Six Questions with an Ethics and Compliance Officer: Melissa Stapleton Barnes



Melissa Stapleton Barnes is Senior Vice President, Enterprise Risk Management and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for Eli Lilly and Company, a global pharmaceutical and healthcare company. As an executive officer of the company, she leads Lilly’s global ethics and compliance function and serves on the Executive Committee. 

Q1. How long have you been working in the ethics and compliance field? 

I have been at Lilly for almost 24 years and in my current ethics and compliance role for just over five years.

Q2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I went to college thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian, which meant I needed to major in agriculture or chemistry. I chose chemistry. Five pages into a chemical equation at 3 A.M. one day, I decided that while I was good at chemistry, it simply didn’t appeal to me. I changed my focus to political science and pre-law, and the rest is history.

Q3. What are some of the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job? 

The most rewarding part of any job I’ve had is the people piece, and that is true in my current position. I am most proud of the success we have seen from our “people strategy” of bringing business leaders into ethics and compliance for developmental assignments and returning them to business leadership roles. It’s a win-win-win:

  • Our function benefits from the best and brightest minds, which keeps our program fresh and relevant.
  • Our high-potential talent benefits from a rich developmental experience.
  • Our program benefits from having ethics and compliance “ambassadors” with a renewed commitment to achieving high performance with high integrity in key leadership roles across the company.

This approach has become a critical part of our ethics and compliance program. I also find it rewarding to be a champion of integrity. Trust is absolutely critical to Lilly’s mission of helping people live longer, healthier, more active lives.

We ask people to take our medicines at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives; therefore, everything we say and do, and every decision we make, must be made with integrity. So, the work we do to help foster a culture of integrity throughout the company is key to our mission – and that is particularly rewarding.

One of the challenges we face is how to leverage data analytics to make us smarter, more effective, and more efficient. As a global company, we have a rich data set that documents our business activities; however, given our matrix organization and geographic spread, accessing and assembling the right data is no easy feat. Likewise, finding the most informative data cuts and correlations to help direct our work in ethics and compliance takes a combination of both art and science. We are working hard in this space, but we are just beginning our journey.

Q4. What are three important traits a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer should possess?

The 3 P’s – passion, people, perseverance.

  • Passion for the work
  • The ability to connect with people to influence, network, and establish strong relationships
  • Perseverance and a willingness to keep pursuing goals no matter the obstacles

Q5. If someone wanted to get more involved in promoting ethical behavior in their organization today, what could they do? 

At Lilly, we encourage all of our employees and leaders to be open and transparent with one another and to speak up if they have a question, concern, or idea. We also focus on being inclusive of diverse opinions and points of view. One way to start promoting ethical behavior in an organization is simply to begin having these conversations and sharing our stories so others can learn and grow.

Q6. What advice would you give to recent college graduates and other professionals who may want to pursue a career in ethics and compliance? 

To be truly effective as an ethics and compliance professional, you need to know the business.

  • What are the most important risks for your business?
  • What challenges, both internal and external, is your organization facing?
  • What external requirements must you meet?
  • What kind of culture does your organization have?

To get this background, pursue opportunities that can help you gain this deep knowledge and understanding of the business you are supporting.

The 3 P’s are also critical: have passion for the work, be able to influence people at all levels of the organization, and persevere relentlessly to meet your goals.

BONUS Q. What is a book, movie, play, or song that had an impact on you? 

I am moved by Sheryl Sandberg’s books: Lean In and Option B. Both books are great examples of the power of a personal story. Sandberg uses some of the darkest, most personal experiences in her life, and graciously shares how she managed and persevered in an effort to share learning and make others better. Both books are excellent leadership development resources.


Melissa Stapleton Barnes is Senior Vice President, Enterprise Risk Management and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for Eli Lilly and Company, a global pharmaceutical and healthcare company. As an executive officer of the company, she leads Lilly’s global ethics and compliance function and serves on the Executive Committee. The Ethisphere Institute has recognized her as an Attorney Who Matters (in 2015 and 2016), the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association named her a Rising Star in 2012, and the Indianapolis Business Journal honored her in their Women of Influence 2017 class.

Melissa joined Lilly in 1994 and took her current role in 2013. She has held a variety of business and legal roles including general counsel for Lilly Diabetes and Lilly Oncology. Prior to her current role, she was deputy general counsel responsible for overseeing all global litigation and investigations as well as managing the corporate secretary’s office and specialty legal functions.

She serves on the board of directors for Algonquin Power and Utilities Corporation, headquartered in Toronto. She is chair of the Ethics and Business Integrity Committee for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. Locally, she volunteers as chair of board of the Great American Songbook Foundation and vice chair of the board for The Center for Performing Arts, and board and executive committee member for Visit Indy. Nationally, she is a member of the executive steering committee of the Ethisphere Business Ethics Leadership Alliance, Corporate Ethics Leadership Council, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, and is a Fellow with the Ethics and Compliance Initiative.

Melissa earned a Bachelor of Science with the highest distinction from Purdue University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. In 2016, Purdue University honored her with the College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumni Award. She currently serves on the Purdue Liberal Arts Dean’s Advisory Council.

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