August 18, 2021
Sanjula Jain 0:03
Women make up 70% of the healthcare workforce but only 20% of its leadership. On Her Story, we’ll explore the careers of bold and influential women from Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill and learn how they’ve overcome the odds. I’m your host, Sanjula Jain and this is Her Story, a program where we explore what’s beyond the glass ceiling.
I’m delighted to welcome Angela Lukin, Global President of the Hospital Business at Pfizer, and Katina Owens, the Vice President of the Enterprise Strategic Alliances and Key Account Management group at Pfizer. Ladies, thanks so much for joining us on Her Story this morning.
Angela Lukin 0:41
Great, so happy to be here.
Katina Owens 0:43
Thank you for having us.
Sanjula Jain 0:46
You too have phenomenal stories, which I’m excited to dig into this morning, but just out of the gate, when most of us think about a global leading pharmaceutical company, we saw Pfizer lead the charge during the pandemic, many of us don’t really think about the auto call the nonclinical side of the house and more on the hospital side of things. Both of you represent really unique functions in the organization, so for our audience’s context, let’s give them a little bit of context around what exactly your respective units are responsible for. Angela, let’s start with you and tell us a bit about the hospital business.
Angela Lukin 1:22
The hospital business unit is focused on exactly that any products that are sold or distributed in the hospital, so products for ICU products for those types of conditions that are treated in the hospital. So obviously, during the time of COVID, you can imagine with hospitalization rates going up the hospital business unit, and many of the products that were sitting in the hospital business unit were critical during that time. So that gives you a sense, and then my responsibilities from a commercial point of view. And I said as part of the triad, which does end to end meaning pipeline development all the way through to commercialization.
Katina Owens 1:57
I lead a team that has two different distinct functions, but both of which innovatively partner with health systems across the US. And really, the premise of how we work is we look across the care continuum and what the patient journey looks like. And we understand where there are gaps in care. And then we mutually align with health system partners to fill those gaps in care really always centering on the patient as our true north. So we work with them around areas of mutual alignment for therapeutic areas where we have expertise from a Pfizer standpoint, and where they have needs from a health system standpoint. So doing that from a key account management perspective through the lens, for example of cardiovascular with a fib. And then from a strategic alliances perspective, that part of my organization works to harness what we say is the collective advantage of Pfizer. So working across all of our business units and functional areas, to co-create with our health system customers on really innovative approaches to help us pave the path forward to transform the future of healthcare.
Sanjula Jain 3:01
Pfizer led the charge board in helping us through the pandemic. It’s fascinating to learn what it was like being a leader inside the organization during this intense period of innovation. Let’s start with how the experience of the pandemic has affected all of us, but then also being within the organization shaped your approach to leadership.
Angela Lukin 3:35
As I mentioned before, a lot of what we were starting to see in terms of early demand or products in the ICU setting, even before the pandemic, really hit the level it did. That was when we started to see that there was there something was happening in hospitals around the world. And obviously, we began to know what it was only the beginning of what was really to come. And during that period of time, which was about March or April of 2020 actually came into the role in April of 2020. In the middle of this massive crisis. As we were trying to deliver products around the world. To give you a flavor we were delivering in the US 1000 emergency shipments per week, which is unprecedented in terms of the kind of demand that was out there. So when we think about the products that were needed for ventilate, ventilated patients, for patients in ICU, those were the patients that those were the products that were in high urgent demand, in some cases 600 to 800% of normal demand. So the team in a rapid response fashion, really engaged with leading healthcare systems, engaged with hospitals to find out where their needs were, what their needs were, and then, of course, making commitments to make sure that we got the medicines to patients where they needed it. For that period of time of 2020, it was a very intense time for everyone in the world. In terms of what the hospital business unit was able to deliver making sure that we got medicines to patients around the world who needed them. And then during that same period of time, because we do work in the hospital setting and anti-infective and antiviral medicine sit within the HBU, we were also developing a protease inhibitor oral treatment for COVID. That was running alongside some of the urgent care needs that we needed in the hospital setting just to give you a flavor.
Sanjula Jain 6:22
If I could just ask one follow-up to that, given that you have purview over the whole global unit of the business, were there some interesting differences or approaches, you had to employ any thought about different countries and their approach to the hospital business?
Angela Lukin 6:36
Not necessarily different approaches, but it was being more proactive. Obviously, when we were seeing in certain markets, certain medicines, for example, in order to sedate a patient who’s being ventilated. When we started to see certain demand raise in other countries started to proactively reach to countries that we maybe had not heard from, to understand what their needs were. It was really more helping us to meet countries where they were. At that time in which they were at, some countries still hadn’t even hit the peak. Others were coming off the beat, others were starting to get on to the beat. So it was really just trying to understand where countries were in their battle against COVID. And where the medicines were that they needed the most and when that was going to be. So we developed a whole forecast model to help us figure out how to predict where that might be, and then working very closely hand in hand with governments and officials at the country level to help better meet their needs. But it was definitely we had a team that was working in crisis mode in terms of dealing with the hearing now, we had another team that was thinking about what’s going to be needed six, 8, 12 weeks from now so that we can get ahead of it.
