MDIS - A View from the Top - Rachel Russell

MDIS - A View from the Top - Rachel Russell

HeadHunt Issue 158 (24th July)

In Conversation with 
Rachel Russel
Senior Manager (Europe)
Pfizer Consulting & Execution
EMBA Alumni - Ashridge Business School, UK

Why did you decide to do an executive MBA?
When I started work, I had a career aspiration to be head of a research department by the time I retire. I reached that point earlier than expected and needed a new aspirational goal. I realized that developing my career required lateral steps into the commercial world—an area where I did not have the same credibility as I had within research. I also love to learn, so I decided that undertaking an EMBA at Ashridge Business School would constitute one of the first steps along this new road.

How will the EMBA help you in your career?
Without being on the EMBA programme, I would never have been considered for my current job. The combination of a secondment opportunity and an EMBA showed my versatility and tenacity in seeking new opportunities in which I could grow. Through the EMBA, my understanding of leadership has become more strategic. I have greater personal confidence and feel empowered, rather than bamboozled, by business jargon. I work in an industry where constant evolution is the norm; I now confidently challenge ideas and propose alternative paths forward.

What were some of the important takeaways from the EMBA course?
The Ashridge EMBA course enabled me to become a stronger strategic leader with greater business acumen—one who understands how to position an organisation ensuring that hard and soft elements are aligned. It helped me to understand the need for continuous innovation and how to re-engineer and lead change in a multi-cultural environment. Personally, I now have greater self-awareness so that I can adjust my behaviours to suit the situation and market myself more effectively, and a completely new global network of colleagues with expertise and experience that I can tap into.

Best career or personal advice you’ve ever received?
Research training is fabulous; my first boss said to me to never stop asking ‘why’ to everything you see and do. Most people cannot effectively answer that question and I see it as an opportunity to propose new and innovative ideas in a non-confrontational way.

What was one of your biggest challenges that you’ve faced in your career?
One morning, it was announced that the site I worked on was to close. This was a massive shock to everyone. I needed to treat the staff in my department with dignity as we worked out an exit plan, but at the same time I had to go through the change-curve myself and contemplate my next move. It was a test of both my leadership, empathy and communication skills. This process has made me a better leader in the long run.

Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?
I never set my horizon on a specific job, but on the skills I want to learn and job roles I’d like to explore. I hope my next role will allow me to lead by example in terms of setting the strategic direction, creating effective partnerships and sourcing new projects, whilst helping others to grow and develop within a healthcare setting. I am considering chief operating officer roles; eventually I aspire to become a CEO and sit on the board of directors in health-related industries.

Which great leader do you admire and why?
I have had an affinity with different leaders, depending on the stage of my career. During my EMBA, I was captivated by the business acumen shown by Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He knows how to conduct research and is tenacious in chasing a goal he believes in. I only hope my convictions are as strong. Inspirational female role models have been people like Amy Johnson, the pioneering aviator who broke with convention and took risks, or Shami Chakrabarti, the civil libertarian who followed her own convictions. Both are truly inspirational women who show what you can achieve if you set your mind to it.

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