Mike: Welcome to the Leaders in Life Sciences podcast powered by Enterey Life Science Consulting. In this podcast, you'll hear from leaders in the life sciences industry, how they grew into their current roles, the lessons they've learned along the way, and advice for those aspiring to follow in their footsteps.
I am the host. My name is Mike Ferletic, and I'm the CEO of Enterey Life Sciences Consulting. At Enterey, we help leaders orchestrate the positive change they want to see in their organizations. Are you ready to be recognized for your leadership success? Take a listen.
Welcome, everyone, to the Leaders in Life Sciences podcast. We have a great show for you today. I cannot wait to get started. First, I want to introduce my co-host, Courtney Boudreau. Hi, Courtney. How are you?
Courtney: Hi, Mike. I’m good. How are you doing?
Mike: I'm doing well. How are things going for you this time of the year?
Courtney: Really wonderful. I got to say January's off to a fantastic start for me, which is such a refreshing change from these past two years. I'm really looking forward to 2022 and everything that will come.
Mike: That's right. It's going to be a good year. I don't know if you're a college football fan, but they were recording here. It's a big game tonight, the college football national championship. Alabama vs. Georgia.
Unfortunately, neither one of those teams are the ones that I cheer for, but still a fan nonetheless. I'm looking forward to seeing who can pull off the big win tonight. Are you a football fan?
Courtney: I do not follow football anymore. I used to be a cheerleader, though. I do know what football is. I don't watch, but it's exciting. Any of those big games are always super high energy and always a lot of fun.
Mike: Exactly. As you know, I’m a big Notre Dame fan. We like football. Our team has not quite made it across to the top of the mountain in a while, but fan nonetheless.
Courtney: It's good.
Mike: But like you, maybe this 2022 will be a different, exciting, very prosperous year. We're going to look forward to great things this year.
Courtney: It sounds really exciting.
Mike: Awesome. All right. Our guest today is the Worldwide Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at BD, having served in that role since 2020. We are going to welcome Neelu Gibson to the podcast.
Recognized as a strong results-oriented executive, Neelu has enjoyed an impressive career highlighted by obtaining multiple PMA approvals and 510(k) clearances from the US FDA and similar approvals from international regulatory agencies. During her 20+ years with J&J, Neelu served on five management boards holding leadership positions in Regulatory Affairs at seven J&J companies.
Prior to joining BD, Neelu was most recently the head of Regulatory Affairs for J&J Surgical Vision. Neelu has a BS in Environmental Sciences from the College of Northeast London located in the UK. She is a certified Regulatory Affairs professional and an active member of Device Alliance, RAPS, and OCRA.
Neelu also continues to coach and mentor Regulatory Affairs professionals along their own leadership journeys. Let's welcome to the podcast, Neelu Gibson. Welcome, Neelu. We're glad to have you.
Neelu: Thank you so much for having me.
Mike: Thank you. Let's jump right in. I'll get started with an easy one here. I want to learn a little bit more about your journey in the life sciences industry and how you got into the industry in the first place.
Neelu: Actually, it's been a very interesting journey from the standpoint of I never woke up and said, you know, I want to be a Regulatory Affairs professional. My background, actually as you mentioned, was environmental health, environmental science.
In England, I actually studied to be a health inspector. We did inspections of food, housing, pollution, stuff like that. I came stateside. My first role was actually at UCI, where I was (again) working on biosafety, et cetera. Falling into RA was actually unique from the standpoint that I was actually presenting to one of the management teams about an inspection that we were having.
The Vice President of RA approached me at the end of that meeting and said, you work with the Department of Toxic Substances and the EPA. You would be a really good fit for coming across Reg Affairs. Now, I had no idea who the Food and Drug Administration was at the time, but I decided to take a leap of faith. You'll hear me say that a lot into a career that I knew nothing about. I fell in love with it and I've been doing it ever since.
Mike: That's awesome. I know you are a follower of Simon Sinek. He espouses that philosophy of finding your why. I'm wondering maybe that's what happened along the way in that journey.
Neelu: Yeah, it did. It was interesting, because we talked about writing mission statements, knowing where you want to go, and all of the rest of it. I'd actually come to a personal crossroads. My son was five years old when I went through a divorce. At that point, I had a job that I enjoyed. But that got me to just literally sit down and think about what I wanted to do with my life. It was one of those moments.
