The Passion Principle
"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."
Kshama Roberts, Executive Director Global
Public Sector Lead Woman’s Health, Merck & Co.
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."