Sanjula Jain 7:43
Then, Katina, looking at what your team was responsible for, you were a little bit more domestically focus, how did the pandemic shape a lot of what your team strategy was thinking about?
Katina Owens 7:52
As we all know, in the US, we saw a really significant shift into virtual care. And when that shift in the virtual care happened, we had really never had a patient experience where patients that were very complex to manage were trying to be managed in a virtual way. And that was putting strain on the healthcare system. And for us, we wanted to make sure that we stayed up close how to close connectedness with our customers. So we actually have a multitude of advisory councils across Pfizer and our folks that work on the front line with all of our, you know, clinicians and our health systems, we started to get an outpouring of insights, really beyond the four walls of Pfizer that this was really starting to become a strength because many of these patients were scared to come into the offices and be treated, they were even scared to go into emergency rooms, we saw stories surfacing, where patients were having serious and catastrophic events, such as strokes and heart attacks, and still were hesitant to even go into an emergency room. So when we looked at conditions such as a fib, those patients who need to be anticoagulated. They’re very used to entering back into a clinical environment very regularly to be monitored to be educated. And that’s just one example. But those patients were coming into that environment to make sure they were getting that ongoing education. So that was an example where we really leaned in and we said how is this transforming the way that you’re engaging with patients? How were you starting to train your care teams in really different ways to virtually engage with the patients. And we really did this across our therapeutic areas and a multitude of populations. And a lot of the executives that we work with, we have one Advisory Council that’s about 20 to 25 different executives across health systems, the top 100 in the US, and many of these individuals, our chief medical officers chief Quality officers running their informatics departments. And we usually meet with them about once a month, we completely rewrote how we were going to be engaging with them to understand now how their positions were evolving. And many of them were also leading task forces for COVID. Or they were leading different sub-teams within the COVID task force. So they were really able to share with us how this was impacting the way they were approaching the management and the risk for COVID. And then how it was having this halo effect of how it was impacting their care management across their population, so we could partner in really different ways. Everybody can relate this not only impacted healthcare is impacted everyone’s workforce, we very, very quickly, just like healthcare delivery went to virtual, we also had workforces that completely went to virtual. And that was no different within Pfizer, including our folks that were face-to-face with our customers, they were now trying to figure out on a dime, how do I do this in a virtual environment with customers that were having a strain, but we knew that our lean in partnership with more critical than ever because no one person had the solution for what we needed to do, it was really about working together to do what’s best for the patient and figure all of this out. So we had to make sure that our internal colleagues had balance, making sure that we had breakaway time making sure that we were celebrating those joyful moments so that we also get emotional and mental wellbeing for front and center.
Sanjula Jain 11:35
That’s remarkable. As you both mentioned, there was no playbook for any of this. I’m curious, as a leader and from a personal point of view, how did all of this change your perspective of how you manage and lead your teams and how you’re thinking about what shifts you’re going to make going forward?
Angela Lukin 11:52
Thinking about having much more flexibility in the way in which we engage. As Katrina mentioned, we went from a nearly very limited virtual to nearly 100%, virtual in a split second. It’s made us think very differently about how we engage made us think very differently about how we allow for flexibility. Maybe the other piece is it also made us think more broadly about whether or not that role really needs to be in headquarters, or does that role really need to be located in the office right next door so we are opening up much more opportunities for virtual employees in a different way for roles that maybe before we hadn’t even thought of to be virtual, so it’s been an evolution. It’s allowed us to think more broadly, more flexibly.
Sanjula Jain 13:49
Katina, even before the pandemic, a lot of your team was virtual, so you’re already in that cadence to some extent, but how has the pandemic really changed your approach to leadership?
Katina Owens 14:00
I agree with everything Angela said. In addition to that, it’s heightened the awareness of the importance of connectedness with your teams. And you started to have this merging because you’re projecting into people’s homes, you’re not sitting in an office or have in a room face to face in an office, you’re virtually engaging, which sounds really great. But then you’re six months in your urine, you’re a year and a half in and we started to see burnout, we started to see stress surfacing across the board with a multitude of colleagues where these were really different environments for them. So from a leadership perspective, being able to make sure that you’re picking up on those people’s signals, really being empathetic, really being compassionate. The importance of one on one time with your people, making sure that you’re listening, you’re learning and then you’re leading, making sure that you’re pausing on that work conversation and asking people how they’re doing and making sure you let them know not only is it okay for you to break away, “When you take a vacation, I want you to shut your laptop down. I don’t want you to check an email. Set the phone down. It’ll all be here when you get back. We’re team, we’ve got this covered for you.” You have to be able to completely disconnect because everyone was running at such a high speed. That’s our strength, but any strength taken to an extreme can become your weakness. If we have burnout, then everybody can’t be at their best. The second leadership learning is during times of uncertainty. And we still have moments of uncertainty right now with a Delta variant, we still have folks working virtually we have people returning to virtual that we’re just starting to return to the office. So the importance from a leadership perspective, when you have uncertainties, you can’t control and make that certain for everybody. But you can be clear. So making sure that you communicate in a really clear way, here are the goals, here are the priorities, everything’s not a priority. And when you’re juggling, which one of these balls are rubber and which one are glass. So we know which ones would bounce and can be put on the backburner and which ones can’t, and you have to keep them in the air. So you can help folks figure out a path forward on the right priorities and keep that balance and making sure that they’re really clear on what they need to be leaning in on.
