Inspiring Careers in Pharma: Diversity and Inclusion Driving Business at MSD

If you would ask people you know what is one of the most important things for them right now, I’m quite sure many of them would answer “health”. We often take health for granted and don’t think about it until we lose it. The current COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of health and shown us how many of the global threats today are health related. That’s why working in the pharma industry feels even more meaningful today than ever before.

My own journey in one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, MSD, started right after I graduated from the University in the 1980’s. I started my career as a sales representative in California. One thing I saw very early on was how critically important it was to get support: from colleagues and managers. I’m truly grateful for all the support and mentoring I received when I began my career. I also saw that when you work hard and have open and honest conversations with your manager about your career goals, new opportunities can be found. I’ve grown from sales and marketing roles in the U.S., to headquarters-based roles with a global remit, to managing director role in the UK and Ireland, to president of our oncology business in Europe, Middle-East, Africa and Canada and now to president for our entire Human Health portfolio in Europe and Canada. I’ve learned through each of these moves that being successful in your career requires hard work of course, but importantly it also requires collaboration, being part of a team and building teams that are diverse and inclusive, valuing different perspectives, backgrounds and expertise. In our business of improving health of people globally, no-one is successful alone.

Inventing to save and improve lives
For our employees, the work that we do is incredibly meaningful, often even personal. I’m quite sure we all know someone who’s been touched by cancer, for example. We’ve all received medication, vaccines or other care at some point in our lives. We’ve been ill and we’ve seen colleagues, friends and loved ones get ill. This is what makes our jobs so energizing – the ability to improve and save lives – and is so inspiring and rewarding on both a professional and personal level.

At MSD we invent for a more hopeful future. For 130 years we’ve been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. And we’ve been able to do that because of our people – our diverse teams and our top scientists who keep us in the forefront of research to prevent and treat diseases. We’re all inventors, no matter what role or job title we have. We all work towards a single goal of delivering on our mission and vision, and we do that with a steadfast commitment to the highest standards of ethics and integrity.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as central strategy to business growth
To truly invent for the patients around the world, our company needs to reflect the different communities in which we work and live. Diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamental to our success and enable our innovation. These aren’t just abstract words, they are foundational to our values and standards as a company and are core to how we engage with each other, our customers, our patients and the communities we serve. I believe this is what makes our business successful.

MSD fosters a diverse workforce where all employees feel comfortable bringing their full selves and unique perspectives to work. This is incredibly important in today’s workplace. We invent for a better, hopeful and healthier future around the world. To be able to do this, we need diverse backgrounds, ideas, experiences and capabilities along with a culture that is inclusive of others and allows that diversity to shine. This is what helps inspire people and makes teams more innovative and successful.

Every year in September, we dedicate a full month to learn about, assess and celebrate our achievements in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We highlight our people, their ideas and backgrounds. We celebrate the value of a diverse and inclusive culture – one that respects and embraces the diversity of experiences, perspectives, backgrounds and abilities. We encourage individuals to listen and to learn from each other and to take personal accountability for ensuring that all individuals feel heard, valued and respected.

For me, Diversity and Inclusion is core to how we do business, without it we cannot be successful. It helps us overcome or even break down barriers. It helps us to understand different perspectives and to change mindsets and behaviors thereby creating a workplace where our people and teams will thrive. As an example, my team is from different nationalities, generations, religions, genders and experiences. We have physicians, scientists, accountants to name a few all with varying time spent in healthcare, from months to decades. I value bringing together people who complement each other, who through their differences challenge each other for better and who value the variety of ideas, skills and perspectives. By fostering this type of an environment, we can influence other parts of the organization through the teams we collaborate with.

Being in this career for a long time, living in different countries and running businesses in different parts of the world, one thing has always been clear to me: you need great people, each with their own unique background and perspective, to be successful. At the same time, I take very seriously the role I play in setting the tone for a culture that allows our people to be their full selves. Without that, we cannot be successful in our mission and vision. I too am always on a journey to listen, learn and take action to enable that culture. To me as a leader it is a key objective that our people feel they belong, that they can bring their authentic selves to work and that everyone feels safe to speak up. When people know they are crucial to our mission, they will thrive, and so will the company.

