Annalisa Jenkins: Remaking a global organization
Dr. Annalisa Jenkins came of age during the 1980s in the United Kingdom. It was a time when the two most powerful people England
were women – Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. Looking back, Jenkins attributes her ambition to the
social context of her upbringing.
"Growing up where the most visible and prominent leaders of my country were women showed me the power of role models," says
Jenkins. "I think women gain their ambition largely through role models so seeing successful women is important for young
Jenkins came from a military family. She wanted to be a doctor, and saw the British Royal Navy as an opportunity to help pay
for school. She graduated in Medicine from St. Bartholomew's Hospital London and upon graduating earned her medical degree
from the University of London.
In 1995, following family tradition, Jenkins entered the Royal Navy. She was only the third woman to serve as a medic, the
only female in her intake class that year, and would be the first female to serve on the front lines of combat. Jenkins would
rise to the rank of Surgeon Lieutenant Commander.
"During my naval career I was constantly in an environment that I was the only woman on the team or one of very few," says
Jenkins. "I was constantly adapting to my environment and working out to how to conduct myself in order to be accepted and
respected, and therefore be able to contribute and make a difference."
The most unforgettable moments in the Navy were during the Gulf War. Jenkins was serving with the Minesweeper Squadron, working
with the unit to advance into the northern part of the Persian Gulf, clearing mines so that the American aircrafts could follow.
At night, the Iraqis would launch missiles at them, and Jenkins didn't know if she would make it out alive. It was there that
she learned some of her most important lessons of leadership.
"The role of the leader is to engage and energize—to make others want to follow you," says Jenkins. "Being in the military
is about building high performance teams, and leveraging leadership that can allow people to overcome what others thought
Annalisa was married and became a mother to two children. She had intended to make her career in the Navy, but when she was
handed an 18-month oversees deployment, she couldn't bear the thought of taking it with young children in tow. Instead, she
left the Navy to train in cardiovascular medicine in the UK National Health Service, at the front lines of universal public
health care. In 1997, she decided to try the pharmaceutical industry, joining Bristol-Myers Squibb as a Cardiovascular Medical
Advisor, based in the UK.
Jenkins was immediately identified for rapid advancement. Over the course of her 14 years at BMS, she took on a new responsibility
every 2-3 years, often in a different part of the world. She had a leadership role and accountability for nearly 60 countries.
In 2008, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, Global Medical, where she oversaw the company's Medical Division worldwide.
In 2011, Annalisa took a career jump, leaving the familiar BMS and her string of proven successes to join Merck Serono, a
division of Merck KGaA, based in Darmstadt, Germany. Recruited by Dr. Stefan Oschmann, then-president of the company, by 2013
she was promoted to Executive Vice-President and head of Global Research & Development.
Jenkins was hired, in no uncertain terms, to lead the transformation of Merck Serono's R&D. There was a crisis in productivity
following the 2007 acquisition of the Swiss-Italian, family-owned Serono by Merck KGaA. She calls it the "Sleeping Beauty
syndrome." Ten or 15 years ago, the company had fallen asleep in a pretty good place, she explains. But with the slumber induced
by good times, the industry had changed. Now, Merck Serono had several costly and high profile late-stage failures and regulatory
"This was not an agenda of 'steady as she goes'," says Jenkins, of joining the company. "This was going to be a transformation
effort and every part of the R&D ecosystem had to change."
For Annalisa, the answer lied in enabling efficient innovation. This meant re-organizing and rationalizing the global footprint
of the company, which had not been done following the merger. There were a staggeringly bureaucratic complex of 66 regions,
each of which had been operating separately. She worked to connect all the functions, in the midst of a broad restructuring.
Serono's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland was closed, a painful step; meanwhile, new hubs of innovation were established
in Boston, Darmstadt, Beijing, and Tokyo.
"It was a remarkable journey," says Jenkins. "I knew we could do it because I'd come from a company that had done it. I know
what it feels like to be in an organization that has challenges and that is questioning the sustainability of the R&D model.
But fast forward, it feels great to go through a transformation and come out as a winning team."
Now, with a more united, global organization on a stronger footing, Annalisa is envisioning a key role in the next phase for
Merck Serono. It includes a focus on emerging markets and capturing future growth opportunities, she says. Indeed, with 30
per cent of its prescription medicine sales in emerging markets, today the company's derives a higher percentage of its sales
from emerging markets than any other US or European-based pharmaceutical company. That in itself has called for a radical
departure from the old ways of interpreting key market drivers.
At a time when Jenkins is spending more of her time envisioning the next stage of Merck Serono, she still remains studious
about the past. "In times of true transformation, senior leaders recognize you have to stretch and go into a different direction.
Diversity was clearly high on the agenda when the company's direction changed course," says Jenkins. The company's decision
to hire her, and also another female, Dr. Belén Garijo, who recently succeeded Stefan Oschmann as President and CEO, transformed
what had previously been an all-male management team. "It is this diversity that provides an expanded platform for sustainable
Three women, three ways forward
Annalisa Jenkins recently published an editorial in The Economist where she wrote, "Who is leading R&D throughout the world today? The short answer is 'men, basically.' Men in life sciences
senior management outnumber women about 6-to-1. And who's leading R&D in the biopharma industry, specifically? This time the
answer is "men, almost exclusively." Among the world's top 20 biopharma companies by revenue, just one has chosen a woman
to head its R&D efforts...As that one woman, I can say unequivocally that the members of my gender are vastly under-represented
at leadership levels in biopharma and, for that matter, in life sciences R&D organizations generally."
Finding out why women tend to start out equally with men in the labs of pharma but gradually fade in the transition to the
upper ranks of the corporate R&D hierarchy is a topic that has attracted the scrutiny of think tanks like the Center for Talent
Innovation, among others. Expect more to come on that.
Shideh Bina believes the big issue facing women's progress is culture and mindset. While forward-thinking executives are eager
for gender and ethnic diversity, there is still a disconnect. "My experience today is that there is very little in the way
of countermoves against women—people no longer say women don't belong in the C-suite," says Bina. "But we are socialized to
think and act that inadvertently make the opening smaller for women and minorities to advance. We need to adopt employment
practices so we don't hire peers in a way that creates a self-fulfilling cycle in the workforce. It behooves us to pay a lot
of attention to this so we get to a place where we don't need to pay attention."
Bina notes the list of other challenges preventing women from reaching the highest leadership positions are all too familiar,
including the difficulties associated with having a successful career and raising a family. "Still, it's important to solve
the problem. Women are consistently rated as better leaders, and the industry is in need of these leaders to reshape it."
For Patricia Maryland, the path to women's progress is best forged through active sponsorship and mentoring – each of the
three say this was a critical factor in their own success. As such, being among the few women at the top, all eyes are upon
them. Says Maryland, "As an African America woman, I am aware of the need to set the tone for accountability and achievement.
I feel an absolute level of responsibility. The tone is always set by those that precede you."
Joanna Breitstein can be reached at email@example.com