Marie-France Tschudin started her career “carrying the bag.” In fact, despite rising through the ranks, being on the ground level with patients and healthcare teams remains her favorite part of the job.
“Anyone you talk to at Novartis will tell you the same thing … I like to be where the action is, roll up my sleeves, and be part of what’s going on,” she says.
As president, innovative medicines international and chief commercial officer at Novartis, Tschudin is focused on growing the company’s market positions in countries outside of the U.S. Wearing her commercial hat, she oversees global strategy for the company’s pipeline and “in-market medicines to effectively bridge the company’s scientific and commercial efforts.”
Upon assuming her new role in April of this year, she began helping transform the multinational pharma company by simplifying its operational structure to support its strategy of bringing new medicines to market more efficiently by partnering across the healthcare community.
“We want to focus on the next phase of innovation which is our competency to fuel growth and productivity through a much more customer-centric view,” she says.
Tschudin outlines several objectives tied to the restructuring, one of which is to focus on innovative medicines that have “the true potential to transform the way people live with diseases today.”
The second objective is making commercialization more efficient.
“The opportunity to bring everything together under one roof will provide a simplified view and will allow us to make sure that the learnings we have from one area can be brought to different areas of the company, which will actually lead to less bureaucracy,” she says. “Our intent is to bring more medicines to patients faster.”
Her role as chief commercial officer will be critically important as the company readies to launch close to 60 products in the near term. Currently, Novartis has more than 150 projects in clinical development with six in the registration phase and 52 in phase 3 clinical trials.
“I am ensuring that we have one overall global strategy for the company — the research organization, the development organization and the commercial organization,” she says. “We are building the bridge and we’re looking at a delivery of medicine end to end.”
She also continues to bring this same energy to the goal of being in immediate contact with these important stakeholders.
“I don’t think I’d do my job if I didn’t have access to these groups,” she says.
In this week’s WoW podcast episode, Tschudin outlines the company’s strategic transformation objectives, her quest to address health equity and how she’s found balance between career and home.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive. In this episode, Taren Grom, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Marie-France Tschudin, president, innovative medicines international and chief commercial officer, Novartis.
Taren: Marie-France, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Marie-France: Thank you, great to be here.
Taren: Well, we’re delighted to speak with you. Marie-France, can you please briefly share what your role is as President of Innovative Medicines International as well as Chief Commercial Officer? What does that entail?
Marie-France: Absolutely. So my new role is part of a wider organizational transformation. What we intend to do is, on the one hand, we’re bringing together two divisions, so the oncology division and the pharmaceuticals division. But we’re also transforming the company to a more simplified structure to ensure an operational set-up that really supports our strategy going forward. What we really want to do is, on the one hand of course, focus on the next phase of innovation which is our core competence. And fuel growth and productivity through a much more customer-centric view.
We know that there’s so much happening right now in the healthcare system and I think that industry does need to adapt to just become more aware of what our customers need, what healthcare systems need, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re actually changing the organization. So right now, my role is really to manage the business outside the US, so the joint oncology-pharma business. But also, oversee the global strategy around how it is that we’re going to look at our next phase of innovation, the growth and of course the strategies that will allow us to become truly customer-centric.
Taren: So I have to dig in to that a little bit, if you don’t mind. So it seems almost the antithesis of combining these two groups because the oncology group has been quite innovative and then the pharmaceutical side, a little bit less so. So how is that going to work in terms of, as you said, transformation? Does that do a restructure across the entire organization then?
Marie-France: It is a restructure across the entire organization. And really, what we want to do is be more focused. Be more focused on the assets, on the medicines that have the true potential to grow and to transform the way people live with diseases today. So that’s definitely one objective. The second objective is that – actually, Novartis has been more and more involved in chronic diseases. And what we see is that there’s actually a lot of overlap between what is necessary to bring a medicine to an oncology patient as well as a medicine to a multiple sclerosis patient or a patient suffering from immunological diseases. So the challenges that we’re facing as a healthcare ecosystem, they’re not that different. You think about time to diagnosis or adherence of a medicine or access to medicines, access to healthcare. These are common problems regardless of what disease patients are suffering from.
