Disruption in commercial pharmaceuticals: An interview with Takeda’s Ramona Sequeira

Disruption in commercial pharmaceuticals: An interview with Takeda’s Ramona Sequeira

Ramona Sequeira, president of biopharmaceutical company Takeda’s global portfolio division, discusses the disruption areas in the commercial pharmaceuticals industry and how they are impacting leadership needs.
Listen to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts Listen to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast on Spotify

In this next episode of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Charlie Moore speaks to Ramona Sequeira, president of Takeda’s global portfolio division. Takeda is a global research and development–driven biopharmaceutical company. Sequeira is responsible for the company’s global portfolio division and serves as a member of Takeda’s executive team. In this interview, Moore and Sequeira discuss the disruption areas in commercial pharmaceuticals and how they are affecting what competencies and capabilities Sequeira is looking for in the leadership team. They also discuss organizational culture, sourcing digital talent, and driving innovation around the world.

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity.

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation. 

Charlie Moore: Hi, I’m Charlie Moore, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles and a member of our global Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice. In today’s podcast, I’m excited to speak with Ramona Sequeira at Takeda. With headquarters in Tokyo, Takeda is a global research and development–driven biopharmaceutical company. Ramona is responsible for the company’s global portfolio division and serves as a member of Takeda’s executive team. Before this, she was president of Takeda’s US business unit. Prior to joining Takeda, Ramona held various senior roles of increasing responsibility at Eli Lilly, both in the US and the UK. Ramona, welcome, and thank you for joining us today. Perhaps we should start with you contextualizing your current role and responsibilities to Takeda.

Ramona Sequeira: Thank you, Charlie, and it’s a pleasure to be here today. I am the head of Takeda’s global portfolio division. This is a new division created about a year ago at Takeda, and what we’ve done is we’ve combined three global organizations and three regional businesses. So I’ve got basically all of our markets outside of Japan and the US, and then I’ve got our global medical, global commercial and launch, and global vaccines business unit. 

Moore: And how many people? 

Sequeira: We’ve got around 11,000 people across our global portfolio division and really in all kinds of roles. That’s one of the exciting things about this division is, you know, we’ve got people in research and development roles, in medical affairs, in our markets, in global functions, in manufacturing. So it’s a really nice coming together of many different roles and many different functions at Taked.

Moore: So we’re here today to talk really about sort of commercial design and how we see that, how you see that in the future—so, and the disruption going on across markets in the US particularly perhaps. But perhaps you could give us a view in terms of what you see as the main disruption areas in commercial pharmaceuticals. 

Sequeira: One of the shifts we see happening is that our science is progressing at an incredibly rapid rate. We’re able to treat diseases, prevent diseases, cure diseases, address pathways that we were never able to address before, and at the same time healthcare systems around the world are straining to make our innovation accessible to the patients who need it. So at Takeda, we’re doing a number of different things to address this, you know, one is thinking about how we really show up from a policy perspective. We need to make the case for innovation. Along with other companies in our industry, we need to really demonstrate to governments that it’s important to continue stimulating and rewarding innovation, given the number of people out there that are still waiting for treatments and cures and the amazing science that we have. The second one is thinking about how we demonstrate the value of those medicines. So moving past the regulatory needs, into demonstrating the value to society, to patients, to caregivers, to healthcare systems, using real-world evidence, looking at comparisons to standard of care. We’re getting really, really good at that, starting early and continuing through the life cycle of the product, and the last one is we have to be very thoughtful and responsible at the way we price our medicines. So at Takeda, we have a tiered pricing strategy, we flex the price of the medicine based on factors such as GDP per capita and the sophistication of the healthcare system, and that allows us to have this tiered pricing that allows us to make our medicines available and accessible to as many patients as possible around the world. You know, we thought very carefully about this when we came up with our dengue vaccine that we’re just in the process of launching now. The burden of dengue is heavy in middle-income countries, and so we were very thoughtful about the pricing of our vaccine and then we’ve actually priced it below the cost of other innovative vaccines in these countries, to make sure that it’s accessible to the very people that we’re intending to help through coming up with our innovation. And this goes across the board really for all of our medicines, and treatments, being thoughtful and responsible in the pricing to make sure that they’re accessible to the patients who need it. The other piece of it, Charlie, is digital, and how data digital and technology is kind of reshaping the way healthcare is delivered. That is happening at an incredibly fast pace as well and that’s another thing that we have to really adapt to as a company. We can’t just, you know, be a pharmaceutical company. We have to be a digital pharmaceutical company and really be able to think about how data, digital, and technology can help us in achieving this goal of making our medicines accessible to patients all over the world.

