Christi Shaw, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: ‘We Tap Into All Perspectives’

January 6, 2015 2:17 pm

A Q&A With Christi Shaw, U.S. Country Head, President of Novartis Corporation & President of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation

Christi Shaw, Novartis Pharmaceuticals CorporationLuke Visconti: How did Novartis’ diversity effort change the culture of the company?

Christi Shaw: You know, diversity and inclusion are really ingrained in the culture of our U.S. business. When I came on board four-and-a-half years ago, I was hired to lead the North America Oncology Business for Novartis—and the company’s commitment to D&I was one of the things that compelled me to join. And, if you fast forward—and look at where we started and where we’ve come during that time—it’s really been a great journey. We’ve accomplished a lot pretty quickly.

Elements of D&I have always been connected to our Values and Behaviors, which play a role in how we measure performance. This direct link is unique among our industry peers. We believe that how we do things is as important as what we do—so things like integrity, mutual respect, even innovation drive our business performance. Recently, we’ve taken things even further and made a big shift—so that D&I is linked not only to our Values and Behaviors, but is also part of our performance objectives. As a result, D&I is helping to move the needle on key aspects of our business—from new-product development, to clinical-trial diversity, to commercialization and marketing efforts.

Most directly, our D&I department has been the force behind efforts such as our FlexConnect initiative, which encourages associates to think about innovative ways of working through flexible-work arrangements. And they have provided guidance, structure and support for our 16 Employee Resource Groups, which have become, over time, true communities, led by dynamic individuals who want to expand their networks as well as their influencing and leadership skills.

Visconti: So in terms of leadership selection within the company—when you evaluate people for promotions, you’re looking at how well they handle the subject?

Shaw: Yes, definitely. Good or bad, I have a reputation as being someone who is always willing to challenge the status quo and I expect others to do so too. For example, from a talent-management and recruiting perspective, I believe in casting a wide net. From the first day I joined Novartis, when recruiting for open positions, I would say to hiring managers, “Show me your diverse slate.” And I would ask, “Who else have you considered?” I believe this emphasis is important—because without it, people tend to hire individuals like themselves.

Current Positions
U.S. Country Head, President of Novartis Corporation and President of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (No. 1 in the DiversityInc Top 50)

Previous Positions
Executive Vice President and North America Region Head, Novartis Oncology

Vice President, New Business Development and Strategic Analytics, Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson

Bachelor’s Degree, Iowa State University

Master of Business Administration, University of Wisconsin

Member, Board of Directors, Young Women’s Leadership Network

Member, Healthcare Leadership Council

Member, Board of Directors, Biotechnology Industry Organization

Getting Personal
Proud native of Iowa; Christi and her sisters own and manage a number of local farms

Resides in New Jersey with her husband, Mark, and 6-year-old son, Christian

I can tell you that in most cases when a diverse slate was considered, the candidate who was ultimately selected was not the person who was the obvious frontrunner. That’s why I believe that if you actually take the extra effort to look at a diverse slate of candidates—and truly see what’s needed from a customer standpoint and a business standpoint—the best person rises to the top and is chosen. And we find that as a result of this process, that we end up recruiting more diverse talent.
Visconti: You came to Novartis in 2010, as everything was changing. How did the evolution and diversity-management process make you feel?

Shaw: You know, it made me feel like everyone—myself included—could have a voice, and that there was real support to create a collaborative, high-performing, speak-up culture. Here are two examples of this commitment in action.

First, over the past few years, we’ve made a conscious decision to move to an open-space work environment. So when I was leading the U.S. Oncology business, all levels of the organization worked together in an open space. That setup created real equality in the way we interacted and the camaraderie that we created. People felt comfortable speaking up—and speaking out—which I believe really changed the dynamic.

Second, in 2012, we reaffirmed our commitment to workplace flexibility. Creating an environment that was flexible to each associate’s needs was important to us, and foundational to our FlexConnect program. As a result, it’s no longer about when and where you work, but instead it’s about the outcomes of the job you do. And while there have been some pockets of skepticism, overall the results have been phenomenal—in terms of employee feedback and engagement and company business results.

Visconti: Looking at your workforce data—specifically, the numbers we collect—your talent development, especially for women, is exemplary, and this is a scientific organization. Do you think that feeling of inclusion has led people, women in particular, to believe that this organization is really looking out for them? And how does your new role, and the makeup of your team, factor into those perceptions?

Shaw: I do. Women are visible all across our organization—in a broad array of roles. I’ve been in my new role as President of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation for about eight months now. And about 60 percent of my direct reports are women. However, when it comes to our Executive Leadership Team—and to running our business—it’s important that we make an effort to tap into all perspectives.
I can tell you that from the moment I joined the company, and since assuming this new position, the number of women have reached out to me—to ask for mentoring or to say that they want to work on my team—has been remarkable. It’s really nice to see that when it comes to appointing leaders, Novartis is willing to accept and embrace the diverse perspectives and talents of all associates.

Visconti: Do you think that there are differences between female and a male leadership styles—and if so, do you think that when you aggregate them, it benefits and contributes to the company as a whole?

Shaw: Putting stereotypes aside for a moment, I believe that when you’re in an environment that’s inclusive, the whole female/male thing really becomes a situation where one plus one equals three. After all, there are strengths that women and men possess that may be inherently different—but when you put them together, the sum really is greater than value of the individual parts.

Visconti: Do you feel the more inclusive culture contributes to the mission and success of NPC, financially and scientifically?

Shaw: I definitely do—and here’s why. If you were to enter a room where I was “leading” a meeting, you might not be able to tell who was actually in charge. That’s because I believe that everyone has a voice—and at the end of the day, it’s a team and I’m a team member. So it’s not just one person talking or leading a group discussion. Instead, we have a lot of different people doing that.

Of course, I’m willing to make a decision if we can’t agree, but there’s a very inclusive style in action. And although inclusiveness can take a bit more time, I believe that being a bit more inclusive up front leads to better results later. And we’ve seen that—you know we have had double-digit growth year over year. Shareholders have been happy, and our employee engagement is well over 80 percent.

Visconti: Do you plan to continue the progress of the D&I initiatives started by your predecessor, André Wyss?

Shaw: Absolutely. I believe D&I not only helps us win in business, but it also makes a difference in the lives of our associates. After all, we all spend so much time at work, and it’s important for associates to feel that their efforts make a real difference—to our culture and to our business. It’s also essential that we do what’s necessary to ensure that the culture and environment we’ve created continues.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, we currently have 16 Employee Resource Groups, and 40 percent of our associates participate in one or more ERGs. I believe these grassroots groups represent one of the most important ways in which D&I can drive engagement and enhanced performance. Our ERGs increased in size and number under my predecessor and they continue to grow today. That’s a tribute to the many ERG leaders who are passionate about creating supportive communities that provide access to career-development, mentoring and community-outreach activities.

In addition, over the past year, our D&I department—and our Executive Diversity & Inclusion Council—have engaged leaders and associates from across the organization to help move the needle on key aspects of our business—from new-product development, to clinical-trial diversity, to commercialization and marketing of our products. The organization has responded very positively as we focus on embedding D&I into all aspects of our culture and our business.

I’m confident that efforts like these—and so many others—will help enhance our culture, address the evolving needs of our stakeholders, lead to stronger connections to patients and customers, and ultimately drive better business outcomes. I’m proud to be part of an organization with such a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and I look forward to identifying opportunities to build on and enhance our efforts.