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Olivia Kager

Olivia Kager

Olivia is a VP at Kyowa Kirin a pharmaceutical company

  • Location: Zug, Switzerland

  • Role: DACH Cluster Medical Lead, VP at Kyowa Kirin

  • Sector:  Pharmaceutical Industry

  • University degree: M.D at Medical University Vienna, Bachelor of Arts in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at University of applied Sciences Vienna

How does your usual day look like?

I travel a lot, which means there is no typical day during those times. When working from home, shortly after getting up, I usually have breakfast with my partner while checking the news and doing a first scan of the emails that have come in overnight. Despite working from home, I then prepare for the day, making a point to put on make-up and a proper outfit, at least the typical home-office outfit of a nice blouse or top paired with my favorite comfy Lululemon leggings and a pair of warm socks as my feet always get cold during the long hours at the laptop. During this time, depending on the day and my energy, I will either listen to a podcast or some upbeat music. Two to three times a week, I then go on to do a Lagree or Aerial Silk morning workout, as it gives me energy and puts me in a great mindset for the day.

On the days I don't work out, I try to be disciplined enough to do a 10-minute meditation before logging on to my laptop and getting stuck in with emails and meetings. Truth be told, I'm not always successful, especially if I start my email program before meditating.

The first message that pops up as a calendar reminder when I log onto my email program is "What do you want to make happen today?".

I reflect on that for a few more minutes before I get down to planning and organizing my day, updating my meetings, to-do lists, and any other essential things I need to have in place to make it a productive day. Most of the day is then spent with meetings with numerous cross-functional stakeholders tackling local operational topics relevant to our cluster (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and more strategic priorities with Regional and Global colleagues.

Meetings usually finish around 18:00/18:30, after which I take time to catch up on any open tasks of the day or coach one of my current clients. I then like to take a hot shower and change into some comfy “at home” clothes as it helps to disconnect work from evening time despite being at home. At this point, my partner will either already have prepared dinner, or I will help him cook, which means chopping stuff and taking care of the dishes as he is a way better cook than I am. I make a great sous-chef though ;) During this time, we always check in with one another, asking about how our day went and spending quality time together for the rest of the evening. This is a no-email or work time which we spend together at home or sometimes out with friends.

Before going to bed, we take a few minutes to step outside onto our balcony and enjoy the fresh air and nature that we are lucky to have surrounding us. Sometimes we even spot a fox exploring the neighbourhood and these small evening encounters fill me with joy. I then do a last 30-minute check of emails to ensure I can go to bed with a clear head and clear the inbox further before shutting down and going to bed. 

What are the things you like the most about your job?

I love the versatility of my job.

Every day is different in terms of the topics I tackle and projects I work on. This means it never gets boring. Also, given the speed and the constantly changing dynamics of the healthcare system,  there is always an opportunity to do and learn new things which I enjoy greatly. I specifically love to identify and understand future needs of our professional ecosystem and work on innovative strategies to address them as an organization. Finally, I feel very privileged to lead, coach and mentor teams to help them to achieve their goals whilst stretching and developing them to support their growth. 

What are some of the skills you utilise the most in your day-to-day?

Deep listening, clear communication, making decisions, stakeholder management, organisation and planning.  

Truly listening to the people you are working with and pairing that with clear communication and a solid decision making is essential in order to move things ahead in a way that ensures buy-in from your stakeholder group. 

What was one of your happiest days in your career and why?

It's hard for me to pinpoint one particular day or event. As with anything in life, there have been many ups and downs. What I will say is that the happiest days in my career have always been when I have overcome a challenge together with a group of amazing people and when I have made a real difference and had an impact on the people around me and the world I live in.

What has been your greatest challenge on your career path and how did you overcome it?

Like any other human being, I’ve had my share of challenges, and they have come in different shapes or forms – not getting the job or promotion you were promised, being overused at work, not being heard or taken seriously, especially as I was younger, and even being blatantly disrespected.  

Similarly as with the happiest days- I couldn’t pinpoint one big defining moment as I see challenges as a natural part of life and especially your career.  What they all have in common is that looking back they have helped me to learn and grow. Now I’m not going to say that they didn’t hurt or that if I could choose I might not say-let's just skip that part of my career because you know which normal person would willingly and knowingly say- yes please let me experience hurt, pain, frustration, anger or whatever it is. So it's not about glorifying them like we sometimes tend to do, but its about recognizing what, despite the pain, they can teach us and understanding that even if the situation may feel out of our control that we have the power to not let ourselves become victims but to take something away from it that will help you in the future.Whether its a learning, clarity, resilience whatever it may be- if you commit to looking, trust me you will find something. 