Sanjula Jain 16:30
That’s very well said. On behalf of our audience, thank you to both of you and your teams and the entire organization for everything the organization continues to do to give us some sense of certainty during this really difficult time. Shifting gears a little bit, Katina, I want to come back to something you shared earlier. I’ve had the honor of working with you and your team for several years now. I know your division actually didn’t exist many years ago. It’s really a new function you’ve spearheaded bottoms up. Tell us a little bit about that process, what inspired that movement, and some of the context around that.
Katina Owens 17:07
The enterprise strategic alliances group is a first of its kind of team, built from the ground up, and it’s really exciting. It’s a reflection that Pfizer is a very innovative company. And we also know that what we did yesterday doesn’t mean that that is what we need to do for tomorrow to be successful and be the partner of choice. And in everything we do at Pfizer, the patient is always our north. So we really ground everything we do on what is best for the patient. How do we feel those gaps in care? And the enterprise strategic alliances team is about understanding in a business unit or therapeutic area agnostic way. Where do we have frameworks? Where do we have protocols that we see transcending patient populations that really are much more complex to operationalize when you go into a health system or a healthcare environment. So we saw this far-reaching across Pfizer. And when you look at things such as pathways protocols, when you look at the infusion of more real-world evidence and informatics, playing much more of a standardized role to help reduce very repair across care continuums, you start to see a pattern that regardless of which patient I’m looking at, when you try to figure out how you build those care pathways, how you identify the gaps in care how you feel those gaps in care, and then how you hardwire it, and how you operationalize it and make sure care teams are educated, there were consistencies. And instead of doing that 10, 20 times within each therapeutic area, the intercross strategic alliances team really identifies those systematic processes and procedures that are needed.
Sanjula Jain 20:15
That’s so well said. I’ve seen that firsthand and the effect that it’s had on the industry. So kudos to you for leading that charge. It really begs this broader question. We think about innovation, there is this perception that larger, more established organizations, it’s just harder to lead some of these transformational changes. You both see that in your from your respective vantage points. Let’s start with you, Angela. What advice would you have for other leaders who are really trying to shake things up and ground up, start some of these new initiatives, that may be a totally different way of practice for the organization?
Angela Lukin 20:50
Yeah, and I wanted to pick up on something Katina was talking about the enterprise work. What’s great about the way in which we’re structured advisors. It’s a balance of both. In some ways, you have to allow for the innovation and the creativity at a bu level. We are structured by business unit and we are structured that way in order to decentralize decision-making. So the decision-making can be made of a therapeutic level, for example, in the hospital business unit. So we have end-to-end commercial development all the way through to launch that allows for that level of innovation to be able to take place, and so that we can make decisions. What Katina talked about is, look, there’s a lot of value in being very focused. But then there are also things that you’re going to miss unless you’re looking across that business. And it’s a nice combination of both. When I think about the ability to be able to innovate, you have to be able to identify what are those things in which are strengths in which you can focus on, and then what are the things that can be centralized, that will allow or enable that innovation to be able to be operationalized. In addition to thinking about how you structure and how you govern that in terms of being able to give people the freedom and the flexibility to do that kind of innovation to delegate accountability and decision making there, the second piece is having passion for the thing in which you’re innovating. I’ve seen so many interesting and good ideas die because nobody was the cheerleader or the champion of that. In the end, you if that’s something that you truly believe in, that can change the way in which we work can change and impact a patient’s life, got to have someone who’s going to be willing to champion them. And I found that if you do, and you are persistent, you’ll find a way to bring it through. There are many times in which projects of the company to be able to bring that level of change, gosh, can that really be done, it can be done, you just got to be passionate and persistent. And you will find engagement inside the organization to make that happen. But I do think making sure and identifying clear roles and accountability is important. Because if people don’t know what can I make that decision or drive to go somewhere else, then that’s where ideas start to wane. And then they never gain the traction that they probably deserve. Those are some things I’ve seen work really well in the organization: having more clarity enroll and, in addition to giving people that accountability and responsibility, being passionate about the thing you want to really fight for and fight for it.
Sanjula Jain 23:10
It’s really like this mindset. I was just having a conversation with my team last week around thinking of yourself as a founder, and that this organization is just giving you resources to go out and chart that course. That resonates very much with what you’re saying. Katina, I was with you at some of the early days, and he make it sound so easy, but maybe share some of those stories from those early days of when you were trying to bring stakeholders internally and externally along for the ride and try to communicate this vision that you had.
