Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
I am Naji, your host for this episode joined today by Cathy Nolan, an experienced international business executive. Cathy has spent over 23 years in the pharma and biotech industry, including Eli Lilly, and more recently Aimmune Therapeutics. As a leader, Cathy consistently created value by building and developing diverse talents globally and delivering highly successful launches and growth strategies in Big Pharma, niche and non-conventional biotech. She has extensive experience across US, UK and Europe including multiple launches in Neuroscience, Oncology and Immunology. Cathy is from a large Irish family, and grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland. She likes to spend time with her family and friends, stay fit and active, read, and watch movies.
Cathy – it is such a pleasure to have you with me today live from Twickenham, I believe? South West London.
Cathy Nolan: Thank you, Naji. Nice to see you, .
Naji Gehchan: Great. So first, Cathy, I would love to hear your story, your personal story from Ireland to leading global healthcare teams. What’s in between the lines of such an inspiring journey?
Cathy Nolan: Well, thanks, Naji. Um, yeah, I mean, I, I have a very humble story, I would say in some respects. I, I started off as a, you read out in the intro, I grew up in the west of Ireland on a farm, the oldest of five kids, um, four girls and a boy. Um, and then when I went to university, I studied business, um, and really had a.
You know, gained a passion for marketing, I think from the very beginning when I started to study marketing as part of my business degree. Um, and then I think what really drove me in terms of joining the pharmaceutical industry, um, in Dublin with Lilly was really that kind of passion for understanding people and patients and their experiences with conditions I joined.
Lily on the Schizophrenia Zyprexa brand team. And what fascinated me about Zyprexa and, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was the experience that patients go through. And I, I was really drawn to that, to understanding that in more detail and then understanding how medicines can, can make a difference and change the lives of, of people who are suffering with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.
So that started my journey and I joined. Eli Lilly in Dublin and spent five years there, um, really getting to know the pharmaceutical industry, I would say, and, and really loving and thriving in, in that industry. And then I took a career break for six months and went traveling by myself and. You know, took advantage of getting a career break from Lilly to really explore the world a little and then came back to Eli Lilly in the uk and then, um, was involved in various other brands, um, in psychiatry, um, and then moving on beyond that to Indianapolis, um, with my husband who I met at Lilly.
And so we headed off to Indianapolis and then had an amazing experience in the corporate center. I think from a career perspective. A real, uh, milestone moment going to the corporate headquarters and being part of, you know, the, the nerve engine, I would say, for the organization and really getting a sense of how great an organization Eli Lilly is and the, the different opportunities that there were to grow and stretch and develop both professionally and personally within the organization.
So I got many opportunities in, um, Lilly in Indianapolis, um, leading brands, global brand director roles, and then working with the chief marketing officer, Rob Brown at the time as his chief of staff, which really again, was an eye-opening, um, experience looking at the organization as a whole and working with some of the more senior leaders within the organization and addressing board questions, et cetera, and working with Rob on that.
Then, um, we had two boys, uh, Lakin and. They were both born in Indianapolis and we decided to move back to Europe to be near a family as we were raising our boys and wanted to be closer. So we moved back and then I was doing some leadership roles in Europe, um, in oncology, and then ultimately back to the UK business heading up.
Um, the business unit for the specialty portfolio and the chief marketing officer role, which where we worked together closely when you were in France. Um, I then, I loved Lilly and I had an amazing experience there and. You know, thrived, I would say, and grew up with the company. But after 19 years, I just wanted to try something new and different and challenge myself in other ways, and decided to move to another opportunity within a small organization.
So going from the big, big pharma to small pharma and joining a biotech called Immune Therapeutics. I had an opportunity to lead global marketing commercial capabilities from London. Um, the, the business was based in Brisbane, California, so it was a real unique opportunity to do that. So I took the opportunity and then we were acquired by Nestle a year later.
So we had another amazing experience of going through the acquisition and the integration and. Building the global organization and uh, and really learning so much across multiple areas and building my expertise and capabilities. So, yeah, and I’ve felt very fortunate Naji over the years. I’ve had lots of really strong mentors and advocates, to be honest, um, who really pushed me to kind of think bigger than, or go further than I thought.
