A lightbulb moment
I was sitting in a meeting room last week with some peers and we got talking about how long we have been at Roche. When it was my turn, I proudly said “Almost 25 years!” It wasn’t until someone in the room said, “Aren’t you turning 50 this year? You have spent half of your life with Roche.” Well, I could have fallen off my chair! I had never considered my career from that perspective and it led me to reflect on why I had stayed with one organisation for so long. I realised it all boils down to opportunity – opportunity to grow, opportunity to make a difference, opportunity to experience joy and friendship at work and opportunity to pursue my passions.
The early years
My parents worked hard to provide me and my siblings with a good education. Their values of hard work and self-belief rubbed off on me and I grew up confident that I could achieve anything I put my mind to. So after studying Applied Science I was all set to start my career in the healthcare sector as an Health Information Manager at Ashfield Private Hospital.
Within months I jumped at an opportunity to work for the prestigious University of Sydney and it was here that I got my first taste of clinical trials. Working in drug development was hugely exciting. I knew this was something I wanted to explore more so I moved into the pharmaceutical industry joining Roche as a Clinical Research Associate, responsible for managing a small number of clinical trials. In hindsight I’d say this was one of my all time favourite roles. I was just 25, ambitious and keen to make my mark on the world. I threw myself into the role eagerly learning everything I could about the pharma industry and figuring out how to navigate my way around a large multinational.
Learning from the best
I grew up with three sisters and an independent, capable mother. Together they set the benchmark high. They are incredible role models – strong, empowered women and I continue to admire them all greatly for very different reasons. I’ve also been fortunate enough to enjoy a wide circle of female friends who are all so unique and bring so much to my world. Each has taught me something new and made me look at life from a different angle and to open up my mind to fresh perspectives. This has helped me enormously in my attitude and approach to leadership in the workplace.
Right from the start at Roche, I had access to many inspiring women in leadership positions who gave generously of their time and wisdom. This trend of female leaders at Roche is still strong today with 77% of leadership positions at Roche (Pharma) in Australia held by women. These women planted the seed in me that is still growing today – my passion for developing people to unleash their potential and collaborating with people to make a difference to the world through our work. I am lucky to have friends, coaches and mentors still today from those early days at Roche. I think having those amazing women in my life set me up for the journey ahead and gave me confidence beyond my years of experience.
Leadership isn’t easy – it’s an acquired art!
I wasn’t at Roche too long before I got myself a line management role. I took this on with gusto but, unlike now, back then there was little support for new line managers – you had to figure it out yourself! Looking back, I was an inexperienced leader filled with self importance and lack of empathy. Luckily, I was taken under the wing of my female head of department at the time who invested time in coaching me, guiding me and, most importantly, believing in the impact I could have on people.
Like everyone, I have been exposed to all types of leaders. So many that I have admired and learnt from and others that I fervently hope I’ll never be like. I’ve tried to take the best parts of all the great leaders I have worked with to form my own style of leadership and I am mindful not to forget the impact that ineffective and demotivating leadership can have.
I don’t believe leadership is something you ever master; I continue to shape and evolve how I lead, trying out new approaches and flexing to those around me.
Opportunity does not always come knocking!
I believe that having a deep understanding of how different parts of the organisation function to have a more holistic view of the entire business is really important. Throughout my career at Roche, I have developed expertise in numerous functions including Research and Development, Commercial and Medical. I’ve worked in multiple therapeutic areas with an array of amazing molecules that have really changed patients’ lives. And I’ve been involved in many above brand, corporate projects in addition to my “day job”.
But these opportunities did not just arrive in my lap! I believe that driving your own development is key. A good leader can help you identify what shape the opportunity could take and help you find the path to get there, but I believe that the accountability for making that opportunity a reality lies with the individual. I have always been able to find growth and development opportunities within Roche – that’s why I have spent half my life at Roche!
I created many of these opportunities by capitalising on my networks within the company. The power of networks should not be underestimated in my opinion and I actively encourage others to invest the time in building their networks and connections and exploring opportunities outside of their natural comfort zone.
I actively try to help women to seek out and embrace opportunity, especially the younger ones finding their way, by being approachable and actively offering mentorship. I try to help them make connections or introduce them to resources and knowledge that will help remove roadblocks and open up the path for them.
I have always been a strong believer in the power of women supporting women and not just in the workplace. So when one of our Australian Leadership Team members invited me to a kick off meeting to build an Australian Women’s Network at our affiliate I jumped at the opportunity.
The Women’s Network at Roche is part of a broader commitment by the company to diversity and inclusion. It is a trusted space offering an opportunity to create connections, build community and foster a diverse and inclusive environment, where every voice is heard and valued. I love that by providing support and assisting women in the Roche Australia environment, we enable all employees (not gender specific) to reach their full potential.
Being part of this group at Roche has allowed me, and many others, to build greater connections, have more capacity to get things done and lastly, but most importantly, build our confidence.
What next on my leadership journey?
I recently have been accepted as an executive member of the APPA group, a professional body for Medical Affairs. I hope in this role I will have the opportunity to support women across the industry, especially those who are just starting out, by providing advice, support and network connections.
We have recently been through a significant cultural transformation at Roche. It’s required us to evolve how we work and how we lead. All leaders at Roche are encouraged to act as “Visionary, Architect, Catalyst and Coach” a collaborative style of leadership which is very in tune with how I like to lead. So for me, it has been a wonderful experience. Today as a woman at Roche, I feel more empowered and confident and have the ability to take more risks. I love that I work for a purpose driven company that aligns with my values and passions. As a leader at Roche, I strive to ensure all genders feel they are treated with respect, fairness and are valued. I take my role of aligning team members to our company values and North Star very seriously to empower and motivate others to deliver results.
Be brave, curious and enjoy the ride!
I encourage all women to be brave and to believe in themselves. No one has all the answers and has everything figured out – life would be very dull if that was the case! We are all striving to be better versions of ourselves – whether we’ve been in the business for 5 years or 35 years! My quest for self improvement is certainly ongoing.
Be curious to try new things and connect with new people especially if it draws you out of your comfort zone. My sense of curiosity has grown immensely over the last few years. I have learnt to view everyone I meet as someone you can learn something from and who may open the door to a new opportunity.
I recommend finding a coach or mentor if you can, especially one who gives you feedback. A good coach or mentor can help you identify your blindspots and embrace your strengths.
Take care of yourself as there will be great achievements and successes followed by a few inevitable failures along the way.
25 years at Roche has flown by for me. I’ve enjoyed incredible opportunities to grow, pursue my passions and make a difference to those I work with and to patients. But on top of all that has been the friendships I’ve made – the wonderful connections, the laughter and the sense of belonging together. On that note, my final suggestion is to consider joining a book club – some of the best coaching, mentoring, advice (and laughter!) I receive comes from the members of my book club!
Brigid Waite is currently the Deputy Medical Director and Chapter Lead of the Integrated Medicines Community at Roche Australia. In her current position, she leads a team of Medical Partners, and is focused on enhancing the skills and capabilities of the functional group. Additionally she contributes strategically to activities and business outcomes at the affiliate level.
Brigid has held a number of affiliate Leadership roles since joining Roche almost 25 years ago, in Medical Affairs, Clinical Research and Commercial departments. She has diverse product lifecycle experience and worked within multiple therapeutic areas
Before joining Roche, she held positions at Ashfield Private Hospital as a Health Information Manager and NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Sydney as a Data Manager.
Brigid studied Applied Science, Health Information Management at the University of Sydney.