Katina Owens 23:41
When we were creating the vision, we created it collectively across a multitude of team members and teams within Pfizer. Angela did a beautiful job outlining, but it’s a balance. So the strength of the enterprise strategic alliances team, for example, which is one part of my team is that we do partner and work so closely with those bu teams that own the business and those subject matter experts. And it’s really about understanding the needs and where our goals are there and linking those subject matter experts with the right subject matter experts externally. And Pfizer is a very large company, that’s a strength for us. But navigating a very large company like Pfizer that has not only the six business units, but a multitude of departments across medical, clinical research, policy, public relations, communications. And there are actually aspects of those partnerships that touch across all of those areas. So it helps us support big thinking. And it also helps streamline that engagement for the customer. So we did it together when we formed the vision, and that’s really important because you really need to have clarity and inclusiveness with the vision but it certainly doesn’t make it easy. So when you try to tackle that and you start to have an experience where you’re harnessing The collective advantage of Pfizer, sometimes their speed bumps along the way, but anytime you innovate, if your palms are sweaty at least once or twice, you’re probably not innovating. And you’re probably going to have to have a good conversation here or there. Even when you upstream outline roles and responsibilities. When you get into the thick of actual execution, sometimes those things still have to be worked through. That’s where trust comes into play. And at Pfizer, we really have our values that we use as a cornerstone of how we engage internally and externally. The integrity of how we work the respect for others, and making sure that that really instills trust in the relationships, especially when you innovate, because innovation is more draining, and it’s more difficult. And innovation isn’t appropriate everywhere. So is there clarity on where we’re doing it, why we’re doing it, the roles around it, then when we start, we have a togetherness, that it’s not going to be easy. And sometimes when you feel conflict, then we have to take a pause and talk through it. And what we have found is when we come together this way, and we really listen to each other, the overall collective advantage of Pfizer is one of our most powerful assets that we can harness. It’s not easy but at the heart of this success is a really great culture, its openness, its inclusiveness, it’s talking through it. And sometimes when you’re paving that path that has never been paved before there’s going to be conflict, there’s going to be some uncertainty and you have to work through it, you have to talk through it. And you have to figure out the path forward together.
Sanjula Jain 26:37
One of the things you mentioned on the conflict and subject matter expertise, and I don’t know if either of you have experienced this, but there is the perception that the core product of Pfizer is a clinical therapeutic. What’s so powerful is that the two of you have very different training and background that’s not clinical so I’m curious how having more of a business development perspective has shaped your approach to leadership and your ability to lead some of the changes inside of a clinically focused organization.
Angela Lukin 27:06
I definitely do not have a traditional form of background. I started off as a junior high school teacher teaching in the New York City public school system, and ended up opening up my own business, and I was an entrepreneur for many years. And I loved that I loved being in a startup, you have to be passionate about it. You have to be relentless in terms of your dedication. But I do think that having that experience really taught me about the importance of growing something and building something. And that’s what ended up leading me into the pharmaceutical area, I ended up going on the advertising side of the business, and then from advertising ended up switching over to the marketing side of the business. That business mindset of building something about leaving something better than the way in which you found it about building an employee base and a team and doing something that had not been done before. That was something that I brought with me when I joined Pfizer. And the ability to impact patients was something that spoke very much to me because of my background and how I was raised. So breakthroughs that change patients lives. When we think about that vision for Pfizer, it spoke to me and I’ve been with Pfizer ever since through the wide acquisition and others and I really feel like I can make a change a meaningful impact in the lives of patients have a meaningful impact in in the lives of employees and the people we work with. And that was something having my own business and being an entrepreneur really got an opportunity to thrive and do that here at Pfizer, even though people think Pfizer can’t bring that kind of change because it’s a big company, it can. Pfizer is absolutely asking for that when we think about the leaders in the organization, wanting to innovate, wanting to change and make sure that we adapt so that we can fulfill our vision on bringing breakthroughs that change patients lives. And the only way in which we can do that in this kind of environment is to innovate, and to push ourselves into areas that maybe we haven’t done before. And if COVID taught us anything, it said, Wow, you could do almost anything. Think about the things we’re doing today that we wouldn’t even dreamt about before the ability to bring products to market in record speed that we would never have thought before, the ability to be able to work 100% virtually, which would never would have even probably piloted in that respect. So we’re doing a lot of things that we’ve never done before. The company is starting to see the ability that can bring as we start rethinking the way in which we’ve been doing things for such a long period of time. Albert and the vision of the company is definitely moving in that direction of anything is possible. And we’re going to have to transform and change our way of thinking if we really want to bring innovation to the market faster, and I don’t just mean products. The way in which we work, the employee base, and how we think about it, I’m talking about end-to-end everything that makes up an organization from our culture, our people, our products, and the services that we provide.
Sanjula Jain 29:52
Building on that point, the pace of change aspect is really remarkable. And so I’m curious how both of you think about what We’d be able to stay in that pace of change moving forward. As a leader, how do you think about the balance between crisis mode innovation and actually doing things differently and faster as the new normal, so to speak?
