Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes
As executive vice president and chief legal officer of the biopharma company Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Neena Patil said she has one of the best jobs in the industry — one that allows her to combine her love for healthcare with her love for the law.
“I’ve always had a real passion for healthcare,” Patil said. “It started at an extremely young age.”
Patil tells the story of how her parents, who are retired physicians, provided the groundwork to understand the “ability and privilege to help people live full lives,” and the way in which that led her to consider keeping healthcare on the radar even as she pursued a career in law.
“As I started to think about my career and where I wanted to focus my time, I had in my mind that it had to include healthcare in some form,” Patil said. “I ultimately chose to go into the legal profession but was fortunate enough to find a way to kind of keep both of my passions as part of my career.”
In addition to all things legal, Patil oversees a number of functions at Jazz, including corporate affairs, government affairs, social impact, sustainability, corporate communications and advocacy. This large remit allows Patil and her team to work across functions and disciplines, cultivating a holistic view to support business strategies.
“We’re focused on the issues most important to Jazz and that allows us (to) lean into our purpose to transform the lives of patients and their families,” she said. “We like to say that we have the best jobs in the company. Maybe the best jobs in the industry to be able to really do this work.”
One of the areas Patil and her team are focusing on in 2023 is environmental, social and governance strategy, called ESG, for which they have identified four pillars.
“The first is patients. The second is people, so our jazz employees. The third is community and then planet,” she said. “Last year, we established a baseline with our inaugural ESG report, and now we’re building out a multiyear strategy to think about where we’re going to focus as a company.”
In this episode of the Woman of the Week podcast, Patil shares more about Jazz’s ESG program, how she developed relationship building and listening skills to become a good leader and why volunteering for mothers2mothers — a global healthcare organization based in Cape Town, South Africa, focused on women’s health and their families — is particularly fulfilling.
Welcome to WoW – the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-in-chief emeritus at PharmaVoice meets with Neena Patil, executive vice president and chief legal officer, Jazz Pharmaceuticals.
Taren: Neena, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Neena: Thanks, Taren for having me. Great to be here.
Taren: It’s our pleasure. Neena, as a lawyer, you could have chosen any industry to work in. Why the life sciences?
Neena: Well, for me, I’ve always had a real passion for healthcare. It started at an extremely young age. I often tell the story about my parents, both of whom are retired physicians now but the impact that they had on me and what I saw in terms of their commitment to patients and having this ability, this privilege to help people live full lives, it stuck with me. And so, as I started to think about my career and where I wanted to focus my time, it really had to in my mind include healthcare in some form. I kind of set myself off on my path and ultimately chose to go into the legal profession but was fortunate enough to find a way to kind of keep both of my passions as part of my career.
Taren: That’s fantastic. I love the fact that you were able to capitalize on that dual tap ways on that dual passionality, if you will. And mom and dad were very happy with your choices I’m hoping?
Neena: I think so, yeah. They seem to be. Right now, it’s more about their grandkids and how much time we spend with them. But no, they’re happy.
Taren: That’s great. Well, thank you for sharing that very personal side of your story with us. So, as you noted, you’re Executive VP and you’re also the Chief Legal Officer. Tell me about what this role means? What’s your remit at Jazz?
Neena: So, in a nutshell, I’m the leader of the legal and intellectual property functions for the company. And in addition to that, it really is about all of the functions that really help us build and strengthen our reputation externally and really allowing us to engage across our external stakeholders. So, part of my remit is our government affairs and public policy function. Globally, our corporate communications and engagement function as well as patient advocacy.
Taren: That’s pretty big. So, you must oversee a lot of different teams.
Neena: Yes, yeah. We kind of refer to ourselves as having six pillars within our group.
Taren: I love that. And within those six pillars, is there one that is a hotter button than the others or are they all equally deserving of the attention?