I. Um, and with their backing, give me the confidence to just go for it and usually it, it ended up in success. So, so yeah, that’s kind of my journey thus far.
Naji Gehchan: tha thanks for sharing this. It, it certainly did go into success and yeah, we, we’ve worked, so I’m, I’m biased. We’ve worked together and, you know, I’m a big fan of yours, so, uh, be before jumping into the learnings, as you said, from, you know, different, different geographies.
You had different teams, you worked in different companies. I’d ask a more personal question, uh, about really juggling careers. You touched it a little bit, uh, having both of you and your husband both have careers, growing careers. You had kids living abroad, going to your country. Like, how have you thought through all this?
I know many of us go through it or are going through it, so how, how did you manage this? Um, uh, going. Any advice
Cathy Nolan: of us? Yeah, I mean I, and I think like many of us, you know, through all. Inspiring career opportunities we have. The biggest job we have is, as you know, the biggest role we play as, as a mom or a dad or as a partner and managing through life.
But yeah, it, it definitely comes with challenge, but I think, first of all, I’m fortunate to have a spouse that’s been very supportive all the way through, um, our relationship together, um, before kids and, and after kids. So he works in the pharmaceutical. As well. So to some degree we understand each other’s jobs as best we can.
And so we know where the give and take might need to be for each other at various times in our career. Um, with the kids, you know, it is about flexibility for me. I have the two boys are eight and 10, and flexibility is key to me now to be able. Do a good job in the way I know I can do a good job, but have the flexibility to be there for the kids as and when they might need it.
But we also have the support network around us. Um, you know, we do have some childcare support when we need it because otherwise it just doesn’t work. Somebody did once say to um, my husband, um, John Banford, I guess, you know, and, uh, a lot of people lil would know him, but he and his wife were, you know, big careers at Lilly and he gave John and I advice out when we started to have kids in Indianapolis.
And he said, you know, at some point you both will think you can’t do it. That one of you has to take a step back or one of you has to stop working because it’ll become too much. And at that moment you must put the resource around you that helps you continue on because you can. But you’ve gotta give yourself a break and understand you can’t do everything.
And you might need to have somebody look after the kids in on an evening or pick them up from school and you might need to get cleaners and you might need to do some of that support network, have that around you, but do it. You can both still achieve your ambition and your potential. You just have to not try and do it all.
So we’ve really embraced that advice. I would say and, and do kind of make sure that we’re giving ourselves the support to help us achieve that. But it’s an ongoing balance every day, every day. So, yeah, I haven’t got it fixed. .
Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Yeah. And, and it’s continuous, but, and it’s a great advice, uh, obviously, um, you’ve led diversity as you said, across the globe, uh, in different cultures, different geographies, and you brought innovative medications, uh, to patients.
Uh, do you have a secret recipe for doing that successfully?
Cathy Nolan: for doing launch or for managing diverse teams and geographies? Yeah. Leading,
Naji Gehchan: leading, uh, high performing teams. Um,
Cathy Nolan: I would probably, so one of my. Career highlights, I think was when we launched, uh, Laval in Europe. Now, Laval ultimately was a, a treatment for a soft tissue sarcoma that was approved on, um, conditionally on phase two.
And unfortunately, the phase three data didn’t pan out. But at the time, in phase two, we thought we really have an innovative treatment here for patients with sarcoma who’ve had no innovation for 40. And we built such a cool, dynamic, energized team across the different countries in Europe, Germany, France, uk, Italy, and Spain.
Um, and I was part of the lead team for Europe, pulling our team together. I think the secret recipe is to all understand what you’re trying to achieve together. So clarity of vision. Where are we? , what do we want to achieve? And does everyone understand that first and foremost? Secondly, giving everyone a voice on the team and a role on the team.
So we had different personalities on the team and some people brought different things and giving everybody a role in that team to bring their best self and fu fundamentally move the team forward. So that was a key part of our dynamic where. Knew each other enough to know who brought what to the table.
