Liz Henderson—Merck KGaA

Merck kgaa
Liz Henderson
Company: Merck KGaA
Title: EVP global manufacturing and supply

Early in her career, Merck KGaA's Liz Henderson never expected to lead a global biopharmaceutical company's manufacturing and supply operations, but that's just where she is after numerous twists and turns over the years. As she put it, when she graduated from college during a recession, she mostly had her sights set on getting a job and paying the bills.

Currently the drugmaker's executive vice president, head of global manufacturing and supply, Henderson is tasked with overseeing small and large molecule manufacturing, supply and distribution, plus the process development for the drugmaker’s future medicines. The organization comprises about 5,000 people ranging from operator techs to Ph.D. scientists. Henderson has been in the role since February, moving up from senior vice president of pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The drugmaker has 15 sites around the world, in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France, Italy, Japan, Latin America, as well as a brand-new facility in China. It's a global position with global responsibilities, and Henderson said Merck has been "extremely flexible" in helping her balance her role’s commitments with a young family.

Out of university after studying analytical science, Henderson started in her first job with a small Irish environmental consultancy in the 1990s, doing everything from "shaping environment protection strategies and field work to keeping our own small office clean and organized," she said in an interview. From there, she said she was fortunate enough to join Pfizer in Ireland, noting that she "was fascinated by manufacturing technology and absolutely loved the healthcare space because we have a positive impact on so many people’s lives.”

Henderson developed core skills at Pfizer and then jumped at the chance to work for Amgen to help plan for a massive new campus in Ireland. But that project never materialized due to changing market dynamics, and Henderson would later find herself unemployed for a few months.

She then took a step back and refocused on manufacturing. Henderson said she took the opportunity to move to an adjacent industry and eventually joined the life science business sector for Merck KGaA. She has advanced numerous times, serving as a site leader and in numerous operational and manufacturing roles. She finally moved to Merck’s healthcare business sector in 2015.

"With each new challenge, you become more confident and more accepting of what you can do," she said. "If I was to look back to where I started, there's no way I thought I'd be leading such a large, global organization."

Throughout her career, she said her "why not?" attitude has helped her advance in the biopharmaceutical industry. She credits her father with giving her the perception that with hard work and confidence, anything is possible.

"As you progress in your career, women are more hesitant to feel ready," she said. "You are never going to be 100% ready (for a new opportunity), but if you are 70%, you should jump in and go for it. The men will, so women have to make more of an effort to believe in themselves and go for it."

Liz Henderson—Merck KGaA