I actually was just scribbling things on a piece of paper, which later I came to realize as my personal mission statement. I said, I wanted to do something that allowed me enough time with my family and friends, something that facilitated travel, because I love traveling. And something that gave me a career that either helped people or the environment, because those are my foundation. That was my degree coming into the world, because I wanted to do something either for the environment or for people.
As I develop that, I chose careers that would facilitate those. My tenure with J&J, particularly because they allowed so much of fitting with my core mission statement, and similarly with BD, I'm doing what I love. Again, in service of our patients is the number one priority. That was pretty much my why, and I defined it that way.
Mike: That's great. I love to hear the stories of people that are in the industry and really look to serving the patients as the ultimate goal of everything you do. I know J&J. A lot of people think of J&J as baby powder, band aids, but we know it's much more. You were involved in seven different companies at a high leadership level. Tell us a bit more about what drew you to J&J and inspired you to stay for the 20+ years you were there.
Neelu: I think the first move that I made was (again) from UCI to J&J. It was as the environmental engineer. I hadn't really thought too much about like, oh, I'm going to go help patients and study the environment now. You're just going, okay, this is something that fits in with what my next career opportunity needs to be.
As I became more and more involved with my role at ASP—it was my first company—Johnson and Johnson as you know, has a credo. You see it on the walls everywhere. I'd be like, okay, and I'm reading this thing about what our responsibilities were. At the top of it, it's always our responsibility to doctors, patients, and nurses.
As you start living the journey, you realize how important that really is in all your decision-making and who you evolve as a J&J employee. Now with BD, we have the BD way, which is very similar. We do what is right. Again, the focus is on the patient. I think that helps refine how you think and the decisions that you make.
Mike: Definitely. It's kind of crazy. I can almost see the ASP building straight out my office window here. It's right across the freeway. It's neat to tie together some of those points. I wanted to get some thoughts, because being at a company for 20 years, I'm sure there are some different actions that maybe you took along the way to help put yourself in the spot to take on those leadership roles down maybe 5 years, 10 years down the road. How did you take ownership of your own leadership experience at that point?
Neelu: I think when you're early in career, this has happened to me. I was actually at an OCRA event. Do you know when you have the little mixer at the end? I was speaking with a young lady and she said, what's your five-year plan? I said, well, I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow frankly, so five years is way too far. Her response was, well, that's sad, isn't it? I was like, oh, what?
But that got me thinking, because up until that point, I had a job. What that got me shifting my mindset to was, what does a career look like? What decisions do I need to make to advance a career, not just a job? Again, the distinction for me really is you come into work, you do what you're supposed to do that day, and then you go home. That's it.
That's your puddle of information. I'm supposed to give something to Mike. I'm supposed to give something to Courtney. I hand that off, I'm done. Now, a career to me is looking at the bigger picture. What does it mean when I do X? What are the ramifications? And how can I influence those in a positive way?
That's when I started really thinking about how to not just make a decision workwise on money, because everybody's like, oh, well, they're going to pay me a lot more, but it's like, yeah, but is it meaningful? What value are you adding? How am I growing in my role to then (again) give back.
If you look at my career profile, it's peppered with things like career changes—I mentioned going from environmental to Reg Affairs—it was huge. I knew nothing, but I learned. Secondly, having leaders that encouraged me to do things like take stretch assignments in roles that I never would have thought I could do. So having people that empower you and believing in you.
I've also done several lateral moves. People were like, well, but you are a director here. Why are you going as a director to another company? My perspective on that was to look at how much I am learning. It isn't always (again) about the title. It is about what you're learning and what your takeaway is. Going from something that was a 510(k)-only company. Obviously, not assuming everybody knows what these things are.
From an FDA standpoint, they look at devices from a risk-based system. The lower the risk, the lower the classification. Class two medical devices, for example, require documentation called a 510(k), so you need to get a clearance from the FDA. I'd worked in the 510(k) arena for quite a while. The next level, which is class three devices, which are your PMAs, which are novel devices that are coming out into the marketplace, there is nothing similar to that.