And thirdly, I think we had such fun , we laughed. We, we got together, we had some downtime together. We were, we were launching in very, very quick timeline. We had like nine months to get ready to launch, and often they say you need three years. And we didn’t have that. So we knew we were gonna have to work fast.
And it was gonna be manic and it was gonna be a lot of pressure, but actually we got a lot of energy from that. And we made sure we’re only gonna do what’s most important here. We’re not gonna do all the other stuff. We’re gonna focus on the fundamentals. We’re gonna do that well, and we’re gonna have each other’s back and support each other through that journey.
And so I think some of those things, just being human and having a bit of fun along the way made a big, big difference. So some of. Most, uh, fun times. I think we’re in that team, even though we were under a lot of pressure to get a lot done in a short space of time. But that’s some of, I think what I would
Naji Gehchan: aim.
And how so, so let me double click on this, uh, cuz I love it. You said curtail vision, giving everyone a voice and having fun as we go through it. Uh, how, how did you manage if there was some tensions to make sure. Because you’re touching, I think, to the trust also within the team. Like you were all, yeah.
You said everyone has the others back. How did you build this, uh, as you were going through it to make sure that it’s a team that trust one another to, to be able to deliver on, you know, the men’s task that you guys had? Well,
Cathy Nolan: I think we, we built trust because we helped each other. . You know, we, we weren’t, you know, Germany weren’t on their own getting ready to launch.
We were all getting ready to launch in Germany cuz they were the first market to go. And you know, we all, Stephan was the brand leader at the time. You know, the rest of the team, whether you’re in France or uk, so you’re Spain or the European team. We were all in it for Stephan and his team to get this right.
So I think demonstrating. We were there to support and be part. It was as much our success. The German launch as it was gonna be anybody else’s was really important. Any tension. You know, there are obviously going to, there’s obviously going to be tension when there is a lot to do in a short space of time, but I think it was about, you know, having those conversations if there was tension and not waiting and letting things fester.
You know, having side conversations but then, you know, being transparent and open and tackling them head on and not pretending everything is fine when it isn’t. Um, and then being able to move on and just being respectful for people. I think tension comes if people are suspicious of agendas or you know, people are in an environment where they’re not honestly being authentic and genuine, but we were all just being who we were.
Good, bad, and ugly. Bringing it to the table. We were, we liked people for their good things as well as their, you know, eccentricities. And, and that was just what, what you need to do to build that trust. This is who I am. I’m not trying to hide anything and we wanna just get the job done and do it well for patients.
So that was, that was the kind of real big piece that we needed to focus.
Naji Gehchan: I love it. This is super powerful. Uh, and you touched something like, my next question would be more about you and your leadership style. We talk, we talked a lot about it, both of us. Um, and you talk, you talked here about authentic leadership, uh, being who you are.
So how do you define your leadership signature?
Cathy Nolan: Yeah, a la large part of my leadership signature is, is, you know, I, uh, I may be a leader, but I’m still like everyone else. I would say . I don’t, I don’t lean into I hierarchy. I, I wanna support my team regardless of where they sit in the organization. Everyone deserves to be heard, um, and everyone’s as important as everyone else from the top to the bottom and back up again.
So, you know, fairness, equality. , um, listening. Being, um, empathetic to people’s situation, but I’m also, I also like to achieve. I like to achieve, well, I have high standards. I, I want us to be successful as a team because I think that’s where, you know, a team gels most when you’re, in good times and being successful and achieving good things together.
Um, but a big part of my leadership style is, is authenticity, I think. And also being direct and forthright. I mean, you know, again, no agenda. This is what I think , um, and this is why, and let’s, sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong and let’s have a chat about it. And I love to debate and discuss and be open in, in, in how we, we manage through, um, problems and, and, and build things.
Naji Gehchan: Did this evolve over time? Did your leadership evolve over time or, and was it the same, for example, leading global team in a large organization and then leading, you know, in a biotechs motor team?
