As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Lynch.
Carol Lynch is a globally experienced, values-based leader currently serving as Chief Business Officer (CBO), Sandoz, the generics and biosimilars arm of Novartis, where she is responsible for delivering the growth agenda.
Carol has over 25 years of global pharmaceuticals and generics industry experience, including several years in commercial and development leadership positions at Novartis, both globally and in country organisations.
Carol is a member of the Sandoz Executive Committee and Vice Chair and board member of the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM) in the US and serves as co-chair of the Sandoz Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was always drawn toward marketing. When I was interviewing for my first marketing position, I was told it was down to me and one other candidate, and the other candidate was hired because of their sales experience. The hiring manager told me to get sales experience. The best thing I’ve ever done career-wise was heeding their advice as it resulted in me becoming a medical sales representative and the rest is history!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Stepping into this role during the height of a global pandemic has been “interesting.” In addition to navigating this virtual world and leading a new team through a global crisis, I also packed up house and moved from the US to the UK ad interim, before recently settling in Switzerland. While I missed those face-to-face meetings with my colleagues (I have yet to meet some of my team in person), I think the pandemic forced us all to be more adaptable to and really embrace what is truly important.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Whilst with time things can seem funny, I can assure you that in the moment, that isn’t always the case. I lean into this story often as it was a big learning moment for me. When I first became the leader of a development team after serving in commercial leadership roles, for the first three months I kept wondering “What’s wrong here? This team doesn’t respond to everything I know to work in terms of motivation and inspiration.” And then I realized it wasn’t them, it was me. I hadn’t considered what they needed from me. This was the first time I understood that leadership is humbling and it was an early lesson in servant leadership even though I didn’t even know it had a name at the time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It would be unfair to call out one person as I have been fortunate to have benefited from the help of many people along the way. The most common thread amongst them is they always believed in me more than I did. This is not me being pedantic, I’m still thinking through what this means as I sponsor others. But I am certain that I have achieved more in my career because of the way they challenged my own beliefs of what I thought I could accomplish
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
While I was in the UK, I started walking through my local park early in the morning, whilst the world is still waking. There is a peaceful quiet and you can hear the wind in the trees and the last bars of the dawn chorus. The light is very special this early and I find myself seeing things that I have looked at a million times before with new appreciation — these precious 30 minutes grounded me for the rest of the day.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I currently serve as an executive sponsor for our Global D&I Council, as well as executive sponsor for women in leadership at Sandoz and I’m an executive sponsor of the GLOW (gay, lesbians and others at work) employee network group. I would describe these roles as sharing the “privilege of position,” which means I can share a platform or provide a voice to people and can actively support underrepresented groups at Sandoz.
I originally resisted getting involved in diversity & inclusion (D&I) work for quite some time. I was asked repeatedly, but I really thought that I was being asked because of my gender. Because I couldn’t authentically connect to that, I didn’t jump in. Eventually, I understood that it wasn’t about gender at all, but rather about contributing different perspectives, and that my experience of working in several countries and different functions within the organization was as important as being female. Then I was all in.
Over my career, I’ve seen so many examples where you get these unexpectedly great outcomes because people with different experiences were involved. When you bring together people with different perspectives or different backgrounds that is when the magic happens! This is true at all levels of the organization, not just the board room.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
The first and most important step in promoting a more inclusive society is celebrating diverse opinions and backgrounds. We all have our own unique experiences, and I think when we come together to welcome and embrace this, we can create a better, more equitable world. This includes creating sustainable programs and policies that support minority and underrepresented groups. In the workplace, this can include things such as parental leave and flexible work, executive sponsorships and D&I training.
Celebrating our differences is not enough though, we also need to remember to acknowledge our similarities. In my experience, it is only when we have comfort in our similarities that you can truly value our differences and then collectively benefit from them.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
One of the biggest differences is that you need to be responsive to not only the needs of your employees and the day to day business but also the needs of the shareholders. It’s a very important balance to achieve. The time horizon you are focused on is also longer and we are often debating and making decisions that affect the company over the next decade.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the myths that I frequently share with others is that you do not necessarily have more control the more senior you are in the organization. The higher up you get then the broader the implications are of the decisions you make. This means that you spend a lot of time gathering input from others and seeking alignment, which often involves compromise.
Another one is that people believe that executives don’t have interest in getting to know their associates in genuine ways — sometimes called elitism. In reality, it’s the opposite. Employees are the glue that holds any organization together and it’s so important for us to understand who we work with, what they are passionate about, and to cultivate a two-way dialogue that ensures both employees and the executive team are heard.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
This is an interesting one. In everything, I have found more success in looking for the opportunity or sameness, versus challenges or differences. This makes obstacles or barriers not as prominent, and I am grateful for a culture at Sandoz that supports this perspective. While we know there are still leadership gaps, I see one of the greatest shifts in shared responsibility at home in terms of childcare, care of elderly parents and many other areas that traditionally were the female domain.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The most striking difference in practice versus concept is the amount of time spent in gaining alignment. It is time consuming due to the paradoxes that we are often managing, particularly when there are what appear to be competing goals and where we need to find a path that achieves both.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I have a deep seated belief that you can achieve anything if you want it enough, so I would never say it is impossible for someone to be an executive. Traits that tilt the balance in your favour, in my opinion, are the ability to set a compelling vision or ambition for the company and also to make things happen; self-confidence balanced with a good dose of humility; and, the ability to connect authentically with people and equally happy to walk the path alone at times.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would advise every woman in leadership to focus on being authentic and unapologetic for who they are. People will have their own ideas of how you should be or what’s expected of you, but it’s important to be confident in who you are and know that you got to where you are on your own, and your success is enough. Really, it’s about being comfortable in your own skin. I think with that, women can accomplish anything.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Every day our Sandoz associates do amazing things to make the world a better place — making medicines that pioneer access to those patients that need them. More than half a billion patients take our medicines each and every year. I am so proud of the industry I work in and the impact we have on patients and their families lives.
Outside of work I try to give back in many ways — from raising money for charities together with my husband, through to helping expand the horizons of the young people in my life by showing them what’s possible and how to dream big, and not put limits on yourself.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Learn to manage your energy as well as your time — you only learn to do this once you really need to, and then you realise how draining you may have been for everyone around you
- At the start of each new role identify the things you can uniquely learn/experience in this role — there are certain things you never get to go back to
- Keep your people leadership skill development at pace with your content/business leadership skill development — you rely on the former for much longer, and it is much more rewarding
- Treasure the people who keep you grounded and let you know how you are really doing
- Lead yourself first …then you can lead others. This means you need a huge amount of self- awareness which pays dividends time and time again.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Be kind. You can be kind in everything you do — even when it is something you would rather not be doing. In business we often have to make tough decisions that are important for the success of the business but mean that we need to change direction, let people go, or stop projects that associates are passionate about. In each of these situations we need to make objective decisions but we can then implement them with kindness. I think this premise holds true in life too
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Accept or change — which I guess is a derivative of the serenity prayer? This resonates with me because having choice is deeply personal to me — too long a story for this time — and something that I value generally. And this adage of accept or change is useful in all aspects of life, with the important implied message that the “in between” situation is not a great choice. The “in between” being not truly accepting and being dissatisfied which leads to a negative, non-productive state of mind.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have the opportunity to chat with Indra Nooyi, the former Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo. She has lived such an amazing and very full life. I would happily spend hours listening to the many stories I am sure she must have and gleaning some life lessons from her.