Going to that, I did a lateral move. But I got to learn about clustering medical devices. Similarly going from simple hardware devices to understanding software-driven medical devices. Just making those kinds of decisions to see how you become a well-rounded professional, not just seeking a title, I think is one of the ways I've approached my career.
Courtney: What excites you about Regulatory Affairs? I know you've been here for over 25 years in this role. You talked about some career changes. Obviously, I like to make the assumption that you enjoy Regulatory Affairs. What excites you?
Neelu: Honestly, it's interesting because when you tell people you work in Reg Affairs, like you're in some room filled with scrolls and these terrible requirements and regulations. I was supposed to be with really boring people. But honestly, I think it's fascinating because it is about people. That is what I love about Regulatory Affairs.
Yes, you have regulations that you need to meet. You have guidance documents from the FDA, et cetera. Think about what we have to do. They have a job. The agency has a job to protect and ensure the well-being of the public. We work for the industry. I have to work with my counterparts in quality, R&D, marketing, pick the function operations.
How do I translate what the requirements are from an agency standpoint into what we need to do from an industry standpoint? That's the piece that I love. And that's why I've stayed in RA for so long. There's something fascinating about going from feasibility of a device to actually seeing it come on the market.
I've been fortunate in my career to actually go see patients where the devices are being used, that I actually touched from an RA standpoint. Yeah, I think RA is one of the best fields that I could have chosen. I was fortunate to fall into it.
Courtney: That's amazing. I know that RA can definitely be a contentious department within any organization. How do you overcome some of that, maybe adversity that you'd say in your role?
Neelu: There is quite a lot of that. There are actually two things. One is people not wanting to hear what you have to say. Essentially, rather than saying, well, you have to do this, I believe in taking people on the journey.
It's like the more you partner with whichever stakeholder to say, okay, this is why we need to do it, and this is how I'm looking for your expertise on ensuring we meet the requirements that we have, versus saying, you need to do this because the regulation says so. No negotiation at that point. But having the ability to educate people on why you need to do certain things (I think) goes a long way.
The second part is repetition. This is sometimes a little more frustrating than the whole education piece. That is, if people don't like listening to the message, they will ask the same question over and over again expecting a different answer. Or short-term memory. People are like, I don't remember you saying this, and it's like yes about it at the last meeting.
That I think is (again) a journey that we have to take people on. Being a person who models the behavior that I want to see in others, I ensure that I don't go, what do you mean you don't understand? I always need to take it back to the foundation of they're coming from a good place, let's meet them in that place, and help them move forward.
It's not an easy job, but again you don't get into it if it is easy. Again, it takes a certain type of RA person or a certain type of personality to go into regulatory as well. I don't mean just being an extrovert, because clearly I'm an extrovert. But I think it needs somebody who understands, likes people, and likes to take the time to (again) help people understand our universe.
Courtney: I think all of the things you've mentioned really highlight just such excellent teamwork, because you do work cross functionally with so many other groups. Just being an excellent teammate, it sounds like it’s also been key to your success.
Neelu: I think the only people who can say I was an excellent teammate are the people I worked with. The same way. When people say I'm an amazing leader, it's like, no, you cannot say that. It's your people and the people's lives that you touched can say you're an amazing leader. You just do the best that you can.
I think for me, one of the key elements has been whichever organization I went to, we think about Johnson & Johnson as this one big company. It isn't. It's made up of multiple companies, each one with its own culture and its own challenges and successes. Going into every organization, I always thought about, what is the impact or what's the value that I'm bringing?
Now that I'm at BD coming in here, one of the first things that I did was come up with my mission statement. What do we want to be? Secondly, what is the quick description of my RA team? We believe in ACE. Essentially, when we interview people, we're talking about ACE.
Accountability is huge for me. It's not just holding ourselves accountable to the best quality of work and best representation on teams, but it's also holding our counterparts accountable for the quality of their work and the types of interactions we have.
Then collaboration. To your point, it's really easy to have people go, we just don't want to do this. It's like, no, that's not collaborating. Using the word no is the easiest word in the English language, because it shuts off all possibilities. There are points where you do have to say no, but how do you (again) help people understand? Collaboration is the second one for me.
Then education. We've already talked about that. We should never assume everybody has walked a mile in our shoes. How do you help them understand the space and how you guys (again) collaborate to get us to the end goal, which is bringing the safest, most effective medical devices to our patients?