Moore: That’s interesting. So to pick up on the reshaping piece and how are you, how is Takeda thinking about that from a leadership perspective in terms of competencies, new capabilities that you’re looking for in the leadership team you’re in charge of?

Sequeira: Yes, so there’s a couple of things that I’ve been really conscious of and, you know, I’m just building now my leadership team as well because this is a fairly new division, and I’m very fortunate to have some really strong leaders from inside Takeda to be able to come and take these roles. You know, the few things I would say—one is we need to build capabilities around evidence generation. So as you think about the importance of demonstrating the value of our products and doing that through the whole value chain, from early in our clinical trials to late with real world evidence when we’re on the market, being bold in doing, for instance, head-to-head trials or demonstrating data against standard of care. And sometimes doing that is very difficult because some of our diseases are rare, and so trying to get that data, trying to find the patients becomes very difficult as well. And so we need to use new techniques, we need to use new strategies, we need to think differently about how we generate that evidence and demonstrate to governments, to payers around the world, that our medicines actually add value to patients and to the healthcare system. So that’s an area that we’re very focused on and for me and our new division, bringing together all of our markets, along with our global medical and global product and launch strategy, is a key piece of that because we’re looking across, you know, what do our patients, what do healthcare systems need from us and how can we make sure internally we’re thinking about that evidence strategy from very, very early on in our pipeline to even our on-market molecules where the competitive environment continues to change, and we continue to need to demonstrate more value and evidence for our medicines.

Moore: The follow-on from that is as you think about the rapidly evolving commercial landscape, which you’ve just described—so product, customer, dare I say it, the pandemic we’ve just been through—what are the skills, what are the competencies in terms of the leadership required in today’s environment perhaps versus where we were five/ten years ago? 

Sequeira: I think leadership has changed so much, certainly since I started in this industry many years ago. I remember, you know, starting out, we used to talk about command and control as it was a good thing. But now what’s happening and, you know, it probably was a good thing when our environment was pretty static, things weren’t changing much, and we could just run the same play around the world. What we see now is healthcare systems around the world are evolving differently. So we might have the same product, but how we make it available to patients in different healthcare systems around the world is changing. And, as I mentioned, the use of digital and how we do that is changing. And so what we need are leaders that can think differently. And how do you think differently, Charlie? You surround yourself with people that think differently from you. So we actually need leaders that are good at building teams where they’re getting diversity of thought and opinion around them. That means I hire people who think differently for me, and they’re going to bring different perspectives and different views to a conversation and to solving problems than I’m going to bring, and that’s actually going to make us stronger as a team, and it’s going to help us come to more innovative solutions as an organization. So I think some of the real important leadership skills, you know, being humble, understanding that you don’t have the right answers and you need to surround yourself with people that can actually help you develop better answers and better solutions. Being inclusive, you know, you bring these people around the table, but you need to make sure their voice is heard. You need to make sure there’s that psychological safety to speak up. And taking risks, you know, the challenge you have in a changing environment is that you’re not going to get everything right the first time, you’re going to have to take some smart risks. You’re going to have some failures, and the key is not whether you have failures or not, the key is how to use them to learn and get better and do that very quickly. So I think those are the types of leadership skills that I’m really looking for as we create my leadership team and the leadership teams below us as well. And that will help us to adapt to this changing environment, as well as build these new capabilities that we need to build around evidence generation, around data, digital and technology to be future-proofed and to really thrive in this future.