Also, we tend to negatively connotate challenges, for me it’s really about reframing and understanding that challenges can be a positive thing, even if they hurt sometimes. I mean a lot of people thrive on challenges and appreciate them, seek them in order to propel them to higher levels of performance or to gain a better understanding of themselves, to learn. And we need to understand that all forms of challenges will do this for you- even the ones that you didn’t choose and that aren’t exciting or „fun“ but maybe even painful. So in summary, it's about having a growth mindset which really helps me overcome any challenges that come my way.

What is something you had to learn to become better at your job?

I am very passionate about what I do, and when I do things, I want to do them well and tend to give 150%. Especially moving up the career ladder, I learned that giving everything 150% of your time and energy is impossible. You get pulled in many different directions, and many people need different things from you; giving 150% everywhere is the perfect recipe for exhaustion. So, managing my energy has been a significant learning.

Building on that, I am still learning to say no. I am interested in a lot of things and am always happy to learn something new and to get involved. I am learning to be more deliberate in how I allocate my time and how that serves my goals and ambitions. 

How did you get to become a DACH Cluster Medical Lead?

By being open and curious about opportunities that were different vs. what I had initially planned or envisioned. 

I studied Medicine and thought I would end up working in a hospital. While I was waiting for the allocation of my internship spot, I found out that the pharmaceutical industry was a possibility for physicians as well.  I gave it a try and started in the Medical Department, being convinced that this was my route. After approximately 2 years, there was an opening in the Commercial department, which I took as it was within Oncology, an area I had always been highly interested in. I stayed in commercial and worked locally before transitioning into regional headquarters- again, a move I had not necessarily envisioned as I had initially planned to develop my career within the local organization. After nearly 12 years in Commercial, I made an unexpected move again- I went back to the Medical function where I had started. 

All of these decisions have one thing in common—I followed what I was passionate about while combining it with a strategic plan for how it would enrich my experience, skill set, thinking about transferrable skills, and how it could help progress my career by helping me become a broader leader of an organization.

What makes you gracefullyBOLD?

My ability to create and take space and stand for what I believe in with authenticity, courage and kindness 

What advice you would give to other women aiming to achieve long-term success in their careers?

  1. Take charge of your career because no one else will.

  2. Find what inspires you.

  3. Cultivate growth mindset and life-long learning.

Professional networking for women matters, because….

Only together can we drive the tangible change for women in business that we want to see and that women deserve. If we lift each other up by connecting and championing each other we can address the challenges women continue to face and build a more diverse and equitable society. 

How do you deal with stress and build resilience?

I set clear boundaries regarding where I am willing to spend my energy and how much of it. This can mean actual energy for tackling activities, tasks, etc… but also, and maybe even more importantly, mental energy. I will be very deliberate about what things I allow to consume my mind and what not. I am a fan of the saying, “Energy flows where attention goes.” 

Also, I tap into my growth mindset to identify what I can learn in a given situation.  Finally, a good workout always helps to reduce my stress levels, as well as a kitchen dance party with my partner.

What would have been your alternative career path?

Definitely something in the Art. Initially after finishing school, I was close to becoming a painter. When I was very young my dream-job was to be a dancer or musical star – unfortunately I can’t sing without making dogs bark 😉

What strategies or practices have you found most effective in building and maintaining confidence in your professional life, especially during challenging times?

Staying connected to my values—they act as a guiding star and connect me with myself, who I truly am, and what I truly want.  

Understanding that confidence is not black and white. It's not either you have it, or you don't; it's way more fluent than that. Accepting that sometimes you will get up and feel like you can conquer the world, and some days, you will need to work for that confidence. 

Doing something hard, something that challenges me – at work or outside, do something I was scared of or have been putting off. This may sound silly, especially when you are going through a challenging period; who would want to add something hard on top but doing something challenging and succeeding at it, even if it's not related to your current challenge, for example, just getting through that really tough bootcamp session at your gym – it will instil a sense of strength and confidence in you that will transpire into all areas of your life. So, get out there and find something hard to succeed at, that's something that always worked for me.

