By virtue of overseeing several different departments across the drug development process, the role of COO of R&D requires a breadth of skills uncommon in an industry that typically focuses on specialisation. Keresty, though, says this path was a conscious choice for her.
“Early on in my career I had to choose whether I wanted to be a deep expert, taking every opportunity to hone my craft in one area, or developing breadth by understanding the entire process,” she says. “I’ve focused my entire career on understanding the industry end-to-end from discovery research through to product development and manufacturing as well as all the functions that support that, such as Quality and IT.”
Now Keresty is in a role that requires understanding of how the entire complex pharma machine works.
Although such COO roles in the industry are scarce, Keresty notes that they are becoming more prevalent – particularly with the increasing number of startup life sciences companies, where a small number of employees need to take on a wide range of roles.
“As companies become more complex, and as they look to make quick decisions to focus on things such as operational excellence, they need a leader to be the glue of that entire complex internal process,” she says.
She adds that Takeda made the decision to implement an R&D COO for several reasons. One key driver was its acquisition of Shire, with Keresty now being responsible for the full integration of both companies’ R&D efforts.
Moreover, Takeda was looking for a role that could tackle the challenges involved in moving towards increasing levels of outsourcing and partnerships with other companies.
“When you have such a large part of your operation externally placed, you need experience in how to manage that and ensure that, operationally, we continue to be flexible, and continue to make adjustments as needed,” Keresty explains.
It was also partly driven by Takeda’s plans to move from a regionally based R&D organisation to a global organisation, and the need to be able to “function globally in a streamlined manner”, as Keresty puts it.
Keresty also has three business functions reporting directly into her – the Global Portfolio Strategy Group, the Partnership Office, and the Centre of Operational Performance (CoOP) – as well as other functions that facilitate R&D.
“One part of the role is being the interface with enterprise functions that we rely on in order to do our work every day, including Procurement, Quality, Legal, IT, Healthcare Compliance and the Intellectual Property group,” she says. “I’m their liaison and I work with them to ensure that the programmes and support structure they’re putting in place to support R&D is appropriate and fully staffed, and that they’re aligned with the goals and objectives we have to help bring new products to the pipeline.
Last but by no means least, Georgia acts as a resource for talent across R&D.
“I have been in pharma for a long time, and I want to help the women scientific leaders that are making their way through a really exciting and important industry. I make my mentoring and sponsoring activities available to all of our talent and sponsor programmes, and some of our mentoring programmes as well.”
All that said, Keresty notes that the broad nature of the role means that there could easily be something else it needs to cover in the near future. To keep adaptable, she says, it’s important to maintain external connections.
The advantage of this wider focus, she says, is being able to quickly identify where things aren’t working and where opportunities are presenting themselves for improvement.
Keresty therefore says she sees roles like this becoming more and more critical in how complex organisations work over the next few years.
Looking to the future, Keresty says her main goal is making sure the operation side of Takeda runs “flawlessly”.
“I would like to see that our operating model is strong and flourishing and that we continue to improve – because there are always going to be opportunities to improve operational delivery and effectiveness.”
Keresty says that her decision to focus on breadth over depth has certainly paid off.
“People often wonder why I made the decision, and perhaps it took many years for me to really see the benefits of it. But more and more people are seeing it as an exciting career path, one that keeps people engaged and motivated. I’ve even heard people connecting it to how millennials think in terms of wanting to do new things, and always wanting to be challenged.
“You need both kinds of people in an organisation to be successful – those who prefer to work broadly and those who prefer to be the deep experts. If you get that balance right, it could be a winning combination.”
George Underwood is a senior member of the pharmaphorum editorial team, having previously worked at PharmaTimes and prior to this at Pharmafocus. He is a trained journalist, with a degree from Bournemouth University and current specialisms that include R&D, digital and M&A.