Angela Lukin 30:13
As long as we prioritize what we’re trying to change, you try and change everything, then no, you can’t sustain that. Pick the thing that’s really important that needs to be transformed. Not everything needs innovation and transformation, there are certain things that are working really, really well. You don’t have to break them in order to to get a little bit more improvement. But are there areas that are big bottlenecks? Are there areas that are big bureaucratically, internally, Are there areas that that if we could innovate, could bring innovation to the world faster? Those are the areas where we want to rally around in terms of bringing a pace of innovation, as long as we can be careful to prioritize exactly for the reason that Katina mentioned before is you don’t want people to burn out. And not everything requires that level of pace of innovation. We need to pick and choose the things that have the most meaningful impact.
Katina Owens 31:06
I completely agree with Angela. Through this, we’ve had an amazing journey and stories, not only within Pfizer, but across our external market of how innovation in this pace to respond to COVID has changed people forever, not only professionally, but personally. But we’ve also seen that if you run at that pace with every task, you’ll burn out, and you’ll be okay at a lot of things, but not great, where you need to be great. And we mentioned and had a little bit of conversation a few minutes ago around how innovation also takes more energy, it takes more focus, it’s harder to tackle, if you will. Angela’s point around prioritization is probably one of the most important the cause the balance of many teams within Pfizer is that you have a subset of tasks and priorities where you have to innovate, then you have others, where you are really implementing from a business perspective, where you already have frameworks, you already have goals and objectives you know what works, and you really have to balance both of those things. And it doesn’t mean that innovation can’t infuse with standard practice to help us do things better. But we don’t need to rehaul everything, and you don’t need quick pace everywhere. So balancing that and making sure that you’re working through that with your leaders with your team, making sure everyone’s on the same page is really important. To your question around the business background, one thing that has been really important is diversity in thought and experiences at the table makes a very significant difference when you’re really brainstorming to figure out how to tackle all of this, whether it is everyday business in the lens of this new work normal, or when and how you innovate. And it’s not just about position, it’s about purpose. And Angela mentioned breakthroughs that change patients lives. That is really what we ground ourselves on from a Pfizer perspective. But if you unpack that, that’s way beyond an asset. So you mentioned pharmaceuticals. And when folks think of pharmaceutical companies that think of products, but we know the patient really well we do a lot of research on the patient. We understand from a National Quality Forum perspective, the approach to deliver optimal care, we work and co-create with customers around that access. and affordability is critical to making sure that when we have those breakthroughs that patients can get the breakthroughs they need, quickly and be able to treat their complex conditions. All of those things are capabilities within Pfizer. As long as we’re grounded on purpose, you want people in the room that have business backgrounds, clinical backgrounds, medical backgrounds, informatics backgrounds, we could go on and on. It’s that diversity in thought. It’s also the diversity of different individuals coming from different backgrounds, whether that be gender or different ethnicity because we’ve also seen social determinants of health surfacing as a significant concern and opportunity across the world to help us make sure we’re delivering optimal care. And the togetherness around that purpose opens the door to welcome cross-functional collaboration and differences and thoughts as we’ve never seen before.
Sanjula Jain 34:32
That purpose piece paired with Angela’s point around being a cheerleader and being just so passionate about what you’re doing is really resonating with what you’re both saying. And I know healthcare is very personal to each of you. We love asking all of our guests on this show as you think about your entrance into healthcare and then healthcare leadership more specifically, do you consider your path to be more accidental or intentional? And so I’m curious how each of you would think about from the early days on what some of those influences have had on your trajectory.
Angela Lukin 35:03
I’m not sure that when I was going into college that I had in my head that I would obviously I graduated to be a teacher. So I had that in my mind in terms of what I wanted to do. But since I was young, my mom was quite ill from a very young age. And so I understood what having a chronic debilitating illness was going to be like, and the kind of impact that it had on her kind of impact that it had on the family. And I just remember, she had three different types of rheumatoid arthritis. And it had reached a point where she had like two knee replacement surgeries. She had reached a point where now she requires the help of family to help produce simple things that all of us seem to take for granted. And it’s interesting, I’m not sure that I really understood the impact of that on me, until I started to tap into healthcare. I taught for many years, I had my own business for many years. And when I moved on the advertising side, one of the first products I worked on was an HIV product, and I got a chance to work with HIV patients. And it triggered something in me where I was like, I want to do more of this. This fulfills me, this makes me feel like I’m having an impact on patients lives, like my mom, someone like my mom. And so once I got into healthcare, I knew that was it for me. And eventually, I made my way over to Wyatt, and then eventually to Pfizer. And actually, interestingly enough, the product that made such a transformative change in my mom’s life was a product that I eventually got to work on one day, so so it just really interesting to me how my life ended up there, but not because I necessarily directed it there. Once I got into healthcare, I realized, “This is what I want to do because I can help provide educational resources, tools for doctors, for patients.” A lot of what I focused on in the beginning was direct-to-consumer advertising because you can directly connect with patients about the disease, so I ended up in healthcare. My younger sister, surprisingly enough, ended up in health care, and my older sister ended up somewhere in healthcare as well. It’s not where either one of any three of us ended up graduating college war. But it’s interesting how your life takes you into places. A lot of you have to deal with what we learned and the environment that we grew up in. And also recognizing the fact that we could make an impact and help people like in a way in which my mom was not helped in the beginning. And so anyhow, each of us seems to have found a way into healthcare, and I am definitely where I’m going to spend my career. I knew once I tapped into this, this is what I was very passionate about and the impact I wanted to make. And so I’ve worked in multiple different business units in oncology, in rare disease in vaccines now in hospital, because I feel like in each one of those I’ve impacted patients lives, but in a very different kind of way.