A critical aspect of diversity and inclusion is equal opportunities for all. For several years I’ve sponsored the Oncology Women Leaders group and I find this work and collaboration extremely inspiring and rewarding. The purpose of the group is to provide our female leaders with networking, sponsorship and career development opportunities. I’m committed to do all I can and expect that my teams and colleagues challenge me to think boldly, to think big and to think equal. It’s teamwork: we can all do our part to create a culture that encourages people to grow, learn, lead and give back. I’m proud of MSD’s commitment to establishing leadership programs to promote equality and to remaining committed to equity across gender, race, and ethnicity as a strategy to drive business results and advance our mission to save and improve lives.

Diverse teams, diverse career paths
Diversity is also the reason why career paths and opportunities vary: in our Human Health division we have experts from marketing, data science, sales, government affairs, from analytics to market access. And here’s the exciting thing: your career path may cross several different areas which enriches your experience and keeps your career interesting and challenging. You may begin in sales, take another role in marketing, maybe take on a development assignment in market access and end up in the policy team. Or, you start in digital marketing, find an exciting role in communications and from there move to investor relations. By leveraging the strengths and diversity of our people throughout the enterprise we drive greater impact across the business. The opportunities are endless, it just requires curiosity, growth mindset and the desire to challenges oneself.

For anyone looking for a career in pharma and at MSD, I can share three pieces of advice:

1. Be curious. Look around you and gain knowledge and experience in many different areas. Learn from others. I continuously learn from people around me: from people in other teams, from different countries and from different backgrounds. It has enriched my work life in many ways and helped me with my personal development. Put simply, it has helped me become a better leader. Also be curious for new opportunities that might seem like a stretch. These types of challenging roles can often provide the most incredible personal and professional growth.
2. Be brave. You don’t necessarily need to be the top expert in healthcare to start a career in pharma. Think about the skills and capabilities you possess and how these can bring value to a healthcare company like MSD. Find your brand and share it broadly. As the world changes so do the needs of today’s healthcare and business. Is your passion in data engineering, data science or business analytics? These are just a few areas in which we are growing and continuously invest
3. Be open-minded. The pharmaceutical industry offers many opportunities and is always innovating. Think of not just one role but rather consider the breadth of opportunities that may be possible. Maybe your skills are exactly what’s needed in the team? Maybe your previous experience can bring new and much needed different views to the role? It’s the diverse skills, views and backgrounds that make people and teams thrive.

Working for a biopharmaceutical company is extremely rewarding. Every day we challenge ourselves, our teams and our stakeholders to find solutions to the world’s biggest health issues to ensure that all people around the world have equitable access to innovations when they need them. It’s what energizes me every day and makes me proud of the work I do and lead. Perhaps it will do the same for you!

About the author

Deepak Khanna

Deepak Khanna

MSD, President Human Health, Europe & Canada

Deepak Khanna is President Europe & Canada at MSD, leading MSD’s Human Health business across this region. Prior to this role, Mr. Khanna was SVP & Regional President EMEAC Oncology at MSD 2013-2020 leading commercial operations for MSD’s oncology business across Europe, Middle-East, Africa and Canada, and SVP & Managing Director of MSD in the UK and Ireland 2009-2013.

Alongside his role as Managing Director, he played an active role in pharmaceutical industry affairs in the UK. He held the position of President of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) between April 2012 and April 2014 and oversaw the pricing and reimbursement negotiations with the UK government during his tenure.

Deepak Khanna began his career at MSD in 1988 in field sales and progressed to positions of increasing responsibility within the U.S. and Worldwide Human Health Division, leading to versatile leadership roles in multiple therapeutic areas. After MSD’s announcement on plans to merge with Schering-Plough, he also led the U.S. integration planning efforts.

Mr. Khanna has over 30 years of industry experience with broad functional expertise including strategic and operational roles across various geographies and divisions and is highly respected within the industry. He earned Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and economics from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA in marketing from Santa Clara University.

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