Moore: OK, and just to dig on that a little bit. I mean, that talks to culture, it talks to the culture you’re creating. Have you set out, when you took the role on a year ago, did you set out to create to a different culture and, if so, how did that sort of happen?

Sequeira: Yes, so it absolutely speaks to culture and this culture of innovation, this culture of agility, this culture of inclusion. These are things that we very purposely talked about at the beginning of setting up this division. But culture, you know, we talk a lot as leaders that we create the weather for our teams, right? We create the environment where our people work, and so culture starts at the top. Culture is not what we say. Culture is what we do. It’s how we behave. It’s what happens when we have failures and we learn from them, and we move forward. And so we’ve really talked about role-modeling and the importance of leaders doing that as well.

Moore: And then just to turn to digital, which I think is a—it means different things in different environments and to different people, even in the same environment. But as you as you think about that, so where do you find the best-in-class AI expert from? Where do you find somebody that is deep diving on digital in R&D? And I sort of, where I’m going with this is do you think we’re going to see the pharmaceutical industry open up, open itself up to talent from other sectors, from other industries? Are you doing that? And if so, how is it going?

Sequeira: Yes, absolutely. We have been doing that for a number of years now and, Charlie, I think it’s a combination actually, because we’re a pharmaceutical company and so we tend to attract people that have a very strong sense of purpose, that want to make an impact in the world, that wants to support patients, and we need that mindset that patients come first. You always need leaders that are ready to walk away from a dollar to help a patient and to support a patient, and to really know that you’ve got to put patients before profits. And so I think that value system is incredibly important, and that’s probably what we look for first and foremost, honestly, when we’re bringing leaders onboard. And then we look at the capabilities and, you know, as I mentioned, we’ve been hiring from many different industries, including the tech industries over time and very successfully because we’ve set up this culture of inclusion, where people can come to us even mid or late career and they can feel that they can contribute, they can kind of break in to the culture, they can be part of it and they can be part of our team. But we don’t want to only hire from the outside, we want to prepare our employees to be success successful in the future as well. And so we’re putting a lot of effort and thought into training our own people, building those capabilities, you know, building communities of practice, so that our people can actually grow, thrive, take on bigger roles, become more tech-savvy, but also combine that with their deep pharmaceutical expertise. So I think it’s a combination, you know, you can really jump-start a capability by bringing a few people in from the outside that are bringing a ton of expertise, but then you need to train and support your employee base so that they become competitive so that they thrive so that we are best in class as a company and we have best-in-class people that can really break through in this future environment that we’re looking at.

Moore: Nice, I like that. And the advice you give to your teams that are facing this new environment—I mean, clearly they’re growing with it, and they may not necessarily see it in terms of it’s suddenly different, they’ve grown with it. But what advice do you give to your new leaders, people that you’re promoting into those leadership roles in terms of your expectations, how to cope with the changing environment, the digital piece, etc.?

Sequeira: Charlie, I have two adult children and I have learned that giving advice is very difficult, and there’s nothing more humbling than having kids that say, “No, I don’t want to listen to you.” So I really take it to heart to say it’s not about what I say, it’s what I do. As we talked earlier about the creation of culture, every action I take, and every decision I make has an impact and has an impact on the people that work for me and has an impact on the patients that ultimately we’re trying to serve. And so, for me as a leader, it’s about sharing my own learnings, you know if I want people to feel comfortable failing and then learn from those failures and adapt, I need to be able to share where I failed, where I’m having challenges, how I’ve learned and how things have worked out. If I want people to be inclusive, if I want them to hire people different from themselves, I need to hire people different from myself, I need to create psychological safety around me. And so to me it is about very, very active role-modeling, storytelling. I think that is a leadership skill that is incredibly important—to be able to tell stories and talk about your own experiences—because I think, honestly, people learn a lot more from that than they do from all the advice in the world that we can give them. It’s real-time watching it happen, that actually creates that culture and creates that dynamic that we want to see. p

Moore: There we go, leadership by example. Fantastic. Final question for you. So if you look ahead, we’ve talked about innovation, we’ve talked about change, and you, Takeda, want to keep pushing that agenda, I know, how do you keep doing that in a very regulated environment?