Mike: That's excellent. I wanted to ask you one question to follow-up your earlier comments around going to each of your new positions, knowing that you are going to be learning something new, and having the courage to leave something that you're probably pretty comfortable in and taking that step to maybe another J&J company, another organization, and having to learn something new, which I think could be exciting, could be a little bit nerve-racking, could be something that you're maybe nervous about.
I'm curious how you made those decisions to jump to that next opportunity, even if it was a lateral move. I imagine that you're coming in having to learn something, going into an environment where the experts knew everything about that, and you had to demonstrate your ability to learn and lead in those environments. Tell us about that experience.
Neelu: Yes, it is scary. I think that's the word that we didn't use. It is frightening to go into a new environment. But again, I think coming up to understand that you are bringing something of value to the table. You're not just coming in to say, hey, help me understand and help me lead. It's about, what expertise are you bringing to give to the organization? What value are you bringing?
From a decision standpoint, I had to get comfortable in the unknown. That happened way early when I was given a stretch assignment of going from RA into quality to manage the complaints department, because their manager had exited suddenly. They said, hey, we need an interim. Can you take over quality complaints? And I was like, I don't know anything about this. Again, it goes to that manager's faith and that ability to go, you know what? You'll be fine.
I came in. There were (I think) five or six people in the team, and they were looking at me like, you know nothing about our world. And I owned it. I do this at every company that I go to. I don't understand your devices yet. I don't know the culture yet, but understand that I know regulatory affairs. I've been doing it for a really long time. Help me learn so I can help advise as quickly as I can.
With my complaints organization, I had a candid conversation with the team. I said, look, I don't know anything about complaints. You guys are the subject matter experts. Now tell me what your challenges have been and how I can best help you.
By having that conversation, one of the earliest things I found out about that poor group was that they had never had product training. They weren't processing complaints without actually having seen the devices or understanding how they're used.
The first thing I did was I had our technical service group have us over into their area, and they walked us through everything. Did I add huge value? Probably not, but at least we're able to touch and feel the devices that they were working on complaints on.
Another person said she'd always wanted to get into presentations, so I had her create a couple of presentations to our stakeholders. It turns out, she did a beautiful job. The next time I was asked to present something, I said, would you like to go ahead and do that?
She and I practiced. I set her up for success and made sure I was there to help if she needed it. But again, she did a beautiful job. Did I directly impact the complaints process? Not really. But what I did was I continued to engage the team and help them grow in whatever it was that they needed.
I think going into any role to circle back to your actual question, I think it's having confidence in knowing that you do bring something of value. You're not just coming in to be a sponge and learn. You're also contributing something.
Again, from a collaboration standpoint, I've had people say, oh, but you've never worked in the space of this before. I'm like, you're right, I haven't, but I do know FDA and class two devices or class three devices. Pick something. I have worked in software for years. And that's when people go, okay.
One other big piece of information that I learned was, at some point, you need to stop auditioning for your job. When you get a new role, you get that because people saw merit in your capabilities, they believe you can add something of value to the organization and steer it. If you're a people leader, they'll check that out as well. You don't need to continue auditioning for it because once you have it, lead into it, lean into it.
Mike: That's great. I particularly like the part of your story, where you didn't come in and know all about the complaint process, but you helped uncover how you could help the rest of the team get better at what they're already good at, by giving them knowledge about their products that they're fielding complaints on and just by asking questions, I'm presuming .
Neelu: That's what you have to do. You have to have those learner questions. Did I come up to speed on the process? Absolutely. Within my first 30 days, I knew exactly what the process needed to be. At that point, we started working with another company.
I actually created a complaints process that included two different businesses. It's giving yourself time to ramp up on the technical knowledge that you may need about that particular function while you're adding value in some way.
Courtney: It sounds like you've done a lot of creating opportunities, too, that was not there before for your folks. I think that's exemplary leadership and amazing to hear.
Neelu: Thank you. It's because I've had amazing mentors in my life. This is interesting because I think when we talk about mentorship—I know we haven't gotten there—I've had informal mentors, because people always say, okay, do you have a formal mentoring program?
