Paul Hudson, President, AstraZeneca US and Executive Vice President, North America, went back to school this month to speak to MBA students about global change management. The International Management course is one of many classes offered to AstraZeneca employees on site at the AstraZeneca Wilmington campus as part of the University of Delaware’s MBA program.
Paul, a native to the United Kingdom with over 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry, has spent his career collecting experience working internationally and across cultures. Specifically, he shared learnings from leading AstraZeneca businesses in Spain, Japan and most recently in the United States. Paul shared the two driving factors behind his personal leadership approach – gaining experiences that make him more effective and striving to improve the ways that groups function.
Paul gave students insight into various change situations he experienced to illustrate how different situations require different leadership approaches. “You have to earn the right for people to want to follow you and learn from you,” Paul said, when reflecting on how culture drives performance.
Paul shared a story about starting a new role in Japan in the aftermath of a tsunami and an earthquake. Very quickly he learned the importance of understanding how to responsibly prioritize the needs of employees, families and patients – making this his priority in a time of crisis for the organization. In Spain, Paul sought feedback about how to positively impact business performance and identified an opportunity to accelerate employee engagement. He focused on involving employees in the changes he was making to ensure they felt ownership in contributing to the future success of the organization. In the US, Paul had to anticipate changes that needed to happen in the short-term to ensure the organization’s long-term success in the future healthcare environment. This meant making changes to the way the business traditionally operated and building new capabilities within the organization, work that continues today.
All these experiences have a common learning, Paul explained. While many leadership books tell you to be a change agent, first you must understand the culture and rhythm of an organization. You need to accelerate the things that are going well and determine how this can lead to a high-performance culture. At the same time, you need to be open-minded to challenging an existing culture in areas where you think it’s holding performance back. It’s once you understand the culture of the organization that you can see how far you can stretch it. Paul urged students to stay focused on the big picture when making difficult management decisions. “You need to keep the future of the company in mind; it’s your job to think five years down the line,” he said. He added that the students should “have courage, especially when there’s risk.”