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From graduate to the right-hand woman of the CEO

Category: Business Processes | (0) comments


Sobia Akram started her career in Novo Nordisk in 2004 as a Business Processes Graduate. From 2009 to 2015 she was Executive Assistant (EA) to the former Chief Operational Officer (COO) Kåre Schultz and from 2015, Vice President and EA to the CEO of Novo Nordisk – first Lars Rebien Sørensen and since January 1st 2017 Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen.

What did the time as a business processes graduate gave you?
It gave me a holistic overview of Novo Nordisk and and a solid base of industry knowledge. I started out in IT in HQ; then I transferred to Zurich working with our commercial activities across Europe before I ended up in Product Supply. You learn to see the business from different angles and this holistic view has since been of great value in all my roles after the graduate programme ended. During my time in Novo Nordisk, I have worked in various EVP areas, – and I this has been of great value to me. If you for a brief moment think of Novo Nordisk as a big store – then I’m basically interested in all shelves in the shop. I have learned that any shelf can be fun and if you understand each shelf, you will be able to better understand the dynamics of the shop as such also.

How did you become EA back then?
I think any career progression is built of course to start out with – on hard work and ensuring deliverance. If you do that, then good things will come your way hopefully. I was working in Product Supply, when one morning our former COO, Kåre Schultz called me and asked if I could be in his office within an hour for an interview. And of course I showed up. After a good and thorough conversation he offered me the job and I was asked to start pretty much right after the conversation ended. In the EA role I have worked across many disciplines and subject areas such as target setting, governance processes, process optimisations and implementation, IT, clinical operations and HR related matters.

How did the graduate rotations prepare you for the role?
I started in IT thoug I must admit I did not have any real expert knowledge on the systems I was working with. From that experience, I gained valuable insights into how to big projects take place – all the way from conceptual idea through implementation. Planning, budgeting,, developing, testing, stakeholder management, communication etc. Having these tools in your toolbox are really valuable in your whole career. I use many of the same tools also further on – when I was in Product Supply working with the development of a inhaleable insulin device instead of delivering it through a needle, and also in my role as EA, since part of my job also is to drive and help implement projects in the organisation. The graduate programme also solidified my interest in the Company (ie the store) as compared to focusing only on one functional area. – That has been of great value, because in an EA role, you will need to work very much across functional areas.

What have your managers taught you?
I have learned many many things, I think, and do believe I have been privileged having the bosses I have had so far. I will have to limit myself to mentioning a few learnings here. In the early part of my career I learned that – if you deliver, your manager will increasingly trust you and delegate more responsibility, based on which you will grow and develop your skills and as a person. On the job training – is the best training because learnings get under your skin immediately. It is important to couple that with reflection. What I also have learned is that management encompasses maybe many things, – however ultimately it is about making decisions and ensuring that they are carried out in a good way. Often decision making is not easy, and so we solicit input – however, you have to trust your gut feeling. I for instance experienced that Lars Rebien Sørensen, our former CEO as an example was very data driven but his gut feeling had the final say. And I really took that with me. You aim to base your decisions on an informed foundation but in the end these foundations will also be built on assumptions. So things must feel right in the stomach too. Since January I have worked for Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen who is very calm and team oriented. He is open for inputs and considers these inputs I believe in his decision making.

On a general level you can say, my managers during my time in Novo Nordisk have all had very different management styles –and that is also good learning in itself. Authenticity matters. My journey has been fun and the time has really passed by quickly since I started in Novo Nordisk as a Business Processes Graduate 13 years ago! I wouldn’t change a day.

From 01 April 2017 Sobia will take over the position as Vice President of Novo Nordisk’s Business Ethics Compliance Office

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