Two Remarkable Women of Takeda's C-Suite Make the Professional Personal
From Left: Takeda's Ramona Sequeira and Julie Kim/courtesy of Takeda
Sequeira is now president of the brand new Global Portfolio Division, a union of both regional business units and global teams, including Vaccines, Global Product and Launch Strategy, Global Medical and others.
She told BioSpace that “our focus is to drive Takeda’s growth through an integrated global footprint and accelerate the delivery of – and access to – our diverse portfolio and pipeline of medicines and vaccines.”
Sequeira explained that the portfolio organization is made up of a diverse and multi-faceted group that is focused on improving patients’ lives. “I’m tremendously excited by the opportunity to really optimize our commercial and launch execution capabilities as we bring new medicines and vaccines to patients, leveraging the deep understanding we have of the many different healthcare systems in which we operate,” she said.
Kim has stepped into Sequeira’s previous role, president of the U.S. Business Unit and U.S. Country Head. Because the U.S. market is Takeda’s largest, she told BioSpace that she’d be concentrating on portfolio advancement in such spaces as rare diseases, neuroscience and gastroenterology.
“I’ll also be working with Ramona and my executive team colleagues here in the U.S. to champion diversity, equity and inclusion. My goal is to ensure that our company remains a place where employees feel welcome, seen and heard while continuing to advance initiatives that support a path to greater equity and access for our patients in the U.S,” she said.
As previously reported by BioSpace, women in biopharma are notoriously underrepresented at the executive level. We asked Kim and Sequeira to shed some light on their initial journeys into the industry space.
“I’ve always been drawn to health care and helping people,” Kim said. With several physicians in the family, her childhood career choice was to be a brain surgeon, which led her to a pre-med path in college. When she found her greatest strengths were in consulting, however, she brought the two together, kicking off her career at a boutique consulting firm in the healthcare space.
“It was the result of a very persistent recruiter that I considered the pharmaceutical industry, and once I saw what was possible, I didn’t look back. In this industry, I’m able to enjoy my work and be happy because of the connection to the purpose of serving patients,” she said.
Sequeira recalled that her initial pharmaceutical internship left an impression. The company introduced a novel medicine that treated a notoriously difficult disease, but could also cause a severe side effect. She was in charge of helping to create a network that would monitor patient safety.
This experience made her realize how impactful her work was, and “how medicines can change people’s lives for the better, but also how they can act in different ways in different people’s bodies, which can lead to unanticipated impacts. Since then, I’ve felt a responsibility and obligation to always put the patient first, to be transparent and build trust and to always be very careful and thoughtful about patient outcomes and patient safety.”
Sequeira pointed out that having limited role models on her career journey made coming up in the industry more difficult. “I would say that forced me to find my own style and forge my own path – but that only happened through trial and error. It took me time to realize that instead of emulating other leaders, I needed to discover and gain confidence leading in a way that was true to who I am,” she said.
This realization helped her to hone in on her own most effective leadership qualities. “Having experienced bias, I also feel tremendous responsibility to bring a full range of diverse perspectives to the table and to help elevate those voices, and to remove barriers that may be inhibiting a talented individual’s ability to contribute fully.”
Kim agreed, adding, “what I’ve learned in my professional journey is that bringing those voices to the table is a critical first step and then, as we both know, it’s about thoughtfully listening to those perspectives. I believe that listening is often an underrated skill, and my decision-making has always been enhanced when I take the time to listen, ask, and then listen some more.”
She highlighted that “another important lesson is the power of women supporting other women.” The executive gave an example of personally experiencing no pushback when she visited the mother’s room to nurse after her son was born. “However, a colleague, who was much earlier in her career, was scrutinized by her manager and others when she went to do the same, so much so that she would cry in the mother’s room.”
Kim made a change by normalizing her visits to the mother’s room, openly sharing what she was doing each time. In doing so, she was able to “point out that there was no loss in productivity and the quality of work did not decline. I knew that, unlike my colleague, I was in a position that would enable me to do it with little pushback and it could benefit not just her, but women who came after us.”
When asked what her proudest accomplishment was, Kim named her co-founding of the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance along with CSL Behring. As the pandemic took hold in April 2020, the industry rushed to find treatments for COVID-19.
