Avanir: Investing in Employees, Leading With Humanity and Integrity

Avanir Chief People Officer Kelly Parker

Avanir VP and Chief People Officer, Kelly Parker/Courtesy Avanir Pharmaceuticals. 

Avanir Pharmaceuticals, wants to help ease the burden of caregivers and patients struggling with central nervous system (CNS) conditions – and its people are deeply connected to that mission.

“That's definitely part of why people are at Avanir, because they feel that connection with patients and healthcare providers,” said Avanir VP and Chief People Officer, Kelly Parker. “I think it's important for them to have that passion about what we do.”

Avanir is a subsidiary of Otsuka America, Inc. (OAI), and its position as a member of the Otsuka family is mirrored by its company culture.

“Avanir is definitely a family. We win together, we lose together. And when we lose, those are opportunities for us to identify alternative solutions, be innovative, and really capture our creativity to help patients,” Parker said.

As such, Avanir’s culture and leadership ethos is one of transparency, integrity and flexibility.

“When you work in a highly regulated industry, you need to ensure that you have integrity at all levels across the organization. It's important for us at a leadership level to promote that throughout the organization, and we do so by modeling the right behaviors,” Parker explained.

This is something that Wa’el Hashad has personified since taking the helm as president and chief executive officer in 2017.

Not Your Typical CEO

“We've made some great strides over the last few years regarding transparency under Wa’el’s leadership,” Parker said. “This is something that is very near and dear to his heart in terms of ensuring that we are transparent with our employees, there are no hidden agendas, and that we're here to do what's right for our patients, our employees and our stakeholders.”

Prior to Avanir, Hashad served as EVP and chief commercial officer of Seres Therapeutics, and held a wide variety of business and R&D roles at Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Eli Lilly & Co. As a leader, Hashad is accessible and engaged – the very opposite of the figurehead CEO.

“He's a very authentic, transparent and genuine leader. He really is that strategic leader who understands all aspects of the business. He empowers people and allows them to make decisions. He's very passionate and that comes through in our meetings, town halls and all-company meetings,” Parker shared. “He knows each individual on a personal as well as a professional level, and I think that's hard to find in a CEO.”

Growing Employees From Within

Avanir is developing its future leadership from within through a program it calls “Leading at Avanir,” which focuses on emotional intelligence and situational leadership components such as valuing employees and learning how to coach them to their full potential.

Analisa Orta, Avanir_Company courtesyAnalisa Orta is a shining example of this. Originally a member of the Financial Planning and Analysis department, Orta expressed an interest in learning more about the commercial side of the business.

Avanir nurtured this interest and gave Analisa the opportunity to work on a couple of commercial projects. When an opportunity came up on the commercial team in Business Analytics and Insights, Analisa was the obvious choice.“She applied for the position, moved over, and she's been thriving and continuing to increase her scope of responsibility within that function,” Parker said.

For Orta, who is now Associate Director, Business Analytics & Insights, courses like “Leading at Avanir” have been invaluable.

“Our leadership courses for people managers have been amazing. By appreciating that everybody has a unique personality, I’ve learned to alter my approach and lead different people in ways that will resonate,” she said. “Understanding the emotional intelligence aspects of leadership has been a big learning experience and something that’s made me a better manager, teammate and overall professional.”

Employees Come First

Avanir values its approximately 500 employees – nearly 200 of them working at its headquarters in Aliso Viejo, CA – and wants their work experiences to be fulfilling and inspiring. This commitment includes offering a flexible working arrangement and a newly renovated space tailored toward collaboration.

While Avanir reopened its offices in April, the company has implemented a new policy that allows employees to work remotely up to three days per week, depending on their location. When on campus, employees have returned to a brand-new working situation.

“We collected feedback from our employees to ensure that we were creating an inspiring environment that focuses on collaboration, connection and innovation,” Parker said.

The updated workspace consists of collaborative open spaces with natural light streaming in through large picture windows, digital assets like whiteboards and digital screens, and necessities like state-of-the-art espresso machines, healthy – and not so healthy – snacks to get over that afternoon hump!

“Collaboration is one of our core competencies, and not just within one specific function. We prioritize this across the organization. We love seeing our employees be able to move cross-functionally to other departments,” added Parker.

Grounded in a Strong Multicultural Heritage

Avanir takes a lot of pride in being part of the Otsuka family of companies, which is made up of more than 183 affiliates with operations in approximately 28 countries.

“Being part of the Otsuka family allows us to really harmonize some of our programs, as well as be part of a larger organization, and I also think that helps from a stability standpoint for our employees,” Parker explained.

Avanir embraces this multicultural heritage in its diversity and inclusion initiatives, with a Diversity and Inclusion Council made up of employees, which leads awareness and accountability throughout the company with educational programs and constant evaluation. One of these programs includes a forum called “Advancing Women at Avanir” where both women and men share their experiences.

“My role at Avanir is very collaborative and I constantly work across all levels of the organization. Being aware of people’s backgrounds and understanding what’s going to resonate has helped me be more effective,” Orta said. “Every day, we work together to help patients in need by collaborating across our organization. I feel like I’m constantly learning in my job and Avanir supports and invests in my growth.”

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