The Mix Tape: Ep. 5 — Journey of an Authentic Leader: From Tomboy To The Board Room

The path to a groundbreaking career in the life sciences may not be so straight! Sometimes a strong mentor and a personal mission can make all the difference. Deniz Razon's journey to Board Member of Servier Pharmaceuticals reflects just that when she talks to Mix Talent's Todd Radloff in today's episode. Razon also functions as the Chief Business Officer of Servier Pharmaceuticals, a privately held company that's a growing leader in oncology.

Transcription

Valerie McCandlish:

Welcome to the Mix Tape. I’m Valerie.

Natalie Taylor:

And I’m Natalie. Thank you for joining us for another episode. Today, we have a cool conversation between two people that have known each other in this industry for quite a while. We have Todd Radloff who is Mix Talent’s head of Client Solutions and Delivery, and he’s talking with Deniz Razon, who is the Chief Business Officer at Servier Pharma. And these two have known each other for quite some time, although I don’t think they disclosed how many years it was.

Valerie McCandlish:

I know. I think if you go back to when Deniz was at Abbott, you could probably do the math. But let’s just say it’s been a long time.

Natalie Taylor:

It’s been a long time. Yeah, I think it’s a secret for now, but I think that these two have built this great professional relationship that’s built on common values and just being authentic with each other. And it’s really cool to see how they’ve been connected through the growth of both of their careers, which I think is really neat.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah. And having Todd as a leader for us at Mix is just so special because he really is able to deliver, no pun intended on his title, but deliver why it’s so important to maintain these relationships with the people that we’re working with. So whether it’s the candidates or the clients, one day they might become a candidate, one day they might become a client, who knows? But we really get to follow these amazing professionals on their career journeys and see what they’re able to achieve. And it’s special to be a part of that.

Natalie Taylor:

I totally agree. And I think being in the people business, as we sometimes call it, we all have this curiosity of what got you to where you are today? Your career journey, what makes you? And I think Deniz dives into quite a bit of that, of what has gotten her to where she is now, and then what also drove her into this industry. I think she tells a nice personal touching story, of what brought her to this industry. So we’ll let them share that story. So without further ado, here is Todd and Deniz.

Todd Radloff:

Hi, this is Todd Radloff. I am the head of Client Solutions and Delivery with Mix Talent. And today, welcome to the Mix Tape. I am joined by Deniz Razon, who is currently Chief Business Officer at Servier Pharma, a privately owned company focused on the oncology and rare disease. Welcome Deniz to the podcast.

Deniz Razon:

Thank you, Todd, for inviting me.

Todd Radloff:

Absolutely. I was thinking back to the first time we talked. I was trying to remember what the conversation was and it clicked that you were in marketing at Abbott, and the reason I noticed your profile side from the work experience was that you went to Mount Holyoke, which is where my sister went to school. And that was my first segue into the conversation is talking point between, I was born in Chicago, so I had the Chicago talking points, then I had the Mount Holyoke connection, which is a smaller connection, not a lot of people I’ve seen in the industry that went to the school. So that was the first recollection I had. Do you remember that at all as far as the connection?

Deniz Razon:

Yeah.

Todd Radloff:

Yeah.

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. First it was at Abbott and we continued with Baxter and some of these were rainy days and some of these were snowy days and it was always an easy conversation. We just seemed to go from work and the Chicago area and Asco and Ash and it was just one continual conversation. I can’t believe that was so long ago.

Todd Radloff:

Let’s not say how long. It’s been a while. Well, thank you again for coming on to the Mix Tape here. One of my favorite questions is just learning from how people got into industry. Can you share with our audience how did you get into industry yourself?

Deniz Razon:

You know what? I just did an internship in college while I was in Turkey with a pharmaceutical company with the chief of staff. And her big project was pricing for a new drug. And I just thought that it was so interesting, so many moving parts, so complex and there was always something to learn. Before I knew it, after college, my first job was in a healthcare communications company and during MBA, I had an internship of Lilly and the rest is history.

Todd Radloff:

Not the straightforward path.

Deniz Razon:

No. I’m not an MD.

Todd Radloff:

That’s quite a journey. And since you’ve been at Servier for pharma for about four years, that growth has been tremendous. When you think of over the last four years, what do you think are the key or opportunities that have led to the success that you’ve had a chance?