Cathy Nolan: I would say that I was always started out as being pretty up. I mean, that’s just who I am, I think is more upfront, direct.
and authentic. I, I’m, you know, I, I am who I am is my kind of thing. I think as I became a leader midway through the last 23 years, at some point I started to doubt that. I started to say, well, as a leader, do I now have to put on a face? Do I now have to pretend that I’m something like, because this is the way a leader should behave.
And then I think through the last number of years, I’ve come out the other side to say, I am who I am. I’m here because of who I am and what I can bring. I sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong. . And, but that’s okay. And I, I now, I think, have come to a realization that authenticity is actually key.
So I would say I’ve, I’ve evolved, but come back to the point that I just wanna be who I am and be true to myself and to others, and do good work with good people. And, and that’s, that’s kind of, you know, as I see myself moving into the next phase of my career, what’s important to me. .
Naji Gehchan: Well, thanks for sharing this.
And I, I would add also vulnerability. You’re sharing vulnerably those things. And ma many of us, I think doubt, ask questions, you know, about ourselves as we go through it. Uh, and it’s, um, it, it’s super powerful as you’re sharing it with vulnerability and also authenticity. So thanks for that. Uh, Kathy, what is your, if you have one advice you would give yourself, , uh, as you were starting your career in healthcare and pharma, what would be that advice?
Cathy Nolan: Um, I mean, I would still give myself advice over, even 10 years ago, not even at the start, you know, the, the learnings trust yourself. Trust yourself. Have confidence and trust your instinct. That’s what I would say to to myself back then. You know, I, I believe I have good instinct, but I sometimes lack confidence in that, and that’s where mentors have been hugely helpful to me along the way in my career, and I can’t overemphasize that enough.
They’ve helped me. See beyond the limitations I may have placed on myself, because I may have lacked that confidence or didn’t trust my own gut instinct. So I would go back and say, just trust yourself. You know, stay true to who you are. Lean in, don’t be afraid. I mean, I’m not, and now I would say I’m not fearful and I will take on any challenge and what’s the worst that can happen, but I’ll give it my best.
Sometimes fear along the way can stop us, stop us doing things that we know we can do. We just don’t maybe have the confidence to kind of embrace that. And so I would say to my younger self, you know, be confident. Don’t be afraid. You know, go for it and you’ll learn something along the way, whether it works out or not.
So that’s what I would probably say to myself.
Naji Gehchan: I’d love now to move to a section where I will give you a word and get your reaction. Okay, . The first one is Leadership Powerful. What about diversity? Essential, I, I know you’re passionate about it, so you can say more than one word. For this one, I’d love to dig a little bit deeper.
Cathy Nolan: Ping pong. Yeah. Diversity. . Yeah. I mean, you know, group think and all same people have the same idea. It doesn’t get you to a better place. And I, I think diversity is what makes for amazing conversations and fascinating ideas. I think it’s. challenging sometimes to create diverse teams because you have to embrace difference.
And not everyone can embrace difference for various reasons. Either they don’t know how to, or they’re not in a place in their life career to be able to do so. So, you know, it takes openness of mind to be able to embrace diversity, but it is essential because it, it brings different perspectives to the table, um, and ultimately gets us to a better place.
Naji Gehchan: The third word is Chief
Cathy Nolan: LinkedIn,
Chief, uh, well, I’ve just joined as the founding member in the uk, an organization called Chief, which I’m super excited about actually. So it’s just a network of female leaders who, from all industries, um, who get together and support each other. Various professional and, uh, personal, I think challenges. I, it’s, I’m starting out on this journey, so I have my first core session next week with a group of female leaders, none of which are in the farming industry.
So I’m, I’m excited cuz sometimes. For me, I was in the one company for 19 years and then I’ve been in another company for the last three years. So, you know, I honestly feel like my, you know, my lens is kind of narrow and I wanna broaden that, and I’m really excited to do so with, with a group of powerful female leaders and learn.
Naji Gehchan: and there is still so much to be done, obviously for, for women in leadership. I, I’d love like your view about it, anything you’ve seen that has moved further better and things that you would really focus on, uh, now within this organization, or even in life as, as a, as really a role model for several women, uh, what would you do or what would you focus on?
