A woman in a black patterned shirt smiling at the camera. She is Róisín Wallace of Viatris Ireland.
Róisín Wallace. Image: Viatris Ireland

‘When I started out, there was little to no R&D in Ireland’

13 Oct 2021

Viatris Ireland’s Róisín Wallace reflects on her career in STEM and shares the lessons she learned on her leadership journey.

Róisín Wallace started out in the world of chemistry but now leads the global device organisation for pharma company Viatris in Ireland.

After graduating from analytical science at Dublin City University, Wallace moved to the UK to join Pfizer, where she worked for more than 15 years in various R&D roles. In 2011 she joined Mylan, which merged with Pfizer’s Upjohn business last year to create Viatris.

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“From early on I realised how much there was to learn about how drugs are discovered, how they are assessed for safety and efficacy, and how they are robustly manufactured to ensure consistent quality in supply to patients,” she said.

“I was fortunate to have opportunities first-hand in areas such as synthetic process development, formulation development, the clinical phases of drug development, regulatory submissions and ultimately support for commercial manufacture.”

She told Siliconrepublic.com about her current role and the biggest challenges in her career. She also shared her advice for other leaders and the importance of getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

‘Listening and learning has been a running theme for me in my career’
– RÓISÍN WALLACE

What brought you to your current job?

I didn’t really have a plan or any defined expectations starting out in my career. Who knew that with an undergraduate degree in analytical science, I would currently be leading a global team responsible for device design, development, industrialisation and life cycle management for a global pharmaceuticals company.

There have been times in my career where I was asked to take on roles that, on paper, were not obvious options for me. The first time was moving from leading an analytical R&D team, where chemistry and formulation development are at the core, to establishing and building up a group of engineers and scientists in device development.

It was an area I had not worked in before. It was new to the company I was with, and I was faced with having to gain the trust and respect of engineers, which as a scientist was a challenge!

A more recent example was when I took the role with Viatris to set up a new facility in Dublin (R&D pilot plant) from build, recruitment, manufacturing and obtaining investigational medicinal products licences, to supporting our clinical programme and hosting the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Taking on these roles and opportunities is what got me to where I am today. Through listening and learning from others, providing support and direction where needed, I was able to create a united team with a common purpose and vision.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered on your career path?

When I started out, there was little to no R&D in Ireland, which was a challenge in itself. However, I jumped at the opportunity to learn by moving to the UK and joining a global R&D organisation.

I was a perfectionist and often took feedback as criticism, so listening and learning has been a running theme for me in my career. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to evolve or improve. To this day, a core part of my leadership mantra is to listen to others, learn from mistakes and ensure we are constantly striving for collective improvement to drive and enable high performing self-driven teams.

As I moved into roles of increasing leadership, another challenge I found was providing my expertise and insight while also enabling others to execute and make decisions for themselves.

Knowing that it won’t be done the way I would have done it and that mistakes will be made is hard but its OK if things aren’t perfect first time; others have to be able to make their own mistakes and learn from them too. I continue to make this a cornerstone of leading an organisation.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

Many people have influenced my career, from family to leaders who inspired me along the way. I have never looked to be someone else, but rather to be the best version of myself and bring that to bear every day.

My mother once told me: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work out you pick yourself up and start again.’ And I have always lived by this, knowing that I will learn something from every opportunity and situation.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love my role and I love the fact it continues to challenge me every single day.

Our team is growing and expanding and in any given day I could be discussing a new device concept with them, participating in a regulatory science discussion on a new product with the FDA, watching how patients are handling our new devices to ensure they can use them in their unique healthcare situation, driving strategic partnership discussions for our business needs over the next five years, or working with our manufacturing sites to ensure operational readiness for manufacturing new devices to commercial supply.

I am fortunate in that I get to see these products come to life and see the result of those devices in patients’ hands supporting their healthcare needs across all stages of life.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I am a firm believer in providing feedback on an ongoing basis. People want to do their best and feedback is crucial for their success and that of the company. They will flourish and deliver to the best of their ability if you actively seek out and support their strengths.

Listening to everyone at every level, taking their feedback at face value and ensuring I act to drive a positive outcome that betters the organisation to support people development and growth, whilst continuing to deliver the business needs.

My job as a leader is to enable the team to execute and deliver to the best of their ability by ensuring we instil a culture of learning and empowerment and to enable our high-performing teams to continuously develop and deploy advanced technical skills, valuing adaptability, resilience and diverse insights in responding to evolving healthcare and business needs.

What can people expect from career progression in this industry?

There are so many progression opportunities in this industry – I started working as an analyst in the laboratory and that gave me a great grounding in problem solving and questioning the experimental data being generated.

Viatris provides huge opportunities for growth and exposure on the job, allowing people to flourish and learn, providing technical and personal development training, people management support and fora to share learnings. We also have the opportunity to attend and speak at global conferences and industry forums on global technical development.

What advice would you give to those considering a leadership role in this area?

Accept that you can’t know or be the expert in everything and develop a self-awareness to know when to lean on others for advice or expertise. The best leaders listen to others first before making decisions, balancing the varying inputs into the broader strategic needs of the business.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable, particularly in decision making. Leadership often requires making business decisions with maybe 80pc of the information you may want.

Communicate, communicate, communicate! In a global work environment, working and collaborating across many cultures is part of everyday life and it’s so important as a leader to be clear and ensure everyone understands your message. Respect culture and make it your business to know how you need to operate to ensure success up front, rather than realising misunderstandings later.

Develop an enabling culture for team empowerment which can align the needs of people and personal development with the business needs. That will ultimately drive the best outcomes.

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