Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive


Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive

The Passion Principle

Kshama Roberts, Executive Director Global Public Sector Lead Woman’s Health, Merck & Co.
"I've always wanted to work in the healthcare field," says Kshama Roberts, Executive Director, Marketing, for the Women's Health franchise at Merck. "I have always been intrigued by what factors drive healthcare provider and consumer behavior, as it relates to choice in medicines and healthcare services. My father was a pharmacist, and I was puzzled why he would recommend one medicine over another, so my curiosity began at a pretty early age."

If her father's career was the first stepping stone to Roberts' own professional path, his sudden death from a heart attack when Roberts was just 14 years old was the next. "In my late teens, when I became aware of some of the studies being done on medications that showed how heart attacks could be reduced, it really nailed it for me that this was an area I wanted to get involved in," she recalls. "So I became focused on entering the healthcare field and set myself a challenge to secure roles that would help people around the world access and benefit from life-saving medicines. That experience was one of the key drivers in where I am today."

After working in a number of health categories including osteoporosis, diabetes, pain, and arthritis, Roberts' professional interests have shifted to women's health. Within Merck's Women's Health franchise, Roberts looks at ways to increase access to the medicines and services that Merck offers in these areas, overcoming affordability and accessibility barriers. And access to medications and healthcare for women is something that hits close to home for Roberts: "As a woman of Indian origin, born in Africa and raised in the UK, I am cognizant of so many women all around the world who don't have the voice and the choice to get an education, launch a career, or decide when and whether to have children. And for me, that's what women's health and family planning is all about; supporting the rights and the dreams of a woman to fulfill what she wants to do." As the mother of a six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, Roberts sees the impact of her work on her children's future as well.

As Roberts reflects on her 19 years in pharma, she credits her most valuable professional lessons to Phyllis Stone, a mentor who she worked with at Merck. "She constantly reminded me that if we don't really believe in what we do here, why would we be motivated to leave our other interests and passions to come to work?" say Roberts. Taking that personal commitment and passing it on to your team members is one of the most essential roles of a leader, says Roberts. "I am passionate about what I do, and firmly advocate that as a leader it is critical if you believe in a mission, you must help the people around you become a part of it and show them how their perspective shapes and improves the mission. And before you know it, you have a cohesive team of inspired individuals bringing their very best to make the mission happen."

Appreciating the unique perspectives of her team members is also deeply rooted in Roberts' love for the diversity that comes from travel. Roberts was born, raised, and lived in three different continents. The wanderlust for different cultures took hold when Roberts and her husband took a six-month sabbatical in 2005 to backpack across South America and Asia. "I had gone straight from college to this career," she says, "and I thought it was a shame that we had never taken the time off to travel." Roberts says it's important to travel in a more "purist" sense. "We wanted to have a more authentic travel experience, and get a broader sense of a wide range of cultures and people from different countries. That's what I brought back to my work—wanting to be surrounded by a diverse group of individuals with different experiences and different attitudes. To become globally relevant, having that broader understanding is key." But just as important as understanding your team, she says, is self-awareness. "What's important is strong self-insight, knowing what you're great at, knowing what you're not so great at, and building a team that can deliver on your strengths and supplement your weaknesses."

Now that she's built that cross-functional team at Merck, Roberts has her sights set on answering some pretty lofty questions in the industry. "I'm committed to learning how the industry can partner to help drive sustainable access to medicines and services to populations that would otherwise not benefit from them. What does it take to effectively partner with all the stakeholders that have a vested interest in improving public health and operate with trust and the right degree of transparency to succeed? How do you navigate very diverse organizational cultures and objectives to bring those stakeholders together to work on a common public health mission? The path is not a straightforward one, but I think at Merck we're heading in the right direction."

—Jennifer Ringler


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