Q: How do you see Medical Affairs supporting the company’s business?
Latching onto the Bristol Myers Squibb vision of ‘transforming lives through science,' I think the Medical Affairs role is specifically translating that science into clinical practice. Science by itself doesn’t automatically lead to physicians doing something different for patients, or patients having better opportunities for treatment or diagnosis, because there are lots of barriers. In order to be implemented, every new scientific discovery requires change, a change in mindset and a change in behavior, which often takes a long time. There’s research data that says it takes an average of 17 years before most new innovations, whether diagnostic or treatment, becomes embedded into clinical practice. Seventeen! That’s why I think the primary role for Medical Affairs is helping to expedite implementation into clinical practice, uncovering barriers that stand in the way of progress, and finding ways to overcome those barriers. It’s part education and part mindset, but it’s also mobilizing change in the medical system itself, which isn’t easy. Medical Affairs can be a catalyst in leading and progressing that change. That, and finding ways to make science practical and tangible for people who work in the healthcare system and for patients themselves.
Q: You’ve returned to Bristol Myers Squibb after eight years working for Novartis and Roche. What brought you back?
I was primarily drawn back by the vision Bristol Myers Squibb has for the role of Medical Affairs. Giovanni Caforio once said that the difference between a good pharma company and a great one is its Medical Affairs organization. That perspective on the value this department can bring, elevates the confidence of what it ultimately can deliver, and I welcomed the challenge to build the best Medical Affairs group possible — and of course the pipeline is very exciting. What we are planning to do, and range of new products we are bringing to the healthcare system — it’s a dynamic portfolio, and I look forward to being part of the execution.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m not someone who likes to tell people what to do. I prefer to engage them and collaborate as a team. I’d like to empower people, yet I also realize that empowerment needs to come with clarity, a clear understanding of what the guardrails are, and that people also need to be ready to be empowered. People always want to feel like they can make their own decisions. However, with that also comes the responsibility of taking initiative, taking responsibility and accountability for the good and the bad, executing and seeing the project through to completion.
In a team, each member brings their own individuality, then you build on each other’s ideas, and together, the end result is always richer. I’m also hoping that people will feel comfortable challenging me. I like to focus a lot on psychological safety. It’s very important that people feel free and open to speak up, to bring ideas to the table — even if it’s an idea that may not work at that exact point in time. Sometimes the outlier ideas lead to the best and unexpected results. I think it’s important to create a safe space and environment where people feel supported and encouraged to pushback and challenge the status quo.
I deeply appreciate openness and transparency. I like when people speak their minds and don’t beat around the bush — being straightforward really resonates with me. Also, I like people who ask questions not for the sake of just asking questions, but because they are genuinely curious.
Q: What other topics are top of mind for you these days?
One thing I feel is very important is the topic of talent development. These uncertain times, especially during the pandemic, have triggered many to reflect on their lives and to question where they are: Am I in the right job? Am I in the right company, or right industry? Should I do something else? There is a lot of talk and media attention about “the great resignation” or “the great reset.” I think if people sense that they’re in a place where they feel heard, where they feel valued, where they feel there’s growth opportunities, then they will thrive and perform at their best. I think that’s especially true for the Bristol Myers Squibb colleagues who are based outside of the U.S. We have an obligation to devote more time, energy and focus on making sure we create an environment that fosters that sense of belonging — at least for the medical organization as much as I can influence that. It’s interesting how many comments I’ve received from people saying, “Oh, it’s so great that you are in your role and based in Switzerland. It sends a signal.” It’s inspiring for them, and it’s inspiring for me as well.
I will do my best to live up to the expectation.