Finally, but most importantly, nurturing a kind relationship with myself, ensuring I stay connected instead of listening to all the outside noise and tapping into my inner fighter or strength if you like. When you experience challenging times, it's sometimes easy to forget how strong and amazing you actually are, and yet, precisely during those times, it's most necessary to connect to that so you can work through what you have to work through. So, I make a conscious choice and drown out all the other noise and my inner critical voices to listen closely and reconnect with my own truth and inner advocate. This is the most important thing for me to do; everything else builds on that. It takes time and practice, reflection time, journaling, meditation, and talking with people who know me well and who I trust, can help with that. It's really about finding what works for you. For me, it's a mix of it all.

I also love using music. I have a playlist that I listen to when I feel I need an extra bump of courage, but also listening or reading about inspirational stories of other women and how they overcame adversities is something that helps me reconnect with my own confidence and helps me realize that I've got this, I've got my own back, and whatever it is I'll be able to manage it, to get through it. I like to remind myself “ I will figure this out, I always do”.

Who is a (female) professional that inspired you along your career journey? 

I can't name one. There are so many amazing women I work with who inspire me and from whom I learn every day. What do they all have in common? Standing up for themselves, speaking their mind, and unapologetically being themselves. 

Something that has also continuously inspired me along my career journey was the words of a previous manager of mine.

She told me that it's not about aspiring to get to a point where I feel comfortable in everything I do. That simply stops your growth and is unrealistic. Rather learn to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

What’s the one question we didn’t ask you, but you’d like to answer? 

  • Question: What are you currently passionate about? 

  • Answer: I am currently working on my ambition of  improving human health today and tomorrow by redefining the scope of patient centricity in order to put patient health, health equity and sustainability at the heart of the healthcare business 

The previous interviewee left a question for you: What do you think are the limitations of women’s chances of climbing the corporate career ladder?

Unfortunately, many limitations remain. Systemic challenges such as systemic biases, workplace norms, the small n -meaning lack of role models and female representation at certain levels or in specific industries, and the list goes on. One that is important to call out is micro-aggressions women face in the workplace because that is something very tangible most women face daily. One of those that always struck me as especially impactful is the tightrope effect. Now, what’s that?

In our society, we still, consciously or unconsciously, associate leadership qualities with more „masculine“ traits. There are more than enough studies to show that these traits are not gender-related, but the perception in the workplace and society remains nonetheless. 

So, coming to the tightrope, it is basically the phenomenon that when women portray leadership qualities or skills perceived as more masculine -they pay a social cost. 

I am sure that most women in the workplace have experienced this at least once in their careers and know what I am talking about. For example, women are constantly torn between being told that they should be more confident and, when they do, being seen as pushy, arrogant, demanding, and so on. 

Or, there is what is known as the speaking up double blind—studies actually show that women professionals who speak more than their peers are punished in performance evaluations while men who speak up more are rewarded. 

So, these are topics where we need to break that narrative. Yes, there is an important change that needs to happen in society, but we can also play a role ourselves.

It's about confidently stepping and trusting our own truth. It’s understanding the difference between being confident vs being cocky and between self-critical vs excessive self-doubt. Because these lines are so fine, and societal norms and gender biases muddy the waters even more, it essentially comes down to self-awareness. If you have that self-awareness, you don’t allow others to drive your narrative. 

One word answers & quick fire round. Let's go!

  • What's your superpower: My sense of humour. I am usually able to find and create smiles and laughs in most situations in life

  • Favourite restaurant (state name and city): La Colombe in Zug (Switzerland) / Triangel (Salzburg)

  • Favourite fashion brand: Valentino

  • Favourite beauty product: Yves Saint Laurent Faux Cils Mascara

  • Favourite perfume: Love by Chloe (unfortunately discontinued) 

  • Book recommendation (state title and author): ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brene Brown and ‘My Life in Full’ by Indra Nooyi

  • Next holiday destination: Bangkok and Koh Samui

  • Your hobby:  Aerial silks, Lagree, wine, reading, travelling

  • What’s your mantra? "Courage is fear walking." (by Brene Brown) and #GSD – get stuff done

  • Who inspires you: My partner

  • Tea or Coffee: Tea

  • Red wine or White wine: White wine

  • Morning bird or Night owl: Night owl

  • Cat person or Dog person: Dog person

Thank you Olivia for sharing your journey & wisdom with us!

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