Going through my career, there was no formal mentoring anything, but I did have people who navigated me or coached me to take risks where I normally wouldn't have done, because they had faith in my ability. I think as a people manager, that's what we need to look at. How do we help people recognize their capabilities when they themselves may not?
Mike: That's great. In prep for our interview here, I looked at some of the recommendations that you've received from others. Overwhelmingly, those individuals highlighted how you worked as an outstanding coach and mentor to them. Getting into this mentorship topic, I think, like you said, it's important to find mentors. Maybe if you could continue talking about some of the key mentors in your career that helped you on that journey, that would be great for us to hear.
Neelu: The first one I would say would be the gentleman who got me into Reg Affairs from environmental. He was phenomenal, because it's one thing to say, okay, take a job in my role, which I did. But he always had me thinking, because I used to go straight to him and say, hey, John. The team is asking this. What should I tell them? He was like, well, what do you think you should tell them? I'm like, I don't know, hence me having this conversation with you.
Then he would say, hey, why don't you go read this guidance document, and then let's come back and have a discussion? Then I would read and come back. I think, Courtney, when you teach a person to fish, talk, right?
Neelu: There were times when I would just say, I don't know, John, can you just tell me? He'd be like, if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a day. I'd be like, oh my gosh, I should be a baker at this point. He was amazing at getting me to think and not just give answers.
As leaders, often we are so busy. When somebody comes in, it's really easy to say, just go do this. It's actually a mindful thing where you have to pause and go, let's get them to think about it.
Another one was a senior leader within J&J. She was awesome at creating opportunities for me to participate in not just cross business but cross sector opportunities.
As you know, J&J has three sectors. You got medical, farm, and what's the other one? See? You leave in two years, you forget. There was one, I was asked to join a pharmaceutical group discussion in creating a process. I said, I know nothing about farm. Her comment was, yes, but you know medical devices, and they don't understand our space.
That was pretty profound, so I joined. I provided the direction. I was the one who ended up presenting to senior leadership at J&J for that particular topic. Having those kinds of folks who help you along the journey (I think) is phenomenal. Again, they were not my formal coaches or assigned.
I'll give you one other interesting anecdote. At least, I think it was interesting. There was this one event that I was invited to discuss leadership and mentoring. Actually, it was also networking. At the end of the conversation, this young lady who was sitting at the back of the room, as I was walking out, she says, can I ask you something? I was like, yeah, absolutely. She said, will you be my mentor? I said, okay.
I said, so what are you looking for? She goes, I want to be like you, the way you talk, and you're very animated. I said, okay, you can't teach somebody to be a personality. I did set up time with her. We spent 30 minutes. She was a total introvert, but I helped her understand that you know what? It's okay. You don't have to be as animated as I am to do anything. Be 100% you.
We talked about authentic leadership. Be yourself, but also know what it is you want to accomplish, and what are the areas that you need to grow in both from a technical standpoint but a leadership standpoint as well.
I think that that mentorship, there's mentoring, there's coaching, there's having an advocate. I don't know how often or how many people know the difference between those. I know early in my career, I didn't know, because it's one of those crazy things that nobody really talks about.
Mike: It's very true.
Hey, Courtney. A lot of our clients we work with have great ideas on how to improve their business, but they just run into challenges that seem to get in the way of accomplishing their goals. Have you ever seen that?
Courtney: Yeah, of course. It happens all the time. I've seen clients struggle with a lack of visibility into all the work that's happening within their organization. I've seen clients that are focused on manual tasks, which takes away from focusing on the actual project work. And I've seen leadership struggle to make decisions due to lack of timely information.
Mike: That's so true. It seems like just knowing the problems to fix is only half the battle. How do you help your clients address those challenges?
Courtney: We of course, first work with our client to design a structured management process that fits their culture and team. In a lot of situations, we bring in tools like Smartsheet to help the entire project team be more efficient. With the help of Smartsheet, we were able to create dashboards, automate routine tasks, and have the information ready in real time to help support leadership's decision making.
Mike: Wow, it sounds like you not only execute on the project, but your work helps everyone get more done with less work.
Courtney: I hope so. Smartsheet is a powerful tool, and my clients seem to be really happy with it.
Mike: That's great. Now, if somebody needs help on their project, what should they do?
Courtney: They should check out enterey.com and schedule a call with us to see how we can help.