Sanjula Jain 37:45
Wow, that’s amazing to see that come full circle. Katina, I know that in some ways, your experience was probably the opposite where you grew up in a healthcare background. How did that shape your perspective?
Katina Owens 37:56
Although Angela and I have differences in how we got here, why we got here, we have a common thread. And that’s the difference that we can make for the patients in the communities that we serve. So I came from a family that definitely had a lot of experience in the medical field. And my father ran the ambulance service and worked at the ambulance service from many different arenas from driving it to driving the ambulance to delivering care to then eventually running it for the entire county. And that is a pretty tumultuous position, 24 seven on call, and you really hear and see the strain that that can have from a healthcare perspective. And my mother started out in nursing. And then she went from nursing to being a nurse-midwife, and an OB-GYN and a family practitioner. And we lived in an area that was very underserved from a healthcare perspective. And the hospital shut down on multiple occasions in the same situation now and the strain of COVID has put even more strain on underserved communities. And I mentioned social determinants of health. We didn’t call it that when I was growing up, but it was everywhere. And I remember my mom would see over 100 patients a day very, very often. And she would go in at seven in the morning, and she would work to 789 o’clock at night, we would have patients that were knocking on our doors in the middle of the night because there wasn’t a hospital because they didn’t have a place to go because they couldn’t afford health care. And she always opened the door and was there for them. And it was always about the community that she served. It was always making a difference. And when you look across my siblings, one was in law enforcement to serve the community. The other two in health care and my sister runs a lot of aspects of health care for the entire school system. And making sure that underserved and underprivileged children can have food on the table have the health care they need can have clothes on their backs. So for me when I think about the impact and the influence that’s had on me, it’s been profound. Because it shows that everyone doesn’t have at their fingertips what they need to be healthy. And even simple things that we can take for granted, such as having food on the table is not guaranteed for everybody, even in America. So we have to work together to make sure that our communities really have what they need to be healthy. And within underserved areas. Health care is so important because it’s really the cross-section of where everything comes together to help support your community. And I saw that with my mother, I saw multiple women speak to her in tears, and they had dropped out of high school, they already had children. And that was her path. She had multiple kids before she was 20. And then she went back. And she gained all of those degrees graduating at the top of her class with three and four children at home. So it was also the passion. And Angela mentioned this earlier, that passion of knowing the purpose you serve, and never ever giving up. So the influence that’s had on me when I entered into healthcare, and I have a degree in chemistry, and I could have went on and got my Ph.D. And I said I don’t see myself in a lab. I had also been working in clinics for multiple, multiple years when I was in high school, as well as in college volunteering. And I had a passion to help patients. And I had seen that through my upbringing, and biopharmaceuticals unfolded to be the perfect path. And I was a thorough pharmacy and advisor through mergers and acquisitions, I’ve had 12 to 13 different roles across strategy, marketing, multiple aspects of business and leading teams. And at the end of the day, always being grounded in the patients in the communities that we serve. As long as you always have that as your front and center, then everyone at the end of the day will have a better outcome. And that’s the passion of making sure that you don’t take more for granted. And if you can make that difference today, you need to do so and lean in on making that difference.
Sanjula Jain 42:02
I love when you said earlier this idea of a North Star. Listening to both of you talk about your early influences, it’s apparent that both of you have this tremendous North Stars in terms of that those experiences that you had in those early days. So it just shows in every aspect of your work. As you think about where you started to where you are today, a nonlinear process, as we’ve talked about. And they’re a lot of ups and downs along the way. Has there been a particularly difficult decision or a trade-off? I’m sure there have been many, but one that really stands out as defining to your career?
Angela Lukin 42:37
The move from the US to outside the US was probably a big move for me. I’m the first generation born in the US. My parents are from a country called Croatia. I had always wanted to live and work outside the US, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to get there. Then one day, obviously, as the advisor was merging, an opportunity came up to relocate to Switzerland. I’d never been there, didn’t speak the language, knew nothing about the country, but I had an opportunity to relocate and I did. It changed me in many ways. Number one, it definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Working in a country, like I said that I didn’t know anybody or even speak the language and had to integrate two organizations together the wife organization and the Pfizer organization. You learn a lot about yourself when you get put into those types of like, what’s important to you, what drives you? What makes you what are the leadership qualities and skills that are important to you? How do you bring culturally to organizations that on a piece of paper had a similar culture, but in reality, we’re very different than one another. That moved into an environment in which I was dealing with things on so many different angles that I had just never dealt with before. Oftentimes in your career, you’re dealing with one or two things that are different or unique, or you take a new role. There’s something about it that’s unique. In this one there was everything had changed. That was probably a defining moment that changed me in terms of what’s important to me and how to lead an organization through that kind of level of change, that I’m not sure I would have learned about myself, had I not really taken the plunge to do something very different.
