A woman wearing a red blouse smiles at the camera with her arms folded. She is Karen Breen, a risk and business performance director at Amgen.
Karen Breen. Image: Amgen

‘Nothing beats on-the-job learning,’ says this business performance director

25 Jul 2023

Amgen’s Karen Breen discusses the benefits of working at a patient-centric pharma company and how Covid-19 changed her career.

‘Every patient, every time.’ According to Karen Breen, risk and business performance director at Amgen, this is a phrase used at the pharmaceutical company that encapsulates its dedication to patient care.

“Patients are at the heart of what we do,” says Breen, who cited this dedication, along with career opportunities, as major reasons for pursuing her current role.

Breen has worked as a risk and business performance director for two years. She is also the diversity, inclusion and belonging lead for the company’s manufacturing site.

Prior to her current role, she primarily worked in quality control (QC).

‘Every day I’m focused on the fact that we’re all doing this for patients’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

In my role, I interact with many different teams. I’m also part of the site senior leadership team and I manage the activities and events of our diversity council.  My role means that I deal with people right across the business every day, and the one constant is that no matter what I’m doing or am focused on, I am always fortunate enough to be surrounded by talented colleagues.

As I start my day, it’s important to be organised and prioritise my calendar. If you don’t manage your own time, it gets managed for you and you can lose control of the important things, key deliverables and being people-focused. As a team leader, a huge part of my job is to remove challenges and barriers for my team and, therefore, the people my teams support in the business.

What do you like about working with Amgen?

From my very first interactions with Amgen, it was crystal clear that it supports people to grow their careers. When I joined the company, I was keen to get more experience and to expand my knowledge of different areas of the business. From day one, Amgen provided me with those opportunities and supported me every step of the way.

I have participated in leadership development programmes and have been coached and mentored by colleagues. Obviously, you need to have the right education qualifications and relevant skillset in place, but once that foundation is in place, the company does all it can to unlock potential. Working in Amgen you get to pay it forward too. I have mentored and coached others as part of our Women Empowered to be Exceptional employee resource group.

What is the best thing about your job?

I’m in the fortunate position to work for a company that makes vital medicines for seriously ill patients. Every day I’m focused on the fact that we’re all doing this for patients.

It doesn’t matter if we are completing a task, attending a business meeting or having a strategic discussion – we constantly think about the people who will be treated with our medicine. This approach gives me a huge sense of pride and achievement.

How does Amgen support your career and working life?

While some roles require people to work on site, Amgen has embraced hybrid working and the company has put in place a programme that offers a high degree of flexibility. It allows staff to work in a way that suits their needs and allows them to balance working from home with coming to the site.

I feel that, overall, this approach has improved the work-life balance. I know that from my own perspective, it has enabled me to manage my home life and make sure that I can be a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend – and for me that’s so important.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?

The Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest combined surprise and challenge of my career. While it changed everyone’s lives forever, it also ushered in new ways of working. As you can imagine, from the perspective of supporting activity in a continuous manufacturing environment, this required us to design and implement new on-site safety and social distancing requirements and managing plans to ensure the business runs smoothly.

At all times throughout Covid-19, these working conditions were guided by two key principles: ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our people, while also ensuring the reliable supply of our medicines for patients. I am inspired by the fact that we all worked together to overcome this challenge.

We have emerged from Covid-19 with an even stronger workplace culture that supports all our people, while from an operational perspective, we have improved manufacturing processes and created a more resilient supply chain. Ultimately, this means we can deliver on our mission to serve patients.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

The great thing about risk management, business performance and QC is that it allows you to work in a range of industries, from pharma to food retail. I’d advise anyone considering a career in these areas to identify a sector that you feel passionate about and then seek out opportunities in that area.

For those who have just started out in their career, stay focused on continuous professional improvement. While you already have the qualifications, nothing beats on-the-job learning, and constantly striving to do things better is another type of skillset and capability that you should look to develop.

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