A Conversation With AbbVie’s Sanjay Narayan, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer

Originally published at stories.abbvie.com. Sanjay Narayan is the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer at AbbVie. AbbVie ranked No. 23 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022.

 

How did you end up choosing a career in pharma?

I joined Abbott in 2009 before AbbVie split from it in 2013. Prior to that, I was working at a law firm in Washington, D.C. but frankly I didn’t really enjoy the work and was questioning whether I wanted to be a lawyer. So, I applied to the FBI to be a special agent.

After doing a physical and written test, plus a panel interview, I was accepted to Quantico, one of only 2% of applicants. At the same time, I got the offer to work at Abbott and had to decide which way my career should go. I chose Abbott because I was not ready to give up on the law and I was inspired by helping people with medicines, devices and nutrition.

You’ve been with AbbVie since the company was formed 10 years ago. How has your career evolved since that time?

Since joining AbbVie, I’ve moved around quite a bit, taking on new challenges and opportunities every couple of years before landing in the role I have now. Across all the different roles I’ve held here, I’ve supported a lot of different teams, including commercial brands, market access, regulatory and legal compliance. This experience has really shaped me for the better because it’s given me the chance to learn about the business from many different angles, learn from multiple leaders and gain a more holistic view of AbbVie. All these experiences, I believe have helped shape me and allowed me to become a better partner for our business.

What is your team at the Office of Ethics and Compliance (OEC) accountable for?

Our mission is to figure out how we, as an organization, can continue to deliver medicines to patients while protecting AbbVie’s reputation and managing risk. Ultimately, it’s about embedding ethics into the decision-making process for each and every person who works here, so we’re always doing what’s right for the company and for the patients and customers that we serve. To do that, we need to understand the business as well as our clients so that OEC is viewed as forward-thinking partners that help find solutions so that patients can benefit.

What’s something people might be surprised to learn about the OEC?

We’re probably known as the team that provides training modules, but people may be surprised to realize that’s only a sliver of what we do. The OEC provides compliance advice to multiple areas of our global business, including our privacy, commercial, R&D and corporate staff functions. We’re also responsible for global internal investigations and monitoring. In many instances, one person wears multiple hats, from assisting with AbbVie’s integration with Allergan, to advising on new product launches, working with local management teams on internal audits, guiding on market access strategies and developing local country-specific training. Over the last year, a large focus of ours has been on harmonizing AbbVie and Allergan’s policy approaches while maintaining differences where possible, all the while ensuring minimal business disruption. In the seven months that I’ve been on the job, even I’ve been impressed by the breadth of areas that we touch.

What does being a leader mean to you?

Leadership for me is about being true to yourself and your beliefs. As a leader, you can’t really fake it. You have to be authentic, and people respond to that. So that for me is number one when it comes to my style.

Second, you must be able to inspire people towards a common vision. I am a big believer in culture and if the culture is right, the substance will follow. So, I spend a lot of time ensuring we are clear on our priorities and then giving people the space to think and strategize. In doing this, I also try to be a coach and give people opportunities to shine and flex different muscles. I never liked it when people would micromanage me because it can stunt innovation, so I focus on giving people direction but then trying to let them lead, while offering guidance along the way. When people on my team have worked on a project, I want them to be able to present it to leaders. That creates ownership and I think inspires people to want to do more.

Lastly, I focus on building relationships and getting feedback. After staff meetings, I will reach out and ask my team ‘How do you think that went? Do you have feedback? Did I frame that appropriately? Would you have framed it differently?’ In the process of building those relationships, not only am I learning things that can help me be better as a leader, but I’m also empowering others to speak up and be seen.

Being the head of compliance can be demanding. How have you found work-life balance?

The support of the people around me, especially my wife, has been essential. Plus, the culture we have here, which gives a lot of support to parents, has also helped. With each of my children, not only was I able to take paternity leave but my managers encouraged me to do so. In a typical law firm, that’s not always something that’s talked about a lot. I’m grateful that here my bosses were very vocal in encouraging me to take extra time off if I needed it to be home with my family. There’s also a healthy respect for weekends and vacations, which is so valuable because you need time for rest to do your best work.

For the last year and a half, you’ve been the chair of our Racial Equality Task Force. What does the Task Force do?

Our focus has been on facilitating meaningful conversations among senior leaders and underrepresented talent. One of the ways we’ve done this is through a six-month mentorship program called Leadership Connections, which pairs underrepresented talent with senior leaders within external affairs and legal.

What made this program unique is that it’s a two-way exchange — both people are learning from each other. It also gives people an outlet to have wide-ranging discussions, whether on work-related issues, career development or individual projects, and can be as formal or as informal as the two people want. We had seven participants last year and the feedback from that has been fantastic, so we are expanding this year to include more people.

You’ve been both a mentor and mentee throughout your career. Why is mentorship something you value?

I do it because I love it — I love building relationships, I love learning from people. I’ve learned so much from the people who have mentored me and those I’ve mentored as well, which has been fantastic.

When I think about mentorship, I think about what one leader said to me. He said, “When I look back on my career, I’ll know it’s a success by how many people have been developed or promoted throughout my career.” That idea has really stuck with me. If I’m helping people grow and learn and they’re parlaying that into bigger, brighter careers, I know I’m doing something right.

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