Mike: Sounds like a great idea.
Courtney: Thank you.
Mike: I was going to go next to just thinking about working within the large company environment. J&J is a very big company. But really the impression I get is, as you describe, a collection of smaller companies forming one very large company. I'm not sure BD is similar or is much more of a large-large company.
Neelu: It's the same thing.
Mike: The same thing, yeah. My question is really thinking about your advice to people that are in large companies, whether it's BD, J&J, or any other big pharma, or whatever company for that matter. How would you advise people to take ownership to progress in their career?
You can easily get, I don't want to say lost in a big company like that, but you can. For those that are eager and want to move forward that don't get that advice that you got that one day when they said, hey, what's your five-year plan, how would you tell people to take that next step?
Neelu: Although these companies are massive, one of the things people need to recognize is we come into a role. You go into a business unit. The first thing really is understanding where you want to go. I think there's a proverb or something, which I'm going to horribly massacre. But if you don't know where you're going, you will get there.
Essentially, you need to have an idea. Now, when I ask people in my own organization, what do you want to do? Where do you see yourself? It doesn't become a finite thing. Once they tell me, hey, I would love to work in, I don't know, pick something, labeling. That doesn't mean that I have now pigeonholed them into labeling for the rest of their lives. That is something that can change. But you need to be able to have an idea of what you want to do.
Again, the next 3–5 years, where do you think? But have that conversation with your manager, because they may (again) see the positives that you might not. They might say, hey, this is a better direction for you, let's have the conversation.
I've also been in conversations with one young lady who comes to mind, where she said, I've done this, I've finished this, I need to learn, I think the company should allow me to do X.
She talked for about 15 minutes about all the stuff that she needed and what she wanted to do. When she paused for breath, I said, let me ask one question. What are you doing for the company? What contribution have you made to a process, a person, anything? She has to just pause and think about that.
As people look to grow in their career, it's symbiotic. When you are doing your role, what are you doing exceptionally well? What is it that somebody will go, hey, if I could work on this with Fred, I would love to do that, even if Fred is in a different role? What are you doing to be known across the organization? Also, having those stretch assignments. But have those conversations. That's how it first begins.
Do your job and do it exceptionally well, because again, a lot of times, you will come across people who think they are doing a phenomenal job, don't have the conversation with their managers who are going, yeah, your average at best, but there's that disconnect. That's when people end up leaving an organization. It's always sad, because you need to have the discussion.
The manager knows what your expectations are. We can work with each individual to create development plans if they want to work across organizations and they're doing a phenomenal job. Absolutely, that will get facilitated.
When I first went to J&J, I remember going to the east coast for my first big conference of some kind. I think I might have been a manager at the time. Everybody seemed to know everybody, and I was in this room going, I know nobody.
I've made a few introductions. By the way, I’m really terrible at networking events, believe it or not. So I had a few conversations. Fast forward about 5–7 years, I was at an event. There were some announcements. They were like, oh, and Neelu is here. Well, of course, everybody knows Neelu.
Going from a moment where I felt I had no idea who these people were, to now having enough not just exposure but actual actionable work that I had done that people were like, oh, yeah, if we need this, we can go to Neelu. Does that help a little bit?
Courtney: Yeah. I got to say, Neelu, I have a mutual friend of ours on LinkedIn who works at Johnson & Johnson, who's a personal friend of mine. I said to her like, oh, I got to meet Neelu. She goes, everybody knows Neelu. She said the same thing about you. I guess what you are doing is highly effective.
Neelu. Thank you.
Courtney: You're welcome. It was in a very positive way.
Mike: I think your words are very good in terms of taking action, to demonstrate your value to an organization, to others. It makes so much more of an impact than just trying to tell people hey, this is what I can do. So doing it and then being that person that everybody wants to go to, because they know that you've done it, you can do it again, and you'll help.
If you need some help with something unique or innovative, I'm going to go to the person that demonstrated that innovation in some other way before. How can I draw on that person's experience and fearless attitude to go take on some new challenge? I love that approach.
Neelu: I think part of it is the what and the how. At J&J, we talked about that. At BD, we say the same thing. It's like, what do you do, but how do you accomplish it? There are people that are like, oh, yeah, I got this done. And all of the team is like, I will never work with that person if I can help it. That's not where you want to be.
