieved investment-grade credit ratings for all three companies in the spin."
Colleen achieved a milestone for herself when she moved to Mylan as treasurer and head of investor relations in 2014. She has been challenged and excited about building out the company's treasury team and also deeply identifies with the company's financial philosophy. "The CEO, CFO, and the board are all focused on the balance sheet, while most other companies are focused on profit-and-loss. Plus the company makes drugs more affordable. One of my favorite statistics is one out of every 13 prescriptions in the United States is a Mylan prescription."
She called her time with Mylan "dynamic," which means she was very, very busy as the company tried to acquire Perrigo, a manufacturer of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, through a hostile takeover; fended off a takeover attempt from Teva, an Israeli multinational pharmaceutical company; and acquired Meda, a Swedish pharmaceutical company. Colleen's department was tasked with a myriad of duties relating to the debt of the acquisitions. "I think this year will be a quiet year," she says. In the middle of 2014, she and Chris also brought their son, Ronan, into the world.
No wonder the couple hasn't been back to Juniata for more than a decade. Not that they both want to stay away. Still she'd like to come back, maybe to spend a week as an executive in residence if she can find an open week. "One of my greatest pleasures in this job is teaching and developing colleagues, but it's not the same as teaching in the classroom."
She says she's already talking to Anelise about the College. "My husband is of the belief the kids don't have to go to college if they don't want to," she laughs. "I'm not quite there yet."