- 2 years ago
17 September 2021
It’s been a quarter of a century since a girl from Sydney’s outer western suburbs raised in a family of racehorse trainers stepped into a marketing assistant role at a French pharmaceutical company with a plan to carve out a career in animal health.
As Australia and New Zealand Country Lead Karen Hood celebrates 25 continuous years with Sanofi this year, the girl from the ‘burbs with dreams of working with horses says not once has she never had cause to regret her chosen career path, and neither has she had the opportunity to get bored.
“I grew up in the western suburbs and I still live there today on acreage, because I’ve still got horses,” she tells MedNews. “I went away to boarding school in the country then came home and studied science and commerce marketing at university. The plan was always to be in commerce marketing in the thoroughbred industry.”
An early love of horses
Given Hood’s family pedigree and her determination to achieve whatever she sets her mind to, it is somewhat surprising she didn’t end up where she planned, but looking back she recognises even for organised young people like herself, not everything works out as expected.
“One side of my family is in primary industry, racehorses,” she explains. “My grandfather was a trainer, my dad is a trainer, my cousin is a trainer. My grandfather was actually quite a good racehorse trainer, back in the day. On the other side of the family is medicine – my other grandfather was a GP.”
Looking to carry on in the family tradition, Hood’s first job was in marketing for a large thoroughbred stud as she completed her final year studies. A job at French pharma company Rhône-Poulenc as a marketing assistant followed. It was 1996 and in taking on the role, Hood was unwittingly opening the door to what would become her world of opportunity.
“I really got to learn and understand how the business operated from the start,” she says. “From the onsite production of medicines to the warehouse and commercial operations, I was even given a small territory as a hospital rep very early on. I did sales in primary care and hospital from cardiovascular through to oncology, diabetes, HRT, antidepressants.
“Rhône-Poulenc had an animal health division and I always thought I could transfer across – sometimes people start out with really clear ambitions as to where they want to go and then work it out. Looking back, I ended up in a role that if you were setting your ambition on what you wanted to find in your first role, it had all the criteria.
“I had great leaders, great managers, and it was great fun. I was allowed and trusted to go out and learn. I was also at the table when decisions were made and had a really top team to work in. When I look back, I still see traits that I look for in leaders today and this early experience has certainly had a lasting impact.”
A journey of growth and transformation
A relatively quietly spoken, reserved leader herself, Hood is highly regarded amongst her Sanofi colleagues, renowned for her sharp business acumen while creating a nurturing and supportive working environment.
Hood credits a stream of former Sanofi leaders and managers for encouraging her to go for new and bigger roles. While she stepped away on maternity leave around the time Aventis merged with Sanofi, the career break did little to slow her upward trajectory.
She was soon made a director on the pharmaceutical side of the business and has been General Manager of the company’s General Medicines division for five years while doubling up with her Country Lead role overseeing some 800 people across all four company divisions in ANZ, providing stability in a world where pharma leaders often turn over every few years.
“What makes it interesting is there is a lot of change,” she says. “There’s always something new that we’re working on, always growth – growth of people and seeing how they transform within our business and the work we do is meaningful.
“I look at some who started as graduates within our organisation and how they’ve been able to grow. For me personally, it’s the growth, it’s the challenge, it’s the diversity of the roles and opportunities and the positive contribution that we make as a business.”
If this wasn’t enough, in April she was appointed head of the Sanofi JAPAC leadership group, adding Japan and Korea to her existing Australia and New Zealand responsibilities.
“It’s an honour to do that role, to be quite frank,” Hood says with her customary humility. “It’s a very diverse region, very diverse portfolios and different cultures, and the business is evolving and transforming so rapidly. The environment is changing and evolving rapidly.
“Sanofi is moving to a much more agile organisation across the globe – agility in decision-making and an entrepreneurial spirit. We are reducing the layers and structures to have a team that is accountable and able to quickly progress a decision from a country to a global level.
“That means really strong collaboration and sharing within that community, both locally and globally. It’s been an interesting start to the journey because of the challenges presented by COVID, however, we’re all focused on our core strategy which is ultimately about how we bring innovation to patients.”
Juggling three hats, four horses
Agility is something Hood needs a lot of, given the three leader hats she wears while juggling her responsibilities at home along with caring for four horses. But when asked to look back to when she first stepped foot into Sanofi to where she is today, Hood is more than happy with the choices that brought her to where she is.
“I don’t think there’s ever been one day of regret, to be honest,” she says. “I think that says a lot about the industry, the people, and the organisation that Sanofi is. When I started I didn’t think I’d be here for 25 years but looking forward, there’s still a lot of work to do – probably more than what we’ve already done.
“Sanofi is on a tremendous transformation journey and will remain a leader – there’s no doubt about that. The medicines that we’re bringing to market today are very different to the small molecules that we brought to market in times gone by. Our strategy is focused on being first in class and best in class, and that means more targeted and precision medicines with a continued motivation to deliver for our customers and patients.
“I’ve always had a strong interest in science, and I think as I’ve grown through my career, patients have always been at the centre of what we do and there’s a strong connection to that. I’ve never needed to go elsewhere.”