Mairead Kennedy of Viatris discusses her role as portfolio lead in global device development and the importance of strong connections in your team at work.
Mairead Kennedy is a portfolio lead in global device development at Viatris in Dublin. After graduating from the University of Limerick with a BSc in industrial chemistry, she held a number of engineering and project management roles at companies including Intel Ireland and Pfizer, while also completing a master’s degree in project management part-time.
Prior to her current role, Kennedy spent eight years in Australia working for GSK and then CSL Behring, where she held the position of global engineering program director. In May 2020, she returned to Ireland and joined Viatris.
When asked what first stirred her interest in the medical device/combination product industry, Kennedy cited the fact that Ireland is a “hotbed for the pharma/life sciences industry” and that she had a strong desire to work in a projects role that involved both science and engineering.
Her interest in the area was also inspired by a conference she attended in the UK, where it was reported that 30pc of all drugs in development were combination products. “I felt that developing my knowledge and expertise in this area would not only futureproof my career, but it would also mean I would get to work in an exciting area of the industry that provides endless opportunities.”
‘As a people manager, it’s so important to build an honest and trustful relationship with those you are going to be working closely with’
What brought you to your current job?
During my job search, I came across a role advertised for a program director at Viatris. I knew a former colleague was working there and I was curious to find out more about the company and what they were like to work for. Having insider knowledge is always helpful and learning a little more about a potential employer really does help you decide if they might be the right fit for you. I cannot emphasise enough how having a strong network around you is so valuable.
What I heard about Viatris sparked my interest and to cut a long story short, I joined them initially as a program director and have since progressed to device portfolio lead. This means me and my team are responsible for the design, development, and commercialisation of a new drug-device combination product. It’s a truly exciting field to be in, especially because you know that what you do has the potential to improve the lives of patients. This is the reason we do what we do and there really is no better motivation than that!
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
Where do I start?! Like most people, I’ve experienced my fair share over the years, but I think moving to a different continent was one of the most interesting challenges. Not only did I have to learn to adapt to a culturally diverse organisation, but I also had to build my knowledge of the nuances of local regulations, employment law and enterprise bargaining agreements. Not to mention the personal aspect of being away from friends and family and having to form new friendships.
Another challenge that some people may not always appreciate is learning to work within cultures where no one wants to let their manager down. As a people manager, it’s so important to build an honest and trustful relationship with those you are going to be working closely with and one of the first things I discuss with a new team member is to be upfront when things don’t go to plan. We’ve all had situations where despite your best efforts, something happens that throws things off course. I prefer to be straightforward with my team from the get-go. It requires you to probe deeper, ask more questions and improve your listening skills, and it makes those in your team feel able to turn to you when they really need support.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
I am so fortunate to have had a few people take an interest in supporting my career development over the years, but if I were to single out one, I think it would have been the site head when I was a project engineering manager. In addition to being an inspiring woman leader, she encouraged me to aim high, own my own career development and shake off imposter syndrome. This is the advice I now pass on to others. Having a positive influence on someone else’s career is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
There is so much I enjoy! I love connecting people, so that they solve problems together and nothing beats that sense of achievement when you reach a challenging milestone. It’s such a true example of the whole (project team) being greater than the sum of the parts. One of the other things I particularly enjoy is working with smart people and we are lucky to have that in abundance in the global device development team at Viatris.
What can people expect from career progression in this industry?
There are so many ways to progress in this industry. For me, I started managing one specific program, and now I manage many programs with program leads reporting to me. At Viatris, you can manage programs of increasing complexity and strategic importance to the business, or you can manage teams and a portfolio of programs.
One of the great things about the company is that they really champion career and personal development. There is an amazing on-demand library of courses that cover topics such as professional improvement, management and wellbeing, lots of in-person or virtual courses on offer and importantly there is also progression through functional leadership of an entire team. To be honest, there are countless opportunities at Viatris and working in device development you really are encouraged to continuously develop yourself, both professionally and personally.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
If you’re considering a career in device development, I can tell you that it’s an amazing field, rich with interest and where there is never a dull day. It’s probably one of the most fascinating areas that I’ve worked in where you know that what you are doing really does have a positive impact to patients.
On a practical level, one of my strong recommendations is to spend time working in manufacturing and/or operations. This will furnish you with invaluable experience in drug product manufacturing or device assembly and it really will set you up for a successful future.
My advice for anyone new in their role, would be to lean on your more experienced colleagues, understand how your role fits within your function and build your knowledge by asking questions. This shows you are interested and willing to learn and often results in people going out of their way to help you even more.
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