In the “Magnified” series, we take a closer look at the life experiences & career journeys that have shaped AbbVie’s leaders. Meet Shuhong Zhang, our vice president of development sciences, a China native who blooms where she’s planted and brings a growth mindset to everything she does.
AbbVie: You’re head of development sciences within our R&D organization. What is your team’s role and goal?
Shuhong Zhang: “My team is the bridge that transforms molecules to medicine. Development sciences collaborates with many groups, including discovery research and operations. We work with discovery research teams to evaluate, select and formulate new candidate molecules. We also support manufacturing processes to produce clinical supplies of the candidates that meet the quality and distribution needs for our clinical trial sites globally. In partnership with the operations organization, we develop manufacturing processes and medication dosage forms to support the registration, approval and launch of new medicines to patients.
“It’s an exciting time in my organization. We’re doing a lot of fine-tuning and collaboration as we invent new processes and technologies to achieve our goals and advance the pipeline.”
When did you know you were interested in a career in science?
“It wasn’t obvious that I’d end up in science. As a teenager, I was very interested in journalism because I enjoyed interacting with people and understanding their stories. I wanted to pursue that career until my high school literature teacher and mentor talked with me about the challenges I may face in China with career limitations. He suggested that I find a new field that would leverage my love of math, physics and puzzles. I thought to myself, what job has limitless potential and can tackle the big puzzles of the world – a scientist!
“My five siblings and I were influenced by our parents. They built their careers around service to others, with my dad working for the government in China where I was raised, and my mom as a medical doctor. They instilled in us that helping people is the right thing to do and that we needed to contribute to a broader society.”
You grew up in China. How did that experience shape the leader you are today?
“I grew up in the eastern part of China, in a small province north of Shanghai near the Yellow Sea. My parents were what you’d consider very traditional Chinese, emphasizing the need for a good education and to work really hard.
“I have fond memories of how my mom would stay up late with me, holding a fan to keep the mosquitoes away so I could study. Her support and dedication helped me get into college. I moved to the U.S. after college with only 18 months of English language classes. From these experiences, I learned to be adaptable and resilient and that’s carried through to my career today.”
You mentioned resilience: What does that word mean to you and how you approach your work at AbbVie?
“Resilience is being able to see success in failure. Every time we test a hypothesis, we may not succeed. However, by nature, scientists have a curiosity and a desire to find out the “why.” We may learn and discover something new that will help us advance our understanding and our science. It’s our resilience that propels us forward and I am continually inspired by my colleagues, who share this same resolve.”
How does resilience impact your research and your areas of passion outside the office?
“I’m passionate about nature. My family and I visit many national parks to hike and explore. When I can’t get to a park, I still have a lot to keep me busy at home. I raise different types of trees, ones you can’t find in the nurseries and that aren’t native to where I live in Illinois.
“I look at raising trees the same way I look at science: I do a lot of research and I bring a lot of optimism. I hope they all grow into big trees, but sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed. It’s about rising to the challenge.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
“I’m a collaborative leader. My team works with so many other groups and our decisions can be big ones with an impact felt by many. It’s an inclusive approach. You have to always consider what’s best for the specific program, not just what’s best for your individual team.
“I also describe myself as a relationship-oriented leader. It’s imperative that I create and maintain ongoing relationships not just within R&D and my team but also with my fellow AbbVie leaders. When you build trusting relationships, it allows you to be open and incorporate a diversity of thought during challenging situations.”