Company: Roche’s Genentech unit
Title: VP, Global Product Development Hematology/Oncology
At 21, Genentech’s Nancy Valente had never really thought seriously about a career in medicine.
Then her father passed away from pancreatic cancer.
That loss marked a “critical influence” for Valente in her career path. “I wanted to be able to make a difference for patients who have very serious illness, like his cancer,” she says.
Today, as a key leader in Genentech’s oncology and hematology team, she’s doing it. Since joining the company, she’s been able to substantially increase the size of Genentech’s hematology stable, helping build a diverse portfolio of new therapies ranging from antibody drug conjugates to hemophilia treatments.
These days, her role is focused on building collaboration and creating bridges inside her organization--a task that’s especially important in the hematology arena.
It’s a field that’s “very complex,” she says, pointing out that, “it’s a number of very unique diseases.” And while the last few years have produced a lot of insight into some of those diseases--as well as several new therapies--“It takes a lot of collaboration and focus on the science to be successful.”
If Genentech’s recent track record is any indication, that collaboration and focus is happening. Valente’s leadership has helped produce Rituxan follow-up Gazyva, as well as brand-new chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment Venclexta--a first-to-market BCL-2 inhibitor that analysts figure is destined for blockbuster status.
But as Valente is quick to note, she’s not the only female exec making an impact at Genentech. “We’ve had and continue to have so many great women leaders,” she says--many of whom she’s emulated in building her own leadership style. Early in her career, for example, Susan Desmond-Hellman--a former Genentech president of product development who currently serves as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--inspired Valente with her passion and focus on patients. Gwen Fyfe, a former VP at Genentech’s BioOncology, taught Valente to take a clear stand and be decisive. And Sandra Horning, Roche’s CMO, has shown Valente that “with a combination of a sharp mind that’s focused on the science and a great leadership style, you can positively influence an entire organization--a single person can do that,” she said.
In turn, Valente is doing her part to help women advance in the sciences. She’s a board member of the Women’s Audio Mission, a non-profit recording studio--the only one in the world built and run by women. The organization’s mission is to educate underprivileged young women in recording and engineering musical production, in hopes of fostering “a curiosity and a confidence” that’ll ease fears they may have about pursuing a scientific career.
“My daughter recorded a CD there with her all-girl band when she was 15, and I really saw how that increased her confidence as a performer to understand what happens in front of the microphone and also behind,” Valente said, noting that it’s important to introduce girls to areas such as physics and math--through a relatable media like music--at a young age.
When women--and men--are a little further along down their career paths, though, Valente’s advice is all about networking. To her, that means sharing with a diverse group of people who you are, what motivates you and what you’ve accomplished--and in return getting guidance and feedback that’ll help you grow in your own career.
It’s about “finding people who become your superfans,” she says.