Company: Merck KGaA
Title: Head of global healthcare operations
Teresa Rodó did not become the head of global healthcare operations at Merck KGaA with responsibility for 6,700 people by being a wallflower. She had the advantage of liking change. She also realized that the “humble” reticence often shown by women was not going to hack it in an industry dominated by men.
So Rodó didn’t wait to learn everything about a position before sticking her hand in the air to take on a new task. It is a piece of advice she often shares with those she mentors.
“Given an opportunity to try something new, I took every time. Change can be addictive. You have to engage. Nothing happens for free, you have to put something on the table for it to happen,” she says with the confidence that has propelled through the industry.
Raised in Spain, she moved to Vienna, Austria, after secondary school and earned a doctorate in chemical engineering after a professor there inspired her interest in science.
She returned to Spain and landed a job at Boehringer Ingelheim, confessing she didn’t really know anything about the pharmaceutical world but was determined to excel. Rodó knew the technical subjects from school but learned the rest as she went along.
“I had this curiosity and drive to learn,” Rodó said. “That, together with the fact that I was speaking several languages, gave me opportunities to tackle different challenges.”
Which she enthusiastically undertook. She did work in GMP and logistics, and then went to headquarters to work on the international side of the business. “That made me understand the power of a multinational company,” she recalls.
It also gave her the opportunity to go to the U.S., and for a while she moved back and forth from the U.S. to Europe.
“By taking on risk, I have been willing to learn and I have been able to see the diversity of production. … I didn’t have any education in logistics or tableting. I was learning on the job,” Rodó explains. “That made me feel a passion for operations and manufacturing and supply, and that is how I came to that.”
After 18 years, she left Boehringer Ingelheim to get experience with other companies. She worked for Sanofi before joining Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck KGaA. By moving company to company, she was able to learn about the different strengths of various pharmas.
“That is how I got here,” Rodó said.
The challenges—and learning—never end. Merck, like others, is moving into development of gene and cell therapies, which, as Rodó points out, come with significant manufacturing challenges. They require specific skills and innovative operations.
“The highly personalized nature of these therapies does not allow us any longer to use standard 'platforms,'” she says. “The facility setup is different compared to standard monoclonal antibodies production. Quality requirements will even further increase, and scale-up from clinical to commercial supply is not a given.”
Shorter shelf-lives, complex supply chains and significant challenges translate into the need “to get prepared well in advance,” she says.
Rodó obviously has a demanding job and understands the need to separate work from home, a piece of advice given to those she mentors.
“When I am at work, I am at work. When I am with family, I am with family. It helps not just to manage my time but my energy as well,” she says.
Rodó and her husband ski and garden and often go to concerts. “I couldn’t do my job without my husband, and he is my best friend,” Rodó says.
When people ask her for advice on how to forge a career path in pharma, Rodó tells them not to focus on the positions they eventually want but to consider what they are good at and what gives them satisfaction. Then they should go out and take on the jobs that will get them lots of experience in different areas.
She exhorts them, particularly women, not to be afraid of change but to be confident, and to lead rather than follow.
“Have courage to make a contribution. Leadership is a strong component. Stay authentic and walk the talk. Leading by example and being authentic has helped me a lot,” Rodó says. “That has helped me move forward and have an impact. There is no advancing in a career if you don’t have an impact.”
She was discussing this aspect of her career with her husband recently and how difficult it would be at this point to switch gears and “do something that doesn’t have an impact component in people's lives,” Rodó says.
“It may not look straightforward when you start, but that is what makes me wake up and come to work.”