Cathy Nolan: I think one of my, um, how do I say acknowledgements? Observations in the last number of years as I moved to a pretty senior position in the latter number of years when we were at Lilly, there was a a journey customer journey work done for female leaders within the organization. I dunno if you remember that, but when it got to VP or SVP level female leaders, that was the toughest phase of most female leaders careers.
Now you might expect that because they’re big roles, but you also would expect that that should be exhilarating and exciting to be at those senior leader, leader levels. But actually it was really, really challenging and I felt that myself. Um, I think you doubt yourself for some reason when you get to that level cuz you know, who am I to be at the senior level?
You don’t bring as much confidence again as you might see other male leaders have at that level for whatever reason. Plus, it’s demanding on time and some of the responsibilities at home With the best balance between partners and spouses, possible females still do tend to take slightly more of the burden of managing life at home, as well as then trying to manage a career.
So I’ve observed that dynamic that I saw and observed in this journey work years ago, and now I. I would say it in the last number of years. It’s tough. My advice, I mean, my reflection now is it’s okay that you can get overwhelmed in big roles, and that’s normal. And actually the biggest thing you can do for yourself in that moment is take a step back, just metaphorically.
Not necessarily leave, but take a step back. and gain perspective because you don’t have to be perfect . You don’t have to have it all sorted. There is a wealth of people around you to support you. , you can talk it out with somebody in the company, in the industry, in your team, in your mentor network or outside, such as a chief network, et cetera.
There are places to go to bounce things around, but also many other people are experiencing the same thing. And I sometimes it’s lonely in a really senior leader role, and you feel you can’t talk to anybody because you can’t show that vulnerability anymore, because now you’re really important and you have to have it together.
But, uh, I think, no, you don’t, everyone’s human no matter how senior you are. And you, you need to be able to say that and, and find the right support so that you can do your best work. Cuz you wouldn’t be in the role if you couldn’t do it. So that’s the other thing. You can do it. You just sometimes need to know that you’re not gonna be perfect all the time.
It’s okay to say that. I hope that makes sense.
Naji Gehchan: It does. And, and those are very powerful advices for sure. Uh, the last one is spread love in organizations.
Cathy Nolan: Uh, my, my reaction to that isn’t done enough. . Um, you know, I, when I was preparing for this discussion to some degree, I didn’t prepare too much. But when I prepare for the discussion, it is interesting the love in organizations, because some people would say love in work, , but it is important. It’s about kindness.
Empathy and making work a good place to be for people, cuz that’s when people do their best work. So I think it’s important to spread love in an appropriate way, , um, and, and make people feel safe and appreciated and rewarded and, you know, be transparent with people as well. And, you know, be open with what’s going well and what’s not going well.
And that’s spreading love too by being honest with people. You know, we’ve talked of late, sometimes just upfront, honest conversations about where people are at and where they’re going in an organization is key to giving people the transparency they want to need and, and I think more of it should happen.
Naji Gehchan: This is true love when you’re transparent and you tell people where they stand. And those are incredibly powerful words. Uh, Cathy, any final word of wisdom for leaders around the words?
Cathy Nolan: Um, you know, I, again, it comes back to, you know, trust your instinct. Know you’re good enough, you are good.
you just sometimes may need support, and it’s okay to look for that support. And I think finally, you know, you won’t always enjoy what you do or have fun every day. If you’re having fun in your role, relish it and build off that because that’s where the magic happens. I think when teams are having fun and enjoying being with each other and doing good work.
If you’re not having fun on a regular basis or have stopped having fun, be brave and make a change. . Um, I think that has been my learning, I think over the last number of years as well. Life’s too short. We’re all good at what we do and find our right spot. And I think if you’re not in the right spot, then bring that leadership talent and ability and, and go apply it somewhere else in the organization or outside or whatever.
But that would be, don’t let the chance go by or, and stay still where you don’t need.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much for, uh, this amazing informal chat and conversation. So many words of wisdom. Thanks for being with me, Cathy, today. Thank you so much.
Cathy Nolan: No problem, Naji. Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve enjoyed the chat.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
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