AstraZeneca VP Shares Tips for Success

May 15, 2017

Inspiring and passionate.

Those were the two most common ways Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of AstraZeneca and head of MedImmune, was described by her colleagues, employees, and friends during the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s Women of the Year awards last week in New York City.

“She is smart and hard-working,” said Pascal Soriot, executive director and CEO of AstraZeneca. “Bahija is a true citizen of the world. She came to the US to change the world.”

Jallal, who grew up in Morocco, studied in Paris, worked in Germany and then the US, was honored as the 2017 Woman of the Year by the HBA, during a luncheon that drew 2,200 in-person attendees and many more watching via a live feed at more than a dozen viewing parties across the world. We chronicled Jallal’s career journey in our April issue; read here.

“Bahija is courageous and resilient,” said Soriot, before inviting Jallal to the stage. “She fights for what she believes in.”

Soriot went on to relay examples of how Jallal did this, noting that when AstraZeneca brought MedImmune into its portfolio in 2007, the translational sciences leader was faced with harsh critics, but she never let them get the best of her.

Many times Jallal was faced with people calling Medimmune a “money drain,” and as a result she would “put her job on the line many times,” Soriot added.

And every time, Jallal would prevail.

Success based on humility

“In my hearts of hearts, I am a scientist,” Jallal told the overflowing ballroom filled with seasoned pharma executives as well as those aspiring to become the healthcare leaders of the future. “It has been an incredible journey of curiosity. Every answer leads to a new question.

“My dream was to figure out the answers to all my questions. I always followed my heart in my career decisions. I’ve never done a development plan or chased titles.”

Those questions, as Jallal told Pharm Exec for the April cover story, started when she was nine years old and her father went to a clinic in pain with a suspected kidney stone and never came home.

She shared several tips that have helped guide her success. First, don’t be afraid to fail.

“If you don’t fail, it means you’re not pushing innovation and science far enough,” said Jallal. “And, when you do [fail], be resilient. Dust yourself off, figure out what went wrong, and try again.”

Second, dream big.

“We can turn science fiction into science fact,” she said.

Third, get back to your roots.

“Remember, amidst all the ups and downs, and highs and lows, why we come to work every day,” said Jallal. “I followed science and followed my heart. Do not apologize for being smart, or following your passion.”

Her last bit of advice centered around what she likes to call the, “what will people think of me” syndrome.

“All too often we get stopped in our tracks in search of perfection,” she said. “By [doing this], we hold ourselves back. We don’t have to be perfect. No one is perfect.”

Unfinished business

Despite all of her accomplishments, Jallal said there is a lot more work to do.

She explained that science has never been better when it comes to innovation and breakthroughs.

“But too many patients still suffer from cancer, diabetes, asthma, and other diseases,” she added.

Real-life experience

Jallal wasn’t the only one celebrated during the luncheon. More than 30 women were honored as 2017 HBA Luminaries, and more than 60 women were named 2017 HBA Rising Stars.

Luminaries are professionals who serve as role models in their company, actively mentor and sponsor others, and are shining examples of transformational leadership within their organization. Rising Stars are professionals representing various sectors of the healthcare industry and are designated by HBA’s Corporate Partner organizations.

In addition, Joaquin Duato, worldwide chairman, pharmaceuticals, at Johnson & Johnson received the Honorable Mentor award, and Ceci Zak, principal and COO of Batten & Co (a strategic consulting firm within the Omnicom Group) received the STAR award.

Zak credited, in part, her involvement in HBA for her professional success.

“I wouldn’t be here in this leadership position without HBA,” Zak said. “HBA provided leadership opportunities I wasn’t [at the time] receiving from my employer. The opportunity to lead within the HBA was the best education I’ve had.”

When professional opportunities came her way, Zak said she could point to her leadership experience with HBA to show she had the right skills for the job being presented.

 

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