Planning Ahead with AstraZeneca's Pam Cheng

May 1, 2019

Pharmaceutical Executive

A discussion with Pam Cheng, executive vice president of Operations, Technology at AstraZeneca about making the transition into a Fortune 500 C-Suite role and leadership advice for success.

With 2020 right around the corner, what actions should healthcare professionals be doing today to lay a foundation of success for the coming decade? This Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association Q&A series provides executive insights for readers to shape their own career paths.

Michael Wong: Having been brought up in a proverbial Asian-American household (become a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer);1 how did you make the transition into a Fortune 500 C-Suite?

Pam Cheng: While I never had a specific goal to become a C-Suite executive, I was always up for challenges. I get a real satisfaction in doing the “impossible.” One of the main reasons that I had studied Chemical Engineering in college was because I was told “girls are not good in engineering…” It was good fortune that I had caring parents and supportive mentors who enabled me to pursue assignments that were interesting and tapped into my curiosity and capabilities. When I was asked to lead my previous employer’s China operations, it was very intriguing to me. After all, the assignment was to lead a strategic billion (USD) dollar-plus market with >5,000 employees. While I was confident of my capabilities, I was concerned that I lacked the deep commercial (sales and marketing) expertise, not to mention the challenge of leading a dynamic market in a different language and culture. But the trust that the company had in me as well as my curiosity led me to “do the impossible.” It turned out to be one of the most important challenges and defining moments in my career. 

Wong: With Fortune's top three most admired firms (2019’s report identified Apple, Amazon, and Berkshire Hathaway) placing big bets in healthcare and emerging technologies (Machine Learning and Robotic Process Automation to name a few) gaining traction in the sector's C-Suites, what are the top three career recommendations that you have for readers as they prepare for the upcoming new decade? 

Cheng: The speed of digital advances and the explosion of new technologies available will absolutely shape a very different future for the upcoming decade in the healthcare industry. The bio-pharmaceutical industry is making great progress in bringing new medicines to patients around the world, quicker and with more innovation than ever before. We will have five generations in our workforce by 2025. Leaders will need to constantly up their leadership and capability, the notion of lifelong learning is now critical to ensure continued success. Here are three questions that your readership should consider:

  • Am I adding value to the company? You don’t need to be an economist to realize how important new technologies are for Fortune 500 organizations.2 Digital transformation is occurring across all functional areas. Do you have the right skills and expertise to contribute to the company’s success? Do your efforts tie back to driving business value for the firm? And are they tied back to the C-Suite’s target goals? Do you need to up the game on your leadership and skills?

  • Am I earning my keep? I consider myself privileged to be leading in a large organization that makes a difference. It is very important to me that I “earn my keep.” I think this sets the right attitude and mindset to ensure that we don’t forget why we are here. So, are you earning your keep by making things “better?” Are you adding value to your company’s value chain, tangible or intangible?

  • Am I taking care of my people? With the fourth-industrial revolution’s impact on the workforce,3 it’s not surprising that some employees are worried about job security. How might you coach your team to pivot their limited resource and time to understanding a new area and learn new skills? Digital transformation will automate and simplify existing ways of working, but at the same time, there will be more value-added jobs being created. Companies should provide training and new opportunities, managers/leaders can provide the right coaching and guidance, and very importantly, the employees should capitalize every opportunity to learn and upskill. 

 

References

1. Park, Ryan, The Last of the Tiger Parents, The New York Times, June 22, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/22/opinion/sunday/asian-american-tiger-parents.html

2. https://www.weforum.org/communities/artificial-intelligence-and-machine-learning

3. Kasriel, Stephane, What the next 20 years will mean for jobs-and how to prepare, World Economic Forum, January 10, 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/jobs-of-next-20-years-how-to-prepare/

 

 

Pam Cheng is executive vice president of Operations, Technology at AstraZeneca.  

Michael Wong is co-president of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.