Neena: Yeah. Well, it’s easy to kind of say that big legal issues will always kind of take your attention, but we actually think of the work that we do across legal corporate affairs and government affairs functions are really integrated, right? I mean, we’re constantly working across teams and functions and disciplines to really bring a holistic view to how we can support the business strategies, help support us lean into our purpose to transform the lives of patients and their families. Things like our social impact and corporate sustainability work. Many of our team’s touch that work. Legal government affairs, corporate communications as well as patient advocacy. So, we really think of it as a holistic integrated approach to making sure that we’re focused on those issues that are most important to Jazz and most important to us being able to help our patients.
Taren: It sounds to me as though you have a very unique view of the company because as you said, you touch on so many of these different areas. I would imagine some of that also involve some science. So, you really do have, as you said, a holistic overview of what’s happening and knitting all these things together. Interesting perspective.
Neena: Yeah. Well, we like to say that we have the best jobs in the company. Maybe the best jobs in the industry to be able to really do this work. We try and bring together a variety of different perspectives to tell the story of Jazz in a holistic way. To engage and understand the needs of all of our stakeholders and really bring that back into the company as we think about our long-term strategy, the choices that we make as a company, where we choose to focus. These perspectives are critical to ensuring that we’re taking a holistic view and that we’re ultimately doing what’s right for our employees, our patients and of course, our shareholders as well.
Taren: Fantastic. Tell me what are some of your goals for 2023?
Neena: Well, we have a few kinds of that are maybe top of mind for me. One of those goals is to really support and build out our corporate sustainability and social impact strategy at the company. So, I’ll start with that. Last year was really exciting. We issued our first ESG report, which was really our ability to tell our story as a company that thinks across a variety of different perspectives beyond just the business that we do and the products that we provide to the marketplace. And so, we have four areas that we think about when it comes to ESG. And so, we established our baseline with our inaugural ESG report and now we’re building out a multi-year strategy to think about where we’re going to focus as a company. And so, that’s a top priority, really exciting work. And what’s great about it is that we’re getting our employees involved to help us shape that.
Another really important priority is around the work that Jazz is doing to really transform into an innovative biopharma company. Over the last number of years, we’ve really invested in our pipeline. So, from maybe five years ago, we have several more pipeline programs. We have a number of assets that are in the early stage in the clinical trial process and all the way through to commercialization. And so, it’s a really exciting time for us as we really establish that identity as a science-driven organization. So, a lot of what my team thinks about is, how do we say that story? How do we mine the organization for amazing examples of where and how we’re doing that well? How do we support the work through interesting partnerships and ways of kind of connecting us with other organizations that we can work alongside. So that’s another really critical priority for us as well.
And then I would say that it’s a very dynamic time and space for us as an industry when it comes to health authorities and public policy that’s affecting how we do our business. And so, for sure we are very involved in understanding and engaging with those stakeholders. What are their needs? What do they need from us? Educating them on the work that we do to ensure that they have that in their minds.
Taren: That’s quite a few. That’s a lot going on there. At the beginning, you noted about the ESG and the four areas. Can you elaborate a little bit on that for me?
Neena: Sure. So, we’ve identified four pillars you can say of our ESG program. The first is patients. The second is people, so our jazz employees. The third is community and then planet. And we think about our activities kind of as laddering up to each of those four pillars. When it comes to patient, of course, our R&D and our research is a key component to that. But we have established a commitment to other areas in terms of really thinking about what the whole patient journey involves and making sure that we’re doing our part to help support patients with education and information about their health and about the products that we offer them. Certainly, we are very focused on affordability and access to care and making sure that we’re doing what we can there to help support patients maintain and get access to treatments.
When it comes to people, we are really, really proud of the work that we do within the company to build a culture of inclusion. Jazz really was founded on this idea that we wanted to be the best place for people to work. The best experience of their careers is what we say. And so, we really think about everyday how can we make that experience better for our employees? How can we experiment and try new things to make work a place where they can come and be their authentic selves. But also, to do great work and develop and grow professionally. With regard to community, it really is about how we interact with our communities. Obviously, where we operate and work but also in our broader communities. Really thinking about some of the issues around for example, health equity and how can we really incorporate that into our purpose as a company and really address some of the inequities that exist within the healthcare system.
