Growing as a leader in GSK – What I have learnt in two years

By David Caballero Pradas

Let me give you a bit of context. I studied Biotech and Business and joined GSK’s Future Leaders Programme, after getting some experience in academia and biotech. I have just finished my two-year programme, rotating in marketing, finance, R&D strategy and portfolio management and oncology research. It’s been quite a journey and here are a few learnings that I would like to share with you.

Think again, how much do you know yourself?

As much as the Future Leaders Programme has stretched my technical capabilities from being able to discuss experimental designs with academic experts to build financial models for the GSK-Novartis asset swap, it is on the personal side that I feel that I have grown exponentially. Taking part in interpersonal skills workshops and receiving sincere feedback are some of clearest ways of learning about yourself; but it is working under pressure and with diverse colleagues that I have found the greatest development opportunities. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is not only of relevance for answering interview questions; it is one of the building blocks to know yourself. Without enough self-awareness, it’s complicated to move on to appreciate other’s differences and ending up, not just performing better yourself, but excelling as a team.

It’s not what you do, but how you do it

High performance has been redefined in my mind. I used to think of it as achieving objectives with high quality and as fast as possible. After these two years, there’s one more factor that I would add, one harder to define: here is where the “It’s not what you do, but how you do it” comes in.

Imagine that you are responsible for a market access analysis. You study the most recent clinical data, the customer-payer environment and the competitor landscape, and prepare a great presentation showing your results. That’s a job well done, a good “what”. The “how” could include diagnosing the problem beforehand, ensuring that you answer the questions that leads to a successful product launch; getting outsiders’ feedback and ideas, being always open to challenges; and involving stakeholders along the process to make sure that your presentation triggers the intended actions. Genuinely caring about the “how” may be what people call leadership.

What do you want to give to the world?

When our grandparents were young, they probably didn’t have many options about what to do in their lives. They did what was available to them; in my case: goat farming and making cheese. When our parents had to decide their career, the most relevant question was: how will I pay the bills? In our generation, we have been lucky enough to be encouraged to think about what we want to do. This is a huge improvement in just three generations and I don’t think that we should stop here. In addition to what you enjoy doing, I would consider one more question: what do you want to give to the world? This is indeed the result of your work.

There are many things that I enjoy doing, and there are many roles where I could fulfil that passion; but after experiencing working to make an impact in peoples’ lives, I don’t think that I would like to work on anything else. What will you give to the world?