Vildan Kehr: Global Leaders Must Embrace Change

By Sheryl Estrada

Vildan Kehr, Divisional Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Abbott

“I was born and raised in Turkey,” said Vildan Kehr. “My dad used to work for the government and my mom was a science teacher. So my upbringing was an interesting one.”

Every two years her father’s job required the family to move. “I had to go to different schools in different cities,” she said. “By the time I went to high school I had already gone to five different schools.”

Kehr said the transitions she experienced in her childhood now serve her well as a global executive.

“To be a global leader, you need to really, truly understand change, and it needs to be a part of who you are,” she said.

Kehr began her current position of Divisional Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Abbott in 2011. She leads global strategies for human capital planning, employer branding, divisional and executive recruiting, global sourcing, diversity and inclusion and compliance, university relations and development programs, social media recruiting and talent acquisition global systems and technology.

Kehr’s previous leadership positions within Abbott include Talent Acquisition Director of Pharmaceuticals Group, Talent Acquisition Head of Corporate Functions and Director of International Talent Acquisition.

“You can tell from my background that I got a lot of different opportunities in different divisions, different functions and different areas [at Abbott],” she said. “Ultimately all these moves prepared me to be a better strategic problem solver.”

During her career at Abbott she has effectively led the global team through mergers and acquisitions, laid the groundwork for AbbVie’s talent acquisition efforts when Abbott spun the division off in 2013, and managed global teams of thousands of employees.

The ability to explore different career opportunities is one of the reasons Kehr said she enjoys working at the global healthcare company with a “strong heritage and track record of business success.” She also said Abbott provides meaningful work as the company creates healthier lives around the world through quality and innovation, and she appreciates its inclusive culture.

“I came to the United States in 2001,” Kehr said. “I was so self-conscious about my accent. I know how being different feels.”

Kehr said those experiences have made her passionate about fostering inclusive cultures at Abbott.

“Nearly 50 percent of our global workforce is women,” she said. She also explained why she considers 50 her lucky number:

Over a 10-year period we have increased our representation of under-represented people in management by 50 percent. When you look at our early intake program, more than 50 percent of our U.S. interns this year are women. And more than 50 percent of our U.S. interns are Black, Latino and Asian.

Staying Relevant, Globally

Current Position:Divisional Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Abbott (No. 14 on The 2015 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity)

Previous Positions:Talent Acquisition Director of Pharmaceuticals Group, Talent Acquisition Head of Corporate Functions and Director of International Talent Acquisition at Abbott

Education:Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing and MBA with Finance emphasis

“When you have 70 percent of your business outside the U.S., you have to be relevant in these markets from a diversity and inclusion perspective,” Kehr said.

She explained that for Abbott to remain relevant and continue to be strong in international markets, it’s essential to uphold leadership qualities and values that embrace the domestic diversity and inclusion processes.

“We started globalizing a lot [of] leadership action networks,” she said.

Kehr explained that leading global and diverse teams has been her greatest learning experience at Abbott. It was the type of hands-on training she said could only be obtained through experience, and not in an MBA class. In her most recent role, she was based in Singapore and led the initiatives to globalize talent acquisition function and build capabilities in emerging markets.

“It was absolutely a wonderful growth opportunity for me,” she said.


Kehr shared that her father was her “first and greatest mentor.”

Seeing him work hand-in-hand with his staff, talking to suppliers and understanding their needs as well as those of the market, resonated with her.

“I learned very [early] in my life, when you really spend time with your customers, staff or patients you genuinely learn and it makes you a smarter strategist,” she said.

Kehr said she was also “blessed with awesome bosses at Abbott” and learned a lot from them. And to pay it forward, she has three to five mentees at the company each year. According to Kehr, about 50 percent of Abbott’s employees participate in mentoring programs.

“I love giving back,” she said “And not just within Abbott, but I also partner up with Chicago’s Urban League.”

Abbott’s internship program is also an opportunity to reach millennials and provide mentoring.

“This year in the U.S. we’re bringing in 140 interns and on a global level, we welcome more than 500 interns in a given year,” she said. “We roughly convert 50 percent of these interns to full-time employees.”

Career Advice

Kehr offers the “Four C’s of Success,” which she believes are applicable whether you work in the U.S. or globally:

1. Change: You mustbe willing to embrace change. “One job the criteria may not make you successful on another job. This changing process is fundamental to your success.”

2. Courage: You have to take risks, especially in a global career. “When you look at my career, I always took the role that required either turnaround or a start-up type of a job or required some kind of an improvement.”

3. Curious: Never stop asking questions. “If you feel like you’re reverting to comfort zones, something is not right.”

4. Customers: Know your customers, whether it’s internal stakeholders, your peers or outside customers: “Knowing who you’re serving to and what their needs are. Building credibility can absolutely be a career accelerator.”

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