And then finally planet. Last but not the least, of course. Thinking through what our goal is around managing and maintaining the impact that we have on the environment. We want to do our part as a company to ensure that our footprint is appropriate and that we’re taking steps that we can take. Within our business that we can take to really make an impact and make improvements in terms of how we, as companies impact the environment. So, we’re in the process of really developing that out. And like I say, placing some bets in places where we think we can make the most dramatic impact.
Taren: Those are very laudable goals. I love this idea around ESG. It’s a concept that’s been bubbling up more frequently lately. So, I love that there’s a focus and attention on that, so congratulations. It’s a lot of work. It’s a big risk to do all that.
Neena: Yeah. Well, we don’t do it alone. We like to say a lot of this work is – it’s a team sport and we work really well across the company. Like I said, it’s great place because there is so much enthusiasm by our employees to work together and to collaborate.
Taren: Fantastic. And the culture sounds fantastic too. You noted that you wanted to be the best place people can go to work. So, what led you to Jazz? Can you share a little bit about your career history?
Neena: Sure. Well, as we kind of talked about at the top, I was drawn to healthcare early on. I knew I wanted to be in this industry. I started my career as a lawyer in a law firm and did a lot of work for biopharma, life sciences companies doing transactions that involved these companies and really started to feel that I wanted to be part of the business. Not just kind of sitting on the outside supporting and then letting the business go off and kind of do their thing. I wanted to really kind of not just be part of for example doing transactions but actually implementing them and integrating them and building companies. And so, I made that switch into industry. Worked at a number of biopharma companies over my career, big and small. On the cutting edge of really exciting science.
And when I got called about the job at Jazz, the person that reached out to me said, I really think you should meet this company because I know what motivates you and what gets you excited, Neena and I think Jazz has a lot to offer you. And it’s really simple for me. The two things that really brought me to this company was a commitment to patients and doing the right thing by patients and this idea that culture is a differentiator. Culture is what gives us a competitive advantage. And so, I was really excited to have that opportunity. Everyone that I met at Jazz really kind of personified a commitment in those two areas. And it’s proven to be a wonderful place for me to continue to build my career and make a lot of impact.
Taren: Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Being a woman and a minority, how has this impacted your career? Have you found yourself at a disadvantage throughout the years or has it proven to be an advantage?
Neena: Well, I think for me, I really have always felt like it’s just important for any of us to have a true sense of ourselves, right? And to really know our value and what we have to offer and to know our voice. Early in my career, certainly I was still finding my way on those things, and I would say that I’ve sought always to be in environments where I can be myself. Where organizations see value in my perspectives and the work that I do. And so, I definitely don’t see it as a disadvantage or something that I’ve had to overcome. I do just see it as part of who I am and part of what makes me unique. I will say that much of my career I say that I’ve had that experience of being the only one in the room whether it’s the only woman or the only person of color. Any characteristic, right, that we all have. And it’s taught me to be adaptable, to just find different ways to get my voice heard and to influence. So much of the job that I have now leans on those skills. And so, I just say that it’s been a great opportunity for me to build skills that serve me well in my career.
Taren: Can we dig into that a little bit because I talk to a lot of women, and I think that’s something that is a common theme is finding their voice. You noted you’ve had to develop a couple of different skills to do that. Can you give me some examples of how you were able to find your voice and then have your voice heard?
Neena: I think the biggest thing that I learned was it’s not about how much you talk or that you’re the first person to have something to say. I mean, finding your voice is really about really understanding who you are and as I said before, the value that you bring. I remember early in my career, probably when I first stepped into you could say like a leadership team, where I was sitting on a cross-functional leadership team, I got this initial feedback of, you got to talk more. If you don’t talk, people aren’t going to know that you’re adding value. And as someone who tends to be introverted, tends to be much more of a listener before I kind of put something out there, I’ve always been that way, whether it’s in school or in my life. I really struggled with that feedback because I thought, well, if I just talk for the sake of talking, it’s not really going to bring anything to the table.