Katina Owens 44:16
I was thinking about many different situations but, as a mother of two, I will share with you one situation that I think of often anytime I have a lot on my plate. And it was many years ago, probably almost Gosh, 18 or 19 years ago, and I had two kids in diapers. And at that time, I was a district manager and I had an entire state and we were onboarding advisor I had went through a lot of training I had been away from home a lot and I was out across the market. And I remember I came home and I was sleeping and something woke me up and I could hear this noise down the hall. I said to my husband, “You hear that? I think there’s somebody in the house.” He says, “I don’t hear anything, go back to sleep.” That mother’s intuition just kept gnawing at me so I said, “I’m going to get up and walk down the hall and see what’s going on.” My office light was on and I could hear my kids talking. It was the middle of the night and I thought, “What is going on?” I got to the corner and saw they had opened the kid lock on the window and my son was hanging on to the windows. We were on the second story of the house. My daughter was climbing up the bookshelf, handing him books, and he was throwing them out the window. It was all my visor files, it was all my work papers. There was snow on the ground, I could see the wind blowing papers all over the cul de sac. My heart just stopped because the window was open and I had two kids in diapers in front of the window. I didn’t yell, I didn’t react, I very calmly walked over until I could get my hands on both of them and make sure that they were safe, but they were literally throwing my work out the window. When I reflected on that, it was an eye-opener. It was a lesson of making sure that I was present in everything I was doing. I still needed to get in the car and work across the markets and have overnights away from home but, when I came home, I needed to be home and when I was in the market with my team, I needed to be in the market with my team. I wasn’t striking that balance and I’m so grateful for that lesson. I’m so grateful that I was able to get my kids and no one was hurt, but I’m so grateful to be in the moment that lesson was taught to me. From that point on, I had a different understanding of the impact that was having. To make every single moment count, when I came home, everything went to the side and I would get on my knee and I would look my kids in the eye. I wanted to hear about their day and everything else I put to the side. This was my time with them, making sure you have that balance. I’m not going to take a meeting after five. You shouldn’t take work with you whenever you walk away and you need to make sure you engage when you’re there, so that was a turning point for me and a conversation and story I’ve shared with a lot of working parents, men and women, because everyone struggles with that balance, especially when you take on a leading of teams role when you have more travel, and it’s more demanding. I always take that with me and tried to share it.
Sanjula Jain 47:46
Thank you for sharing that. I’ve had the privilege of meeting both of your kids at this point now and I know they’re very proud of you and your parenting and that balance has really paid off. Angela, the same question on the “balance” piece. I don’t really ever believe that there is such thing as true balance, but as you thought about your expanded leadership roles over the years, how have you been able to prioritize personal and professional?
Angela Lukin 48:15
It’s about knowing what’s important to you. And putting those guardrails in place, like I know for me, nothing over the weekend when that I worked during the week. But when that Friday comes, the computer shuts down. And that’s unless there’s a crisis or emergency, I’ll tell the team, like if something happens where it’s a crisis, text me because I’m not checking emails. Putting boundaries in place that gives you those guardrails, especially now with the whole virtual environment where your laptop is in your living room, where you hear that beep, go off or buzzer and you’re like, “Oh, I got an email.” It’s so hard to disconnect, but you have to. Katina talked about we have something called “breakaway moments” or “take back 10” where we’re taking back time for ourselves, whether that be to walk around the block, to go to the grocery store, to jump on a bike, or to just do something that’s not this computer looking at the screen. What’s important to you, focus on that and make sure you’re making decisions based on that, not based on your career. There were many opportunities when I was living in Switzerland to take on bigger roles, many bigger roles that presented themselves to me. And then at that time, I just said, Nope, I have for personal reasons. I now don’t want to relocate away from Switzerland. I want to stay here and if that means that I’m going to give up career opportunities down the road, I’m okay with that. Know what’s important to you. They’re going to be times in your life where you’re gonna need to balance that and based on what’s important for you for your family. But don’t be afraid to prioritize yourself. Oftentimes we think, “If I don’t take that role, another one won’t come up.” Yes, another one will come up. Opportunities present themselves all the time. No one’s important to you and stick with that. I’m so glad that I didn’t relocate them that I gave myself that opportunity to stay in Switzerland to work out what was important to me personally because, if I didn’t now, I’d be looking back and regretting, “Well, what if?” So I feel okay with that because sometimes we think, “If I don’t take this now, it won’t come again.” It’ll come again. It may be a different opportunity, but opportunities will present themselves. Know what’s important to you, prioritize, and also have a conversation with your family. It’s not just you. Make sure that this works for your family when those opportunities present themselves. I’ve relocated husbands and/or wives to different countries and I always say, “Is your partner on board? Are you sure your partner’s 100%?” In the end, you’re a family unit. If one person is unhappy and it just so happened there were certain circumstances where they hadn’t had that conversation, within nine months, they were relocating back to the US. So know yourself, know your family, have those open conversations, and it’s okay, and please prioritize yourself in your personal time. As Katina mentioned, before, you only live once. And for me, my family’s the most important a lot of the reasons why I relocated were personal reasons. For my family, one of the reasons I came back here to the US was because I wanted to be closer to my mom and dad, they’re reaching an age now where they need more support and help. So for me, family always comes first. And I find a way to fit all those other pieces in there, but you have to have some of those guardrails in place. Otherwise, my goodness, how quickly work can bleed into more and more of your personal time, it’s already taking up so much time, you have to make sure you put in some of those like a call guardrails to protect yourselves. Otherwise, you could end up working 24/7.
