In the “Magnified” series, we take a closer look at the life experiences & career journeys that have shaped AbbVie’s leaders. Meet Johanna Corbin, senior vice president, chief patent and innovation counsel. Not long after she became a scientist, Johanna pivoted her career to patent law. Learn why she made the leap and her advice to others looking to do the same.
My father’s career required us to move a lot when I was growing up. My mother was an incredibly strong and loving matriarch who cared for myself and 3 siblings. She set the example. While I saw a lot growing up, moving around so much never allowed me really to establish in a certain area for any length of time until high school. Because of this, I stayed very close with my family. Family is the most important thing to me, and I consider my AbbVie team and colleagues "family" as well.
Before high school, I always had a quiet confidence in my academic and athletic abilities, thanks to my parents, but had trouble finding enough self-assurance to run for student council or be involved with more democratic or popularity-based activities. My all-girls high school experience completely changed that; it afforded me a patient and safe environment to find my leadership potential and find out who I could truly be.
I swam competitively when I was younger and played basketball and tennis in high school. Nowadays, I love to run. I’ve run marathons and raced around Lake Tahoe for charity when my brother had lymphoma. Beyond any races or competitions, I just like to be out there. In fact, my day is never quite right if I don’t.
Playing sports taught me how to truly work hard, how important it is to hustle. As an athlete, I was never the tallest or fastest, but no one was going to work harder on the court than me. And if people looked at me as a smaller woman and underestimated me, I used that to my advantage (something which has not been lost in the corporate world either). Today in whatever I do, I always check to myself to make certain I am still hustling!
Not at all. I actually was a biochemistry major in college and never really knew what to do with my degree. At one point I considered a career in medicine. So I enrolled in an anatomy class. But even before we started cutting into cadavers, I fainted twice. From there, I quickly dropped anatomy and signed up for more analytical chemistry classes.
After graduating, I went and worked at Baxter for about a year as an assistant scientist. To be frank, I wasn’t a very good scientist. In the course of a year, I stuck myself three times with needles while working with HIV. After the third time I knew: I’ve got to figure out a different career.
While coming home from a Baxter business trip, I shared a limo from the airport with an Abbott patent attorney. He was a plant biologist who had gone on to law school. I picked his brain on the ride home, then started talking to other people in the same field. Eventually, I convinced myself to apply to law school. I’m lucky that I did because that decision eventually led me here: a job and career I love.
I got a job at Abbott straight out of law school and became one of the youngest lawyers Abbott had ever hired. My bosses were definitely dumping the worst projects on me, but I loved every minute and experience.
For about three or four years, I worked on drafting and prosecuting patents, then moved into patent litigation. I eventually led litigation at Abbott in 2012. With the split, I joined AbbVie as head of intellectual property (IP), which includes patent litigation, patent and trademark prosecution, and IP strategy. Today, I now also oversee the R&D-related legal functions.
Earlier in my career, it was the interesting legal challenges that I got every day. No two days were ever the same, and it was just amazing to be close to scientists and to be handling untested legal issues. In AbbVie’s Legal Department, we collaborate, challenging each other to be more innovative and to better evaluate risks, which is something I’ve always loved about our work. But there is pressure and responsibility in all of that.
What excites me even more today is developing talent and the next generation of lawyers. There’s nothing more meaningful for me than that.
Moving up towards more senior levels of leadership at AbbVie and in the industry, it’s more common to find myself the only woman at the table. I consider this to be a responsibility. It’s also intimidating. I've always struggled with imposter syndrome and, not to be too stereotypical, I think that may be something women tend to struggle with more. It’s a feeling like I’m not good enough or smart enough to be “here.”
Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at quieting that voice and being comfortable in spaces where I may be the only woman present. What's helped me do that is being uber prepared, focusing deeply on the legal issues at hand. As long as I feel like I’ve done everything I can to prepare, then I know that I’ve left it all on the court.
Throw yourself into every opportunity and experience that’s offered to you. Make sure you’re having fun along the way, and that you love what you're doing. The rest will fall into place.