Title: Vice President of Singapore Site Operations
Arleen Paulino grew up in Guam as one of seven siblings to parents who believed in letting their children explore their interests. For Paulino, that meant figuring out how things work—experiential learning—even if it was the chicken that came from the market.
“I would see the parts inside and was fascinated by how it all worked together. I was very curious,” she said.
That curiosity led her to the U.S., where she got a degree in biochemistry at Marquette before heading to the West Coast for graduate school. But having had a couple of part-time jobs in labs during school, she took a detour into the nascent field of biotechnology.
“On a whim I decided try it out and take year off and find out what it was about,” she said. “To me it was a way to apply science so you have a tangible outcome with a real impact on somebody’s life. You got to use science, but it brought in another aspect beyond that.”
She took a job at Genentech, and one year turned into two and then three, and she is still in biopharma, now as vice president of site operations for Amgen’s biologics plants in Singapore.
At Genentech, the only woman on a team of 50 or 60, she worked on some pilot manufacturing and then some commercial manufacturing, taking concepts and figuring out how to apply them to get the “the best system out of what you have.”
“That was great,” Paulino said. “I was back to experiential learning and tinkering with things. This is why it was enticing to me.”
From Genentech she went to Immunex, which Amgen bought in 2002, and then it was up the ranks at Amgen, often being asked to take on assignments and agreeing even when they were outside her comfort zone. She figured that if others had confidence in her abilities, then she should as well.
That eventually led to Amgen’s next-generation biomanufacturing facility in Singapore, its first in Asia, and an operation that is distinguished by its importance to Amgen but also by its smallness and simplicity.
Amgen CEO Robert Bradway bragged that the plant in Tuas was built in less than two years, about half the time it would have taken to build a conventional manufacturing plant. It also has the same capacity as a conventional plant but takes up 75% less space.
It requires less water and energy while producing fewer solid wastes and fewer emissions, so it is also less expensive to operate. It uses single-use bioreactors, disposable plastic containers, continuous purification processing and real-time quality analysis for monoclonal antibody manufacturing.
There, Paulino oversees a cross-functional team of more than 400 that includes employees from manufacturing, engineering and supply chain to IT, finance, HR and quality.
While the field has always been culturally male dominated, Paulino never felt she was denied an opportunity to advance and grow. Still, she acknowledged she may have often overcompensated “to make sure that gender was not going to hinder my chance to advance.”
She said at Amgen, Bradway has worked to create a company in which men and women are on par, and she says at the broadest level, it is pretty balanced. But she sees that as you go up in leadership, the percentage of women starts to drop. And so she is trying to make a difference so that both men and women who come after her will find more diversity, which to her goes well beyond gender.
“It is more than race or sex, it takes in all background. If you can harness that, a company will be so much better in the long run,” Paulino said. “What I see today is more and more leaders are recognizing the need to do more.”
As a mentor to both men and women, she tries to be a good listener. “Not to just what people are saying, but what they are not saying,” Paulino said. “I learn a lot as well through mentoring.”
She tells people wondering about the rewards of her life in biopharma that the best part is being able to work in a field where the outcomes can make such a difference in the lives of people who are suffering. But the rewards are not just in the work.
A great aspect of it is getting to travel, and live, internationally, something she and Brent, her partner of 20 years, enjoy. As a foodie and a wine lover, that perk is especially appreciated.
“We like to travel personally and experience different cultures,” Paulino said. “We love the experience of understanding people and their culture through food. I also love to cook. On weekends, I like to prepare a nice meal and invite people.”
This interest in different cultures for Paulino circles back to her belief in the need to aggressively strive for diversity in her workplace.
“The thing for me is that when we talk about diversity, diversity to me is quite inclusive of many things. How do you get at it to improve your outcomes? How do you empower people and how do you remove the biases that are unconsciously there?” she said.