This was me. Early in my career, I used to think, well, if I do a great job, my boss will create my development for me. Then you become a manager and you realize you've got so many things you have to do and so many people. You need to take ownership of your own development plan.
You need to have that conversation with your manager to create it together. But if we sit back and just wait for people to recognize us or create a development for us, that is something that I think we should stop doing. We need to just have the conversation, and it's not an easy conversation.
Another question is like, well, I've been at a job for three months, do I talk to my boss about what my next move is going to be? It's like, well, three months, you're just starting to learn. Think about what your contributions have been. You can have that initial conversation.
But if you go into a role—this is what I say to folks who are applying for the jobs that I have open—come in for the job that is advertised. Don't come in for a job that doesn't exist. Come in and execute excellently. Let's add, it's a non proposition and let's talk about your development plan. And let's execute against that development plan.
Mike: That's great advice. We got to get done what's on our plate today, and then prove that we can take that next step Very good.
Now, let's shift to the flip side. Are there leaders in your career that you worked for or around that maybe you didn't agree with, and you had trouble navigating? Imagine there may be some.
I want to hear some of your advice. How do you navigate the situations when maybe you're not on the same page with your leaders or others in your group. To still be able to contribute and bring your best, how do you do that in a situation where it's not all going great?
Neelu: It isn't. Honestly, that's a great question because sometimes when you hear podcasts or when you hear it's the sunshine and roses, it's like, yeah, [...]. But no, I think I have probably learned more from my not-so-great managers than I have from my great managers.
What that makes you realize is, this is something I will never do to my team. When you talk about specification, this is a low end of my spec. I will never do this, but have aspirational things. It's like, I would love to be like X.
One great example in the cubicle world early days, my manager’s office was almost at the door that you went home. It didn't matter what time you were leaving. It didn't matter. It could be 5:00, it could be 8:00 PM. If he said, goodnight. The first thing he would do is look at his watch. Look at his watch, good night.
Every night I went home, I was like, oh, my gosh, did I not stay long enough? And this went on for years, and it just drove me batty. Once I asked him, I said, did you know that you look at your watch when people walk? He goes, Yeah, It's just something I do. That reinforced what I thought.
One of the philosophies I have is, you know what? Do your job, do it excellently. I don't necessarily need to know if you're coming in at 8:00 or if you're coming in at 9:00, whatever it is. Just get it done. None of my team feel—at least nobody's told me—that is something that's a constraint for them. There's something simple such as that.
Another one is being empowered to act and execute against your plans. I had one leader who within my first 60 days of 90, I had some great proposals that were vetted with my peers and all the rest of it. I just couldn't get them done, because it was like, well, give it another… Well, that's right. That was frustrating as heck. I had to have a candid conversation with her as well to say, if we don't execute, then we're perpetuating something that really needs to change.
Now, did that change? Not really. So I had to make a difficult decision as to how effective I was going to be within that role and whether I needed to make a change. It's not always your manager who needs to change. Sometimes you need to understand the environment you're in and whether you can sustain being in that organization.
Mike: That makes sense. I love the example of the person checking his watch each day, because there are two ways to look at it. It's just something that I do. It's the response you got, but it makes you realize that some very simple action or activity that you do can be very impactful to somebody who you may not realize it.
Maybe it doesn't seem that big of a deal to you, but perhaps to others, and it's the impression that you're leaving. That's a great example of how things are. It's not really anything he said or it's just an action that he took that was unspoken, and that made you wonder.
Neelu: Exactly. But interestingly enough, I did talk to him about it. He said, yeah. He's reinforcing. That was an opportunity for him to go, oh, I didn't even realize I made this—
Mike: Right, that's true.
Neelu: I also had another leader. This was actually a senior leader who came into one of the companies. One of the first things he said is, yeah, my wife says, I'm a really difficult person to discuss things with, but she's gotten used to it. All of us in the room were like, okay. What is that saying?
I think at a certain point, you have to be really mindful and deliberate about what you're saying. Again, I go back to my statement about modeling the behavior you want to see in others. I've been in situations where people are being very ornery—I love that word—and argumentative.
