How did your life change when you became the managing director of a drug company?
I became the managing director in December 2018. Before that, I worked for Lundbeck Italia as a marketing manager for four years. They hired me when I was 5½ months pregnant. When I started representing the company my life changed significantly in terms of institutional duties and responsibilities. I am aware that any decision I make will impact the 130 employees of the company and consequently 130 families.
What is the most satisfactory aspect of your job?
It’s the job itself. I love my job and it’s true what they say about you not feeling tired or the need to take a break from work when it’s your passion.
What is the most challenging aspect of creating a culture that is open to change and innovation in your business?
The most challenging aspect is managing different approaches and communication styles in order to prepare people to experience change- instead of them going through it passively- walking with them and ensuring that they can actively participate to it. Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions, while trying to make sure people understand the more adequate direction to take in a specific time or context. Often that’s not easy to do because everyone has their own thinking structures and habits. The arrival of SARS-COV-2 forced us to drastically develop our way of working in the company. We reviewed our upcoming plans and decided not to have any more in-person events already in March. Back then none of us knew what would be happening in the following months. I remember countless phone calls where people would tell me, “Conte didn’t say that we won’t be able to have conferences in September!”. My reply was always that we couldn’t wait for the Prime Minister’s decisions. The biggest challenge was navigating people towards change. During an online company town hall meeting I saw fear for the uncertainty of the future in my colleagues’ eyes. It was the beginning of April so we were in full lockdown. What to do then? What to say? I thought about an image, a white horse running. I explained that the we had two options: to stop and look back at the past, or to get a hold of the reins and ride with that horse, which also meant accepting that we would get to places we would not see otherwise. This image stayed with us throughout 2020 and became the symbol of our management of change inside the company.
The most challenging aspect is to prepare people to experience change walking with them and ensuring that they can actively participate to it.
An attempt to change things in a company fails two times out of three. How do you predict the results and manage the negative outcomes?
You do that by identifying on time the potential objective and subjective challenges that the change will face and by not giving up when there are negative outcomes. Nobody knows the perfect recipe. I used to view myself as a perfectionist until February 2020- everything had to be flawless and impeccable. Then I discovered that failure is important too and that there is actually a huge lesson there: learning from your own mistakes allows you to immediately go back in the race and in a much stronger way.
Failure is important too and that there is actually a huge lesson there: learning from your own mistakes allows you to immediately go back in the race and in a much stronger way.
How does one evaluate the initiatives meant to introduce changes to the company?
Every action should be calculated and shared. It’s crucial that we find the right indicators to understand the implications of the change we introduced, not just in terms of company outcomes but also its impact on people. The mantra of our company is “people in mind”- meaning our people and those affected by mental health that Lundbeck takes care of.
What would be the first thing you would change if you were the Minister of Health?
I am proud of that fact that we have a National Healthcare service. I grew up in Calabria and now I live in Lombardy- two regions with completely opposite healthcare systems, which the Covid emergency highlighted the individual weaknesses of. Unfortunately we saw first-hand, and through data, what doesn’t work and what needs improving. I hope that this knowledge will allow us to make the right decisions, in the shorter time possible, so we can have an even stronger National Healthcare Service.
What about if you were a scientific adviser for the Government?
My advice would be to pay attention to the real health needs of our country. Thanks to my experience working in a drug company I realise that it’s all about paying close attention to needs, as you would not be able to respond to them effectively if you didn’t identify them in the first place. You need to be brave.
What should change in the relationship between the Government and the Regions from the stand of the Italian National Healthcare Service?
I have the honour of living in Italy and I am proud of the huge historical compromise that led to the creation of our National Healthcare Service in 1978. However, I’m not a supporter of the change to the Title V legislation. In 2001, when this was approved, I was studying Public Administration Management at the Bocconi University. I remember how people, and even the healthcare organisation, experienced the reform on regional autonomy as a big challenge. However, the pandemic highlighted the weaknesses and significant differences between regions and the need for more Governmental presence.
What would you change in order to create a context where women’s access to employment is valued more?
I wouldn’t want my view to be considered unpopular, but I think that paying attention to your collaborators is key, regardless of whether they are female or male. I believe that equal access to employment is important because you can only evolve, as companies and as people, through diversity. Lundbeck is a special company in that 90% of my management team and 55% of the staff are women. Therefore we definitively made some progress. However, I think it’s essential to value competencies/skills regardless of gender.
What is the change you’re most proud of?
It’s becoming a mom, having a child- almost 6 years old now and my spit image, both in the good and in the bad- that enabled me to sort out my priorities. Differently from many women, I had the luck to become part of a company where pregnancy was not an obstacle. When I informed the then managing director that, “I’m pregnant, so you will probably reconsider giving me the job now,” his answer was, “Congratulations. I don’t have children but I can only imagine how overjoyed you must be feel knowing you’ll soon become a mother”. I was speechless.