“Based on our plasma expertise, we were separately working on a therapeutic option when Takeda and CSL decided to form an alliance and invited others to join as we realized that we’d get further faster if we set aside individual interests and worked together,” Kim explained.
They manufactured clinical trial supplies using convalescent plasma gathered from patients who had recovered from COVID-19. Kim said that “in the end, the trial didn’t demonstrate efficacy" but that she is proud of their efforts and contribution to the scientific knowledge base. "It serves as another important proof point of what the industry can do when we work together.”
Sequeira said she’s “most proud of a happy marriage of more than 27 years, and my two amazing, purpose-driven children who are now young adults. I feel like our family has benefited from my career - living in different countries, meeting new people and learning to be each other’s support system.”
Career-wise, her proudest moment was being named the very first female and woman of color to chair PhRMA’s Board of Directors. “As I look back on my career, I wasn’t always comfortable making a statement like that. Instead, I deliberately downplayed these attributes. Like many women, I worried about being stereotyped as less effective because I was a female in what at the time was a predominantly male-dominated industry,” she recalled.
Today, however, she sees her professional and personal stories as one. “As a daughter of immigrants from India, who arrived in a new country with less than $16 in their pocket and no support system, I have a unique perspective that I bring to our industry and to my role as Chair of PhRMA," she said.
Sequeira listed achieving equitable access to healthcare and diversifying clinical trials as primary concerns in her leadership position. “If we can build capacity and break down the barriers preventing under-represented communities from having access to clinical trials, we can also break down barriers to greater equity in diagnosis, care and treatment for all patients.”
Her current goal is to make a united impact with the new Global Portfolio Division. “This means enabling leaders to have the autonomy to make speedy decisions as close to the patient as possible, leveraging the intersections across our groups to make us all stronger at things like launch execution and coming together to speak with one voice in the few areas that really matter to our employees, and to our patients.”
The executive brought up her commitment to building a culture of inclusion in the division, giving every colleague an equal space to contribute. “At the end of the day, it’s about putting the human first – whether it’s our patients or our people.”
Of course, upcoming goals include that great blend of personal and professional for Sequeira, and she can’t wait to start traveling to new places around the globe again. “I love to cook and eat, so this is also a great chance to sample new foods and flavors and add some international goodies to my recipe list.”
Kim’s focus in her new role is “rooted in equity. For patients, it means looking at more equitable access through the lens of the current patient model to help remove barriers and enable greater access to therapies.”
As for the employees in the U.S. Business Unit, Kim she will continue to build upon the collaborative environment Sequeira created.
"Within the organization, it’s important to recognize that diversity comes in many forms and that we’re at our best when we support and harness those differences. This means creating an inclusive organization that can respond to the different needs of different people, so they can have the working life and career they want, not the one we assume they want.”
To women working to make a career in biopharma, Kim said, “I often share that from childhood through my early career, I felt like a blue fish in a sea of orange fish, and because of that, the pressure to conform in order to succeed was constant and strong.”
Rather than trying to fit in, she suggests spending energy on personal improvement. “I would tell any woman, any person who feels different, to embrace who they are in all their uniqueness and individuality so they can pursue their dreams,” she said.
Sequeira agreed with this advice, adding that she feels like a fish out of water so often that she’s grown accustomed to it. “You have to be true to yourself and follow your passions and skills and trust your gut and judgment.”
She pointed out that the biopharma industry allows for a wide range of opportunities to positively affect patients. “In my experience, I’ve been most successful when I’ve leaned into my strengths and sought diversity and expertise to build my team instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold or value system.”
She added that she loves how much Takeda’s values align with her own. “I truly feel that I can bring my complete self to work because we know we’re at our best when we support and harness the differences each person brings to the company. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t able to elsewhere, but at Takeda – because of our culture – it feels more personal, and I find that makes all the difference to me.”
Kim added that though she came into the company through the Shire acquisition, her decision to stay was her own.
“We’re an organization that doesn’t just talk the talk – we put action behind our words. We don’t just say we believe in diversity – we show it. Our leadership team, for example, is geographically, racially and gender diverse, which brings a wide set of perspectives to the table to solve today’s challenges and create better health for people and a brighter future for the world.”