Sanjula Jain 51:36
That’s a great perspective. I have so many more questions, but I know we’re hitting up against time, so maybe a final question for each of you. Katina is there something you believed early on in your career that you no longer believe?
Katina Owens 51:56
It’s a great question, and probably evolution and thoughts on many fronts, through learnings. That age-old saying that experience is the one area where you take the test first, then you get the notes. That causes you to have evolution and thoughts on a few perspectives, or a few topics. When I came in to lead people, I thought everyone would be thinking of you as a leader, as a team, everyone coming together. I didn’t really think through the magnitude of the impact of being a female leader. I remember when I took my first region, as a female leader, I was leading with the team and I had a very tenured manager on the team. And after about six months, he approached me. And he said, I thought I’d give you some feedback. He said, when you first started, I had done some homework. And I was told that you were very business-driven. You didn’t have kids, you weren’t married. And it was going to be living, eating, breathing, sleeping work. And I was shocked. I was shocked that that was the perception. Because coming into this, I never would have thought that anybody would have thought differently. So I wanted to understand that and unpack that a little bit. And we ended up having a great conversation and he said to me, “You’re the first female regional leader I’ve ever had in my career,” and he had been at the company for almost 30 years. He said, “It’s been one of the best leadership experiences I’ve had. You have two kids, you’ve been married to your husband for almost 20 years,” at that time. He said, “It was just a perception that got here before you did. And I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to work and work for and within a team that did have a female leader because I learned so much. So my takeaway from that was not to assume that when you are breaking some barriers from a gender or from any other perspective that everyone has had that experience or thinks the same way. The other impact that had on me that really shaped the way I think and the way I lead is being an example to others that you can have the balance, that you can take on those leadership roles, and that—when we tackle things such as gender equality and other things—it’s okay to have that conversation. Let’s make sure we talk with each other and, within those inner circles of solutions, that it’s not just females, that it’s males and females. It’s people of all different backgrounds, from an ethnic standpoint, a gender standpoint. Let’s make sure we have that inclusiveness. In fact, from a research perspective or from an experience perspective, the more diversity and inclusion you have, the stronger your results are and the stronger your team is. That’s been ever-shaping for me. I went on to lead the women’s field network. For two years, and one of the overarching themes within that two years was bringing men into the inner circle and doing this together. And we had to have a lot of conversations about why would I be invited to a women’s field network, which let us know that is exactly the conversation we should be having because we’re all in it together. That’s been an evolution in thought and approach and are so grateful for the learning because it also sets the stage for others in the future to be able to take on more leadership and more inclusiveness in their teams.
Sanjula Jain 55:30
Absolutely. Angela, you’ve already accomplished so much in your career, what is one thing that you have yet to accomplish that you would like to as you think about the next phase of your leadership journey?
Angela Lukin 55:46
One of the things that I’m working on now is a COVID therapeutic. There are not many times in your career where you work on something that has the opportunity to truly transform the world and society. This is one of those. When I think about that, that is something I’m very passionate about when I think about a breakthrough that can change patients’ lives. So that I would say on the therapeutic side. On the personal side, as Katina mentioned before, I also had a very interesting experience when I moved to Switzerland about the lack of women in business, the last campaign finally allowed women to vote in 1980. So it speaks a little bit to the role that they saw of women in business. And I remember at the time doing a seminar internally for women in leadership, and how what a ripple effect that that cause and not necessarily in a positive way, and how it took education, transparency, communication to bring both men and women to the table to have that conversation. And it made me realize, oh, my goodness, we have still had a road significant road ahead of us. And since then I both have been part of HBA the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association now for over 20 years. One of the personal things that I want to continue to work on continues to drive opportunities for women in this industry, we have the HV women’s collective, which exactly what Katina talks about is identifying not only women and mentoring and opportunities, but bringing in men as allies to help provide mentoring opportunities for them. As I think about two things I would really love to think about accomplishing from a career point of view, one is the opportunity to truly make a global impact in terms of COVID. And the second one is, is truly making a global impact for women in business. Part of the things that tie Katina and me together is exactly that passion and that motivation. And we all play a role in that. And it requires education, communication, and action, we have to do something about it.
Sanjula Jain 57:57
I love that. That’s so powerful. Thank you both for spending some time with us. This is exactly why we created Her Story to share these stories and reflections and lessons learned. So just know that your insights are going to continue to support those goals that both of you have and elevating the next generation of female leaders.
Angela Lukin 58:16
Katina Owens 58:17
Thank you, Sanjula.
Sanjula Jain 58:19
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