Now, I can absolutely argue back, but is that what I want to do? Is that the behavior that I want to reinforce? And the answer is no. I will defuse the situation. Whereas the first reaction would be like, listen, but no. That's not what I'm going to do.
Mike: That's great. What that reminds me of is—continuing with the theme of lifelong learning—that individual, somebody got used to his behavior versus him learning how to evolve and become better. Along those lines, you talk about moving from one position to another where you're forced to learn. Even if staying in a position, how do you go about learning just maybe beyond the job? I want to become better at whatever skill that might be. What's your thought there?
Neelu: Again, it's a discussion that you have with your manager. I was actually faced with the same situation in a role that I'd been in for about two to three years. I knew what I was doing. I could pretty much do it. The project teams knew me, and I wanted to have that stretch.
Now, it wasn't necessarily a stretch assignment. I had the discussion, because my leader at the time had health economics and reimbursement, reg affairs, and quality. I'd already done my stint in quality, so I had a discussion with her about, you know what, I would love to do something in health economics and reimbursement. Why? Because once a medical device is cleared before a hospital can use it, there's all of that stuff that needs to happen, which is the whole reimbursement environment which I knew nothing about.
I was facilitated to join that team for a very specific project. That was to understand the reimbursement environment across a particular segment of healthcare, essentially. If I hadn't asked, it would not necessarily have been offered to me. But by putting it out there to say, I would love to learn about X.
I actually had short-, mid-, and long-term goals. It was just a pretty short assignment, but I aligned us to what the deliverable was going to be and executed against it. The department got a deliverable done that they didn't have time to do themselves. I learned a ton from that, and I was able to bring that experience forward.
Essentially, did I need to do it? Not really. But at that point, if you had my resume that said, RA with reimbursement and health economic experience versus somebody with just pure RA experience, I would definitely have had that leg up.
Mike: You helped to basically put more tools in your toolbox than when you went for something even different from what you just learned. Now, you've got more value because you've got something else you're carrying in your back pocket to help understand the new business unit.
Neelu: It's that, but also what you're doing broadens your perspective. I think that's why I've done several laterals, et cetera, because speaking just purely from a regulatory lens is one aspect, but knowing enough about other functions and other areas that are adjacencies gives you that broader perspective.
Being part of leadership teams, I don't just speak for RA. I am responsible for the business perspective as well. I'm not saying it's not enough to know RA. It is absolutely enough. But if you are somebody who wants to continue to learn and grow, then why not learn about something outside of your immediate sphere?
Mike: That makes a lot of sense. Excellent.
I really appreciate all your time. We are coming towards the end of our time here. I always like to give our guests the opportunity to highlight anything else you might want to share that excites you today, whether it's in the business world or not, maybe something that you're working on that you want to share with our listeners. Anything that you'd like to share beyond the business world, so to speak?
Neelu: I think the only thing that I would say is don't be afraid. Take risks, but take known risks. Assess, decide that you're going to do something different. Weigh the pros and cons. Don't be afraid to have that conversation with a mentor or somebody that you trust within the organization or outside. It's (again) really easy to cut off possibilities rather than just take a leap of faith and make an informed decision. But take that leap. It might be fun.
Mike: That's excellent. Just to add to that, I often think back to, and I don't remember the exact details of where I heard this, but talking about a conversation you might have with a manager, a peer, or somebody. If it's a difficult conversation, it is going to be difficult. But looking at it as, hey, this is going to be 5–10 minutes of potential pain, but I'm going to get a lot of reward beyond it.
I've got to encounter that pain in order to get to the next step, and get to the next level and beyond, and not be afraid of having that experience, but anticipate it, deal with it, and learn from it. It's very much aligned.
Excellent. Thank you so much, Neelu. We really enjoyed having you on the show. We're looking forward to hearing more great things that you're doing at BD and beyond.
Neelu: Cool. Thank you so much for having me. Lovely to speak with you both.
Mike: Yeah, very good.
Courtney: Thank you so much, Neelu. I just want to say that I am delighted to talk to you on a Monday morning, because you don't know how much more fired up I am now for the rest of the week that I've got the chance to talk with you. Thank you for this wonderful conversation and all the inspiration, truly.
Neelu: Oh, absolutely. I'll talk with you again soon. Take care now. Bye.
Mike: Thank you.
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