And so, it was really understanding who I was and committing to that. Ultimately, for me, it was building relationships with people so that they understood who I was and how I operated and build that trust with each other. It was kind of again, using my instincts and who I was to achieve the same purpose which is to ensure that there was trust and that people understood that I was there to support and that I cared. I think that that was my way of responding to that feedback, but it was doing it in the way that was authentic to me. And so, again, for me finding my voice is – it’s about picking your spot. It’s about knowing what’s important to you and having courage sometimes to say what people don’t want to hear or to say it in a way that resonates.
Taren: Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. Great tips in there and great insights. Do you consider yourself to be a role model?
Neena: Well, I think that by nature of being in leadership positions, we can be viewed by folks as role models. I think being a role model is a privilege and we earn it and then we have to kind of do what is right to maintain that. I appreciate that when we’re in visible roles people look up to us and look to us for leadership, for guidance to show them the way. And so, I take that very seriously. I try to do what I can to be an advocate. To be a sponsor to support people, to model, doing things in some sense in the right way.
Taren: Perfect. So short answer is yes, you do consider yourself to be a role model.
Neena: I guess, I do. Yes.
Taren: How would you describe your leadership strengths?
Neena: Well, I touched a little bit on this before, Taren. And I think for me, it is about listening. I think we can take so much in by being a keen observer and by really listening to the people around us and understanding what their needs are and understanding what the challenges are. And then of course finding ways to solve for that. I also think that I’m someone who loves to empower my team and give them autonomy. I think there’s nothing worse than having a directive leader that just tells you what they want you to do and doesn’t give you that chance to explore for yourself how to lead and how to grow and develop. So, I try my hardest to give them space and to give them the chance to try things. And yes, make mistakes and of course, be there to support them when that happens as well.
Taren: Fantastic. So aside from the story you told before about being able to speak up more, that is not a good leadership lesson for you. But what are some of the other leadership lessons you’ve learned along the way? I know listening is so important and not being directive.
Neena: Yeah. Well, I think one thing that I’ve definitely come to really appreciate is this idea of building relationships. Fundamentally, leadership is about trust and it’s about that kind of combination of things that allows people to trust you. And so, it starts with of course your credentials and people want to know that you know what you’re talking about and that you’ve got kind of the experience behind it. That you’ve had a track record of doing things. Maybe not always successfully but being able to learn from them. And then there’s this connection that you need to build with people, those relationships. Yeah, I think one of the hardest things about the last several years and not being in our offices and not being in person as much is, it’s really hard to build those moments of connection but they’re so important in terms of being a leader that people are willing to trust and ultimately follow.
So those are kind of the components to me of really strong leadership. And certainly, being aware of not being self-interested. This is not about the leader. This is not about our legacy or about getting credit for great work. It’s really about the team. It’s about the bigger purpose of your organization and just making sure that we keep that front and center. But again, for me, it really does all start with how do we build that trust within our organization?
Taren: Wonderful. And let’s go from there to – it’s a tangential point is, you’ve obviously built some pretty high performing teams over the course of your career. What are some of those traits you look for? What are some of your keys to success?
Neena: So, traits that I look for in team members?
Taren: Yes, in team members.
Taren: When you’re putting together a high-performing team, there’s got to be that je ne sais quoi that you are –
Neena: Yeah. So, I mean, first is, you want really talented, capable people. And I think there are a good number of them. You could assess that out pretty quickly in terms of whether or not people have that capability. I think people need to have fun and so, we don’t often have fun enough. I think you can define what fun looks like. I’m not just talking about going out and having a fun meal or happy hour together but it’s about really enjoying being together and working together and doing hard things together because it’s not easy work. I think the functions that I lead can be stressful but making sure that they have this desire to be together and have fun. So that’s important to me. A little bit of the humility of not trying to be right all the time. It’s really not about that. It’s about being able to get to the right solution whether it’s for the company or for the group. And so, making sure that it’s not about that.
