NEW YORK—When AnnaMaria DeSalva was named global chairman and chief executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in May of 2019, a lot of attention was paid to her gender. But what really sets DeSalva apart from her peers in leadership role at global public relations agencies—and a significant part of the reason she has earned our Outstanding Individual Achievement SABRE—is the depth of her client-side experience.

DeSalva gained considerable corporate experience with Bristol-Myers Squibb, where she served as head of oncology public affairs, before making the move to the agency side,  spending a total six years leading the worldwide healthcare practices at H+K and GCI (during which time she also advised the Food & Drug Administration on risk communication) before heading back in-house.

In 2009 she joined Pfizer as corporate affairs VP, shortly after the company’s acquisition of Wyeth—in what was the largest pharmaceutical company merger to that point—and DeSalva’s first major assignment involved spearheading both communications and government affairs activity to ensure the merger’s success.

In 2014 she was recruited by DuPont chief executive Ellen Kullman, who was also leading the transformation of a venerable science-driven company. Kullman found herself in a proxy battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz and his investment company Trian Fund Management, which was looking for the company to cut costs, and recognized that effective communication would be key to surviving that bid.

Five months after successfully rebuffing Peltz’s advances, Kullman made the surprise decision to step down, to be replaced by Ed Breen, who presided over the merger between DuPont and its fellow chemical giant Dow—a complex and drawn-out three-year process—and then the creation of three new companies, with DeSalva continuing as a trusted advisor throughout that process.

DeSalva currently serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of XPO Logistics, a technology-driven, Fortune 200 global provider of transportation and supply chain solutions, and as a member of the board of governors of Argonne National Laboratory, a leading science and engineering center of the US Department of Energy.