So the opportunity to bring that all together under one roof provide a simplified view but also make sure that the learnings we have from one area we’re bringing across to different areas of the company will actually lead to less bureaucracy. What our intent really is, is to bring more medicines to patients faster.
Taren: Understood. And how are you going to create those lines of communication from one therapeutic area to another therapeutic area to share those learnings? Is that going to be done through technology?
Marie-France: That’s a great question. And I think the first thing we need to address is really the organizational structure. So the way that we’ve traditionally been organized has been very much functional and siloed. And what we want to do more and more is focus on the jobs to be done. So if we bring the right people together regardless of their function, under one roof to talk about what is it that we actually want to achieve, what does good look like, what is our contribution as Novartis to changing the paradigm in cardiovascular health? Once you do that, you’re actually bringing the competence together and focusing on a job to be done versus having a plan which has been traditionally – I’m not going to say internally focused but very functionally focused.
Taren: The organization for quite some time has been – you mentioned earlier about patient focus. But you all have been patient-focused. So how does that change under the new organization or does it just become more intense?
Marie-France: I think the needs of the patients are changing. And of course, we’re patient-focused. I mean, that’s our job. That’s our mission. But I do think we have to rethink about when it is that we’re listening to patients? How we’re gathering the insights? How are people living with disease changing? And you can see that in any aspect of your own life. You interact with your basic needs in a different way. The way you do your banking. The way you do your shopping. And it’s the same for patients living with disease. They want to interact with a system with an information flow that is much more readily available. Where services are better, they’re higher, they’re more on-demand.
Same with physicians. Physicians are overloaded right now with information, with bureaucracy, with administration. And they have actually less time for patients than before. So the needs of physicians, the needs of patients are changing and if we don’t change the way that we deliver our services to our stakeholders, then I think we’ll be left behind. So this is really what this is all about.
Taren: It’s very ambitious. And as part of that stakeholder group, would you consider nurse practitioners? Who else belongs in that cohort that you’re thinking about?
Marie-France: Anyone interacting with the healthcare system. I mean, I think we have to think about the system much more holistically. If you think traditionally, pharmaceutical companies spend the bulk of their time – I mean, I would venture to say 80, 90 percent of our focus has been on the healthcare professional. Not necessarily on the healthcare system or even on how patients were evolving or how their journey was progressing through the healthcare system. I think today you’ve got to take a holistic view. We know that we have great medicines. The reality is that, so often they just don’t reach the patients. And patients, people living with disease, those are the ones who are losing out.
So we have to think about it not only from I would say, a transactional perspective of how do we get the medicine into the country or the system or the institution? But once that medicine is there, how do we bring that medicine to patients? How do we support the institutions, the healthcare systems, in identifying through digital tools or diagnostic tools? How do we make the system more efficient? And by doing that, you’re actually attending much more diligently to patient needs.
Taren: Excellent. And when we talk about the system, I’m assuming that we’re also talking about formularies in the insurance companies which at times can be that block between getting from you at Novartis to getting the medicine to the patient.
Marie-France: For sure. They have their own challenges and we’ve seen healthcare systems even through this pandemic, the pressure that we have to expect going forward over the next couple of months and years, is going to be even more present than it was in the past. And so, if we don’t change our view of working with the system from a transactional perspective, to one which is much more focused on partnership, then I do think that this issue of medicines not reaching patients is just going to get larger and bigger and more significant. And we’ll see more wastage in the system. And you can see that happening actually in the developed world. Chronic diseases are on the rise and that makes sense. Our populations are aging. But what we’re also seeing is we’re seeing increase in for example, cardiovascular deaths which is something we haven’t seen for decades.
Taren: There’s a lot of reasons for that. We can dig in to that more specifically if you care to. But I also like to talk to you about the cost of innovation because when you start talking about innovative medicines, that’s when we start to hear the biggest pushback because these drugs cost more to develop and research, et cetera. And they serve smaller patient populations. So how do we manage that piece of it as well? How are you all managing that piece?
Marie-France: My personal opinion is that I think it’s very easy to just say that medicines are too expensive. The reality is that, we have to go through rigorous processes to get our medicines approved and we have to go through rigorous processes to demonstrate the value of our medicines more and more. What the real problem is, is that, I can guarantee you that in many cases, even if we were to give our medicines for free, they still wouldn’t reach the patients who need them. And that’s the real challenge. The amount of wastage in the system – when you speak to patients and they tell you, well, it took me 10 years to get my diagnosis or I had to see nine physicians before I got the medicine that’s right for me or the fact that one-third of prescriptions don’t even get filled in the US because people are confused about how much they’re going to need to pay.
These are the challenges that we can face today because honestly, we have the tools. We have the digital tools. We have the diagnostic tools. We won’t be able to solve every problem obviously. But I think that we can do much more as an industry to support the healthcare system in actually delivering the outcomes that they want.
Taren: And how is Novartis going to go about doing that because those are very lofty goals and very aspirational goals?
Marie-France: They are lofty goals but I think it’s necessary because we also have a role to play in the sustainability of the system. When you think about how fast technology is going, how fast we are bringing science, revolutionary science – we have therapies today that are one-time therapies that are curing cancers, that are curing genetic diseases. The technology is amazing. The digital advancements that we’ve seen in the last decade are just incredible what we’re able to do but we’re still working with an archaic healthcare system that needs to improve. That needs to become more modern. And so, when I think about the talent that we have in the industry, the passion that we see in the associates that work with us – the fact that honestly, our job is really to bring clinical trials to society.
So that’s what we do. We know how to develop clinical trials and deliver outcomes show that our medicines are effective and safe. Why wouldn’t we use some of that knowledge to support the system in identifying patients, in developing care pathways, in developing partnerships? Not only with our industry but with other industries that support patient education, that support patient onboarding, that support patient adherence. And this is where I think the future of the healthcare system will evolve and we’re taking that on board very seriously. For example, the cardiovascular space where we know that we see 18 million deaths a year from cardiovascular disease. That is way more than we’ve seen in the two and a half years combined that we have been through the pandemic. So we see it every year, 18 million people die. And what’s incredible is that 80 percent of those deaths are actually preventable.
So fair enough, we’re not going to be able to be proactive in every single disease. But there are diseases where we can do much more. What I haven’t said is that cardiovascular disease also cost the system over a trillion dollars a year, a trillion dollars a year. So the question I have is, if we think about this differently, if we look at it from the view of what is it that we can prevent, and granted it’s not just up to industry, we have to live better lifestyles, we have to do more sports, we have to have more responsibility for our own health, but there is also a lot that can be done honestly with very cheap medicines to prevent patients from having heart attack, strokes, repeated heart attacks and strokes which is what leads to 18 million deaths a year.
Taren: Those are some staggering statistics. Thank you for sharing those with us. You’ve identified cardiovascular as a main area of focus. What other therapeutic categories are you going to be focusing on?
Marie-France: So right now, we are very focused on cardiovascular health in this particular instance. Of course, we’ve got other areas where we’re very strong and where of course we have therapeutic area of focus. So I talked before about oncology, about multiple sclerosis or neuroscience. We have areas in immunology where we’re very strong. So it’s clear that we have decided – again, in the spirit of focus to be let’s say very present in these areas, really understand, go deep in the disease area, and the different manifestations of diseases across the board with very lofty scientific objectives. But where we are with cardiovascular disease and partnerships is perhaps more advance than we are anywhere else just because it feels like it’s the most obvious place to start. It’s the number one killer worldwide and it’s on top of mind on every single healthcare system agenda.
So we feel that this is a great place to start to think about for example, underserved populations where cardiovascular disease is even more rampant or institutions, governments, that just want to see the cardiovascular disease cost but also deaths come down over the next 10 years. So a lot of governments have worked on their own agendas around what good looks like from here to 2030. And I think that makes sense. When you think about ESG and the environment, climate, and the objectives that we put forth not only as industry but as society, I think we need to have the same view on some of these diseases that are just so huge and so costly to the healthcare system. Because only by tackling those differently will we create more sustainability in the system. And I think anyone that you speak to from industry wants to see that happen.
Taren: Agreed. Moving on just a little bit, part of this all sounds also tied to your focus around addressing health equity and getting as you said, those medicines to those people who may not have access to those medicines. So what are some of those keys in addressing these underserved patient populations? We’ve talked a lot about partnerships as well. Is this how this ties in?
Marie-France: Absolutely. I think that’s the only way we can do it. I’m not that utopian to think that Novartis is going to go out there and change everything on its own. But I do think that we can partner with healthcare systems and even the broader healthcare community to help people get to their treatments more quickly. And the way that we started to do that first of all is really engaging with healthcare systems. So we have an entire team engaging with healthcare systems in the US. We’re doing this across the globe and it’s really first of all about listening to people living with disease and trying to understand where they are. And you’ll see very different outcomes from these conversations.
For some underserved populations, it’s really about trust with the system. And so then, how do we work with institutions to create more trust in the community? For others, it’s really access to healthcare. How do you bring them in to the healthcare system? And so, how do you work on digital tools with the healthcare system to more easily identify those patients? Then it’s about bringing patients within that community to other patients within that community. And that creates almost like a network where you can start to develop solutions that make it easier for people in underserved populations specifically, people living with disease to access medicines and the care that they need.
Taren: What are some of those biggest barriers to achieving these goals? Because a lot of work has been done in this area but yet we’re not seeing the needle move very quickly.
Marie-France: Well, I would say to you that it’s really bringing the right actors together. And if I can use COVID as an example, when we think about what we achieved in less than a year, it’s unbelievably daunting to me. We basically created a level of awareness amongst the entire population of the universe. We had governments involved. There were clear guidelines about what needed to be done. You had academia, institutions, industry working together. We developed vaccines in less than a year. That is just incredible when you think about it. So to answer your question, I think what we need to do differently is stop this piecemeal approach and just sit down with the right actors around the table and say, this is what we want to achieve. Now what changes do we need to make? What areas do we need to focus on? What technology do we need to adopt to really make this happen? Will it be easy? Absolutely not. But I think it’s a place to start.
And when you think about the potential of where this could go, we’re working together. Instead of working in a system that has just alignment of incentives across the board. When you start to align the incentives, everyone is working towards the same goal, you can actually make things happen. And I think COVID has really taught us that. So personally, I think it would be a huge shame for us to miss out on this lesson learned for honestly diseases that are bigger killers than COVID.
Taren: I agree with you. I think that COVID showed what the industry could do as a collaborative entity working as you said with all those other different stakeholders. And sometimes that meant companies coming together that are natural competitors to become frenemies. That’s not always easy to do. And it was also driven by a huge sense of urgency. So in your way of thinking, we can use that same model to address Alzheimer’s, to look at Parkinson’s. Some of those diseases that have yet to be – that any solutions come to the forefront for.
Marie-France: Sure. I mean, I would add asthma, diabetes. Not necessarily areas where Novartis is present. The effects of high cholesterol on stroke and heart attacks. These are all areas where we should come together and be frenemies if need be. I don’t think we have a choice. I think when I look 10 years ahead and think about what it is that is going to be valued by society, by our societies from industry, it’s going to be number one, the medicines that we develop. Number two, how we bring those medicines to market. And I think that society is going to be much more focused on making sure that industry has skin in the game. If we’re not delivering on the outcomes that we promised, then we really need to rethink how we’re working.
Taren: When I think about your title, it feels like it’s a duality of roles. You’ve got the innovation side and then you’ve got the Chief Commercial side. What does that Chief Commercial side, how does that fit in to your day and into your vision?
Marie-France: So the Chief Commercial side is really about creating the strategy, making sure that we have one overall global strategy for the company. So what that is about is really, what are the areas that we’re truly focused on. Where do we see the biggest potential from our pipeline assets, making sure that we’ve really buttoned up the relationship but also the information that is needed across several different parts of the company. So the research organization, the development organization and the commercial organization. So really building the bridge. So we’re looking at a delivery of medicine end-to-end. That we’re really focusing on the insights early on. So we talked about patient insights, really understanding the market from an early stage and making the right investments in market shaping, so that we can deliver our medicine faster once that medicine is approved and launched. So that’s essentially the role of chief commercial officer. And of course, we’re looking at both organic assets but also, the inorganic growth that needs to be brought in to the company to just strengthen the therapeutic areas where we’re strong.
Taren: Excellent. We’ve talked a little bit about this health equity piece of it again. How would you define heath equity? I know it’s a term that’s out there in the ethos right now, so everybody has a little bit of a different take on it. How do you define health equity?
Marie-France: Well, I think that the most important part is that we have to recognize that our medicines only matter if they reach the people who need them regardless of where they live. And that has to be the mantra because if we think differently, then we’re not thinking equitably and holistically about what matters to the healthcare system. So that’s how I view inequities is really what are the strategies that we can bring into our own way of working that allow us to think holistically about the patient population that is affected by a specific disease. Now, those inequities, I’ll tell you, they are actually a lot more rampant than you think. We think about lower to middle income countries from the get-go and of course we have to have a strategy for those countries and I think Novartis has sone a lot of work to make sure that we have access to medicines in those countries at the same time that we do in developed markets.
But I’ll also tell you that there are a lot of inequities in the developed world. If I just use the US as an example, I think that is one of the major burdens of the healthcare system in the US is really the inequities, the access to healthcare or the lack thereof that place a huge burden on the system but also society.
Taren: You have made a note previously that – let’s talk about United States. That person’s life expectancy can be dependent upon a zip code. For example, in Philadelphia, you said it could mean years even if the distance is just a couple of miles. So how do we solve those inequities if we’re going to talk about – let’s just talk US a little bit.
Marie-France: Well, that’s exactly what we were discussing before. I think that it’s absolutely true and shocking to know that depending on your zip code, you could have a completely different life expectancy. It can be as wide as 10 years apart. And so, we’re working again with institutions, institutions that serve that community. It’s really about trying to understand first of all, the why. So why is there such a difference? And again, I do believe that we will see differences across different areas of the country or countries. But essentially, when you start to understand what are some of the challenges – in the case of Philadelphia, a lot of it is actually around trust.
So the underserved communities of Philadelphia don’t trust the healthcare system. And so, how do you bring the healthcare system to them? And that’s what the institutions are trying to do or one institution which we have a collaboration which is the one you read about, where it’s really about the institution going to those communities and bringing them the information by people who they feel will be trusted by the community. And that’s step number one. So that has nothing to do with a medicine. That’s just simple access to healthcare, trying to understand where people are, and meet them where they are.
Taren: Right, get them to understand. Perfect. Absolutely. And build those bridges to trust back again. I also have read that you are a champion of women and looking to mentor or carve out a path for that next generation of leaders. How are you doing that within the organization?
Marie-France: So I am a champion of women and I am a champion of women because I think that creating a diverse and inclusive environment is incredibly important. I’ve been in this industry for almost 30 years. I've seen an incredible evolution in women in management, in inclusiveness. I don’t think we’re done yet. I think there’s more work to be done. But I do think we see very different teams than you would have 10 to 15 years ago. Personally, on my team, 40 percent of the team are women. Like I said, we’ve made tremendous progress. But I still think that there’s more to do and it starts with simple things like what’s your interview process like. Do you have a panel that is representative? Do you have a process where the panel of interviewers also include females? Do you proactively go to women and talk to them about their career because they’re probably a lot less likely to talk about their career development than men are? And do you have that sensitivity? What are you doing to support young women?
I think this is a huge part of supporting the development of careers within any company is, what are we doing to support young women in their careers? Because that’s where it starts, that’s where you start to see the difference between women and men. And so, that’s one area where I’ve tried to support the organization to meet with younger women or women who are in their early, early paths of their career to really support them in being themselves but building that confidence that they can get to where they want to without giving everything up. I mean, I myself have two young boys and part of the reason that I do what I do is because I feel that I have a responsibility as a female role model to show other women that you can do it.
Taren: Excellent. And as part of this whole process that you’re talking about, is there an accountability piece to it? So, it’s one thing to say, yes, we’re going to need to go – we need to talk to these women. We need to make more opportunities but unless your managers and your division heads are held accountable, it can just be talk. Is that part of the solution as well is accountability?
Marie-France: It must be, it must be. And that’s why I referred to interview processes and building career paths. It has to be part of – it’s a must. You have to have a process where slates are diverse. And to be fair, I would go further than that because I don’t think diversity is just about gender. I think it’s much more than that. My own experience on working in very diverse teams, people bringing in different opinions, different perspectives, different challenges, different ideas, you just create first of all, a culture which is much more dynamic, much more fun by the way and also, just makes better decisions. So, for me, it’s a must.
