Cultural & Organizational Transformation At MSD

The global pandemic is challenging leaders and their organizations to reaffirm their purpose and reimagine their operating model. In fact, in so many ways the pandemic is redefining leadership.

I made a choice to step out of my comfort zone when I chose to move to the Emerging Markets after spending little over a decade in the United States, where I started my biopharmaceutical career in Brand Marketing, at a leading global specialty company with a pharmaceutical, surgical device and consumer business.

I subsequently took on roles with increasing responsibility, first within the US commercial organization and then global leadership roles for pharmaceutical and surgical device franchises. My experiences with inspiring and leading franchise transformation, began in the United States.

Inspiring transformation, demands a focus on 3 essentials:
• Crafting a bold shared vision with your leadership team, that shares your passion and conviction towards realizing that vision.
• Articulating that vision across the enterprise, while rapidly and exponentially expanding the ‘circle of active believers’.
• Enabling and inspiring a purpose-driven enterprise, to move with agility towards realizing that shared vision with a focus on addressing the needs of health care providers and patients.

Transformation often requires a leadership team to make tough, uncomfortable choices alongside a conscious focus on taking each colleague along on the journey. As you make progress, it is also critical to achieve strong buy-in around how progress will be measured and communicated across the enterprise, in sync with pre-defined milestones. It is also critical that the leadership team stays very grounded to the fundamentals around execution and what it means to ‘move the needle’, each day.

One of the more significant and sometimes overlooked transformation catalysts is streamlining and / or eliminating process that does not add purpose-centric value. In my experience, this is one of the toughest areas to drive change.

The current pandemic has highlighted several instances where companies that have been sluggish to re-think process and their ways of working, are rapidly out maneuvered by their peers.

I see continuing opportunities to observe and learn from peer companies across sectors that are reimagining the future and embracing new ways of working while making thoughtful practical choices, to significantly stream line process.

Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and Inclusion has been a fundamental tenet in my continuing journey across cultures and geographies, towards inspiring and enabling transformation.

Through a diverse and more inclusive workforce, we strive each day to nurture high levels of engagement, equity and empowerment.

When I think about diversity and inclusiveness, I think about it across three levels:
• The unprecedented times that we live in, call for even greater diversity and inclusion.
• The multiplier effect from bringing together ‘internal’ and ‘external’ diversity. This includes an active focus on talent acquisition from other sectors.
• Successfully leveraging a diverse workforce towards building an even more progressive and resilient enterprise.

Working in continuing partnership with our Asia Pacific regional and Global colleagues, we have achieved several exciting milestones, across our country cluster subsidiary:
• Over 50% of colleagues on our Leadership team are women.
• Female colleagues now represent 45% of our workforce.
• More than 50% of all external hires within the last 12 months were women.

Gender inequality is not only a pressing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. Public, private, and social sectors around the world need to act with an even greater, collective sense of urgency towards addressing gender gaps, across all facets of society.

Talent and Culture
Talent is the single most important differentiator towards inspiring sustainable organizational transformation.

Building a strong diverse and passionate team has required disciplined choices and has been a foundational step in our journey towards inspiring sustainable cultural and performance transformation. As I reflect on these experiences, nothing is more gratifying than seeing your teams come together in pursuit of a common vision and thriving!

Most recently, MSD across Singapore & Malaysia won ‘biopharmaceutical employer of choice’ recognitions, a true testament to the tremendous efforts of our leadership team and their enterprise focus on talent and culture.

For the second year in a row, our Clinical Trials Operations Team also received recognitions by Clinical Research Malaysia, for their contribution with the highest number of newly approved and cumulative clinical trials. During these challenging times, our teams have further intensified their unwavering commitment to patients enrolled in our clinical trials. This would not have been possible without the relentless commitment of all health care providers and front liners.

An important fabric of our culture is how we communicate. Warm, collaborative and performance inspiring is how I would describe our culture at MSD. Continuing to inspire a “speak up culture”, is an area for ongoing evolution, for our cluster. This will continue to enhance transparency while building even stronger teams.

An active focus on “listening” and seeking “outside-in” perspectives has not only enabled us to build more cohesive teams but inspired us to pivot towards greater innovation, in pursuit of our mission to save and improve lives. It truly inspires our colleagues to engage fully.

Transformation begins with self-awareness and self-reflection. In my prior role as Managing Director of MSD in Indonesia, my leadership team and I inspired our journey of transformation which started with a simple phrase “CHANGE starts with ME”.

I was blessed to be raised by parents who passionately pursued their diverse careers; my father with the pharmaceutical industry and my mother, as a painter. They have and will continue to be my greatest sources of inspiration.

I also attribute my continuing personal growth to leaders, colleagues and mentors from around the world who have and continue to inspire and challenge me in truly memorable ways, to listen, learn and grow.

Now, More Than Ever; Agility, Resilience & the Power of Digital
If this year has taught us anything, it is the power of ONE team with indomitable will. Powering through change requires grit and agility alongside a fundamental belief in each colleague across your organization.

Across roles and geographies, I continue to listen and learn from colleagues who inspire us to make conscious choices towards pursuing innovation and digital acceleration, with an unwavering focus on ethics and integrity in all we do each day.

The pace, depth and breadth of digitalization in the ‘new normal’, is exponentially intensifying competition within and across sectors. From a behavioural stand-point, this new normal demands significantly shorter cycle times around how companies capture, analyze and act on customer insights and data. This frenzied pace of digitalization requires organizations across sectors to rapidly equip themselves to learn through pilots, while pivoting teams to effectively address the evolving needs of the customer, with higher levels of agility.

As we look to the future with bounded optimism, we recognize that the ‘new normal’ inspires the need for even greater clarity around our vision, alongside higher levels of engagement and adaptability. Digitalization and a comprehensive understanding of the volatile policy environment and the associated global – regional interrelationships are going to become even more critical differentiators.

My team and I are excited about furthering our focus on ‘experimentation’ and ‘innovation’, enhancing our ways of working across the enterprise and inspiring our colleagues to step out of their comfort zone, towards realizing their aspirations.

About the author

Ashish Pal

Ashish Pal

MSD, Managing Director, Singapore & Malaysia

Ashish is the Managing Director for MSD Singapore & Malaysia.

Ashish has a strong track record for inspiring sustainable organizational transformation(s), innovation, digital acceleration and developing talent across geographies.

Driven by purpose, Ashish started his career with Pfizer in India and after his MBA, continued at Alcon in the United States, where he held commercial leadership roles of increasing responsibility to include Global franchise leadership for both pharmaceutical and surgical device franchises.

He then joined Merck in the United States as Senior Director, Global Women’s health care Marketing before moving onto becoming Senior Director, Portfolio Marketing for the Emerging Markets.

His continuing career at MSD inspired him to relocate to Mumbai, India as General Manager to establish and operationalize a pan Emerging Markets joint venture. He then moved to Jakarta, Indonesia as Managing Director for MSD in Indonesia, before his current role as Cluster Managing Director for MSD Singapore & Malaysia.

Ashish also plays an active policy leadership role and serves as Vice President for both the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (SAPI) and the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PHAMA), the industry associations for innovative biopharmaceutical companies. In these roles, Ashish works in close partnership with both association board(s) alongside local, regional and global stakeholders towards enhancing access to innovative medicines and vaccines.

A relentless champion for diversity and inclusion, Ashish enjoys mentoring colleagues to step out of their comfort zone. He is energized by constantly learning and re-skilling across the enterprise and at a personal level. Ashish has an MBA in Marketing and International Business from the University of Illinois, Chicago and a Bachelors in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Mumbai, India.

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