Beyond The Printed Page | August 31, 2015

What Sanofi's Pascale Witz Learned About Leadership From Her 18 Years At GE

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

Sanofi Pascale Witz
Pascale Witz, EVP and leader of Sanofi’s global divisions and strategic development organization

From The Cutting Room Floor: September 2015 Issue
Read the full magazine article: Preparing Sanofi For Post-Patent Cliff Product Launches

When I interviewed Pascale Witz, EVP and leader of Sanofi’s global divisions and strategic development organization for the September 2015 feature article, Preparing Sanofi For Post-Patent Cliff Product Launches, I admitted to being surprised by her decision to leave GE. After all, the former president and CEO of GE Healthcare’s medical diagnostics business, a company where she had spent the previous 17 years, was basically just one step away from joining the leadership team with a history of launching executives into the business world spotlight (e.g., Jeff Immelt, Jack Welch). “I think GE is a great school for operational management and leadership,” she shares. “Probably one of the most valuable leadership lessons I learned in my 17 years at GE is, when it comes to hiring, have a very strong focus leadership, values, and experience.” According to Witz, one of the most important things you do as a leader is build the right team. “If you don’t have the right team behind you, you can’t do anything.” For Witz, this often means finding folks with diverse experiences, something she learned from her time at GE.

Diverse Experiences Build Necessary Leadership Depth And Breadth

When Witz joined GE, it was shortly after completing her M.B.A. at one of the world’s leading business schools, INSEAD. “I joined GE because it seemed like a can’t-miss opportunity,” she shares. Being a molecular biologist by training, she thought she would be at GE for just a few years. “I always joked with my colleagues that as a scientist, I would someday go back to my molecules,” she laughs. But Witz ended up staying much longer than planned. While she attributes part of the reason for staying as being “the “quality of school it is,” the other part involved GE’s 2003 $9.5 billion acquisition of Amersham, a UK company with biopharma roots. “When the company acquired Amersham, I raised my hand to express my interest in leading this part of the company,” she says. “Of course, nobody was interested in me back then.” It wasn’t until 2009 that Witz was asked to run that part of GE’s business. While a six-year wait may have seemed like a long time, it afforded her the opportunity to be exposed to a number of unique leadership opportunities. For example, she served as the VP of Six Sigma and quality, VP of e-business and CIO, and a number of general management roles within GE Healthcare. These experiences gave her the depth and breadth necessary for the responsibility that comes with leading a $2 billion pharmaceutical business. While diversity of experiences is important to a leader’s development, there is wisdom in following your focus.

Great Leaders Stay True To Your Passion

When working as the president and CEO of GE Healthcare’s medical diagnostics business, Witz says, “I was not thinking about leaving GE. But I had an open discussion with Jeff Immelt in December [2008].” At the time, Witz told GE’s CEO that although the broad exposure she had earlier in her career was certainly beneficial to her development, she really wanted to focus on healthcare. “I was at a level in GE where, quite frankly, there were not that many more jobs I could do,” she states. “If I wanted to stay at GE and focus on healthcare, I would be stuck doing a bunch of lateral moves forever.” Witz was at a career crossroads. If she wanted to continue to advance at GE, she would need to be willing to move beyond the walls of healthcare. Conversely, if she wanted to be true to herself, yet continue to be challenged, she needed to seek opportunities outside of GE. Thus, what Witz learned about leadership from her 18-year tenure at GE is — capable leadership requires diversity of experiences, but to reach true greatness, you must stay true to your passion. “That is why I have joined Sanofi and am so excited about the opportunity of transforming the company for the future,” added Witz.  “Together with our new CEO, my colleagues and I are aligned behind a vision of improving healthcare for people worldwide and driving sustainable growth for Sanofi.”