And then the last thing I will say is courage. There is a need always for us to exhibit courage whether it’s in standing up and saying something that people don’t want to hear, whether it’s making a hard decision, whether it’s having to do things that in the moment are very hard or emotional or difficult when it’s affecting your team or affecting individuals. But having the courage to do it and do it with integrity. And so, those are the qualities that I look for in a group. Like you say, I’ve had the privilege of leading, working on a number of high-performing teams and my current team included. And so, to me, those are some of the most important characteristics.
Taren: I love those couple of points, fun and courage. I think there’s not enough for both right now.
Neena: I agree.
Taren: Kudus to you for calling those out as key. And I hope others take that away from this podcast as well. Is there anybody who’s had a particular influence on your career as a mentor or as a sponsor?
Neena: There have been a lot. I don’t think any of us get where we are without a lot of support and help and active sponsorship. But one person that does come to mind is a woman. Her name is Mary Devlin Capizzi. She’s a managing partner at a law firm called Faegre Drinker. And Mary is just someone who I admire tremendously. I adore her as a person. She is someone who is just absolutely generous with her time and her energy. I just don’t know how she has as much of it as she does. But she is someone that I met at a point in my career when I was both managing a young family and a job and at the time building a function within my organization. She was someone I was connected to, to help me do the latter. And turned out that she was just this wonderful person for me to have met and someone who mentored me and did things well above and beyond what she needed to, to be my support and sponsor in particular as I made transitions from one organization to another. And she is a wonderful mom and partner and daughter and sister, and I learn from her all the time.
Taren: Sounds like we all need a Mary. That’s awesome.
Neena: We all need a Mary for sure.
Taren: Are you currently a mentor to other folks?
Neena: Yes, I am. I have an interesting perspective on mentorship, which is, I don’t think we necessarily – it’s not formal, right? It’s kind of like, pick your mentor and it’s not always the case that you’re seeing a mentee, right? It just kind of seems to come together. So yes, I do mentor people. Despite what I just said, a formal mentor as part of a wonderful program that supports minority and underrepresented law students or lawyers. And so, I’ve been working with folks that are going through law school and it’s really rewarding. It’s fun.
Taren: That’s a perfect lead into my next question. I understand you are devoted volunteer. Tell me about this experience and how it’s played a role in your life and professional development?
Neena: Yes. I’ve always had a real strong commitment to being involved in my community and serving in the community in some way. As I’ve grown in my career, the opportunities to do that have continued. Candidly, I’ve had to make tradeoffs and decision around what organizations I work with and part of. But it’s always something that is important to me, and I just feel very strongly that I want to make time for that. One organization that I am tremendously passionate about and work with is an organization called mothers2mothers. It’s a global healthcare organization based in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s focused on women’s health and really serving the women of Africa and their families. The organization was founded 20 years ago, coming out of the HIV AIDS epidemic and the need to really support women in Africa manage both their own condition and their own health but that of their children and their families.
We now serve millions of women and their families across the continent of Africa. We’re in over 10 countries and we employ a number of women, themselves HIV positive. The great thing about mothers2mothers is the model. It’s what we call the mentor mother model. And so, it’s women that work in their communities. They are employees of the organization. They get paid. They are empowered economically as well as professionally. I love the work that I do there on the board and really, really feel passionately about telling their story.
Taren: What a wonderful cause. And I can hear the passion in your voice when you speak about this and the impact that you’re having on so many women who just don’t have the advantages that we have here in the States. So, congratulations to you and what a great cause.
Neena: Thank you.
Taren: Yeah. And you’ve been together with them for 20 years you said?
Neena: Well, I haven’t been. No, I got to know the organization a few years ago. A former colleague of mine thought that there would be a great connection there. But the organization itself is 20 years old. Our founders are still part of the organization and just amazing to see what it’s become.
Taren: Excellent. And I hear that in your voice and being able to improve the health and livelihood of women and children is so important to you.
Taren: Tell me a little bit more about that. I mean, aside from the obvious that it’s so important.
