Leadership is about courage

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Comment
  • 3 years ago

16 June 2021

Pharma leaders talk a lot about company culture. In an industry where so many big decisions are made at a global level, workplace culture is one area where local leaders feel they can make an impact, and often where they like to direct a conversation.

So it was both surprising and refreshing when the newly arrived Biljana Naumovic, brought in to lead the Janssen team in Australia and New Zealand, deflected a question that allowed her to talk about culture and instead directed it to external challenges.

I had asked her what changes she wanted to make and, having interviewed more leaders than I can count in my career, gave her the soft option of discussing internal challenges first – effectively culture and workplace – before hitting her with the more meaty problem of external challenges. But Naumovic isn’t one to take soft options.

A revolutionary in her past, this woman still has the fire of outrage in her belly that drives her to fight for justice and, to her, internal culture is a means to effect systemic change, about setting the right mindset and inspiring people to achieve at their best rather than just adjusting the ‘warm and fuzzy’ aspects of the company workplace.

This leader is not here just to keep the seat warm. Whether it’s gender equity, indigenous education or access to new medicines for patients, Naumovic is hungry for change. Sure, she wants to ensure Janssen is fit for the future and “able to self-propagate and self-build” as an organisation, but only so it will be able to cope with the exciting pipeline of new therapies it has coming down the line.

“We are going to see a cure for cancer and I want to see it brought to Australia,” she says.

“Even in chronic diseases there is so much more that can be done, like for patients in the inflammatory bowel disease space, so we don’t listen to young patients say: can you please give me something so I don’t have to have a colostomy bag. It breaks my heart.

“So what do I want? I want us to work together with every government agency, every health society, every patient organisation to build a long-term strategy to achieve what Australia wants to achieve in healthcare and determine how we get there together.”

Pharma leaders talk a lot about courage and leadership, but too often they prove to be hollow buzz words. Ditto servant leadership, partnership, collaboration and equity. Having the courage of conviction, of being able to call out injustice and publicly vow to fight it, that’s leadership.

Naumovic has led a life of courage and conviction, of making brave choices and being prepared to fight for what is right. And while she sees Australia as an idyllic island of opportunity, she also sees a country trailing in areas like patient access to new therapies.

Forget the hollow buzz words about leadership – actions do speak louder. As industry prepares for the outcome of a parliamentary inquiry, an approaching Federal election and the funding challenges of a new age of cell and gene therapies, a revolution may be just what Australia needs.

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