Sequeira: Yes. So, you know, for me, I always think the regulations that we operate in were put in place for a reason, they were put in place largely to protect patients. And so we need to not chafe against those regulations, but we need to embrace them, understand them, and then think about how we innovate within that environment. Constraints actually can really help you innovate. There’s a lot of a lot of research and data around innovation and innovating in a constrained environment can actually—and I see that in our own organization. Some of our markets that are the leanest markets are the ones that are most creative and innovative at how to meet their patients’ needs, because they don’t have a ton of people or money or partners to be able to help them. And so I think for me, it is about really making sure that we understand that those regulations that are put in place are to help us as an industry protect ourselves and protect our patients, and we need to think about how we innovate in that constrained environment. And the way we do that, for me, is by getting very, very intimate with our patients. So back in the command-and-control days, a lot of things were happening in ivory towers in the head office. Today that whole thing needs to be turned on its head. The work, the innovation, and the creativity is happening, where the patient is. And so if we can really understand the patient’s journey if we can understand their pain points, the challenges they’re facing, then we as a company can say, “How do we best allocate our resources to support patients on that journey?” And that might look a little bit different in one market than in another. It might look a little bit different as we’re doing our global clinical trials versus launching a product, but understanding that patient journey and understanding our role in helping patients through that journey, allocating our resources, our time, and our thought to those moments where we can actually make an impact, I think that becomes incredibly important. And so that intimacy with patients becomes a big part of our business model.

Moore: Is there a trick of the trade for moving innovation around the world? So for instance, you see something incredibly going on in Indonesia and you think that could be really appropriate in Brazil, but how do you connect the dots?

Sequeira: Yes. So, you know, that is one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about as we formed this new global portfolio division. We have such an opportunity to learn from one market to another and to be able to build on each other’s efforts rather than duplicating each other’s efforts. So I think there’s a few ways we do that. One is very purposefully setting up communities of practice and supporting our employees as they talk to each other, but the other is really our talent development strategy. One of the things we’ve talked about is we need to move people within different markets, within global and regional and local functions, in order to really have that expertise go across as well. We’ve created actually a new talent program this year in global portfolio called GPD Advantage, so Global Portfolio Division Advantage, and we’re very excited about it. We’ve taken groups of talent from across our six organizations, we’ve put them together in a room, and we’ve given them real business problems that we have to solve that go across multiple functions. And we said, “OK, we’re giving them some tools to actually think through design thinking and how to brainstorm and how to come up with ideas and how to focus, how to execute, but we’re also giving them time.” So over six months of time, working together in small groups to help us solve these problems. We think really putting our talent together, them getting to know each other and us as a leadership team getting to know them better, is actually helping to break down a lot of the silos and also helping to bring some of that creative, innovative thinking. Sometimes the best person to help you solve a problem is somebody who’s coming at it from a completely different place, and they’re going to think of things that when you’re enmeshed in it, you just haven’t thought of. So talent development across barriers actually becomes very, very important.

Moore: Fantastic. What a great note to finish on, thank you. We could go on for hours, but I really do appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.

Sequeira: Thank you so much, Charlie. It was a pleasure to be here.

Thanks for listening to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. To make sure you don’t miss more future-shaping ideas and conversations, please subscribe to our channel on the podcast app. And if you’re listening via LinkedIn, Twitter, or YouTube, why not share this with your connections? Until next time. 

About the interviewer

Charlie Moore (cmoore@heidrick.com) is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and a member of the Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice.

Stay connected

Stay connected to our expert insights, thought leadership, and event information.

Leadership Podcast

Explore the latest episodes of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast