Have courage, and lead by example

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I had a modest upbringing in a modest neighbourhood. During the early years, I learned the importance of having the courage to always do the right thing, be authentic, learn continuously and lead by example, while staying humble and approachable.

I have been with AstraZeneca for close to 20 years and share the same values as the company which keeps me excited and going. The company’s ambition of making a meaningful difference to people, society and the planet resonates profoundly with me.

With a fair share of challenges and successes, my life experiences have taught me that while talent and hard work are both key to success, having the courage to take risk is equally important. Achieving success while growing up in a modest neighbourhood doesn’t come easy nor is it based on sheer luck. I’m always a strong proponent of this phrase Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”.

What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?

Values, authenticity, agility, enterprise inspirational leadership qualities, are the key traits that I look for in an individual.

A growth mindset to genuinely make a difference to patients and being an inclusive individual who can effectively cross-collaborate with teams and blend-in with our culture are vital skills to have, especially in a fast-paced competitive environment.

What are the top three factors you would attribute your success to?

Vision – having the vision to create impact across and beyond the enterprise, while inspiring others to embrace an inclusive approach to transform patient and business outcomes.

Courage – having a bold ambition, being intense and competitive as a team and being fearless in receiving feed forward for improvement.

Authenticity – doing the right thing, hard work, being true to oneself and having humility.

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?

We see health as a long-term investment for the future, the foundation upon which strong and resilient societies are built. The pandemic has shown us the ripple effect that poor health can have on our economies and societies. It exposed the fragility of our health systems and highlighted the importance of science and collaboration in managing future health crisis.

Malaysia is swiftly moving towards the transformation of its healthcare system by building a resilient and sustainable health system for the future. We are also evolving towards the decarbonisation of healthcare to ensure the economy operates in favour of the people, society, and the planet.

We see cross-collaboration and digitalisation of healthcare as enablers of a sustainable healthcare future. By working in collaboration with a range of partners and the government, we can push the boundaries of science, data, and technology to improve how healthcare is delivered in the future.

We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.

In healthcare, without a doubt.

Digitalisation in healthcare is the way forward for the healthcare sector today with many healthcare providers taking steps to embrace digital health solutions to reduce the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCD). Today, we know that digital technology has greatly improved operational efficiency with respect to standards of medical care. The transformation has significantly enhanced the overall experience of both healthcare professionals and patients.

At AstraZeneca, by using digital technologies, data, and AI, as well as working inclusively and collaboratively across our company and with others, we are speeding up and increasing the chances of success. Digitally empowered science is informing and driving everything we do. From smarter manufacturing and logistics, to ensuring better outcomes for patients and helping increase access to healthcare locally and globally.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

As a global biopharmaceutical company, we harness the power of science to make health happen for people, society, and the planet. Our bold ambition is to be pioneers in science, lead in our disease areas, and transform patient outcomes through the delivery of innovative, life-changing medicines.

With four decades of presence in Malaysia, we have committed ourselves to the public health of Malaysia, going beyond the pill to create a whole health ecosystem to address the rising disease burden in the country.

More recently, in 2019, to further solidify our footprint in Malaysia, we committed to investing RM500 million in innovation, healthcare collaborations and talent development as 98% of our employees constitute Malaysian talent.

Over the next few years, we will accelerate our efforts to transform the future of healthcare. Our aspiration is to improve people’s health – from preventing and treating – to one day curing diseases.

We will continue to be a trusted partner of choice in driving the transformation of Malaysia’s health-care sector through public-private part-nerships, accelerating digitalisation in healthcare through innovation, furthering our commitment to driving equitable and sustainable access to our medicines, while implementing sustainability initiatives for planetary health, developing our local talent, and strengthening Malaysia as a global hub for clinical trials.

We feel humbled to be recognised for our many contributions to Malaysia which includes job creation of local talent, UK-Malaysia Partnership of the Year for driving public-private partnerships and by the government for accelerating digital innovation in healthcare.

Most-admired leaders? Why?

I admire Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Mahatma Gandhi was a leader by example and persistent. When he articulated a vision, he had the extraordinary ability to take an inclusive approach and inspire the masses to achieve it. Many of us have been moved by his quote “Be the change we want to see in the world”.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr was a leader who communicated a dream, advocated life-long learning and showed great empathy for all.

They were both different leaders but shared common leadership styles.

I had learnt important leadership lessons from their biographies and at some point during the pandemic, I was able to reflect, imbibe and externalise the human side of leadership within the organisation.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

Being in the pharmaceutical industry, which is constantly evolving, and being part of a leading scientific organisation requires one to keep on a path of life-long learning. Patients are an important source of information and learning about their unmet needs drives me to improve their access to life-changing medicines.

Given the rapid advancements in science, staying connected through networking platforms such as the chambers of commerce, being a member of industry associations and connecting with a diverse group of stakeholders such as NGO, healthcare societies and the academia, is crucial.

Aside from social networking and industry-based memberships, the media is also a key stakeholder and an important platform for receiving industry information. And as we live and operate in a digital era, digital channels are undoubtedly one of today’s important sources of information.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced and what did you learn from it?

Perhaps my biggest career challenge thus far has been assuming leadership of AstraZeneca in Malaysia during the pandemic era. Although I had taken on various leadership roles in diverse regions across Asia and the UK, this current role was very different as coming to a new country, adapting to its culture while assuming a chief leadership role against the backdrop of a challenging business environment brought along its fair share of challenges.

Additionally, I had joined just before the outbreak of the pandemic and when the inevitable lockdowns happened, it compounded the complexities and challenges of not only leading the organisation but ensuring the continued delivery of our medicines to patients, our Covid-19 vaccine for public health and the safety of our employees.

From this episode and others, I have learnt that life will always throw curveballs at you, and you will always face challenges of different sorts.

What keeps me going is following values, resilience, empathy, my family, striking a balance between my personal and professional priorities, and pivoting to my three pillars of vision, courage, and authenticity to make tough decisions.

Equally important is doing the right thing, leading by example, and surrounding myself with people who share the same values.