Taren: Excellent. You mentioned you have two small sons and that you are balancing a lot. Is there such a thing as being able to have it all or are there some things that you just have to let go by the wayside?
Marie-France: I still have to meet one person who has it all. I’m not sure that you can always have it all. There’s always a give and take. But I do think you can find the balance. I also feel that it’s critical to have that work-life balance. I support work-life balance. I’m not only a working mother but we have a dual career household. It’s challenging sometimes. We always need to have a plan B but we carve out the time, the quality time to support each other but to also support our children. I honestly think that you need help. You need to ask for help. It’s difficult to do everything on your own but it’s absolutely possible.
Taren: I am very impressed Marie-France that you only have a plan B. Some women I talked to have a plan C, a plan D and a plan E.
Marie-France: Yeah, yeah, that’s pretty much my space too.
Taren: I was going to say, you’re ahead of the game. You noted too that you’ve been in this business for about 30 years. Can you share a little of your background and what led you to a career in the life sciences?
Marie-France: So that’s a great question. A little bit by accident. So my father worked in the farm industry for his whole career and I actually was going down a completely different path. He introduced me to some people and I wanted to learn sales. So I was given the opportunity to start as a sales rep. So I started way on the bottom of the ladder. And honestly, about six months into my role as – I mean, I was a trainee. I just fell in love with this industry. I fell in love with the purpose. I fell in love with the science. I fell in love with just the impact that you can have on people and their families. So I’ve continued since then and I think I've done pretty much every single commercial role that there is. I’ll just say that what got me to stick to the role in the first place, so almost 30 years ago, is still really what drives me today. It’s really about being able to impact people and not only people but their families. The amount of patient stories that I could tell you, that I know many of my colleagues feel exactly the same way about, I mean, that’s what gives you the fuel to do what you do.
Taren: I was going to say that is – I was going to ask you, what it is that gives you that? That jazzes you up so that you can get up every day with that sense of purpose, with that sense of optimism because what you all do in developing medicines is hard and it’s a long pathway. And you do encounter patients where you are successful in patients or you’re not successful. So it’s a tough business to be in.
Marie-France: And I think both those examples are exactly what gives you that sense of purpose. I mean, I feel extraordinarily lucky to believe in what I do. I think that when you work in an industry where you believe in what you do and you feel good about it and you don't only feel good about it but you feel bold about it, that’s a gift.
Taren: That’s lovely. You noted too that you’ve done practically every commercial job there is. Can you pick out one that was really a favorite for you?
Marie France: I’ll say sales rep. I still get an enormous amount of energy. I mean, anything that gets me close to patients, healthcare professionals, the systems, the teams. And anyone you talk to at Novartis will tell you the same thing. That I get an extraordinary amount – I’m not an ivory tower type of person. I like to be where the action is, roll up my sleeves, and just be part of that. So that hasn’t changed at all and I’m constantly in contact with healthcare professionals, with systems, with the teams. And I don’t think I’d do my job if I didn’t have access to that.
Taren: I love that. So you started carrying the bag and you still love carrying the bag.
Marie-France: Well, I definitely, definitely carry the bag.
Taren: I love it. You said that you are a roll the sleeves up kind of leader. How else would you describe your leadership style?
Marie-France: So as I said, I think I have a strong belief in the purpose and that comes through. And as I said, it’s not just about being a purpose-driven leader but it’s being bold about being a purpose-driven leader. So I’m not someone who focuses so much on the budgets and I want the aspirational objective. What does this mean? What can we change? What can we do? And that’s something that I think does define me. I also think that people see me as being someone that’s very authentic. I don't have all the answers. I never say I do. And I think what that leads me to do is really have high standards when I’m hiring people. I want to have the right conversations. I don’t enjoy a lot of politics. I just want to focus on the outcome and the impact. And then perhaps third is, what we were discussing before around diversity. I’m a real champion of making sure that we’re inclusive. And that implies you have to listen. You really have to have an open mind and be curious. And like I said, I think in the end, it leads to better decisions. They’re not always the right ones but I think that diversity, that authenticity, the fact that we're focused on the impact leads to better decisions. And I can guarantee you that we have more fun.
