Ms. Regan, recently named president of U.S. operations for Lally, McFarland & Pantello, New York, a Euro RSCG healthcare agency, had plenty of strong female role models growing up in Valley Stream, Long Island. The oldest of six girls, she attended an all-girls high school and an all-female nursing school before deciding to get into business.
"It gave me a certain confidence I don't think I would have had otherwise," she says.
Ms. Regan, who at 37 is also one of the youngest agency presidents in the healthcare industry, combines that confidence with an endearing pragmatism. Despite considerable success in the advertising world, the one-time operating room nurse has yet to give up her registered nurse license.
"You never know when you might need something to fall back on," she says, only half-jokingly.
Still, Ms. Regan says she was a nurse "for only about one week" before she decided to go to business school. She worked as a nurse for three years while getting her MBA. Ms. Regan also "carried the bag" selling pharmaceuticals before joining Lally as an account exec at 25.
Ms. Regan worked her way up through the ranks to her new position, fueled by a strong work ethic and "a fear of failure," says her boss, Ron Pantello, chairman-ceo of LM&P North America. "Like many of us, she's driven not so much by a desire to win as by a need to avoid losing."
Ms. Regan agrees, but Mr. Pantello loses her approval when he kids: "Maureen is one of the best guys in the business." Ms. Regan, who has a playfully caustic relationship with Mr. Pantello, counters: "I disagree. He thinks aggressiveness, etc., are male traits. But women can be like that, too."
Whatever the influence, if any, of gender on her work, Ms. Regan relishes a team atmosphere, calling her staff "a great crew that's one of the best parts of this job."
Still, despite what's clearly a satisfying professional life, Ms. Regan is trying to focus more on personal interests. Single, she complains: "I've been married to my job. Next to my father, I think Ron is the longest-standing relationship I've had with a man-and I have a problem with that."
She recently moved into Manhattan from Westchester County, in part for an easier commute that will give her more time for her hobbies. Evidence of another passion-a chocolate Labrador retriever-is strewn around her office in the form of dog chews and other playthings.
Drawings of Irish pubs and landscapes illustrate a big part of Ms. Regan's identity: She's the daughter of Irish immigrants.
She credits that background as good preparation for the challenges of running Lally even as the Clinton administration's healthcare reform efforts create an uncertain future.
"My parents didn't call [their willpower] winning, they called it survival," she says. "But it's a force and an ethic that I've carried over into my work. I want to succeed, and my mother, in particular, has been a big part of whatever I've achieved."