Interview with Iskra Reic
Iskra Reic is the Executive Vice President, Europe and Canada at AstraZeneca. Iskra spoke to us about cross-cultural leadership, AstraZeneca’s innovation hubs, and the changing world of technology and access to data.
I have always tried to be bold and brave, which I believe has led me to where I am today
When you set out to study dental medicine, did you ever imagine you would end up working in the pharmaceutical industry, leading a group of more than 5,000?
I have always had a passion for healthcare because of my studies in this field; it is not surprising to me that I landed working for a company that is really committed to developing innovative medicines that help patients with the treatment of disease. I’ve made important decisions throughout my career that brought me to where I am today, such as my move from practice to industry, and then starting my career at AstraZeneca. I went for an international career move that was out of my comfort zone and tested myself in markets such as the Middle East, Africa, Central Eastern Europe, and then Russia. Throughout my career, I have always tried to be bold and brave, which I believe has led me to where I am today. An example is when I took a leadership role in AstraZeneca Russia at a time when the country was one of the company’s important growth drivers in establishing a strong presence in emerging markets. Today, I feel fortunate that I work with and lead such a great group of people at AstraZeneca.
What inspired you to recently undertake a phd, while maintaining your successful career? I am strong believer in the importance of continuous learning and development – to really push yourself out of your comfort zone to explore new areas and develop new capabilities. Moving around the world working in different roles in a truly global company has definitely given me a better understanding of how leadership styles in different cultures are critical to success. In my PhD work, I am exploring the impact of cultural intelligence, which has become a popular topic in business literature recently. Cultural intelligence has the potential to impact the performance of leaders when they are working in cross-cultural settings that are outside of, or different to, their own backgrounds. I’m specifically looking at the areas that we as leaders need to be aware of when we are working in different cultures. This work will hopefully make me a stronger leader and help me in my current role and any future roles in my career journey.
If you want to be a global leader then you need a global mindset
As someone whose responsibilities cover Europe and Canada, how do you approach leading these different territories?
If you want to be a global leader then you need a global mindset – you must be able to work with people who have different perspectives and experiences compared to your own. I am responsible for bringing together a group of almost 5,000 people across 30 different markets to deliver on our commercial priorities and bring innovative medicines to patients. When people with different perspectives and experiences work together, their creativity can unlock challenges and bring new solutions to help the business develop. I work closely with each of the markets to accomplish this. AstraZeneca is a truly global company – we train our managers, leaders, and employees to improve understanding of, and respect differences in, the workplace. These efforts are part of a broader approach to create an inclusive culture in which difference is recognised and valued. The inclusiveness of the culture we operate in at AstraZeneca is a very important topic on our agenda and I am very keen, as a leader, to be a role model in this area.
How will AstraZeneca’s recently launched innovation hub, ‘BeyondBio’, help tackle some of the pressing challenges for healthcare in Israel? BeyondBio is one of AstraZeneca’s innovation hubs in Europe. We also have hubs in Sweden and France and are exploring more opportunities in other countries. The whole idea behind innovation hubs is to create an ecosystem for interaction between patients, medicines, academia, technology, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. The fundamental notion is to improve patient outcomes. In Israel specifically, we are investing to create partnerships with start-ups and innovative companies, as well as with medical healthcare centres. Israel has a wealth of retrospective data that can be extremely helpful for us to better understand the unmet needs and pain points of people living with a particular disease throughout their journey. Using predictive algorithms allows us to foresee how we can deliver better medicines or services to patients.
Throughout your time in the industry, what are some of the biggest changes you have seen? I think one of the most significant changes impacting our business are the developments in technology and access to data. Data is the currency of today and the future. If you look at patients today, they are much more connected and empowered. Technology will be a key enabler for us in improving their experiences and meeting their healthcare needs throughout the patient journey: from disease awareness and prevention through to wellness. We’re also seeing unprecedented advances in science in key disease areas like oncology, respiratory and cardiovascular, renal, and metabolism. This enables us to develop better medicines much quicker than previously, with earlier and clearer benefits, for patients with cancer, severe asthma or diabetes, and related heart and kidney illnesses, for example. The industry is also moving toward a more ecosystem-based approach. When I started my career, the pharma industry was operating in silos. Today, there is a greater commitment to partnership to meet the challenges of healthcare systems, drive scientific innovation, and support better outcomes for patients. This is also true when we talk about value-based healthcare: industry working with payers to ensure faster and more appropriate access to innovative medicines for patients in need. This is where AstraZeneca really wants to lead the way, to create innovative reimbursement models using real-world data that is much more relevant for payers.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone to explore new areas and develop new capabilities
Looking back across your impressive career, is there a standout or proudest moment? There are many moments that I am proud of throughout my career, but more recently I’m really proud of leading AstraZeneca’s Europe & Canada organisation back to sales growth. Our Europe & Canada organisation was in decline for many years, mainly driven by the loss of patent exclusivity of our largest products. The team worked very hard to return our business to growth, which was an important achievement for the region. Now, having returned to growth at the end of last year, we can focus our efforts on building new and greater capabilities to work more efficiently to deliver new innovative medicines to our patients. I believe this will set us up for a new era of success for our business in Europe and Canada.