Taren: I like that. That there has to be a part of that. There has to be some fun as part of that equation. When you’re interviewing, what are some of those – you talked about diversity and having a sense of curiosity. Is there a go-to question you ask when you’re interviewing somebody to give you a sense if that person is going to be a right fit for your team?
Marie-France: So there actually is. And the question is – I usually ask people if they – for example, if they have a brother or sister or a best friend that they keep in mind for a second and then I ask them to say, so what would this person say about you? Not a work colleague, but someone who really knows who you are. And then, it’s really funny because most of the time, I would say about 80 percent of the time, people completely open up and they tell me things that I would never hear if I didn’t ask that question. They’ll talk to me about their vulnerabilities or about the things that drive that other person crazy about them. It’s just their true self. And I usually get more out of that question than probably 50 or 60 percent of the rest of the interview.
Taren: Well, thank you for sharing some of your secret sauce with us. That’s a great tip. Throughout your career, have you ever had a sponsor or a mentor?
Marie-France: I’ve had many. I’ve been incredibly lucky to very early in my career, starting with my own father, who was incredibly supportive and pushed me and built my confidence. My husband, who I just think is the most amazing person on earth who is just incredibly smart but someone who’s just driven me to be more bold, to imagine the unimaginable. And then, in work context, I get a lot of – I’ve gotten a lot of support from my bosses. But I’ll tell you, where I get the most mentorship oftentimes is on those days when I’m out carrying the bag. I call it reverse mentoring but it’s people who are in a particular situation every day who are fighting for – whether it’s an access to physician or – they are the ones who really opened my eyes, who really just give me the energy. And I get a lot from the associates in the company. I have to say, those are the people who I learned from.
Taren: So it’s not even just carrying the bag out there. Metaphorically too, is carrying a bag that you’re open to receiving feedback for. That feels very much in keeping with our whole conversation.
Marie-France: You have to be. You have to be. I think every human being has so much to offer. In this industry, I must say, we have the privilege of working with people who first of all, they care or else they wouldn’t be doing this job. They’re just good people, caring people but also incredibly bright. And so, overall, I feel very privileged to work in an industry where I get challenged all the time and you never know when the next challenge is going to come from but it's not always where you expect it.
Taren: I bet you get a lot of challenges. I can’t imagine some of those backyard conversations of people who know what you’re doing. Why are the cost of my drugs so high? Why do we do this? Why do you do that? You have a very big platform and it’s a big responsibility you hold. I have to ask you, what is the best piece of leadership advice you ever received and then, is it the same piece of leadership advice that you provide to others?
Marie-France: So I think that probably the best piece of leadership advice that I’ve ever gotten is that you need to take people with you. I mean, we always over estimate how quickly something can be transmitted through an organization. And so, we have to take the time. We have to listen to people. We have to care. And we have to be ourselves. And I think those are the areas that have really taught me the most is, you can have an idea in your head or you can you can sort of have it all figured out but you can’t assume that others have. And so, taking people with you is probably one of the toughest parts of this role. Still, some of the most rewarding but it’s absolutely essential.
Taren: Fantastic. Sadly, we’re almost at the end of our time. This has been a fascinating conversation. Thank you so much. So I’m going to end our conversation today as I always do and ask you, what is your wow moment that either changed the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you? Is it the bag?
Marie-France: Look, I’m going to say something different because I think that what has really truly helped me or change the trajectory of my career has been the fact that I’ve always tried to find the balance. So it’s not one moment but the importance of finding balance between what you love to do at work but what you love to do outside of work. That’s been defining the entire – during my entire career. It’s just been one of those things that has helped me reenergize the next day, has helped me gain perspective, has helped me just be a better human being. So it’s not the moment but it’s the aspect that I think has allowed me to be where I am today.
Taren: I love that. That it’s the balance for you. It feels very much like you. Having only known you now for just a little bit of time but very calm. You really do take a very intense look at things and I am just delighted to have been able to speak with you. Thank you so much for sharing what the vision is going forward for Novartis. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this all unpacks and plays out over the next couple of months and years I would imagine as well as what you do with all these opportunities. So thank you so much for being part of our WoW podcast program. It’s been a delight.
Marie-France: Thank you so much, Taren. It’s been a delight as well and looking forward to talking to you soon again.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.