Neena: Aside from the obvious. When I talk about mothers2mothers and the work and the model that I describe, this idea of mothers helping other mothers, only a mother can understand the experience of another mother. And the way that they can coach them and guide them and give them confidence and hope, it’s just very unique. I have two boys myself and I recall – people don’t really talk about this but when you have a child and you kind of come home and all the excitement, all the people that are around you when that first happens go away, it can be lonely. It can be scary. It can be isolating. Of course, I had my own mom to be a wonderful guide and support to me, but I relied on a host of other mothers and people and built that community around me.
So, I remember that feeling and so to imagine being someone who doesn’t have access to information or care or dealing with biases and all sorts of other challenges, that understanding of the importance of community and connection, it really resonates with me. You know as a parent how much you will do for the health and well-being of your child. You will fight anyone, walk anywhere, do anything to take care of them. And so, to be able to support women in doing that and helping their kids live their best lives, it’s just a total honor.
Taren: Neena, thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate that. On a lighter note, what’s the one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Neena: Well, I always talk about this because I think people maybe misunderstand it. So, people get surprised when I say that I’m an introvert, right? Because I mean, a lot of times in our roles we have to be out. We’re on stage. We’re chatting. We’re talking. Introversion to me is about energy and where you get your energy. I know I get my energy from calm and peace and quiet and rejuvenation in my home with people that I’m close to. And so, I always put that out there because I think we can sometimes feel like we’re shy. I can’t do that because I’m introverted and my answer to that is no, you can, and you find a way, but you also recognized what’s important to you and how you recharge. I think the second thing that I’ll say is that I don’t take things too seriously. I think that I’m in a very serious role and dealing with some big issues and sometimes kind of challenging situations, but I do like to have a lot of fun and be silly. I just love being with my family, with my kids and having a good time with them.
Taren: That’s awesome. Thank you so much. I appreciate the introvert. I too identify as introvert and people often say to me, that’s not true. So, I understand where you’re coming from there.
Taren: And I love the fact that you want to have fun. So, when you say you have fun, what is the most favorite thing you do with your family and your kids?
Neena: Wow. We cook a lot. Last night, my 12-year-old decided we were going to make smash burgers. So, he did all the work and smashed a lot of hamburgers on our indoor grill which was the mess that I then had to clean up. I guess, my point is that I don’t really take it too seriously. I don’t mind making a big mess and not getting it right the first time. We do laugh a lot and we’re silly. I think I channel kind of that innocence and that child – reminders of my childhood when I’m with my kids. But it is a lot of time in the kitchen. A lot of times at games. My kids play basketball and a lot of times in the gym cheering them on.
Taren: Fantastic. Wow, you’re teaching those life skills to boys on how to cook is invaluable, right?
Neena: Yeah. Well, they learned to make an egg early in life because I said if you can make an egg, you’re going to be fine.
Taren: Exactly. That’s terrific. And you have a great sense of humor, which I think is one of the keys to having a really happy life. So, I hear it coming through from you. So finally, and this has been a delightful conversation, Neena. But what is the wow moment that either changed the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you?
Neena: Well, I thought about this because I knew you were going to ask me this question, Taren. I mean, I don’t know, I’m going to break the mold a little bit or maybe not. It’s hard for me to think of one. I don’t feel like there’s ever one. It’s a combination of things. I’m a big believer in actualizing things and thinking about them and believing in them, believing in yourself and being open to the future and whatever that holds. So, I do think it’s about holding that spirit close and just really believing in whatever it is that you want to achieve. That it’s possible and that you just have to be open to those signs and those changes. I will say that when I think about a moment or moments, I often think about these moments of trusting my instinct and intuition. I have made decisions to leave organizations or to change roles or to do things that people might say, oh wow, that might be risky, or I wouldn’t do that.
But it was about just trusting my instinct and saying, this isn’t for me. I talk about culture, culture in organizations is really important. When I’ve been in these situations where culture hasn’t fit for me or worked for me, I know that pretty quickly. And so, I would just say it’s this ability to just really trust my instinct. Small things, big things, those are the wow moments.
Taren: Fantastic. Those are all wow moments. Thank you so much for sharing those with us and keep smashing those burgers with those kids.
Neena: Will do.
Taren: Thank you.
Neena: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure being with you.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW – the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.