Helena Pozniak
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Science degree opens door to exciting career

The Telegraph
GSK’s vice-president Sally Jackson reveals what her job involves and why her training as a natural sciences student has served her well


Sally Jackson, left inset, is GSK’s vice-president, office of the CEO and corporate strategy. She joined the company in 2001 and previously led the investor relations team. She graduated with a first-class degree in natural sciences from the University of Cambridge in 1997.

“With 100,000 employees, GSK is a large and diverse organisation, and my remit is to help it deliver its strategy,” says Jackson.

“Essentially, I need to work out how to leverage the strong leadership team and how to make processes simpler. It’s down to me where I focus my efforts and those of my team. My day can sometimes feel a little overwhelming due to the workload, so it’s important to prioritise.

“I try to stay near the heart of the business. My desk is outside the offices of the executive and I might speak to [CEO] Andrew Witty and other members of the executive team several times a day.

"This is crucial, as it helps me keep in touch with any recent developments and adapt where I focus.

“While they may appear straightforward, certain strategies might not always make sense to the people on the ground, which means that I need to see things from their perspective and be thoughtful with any new initiative. And it’s important to stay transparent, so that people can trust you, and to have no agenda.

“My group also works on specific projects. I’m currently co-leading the team focused on implementation planning for the proposed new deal with Novartis [the two pharmaceutical groups are trading assets], which is complex as it involves moving data, systems, products and thousands of people.

"Having been in this job for 10 months, I feel I’m in a completely different place now – I’m more confident when it comes to deciding where I should channel efforts and when to let go.

“I’ve used my science background and still do – it gives me credibility. When I led investor relations, I had to explain the business to general shareholders and banks that had employed hardcore science and medical analysts, so I needed to be able to stand my ground.

"My understanding and overview of GSK, as well as my network within it, helped me get the job I have now.

“Although I use science less directly these days, I’m aware that my analytical training helps me sift through vast amounts of data and work out exactly what I need to know.

“My second baby is due in March. When I accepted this job, I knew I wanted to have another child, and the company was incredibly supportive.

"They told me they were investing in me for the long-term and a few months here and there were nothing to worry about. GSK has a good mix of role models – 40 per cent of management positions are held by women, many of whom have families.

“What I enjoy most about my job is being able to ‘unlock’ a situation where people might have got stuck.

"Frequently, people make things more complicated than they need to be, so if you can suggest a different approach or put something in perspective, it can solve the problem and this is always very satisfying.”

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