- 2 years ago
20 April 2022
Born in Zimbabwe in Africa, Janine Chatterjee’s childhood is not one many Aussies could relate to. The youngest of three children, she lost her father to a brain aneurysm at the age of 12, leaving her mother to manage the family business and raise the family on her own.
“Culturally, at that point, women couldn’t run a business in Zimbabwe,” Chatterjee says. “They were seen as second-tier citizens.”
Her two older brothers were sent to university in Australia and, with the political situation in Zimbabwe deteriorating, Janine’s mother made the difficult decision to send her youngest daughter as well.
“I lived with my older brother and finished Years 11 and 12 here on the Gold Coast,” Chatterjee told MedNews.
“I then did a biomedical science degree. Having had my dad pass away at a young age, I was driven towards a career in medicine. I had a sense of purpose to make life better so other families didn’t go through what I did.
“I applied for medicine but while I was waiting to get in, I got a job at Janssen in primary care sales on a six-month contract. It was a really great experience. I was pretty green and enthusiastic, and I didn’t know much about sales or pharmaceuticals, but I loved it.
“I spoke to doctors every day and quickly realised I’d romanticised medicine and the impact I had thought I could make.”
A string of opportunities
When Chatterjee received her offer to do medicine at Sydney University, she also received an offer to be a Key Account Manager in Janssen’s hospital care team working out of its Sydney office. Chatterjee chose the latter.
“It helped me understand the hospital environment, how patients flow through the system,” she says. “At the same time, I was taking opportunities to go into the office and speak with new starters, which led to an offer to work in the learning and development team as a manager for our big primary care team.
“That was an incredible experience. You’re not a direct manager, but you really play an important role in coaching – you get to know people, and that sparked this curiosity in me around leadership and coaching, so when an opportunity came up in sales management, it was the obvious next step.
“Here was an opportunity to build a team and really lead people to achieve great outcomes.”
Chatterjee found herself loving the strategy behind sales and marketing, along with the problem solving and variety of work. Janssen allowed her to move both up and across, exposing her to a wide range of experiences.
“It’s so important to have diverse experiences,” says Chatterjee. “I got to build mine in different therapeutic areas, with different leaders, in different teams.”
A pivotal moment in Chatterjee’s career was while she was on maternity leave with her first child. She was asked whether she would be interested in taking up a global role.
“How incredible to be on mat leave, out of the building and out of sight, and leadership within the organisation was still thinking about my career!” she exclaims.
Chatterjee moved to New Jersey with her young family to work in Janssen’s global strategic marketing team – an experience she describes as “incredible” both professionally, as it exposed her to global R&D, and personally as her family learned to manage two career parents while adding a second child, their son born in the US.
The young family of four returned home to Sydney in early 2020 just as COVID hit. Chatterjee had just joined the haematology team as sales and marketing director when her team was sent home to work remotely. Despite this, they still launched multiple myeloma drug Darzalex, making Chatterjee realise, “if you can do that, there’s no stopping you”.
With her love of sales and marketing and two young children, Chatterjee was happy to stay in haematology but Janssen had other plans for this rising leader, in February offering her a coveted place on its Senior Leadership Team (SLT) as Business Unit Director in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) – a rare, life-shortening disease that impacts the heart and lungs.
While passionate about haematology, Chatterjee soon realised the opportunity in front of her.
“There’s this crazy element within me that loves to try a challenge and do things a little differently,” she says. “It’s a mindset. I’ve had a different background and upbringing, and I’ve worked in different environments, and that impacts my approach to problem solving and how I think.
The need to be a role model
“When I was starting out in my career, I was looking for role models who demonstrated how to balance work and family, and there weren’t very many. Now I have a seat at the table. I have two young children, I’m a working spouse and people can see that. That’s an opportunity in itself,” she says.
Working in rare diseases is another new area for this woman who embraces opportunity; Chatterjee describes finding PAH patients as “like searching for that needle in the haystack”.
“A big driver in taking on this role was the impact we could have on patients. We are in this really exciting space where technology and healthcare are coming together and our role is to leverage that to bring about better patient outcomes.
“We have amazing products and the data is very robust; our products work. The rate and speed of diagnosis is definitely the big challenge for us to solve but we can’t be an island – we have to partner with the medicines community and listen to the patients. We have to think as a collective.”
Having spent her entire career at Janssen, Chatterjee also feels the need to give back, the little girl who grew up in Africa and who lost her father at an early age still driven by a desire and need to make life better for others.
“I strongly identify with being African,” she says. “I’m an Australian citizen married to a country boy but being African is a part of who I am, and an important part.
“My cultural background grounds me in gratitude for our healthcare system. There’s a lot to be grateful for in Australia, but there’s also still work to be done.
“I’ve been in this incredible organisation, I’ve come through it, I’ve had so much experience, so this is my chance to give back and shape what our organisation looks like, to shape our culture.
“It’s such a privilege to work in pharma and to be able to influence the outcome for people. You’ve got these incredible products and it’s our responsibility to bring those to market and make sure they’re reaching the right patient. There’s a lot more patients out there that deserve better, and deserve more.”