Working Life Interview: Fiona Huzarski, Vice President of Global HR, ADVANZ PHARMA

pharmafile | August 26, 2020 | Feature | Business Services, Manufacturing and Production, Medical Communications, Research and Development, Sales and Marketing Interview, Working Life, feature 

“Every company is different, so you have to be open-minded and receptive to the culture when joining.”

Can you briefly take us through your career journey so far? 

My career in Human Resources began over 20 years ago as a training coordinator in the management consultancy sector. It was in this role that I discovered my affinity with helping people to develop within their own careers and truly reach their potential. In the last 15 years I have been working within the pharmaceutical industry, taking the initial leap to GSK’s Global Recruitment Team where I supported their head office functions. I then moved to UCB where I focused more closely on research and development operations, before taking on the role of Vice President of Global HR at ADVANZ PHARMA in August 2019.

You started your career in management consulting; how did you make the leap to the pharmaceutical industry? How was the work and culture different?

 Management consulting was an immersive way to begin my career in HR, as I was working with a range of different clients from a variety of industries every day. Working as a consultant provided me with essential adaptability skills; however, I knew that, despite everything I was learning in such a diverse role, it lacked the experience of having a unique company culture, which encouraged me to seek a role in the pharmaceutical industry. Within healthcare I have found there is an unmistakeable sense of purpose which infiltrates through to every staff member, and this has motivated me to stay in the industry for as long as I have.

Having a common goal of helping patients to lead longer and healthier lives creates a real drive within the team, that I believe sets us apart from other industries. I certainly see this within the culture at ADVANZ PHARMA and it’s hugely rewarding to have a workforce that is so aligned to the company’s strategy and goals.

You started your latest role as VP of Global HR in August last year; how are you finding it and how is it distinct compared to your previous roles?

 The biggest difference when moving to ADVANZ PHARMA was the shift in the number of products the company has. Our focus is innovating and revitalising niche established medicines for specialised patient populations that would otherwise not be available to those that need them. This meant going from three main products in my previous role to over 200 products across multiple therapy areas, which brought a new level of complexity to the role, while making every day far more varied.

It’s rewarding to know we are serving a wide variety of specialised patient populations who, without our investment, would not have access to these treatments. Another distinction from my previous roles is the size of the company. Working for a mid-size company with over 200 products in its portfolio means that we are big enough to make an impact but small enough to be flexible. As an HR team of 15 people, we can be more agile in our approach, while always keeping the company’s culture front of mind. Being able to see the bigger picture and the end product of our work inspires us and allows us to go the extra mile.

We have a wonderfully diverse and talented team who can express themselves freely and influence the culture of the company every single day, which is a huge benefit.

You can’t have been long in the role before disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic hit the business. How have you continued to work during this time? Was this challenging at a recently new role in a new company?

The COVID-19 pandemic was certainly something that no company could have foreseen and came with a number of challenges. However, we were in a strong position to deal with the changes required to ensure safe working conditions for our staff. We made the decision in early March, before formal regulations were announced, to close our offices globally, which was possible due to the efficient remote working set-up we already had in place. Our employees were, and still are, our top priority throughout this period, which was clearly communicated from the outset. We were also quick to set-up a daily COVID Task Force, which I have been chairing, with our employees as the main focus of discussions.

One of our top priorities has been maintaining the human connection throughout this period of remote working. We believe this is particularly important in looking after our employees’ wellbeing, both physically and mentally. We have arranged a host of activities as a result, including mindfulness sessions, yoga classes and resilience sessions.

We have also continued the fun and light-hearted side of our company culture through events such as a sponsored 24 hour dance-a-thon, where everyone gave their all despite the difficult circumstances, and raised an incredible £24,000 for The British Red Cross Global Coronavirus Fund.

ADVANZ PHARMA acquired Correvio Pharma back in May of this year, which came along with integrating an entire workforce during the pandemic. How did you ensure this went smoothly?

It probably goes without saying that I have never been in a situation quite like it before in my career! The dedication shown by both teams to make the acquisition and integration of Correvio a success was remarkable.

We had to make some significant adjustments to our onboarding strategy; ideally you would want to meet new employees face-to-face, but we were of course unable to do that. Instead, we invested a great deal of time into personalised communication with employees. We implemented this by setting up one-to-one meetings with every single Correvio employee in the first two weeks of integration, ensuring we understood what the transition meant for them personally, while aligning to our company values and objectives. We have also held roadshows where teams spoke about their visions and purpose within their functions, including meetings to run through the more practical elements of day-to-day work. We even created our own microsite with an anonymous email hotline to ensure any queries were addressed and answered as a priority.

It was fantastic to see in a recent employee poll that the overwhelming majority of staff, 96%, felt positively about the integration. This reassured us that our strategy has been successful even in this challenging climate. 

You have worked in multiple companies over your career. How have you adapted to each new environment? Do you approach each in the same way or bring forward lessons from previous roles?

Every company is different, so you have to be open-minded and receptive to the culture when joining an organisation. I have applied my experience from previous roles wherever relevant but it’s important not to stay too stuck in your ways and embrace the new company and its unique visions. It’s also vital to accept that not everything goes to plan. During my time at ADVANZ PHARMA, we have had to completely adapt our recruitment and onboarding process; however, this has turned out to be so successful that we have chosen to continue to use these new practices going forward. For example, we have seen that virtual interviews have worked particularly well and, through streamlining our hiring process in this way, we have been able to optimise our overall recruitment strategy.

It’s been great to see all our key functions, from IT to HR, pulling together to ensure employees have everything they need for their onboarding while working from home. We’re also looking into additional ways we can use technology we have available to us, such as videos and podcasts, where our managers and team leaders can talk about their roles and aims for the company. It’s been a learning curve but it has motivated us to push the boundaries of what we are able to achieve and use more innovative approaches in the process.

Do you feel it’s important to ensure that other women can succeed in the industry and progress to the upper reaches of a company in the way that you have? Do you or the company engage in any work to make sure these paths are open to women in the workforce?

Ensuring women can progress within their roles and have equal opportunities is at the heart of much of the work I do and is why we have set-up the ADVANZ Women’s Network. This is one of the most active groups we have within the organisation and it aims to ensure women have access to all the support and tools they need to reach their full potential. Within the network, we encourage women to become members of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association so they can access insights from female leaders in the space and attend networking events to meet likeminded individuals. We also run workshops for our female employees which centre on topics such as developing self-awareness, addressing imposter syndrome and demonstrating how women can best communicate their ambition and purpose in the organisation with conviction.

Through this we strive to build employees’ confidence and resilience, while raising awareness of unconscious biases which can sometimes exist. We’re proud to say that around 40% of our managers are female and we’re working towards reflecting this in our senior leadership team as well, with clear targets set out for the next two to three years.

What do you think makes the role of HR crucial within a pharma or biotech firm? What do you find most rewarding about the work?

For me, HR is all about making the right investment in people. Through attracting the best talent and optimising opportunities available to them, we are able to maximise productivity and encourage career development. At the same time, it’s important to strike the right balance between creating a nurturing environment for our employees, while also staying true to the company’s core strategy and objectives. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing employees flourish and thrive within their roles.

As well as personal development, business growth is a key focus for us and, as we continue to evolve as a company, it’s a more exciting time than ever to join ADVANZ PHARMA. There are some fantastic opportunities available and we welcome those who are looking to challenge themselves and take the next step in their career.

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