Deniz Razon:

I think part of the success for Servier, the exponential growth for the four years is, we had a four pronged growth strategy on our people, on our business, on our reputation. And there was a significant focus on acquisition and growth. The first thing I remember, September 2018, I come to Servier and they didn’t ask us, “Hey, what happened to the deal model? And what changed?” It was, “How are you going to grow? What is it that you couldn’t do in the prior company that you’d like here?” And that was such a breath of fresh air. So we created what we called a value creation plan, and we actually executed. And then in two years time, we were able to make another acquisition where I was deeply involved with and it was very exciting.

And during COVID months, I was in my PJs upstairs with a headphone working through an acquisition. And I was involved from the beginning all the way to integration. And that was basically the oncology arm of Agios. And I remember in 2018 I was asked to give a talk and I was saying, “Okay, well we came with 79 people, maybe we’ll get to 250 people in five years.” Oh my god, it hasn’t even been five years. And we are 400 people and we’re almost half a billion dollars. It’s a fantastic journey and I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that it has everything to do with our culture as well.

Todd Radloff:

And I was just going to say, so you’ve also had a chance to have some success and nominations with that. So tell us a little bit about that culture and how you guys are able to keep it or evolve it during that time.

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. I think that the culture is a really critical piece. Our leadership is made of people who have the experience to deliver, but also, has the right attitude. Our leadership mantra is seek to understand. We really want to not only succeed ourselves, but as a team. So I think that collaborative nature, the connectedness is really, really critical to who we are. And that’s really led us to be recognized for the Boston best places to work. We were so, so excited. We got it for one year, but to get it two years in a row, it’s just been super motivating to every one of us. And we also got recognition for business development as one of the best teams to work. And our patient teams have been recognized to be top five in corporate recognition. There is something in the water here that’s really helping us achieve these goals.

Todd Radloff:

Yeah. And the culture makes a big difference. I mean, you have to attract going from, what did you say, 75 to 400? You have to find people that are wanting to join the organization for the right reasons, and that’s how to win it twice. I think that probably speaks to the connectivity that people are around.

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. And maybe one part of it is that we are governed by a non-profit foundation so we can make longer term decisions and maybe we can just be a lot more strategic and think through our options a little better. But I got to stop talking about me. I mean, you’ve had a pretty massive growth journey yourself. It’s been what? Three years as Mix?

Todd Radloff:

Yeah. We just had our fourth anniversary.

Deniz Razon:

Oh my God. [inaudible 00:08:47].

Todd Radloff:

I know.

Deniz Razon:

Yeah.

Todd Radloff:

So yeah, we just crossed upon four and you mentioned the best places to work in. We’ve been fortunate where we’ve won it every year since we’ve been around so, we’ve won it for three times. And when I talk-

Deniz Razon:

Okay, now who’s showing off?

Todd Radloff:

It’s been an absolute treat and I had never been with a company that had won the award before. And so, my first thought was, “Well, I’m just excited to win the award.” But then when you step back and let it soak in, it was more exciting to see how happy and excited the team was and that the foundation of our Mix OS and our values, that that resonated as a place that people wanted to join and stay. So that has been the biggest blessing or sense of pride for me, is really just how well that has worked, that when we started Mix, that those values, they’ve evolved, but they still remain really why the foundation is. And so I think that tease companies up for success when you have people bought into the culture, you can see all the benefits that come from that.

Deniz Razon:

That doesn’t surprise me. I think probably has to do with some authenticity, some caring that’s embedded in there. I know it’s true here.

Todd Radloff:

Yeah. You have to be. I think today’s world, people just sense it very quickly. Whether it’s just something that’s on the wall or do the people, and not just a group, really the entire company. Do they embody the things that you list as the values? We hear people talk about therapeutic categories all the time, and at least in the recruiting calls, usually, there’s a tie, a passion for, or people are hoping to get into a category. Oncology for you, what has that meant to you? Was that by design or more of just curiosity? What was that journey for you?

Deniz Razon:

I was minding my business at Abbott working on primary care and specialty businesses. And I went to London on a business trip and met with one of my best friends from Mount Holyoke. And she had long red hair, really long, really rich red hair. And I meet her at a coffee shop and she had super short hair and the hair just didn’t look like it belonged to her. And little did I realize that she was going through cancer and it was a wig, and we ended up having a conversation that I wasn’t expecting to have. She didn’t have access to the right drugs. And she had everything to look forward to. She was dating somebody and planning her wedding and before you know it, I heard that she died. And it was so quick within 18 months. It just hit me so hard. She was 33.

So I really wanted to do something on the equity side of things. It’s like she just couldn’t get the biologics she needed. It just wasn’t in the cards for her. And that really propelled me to look for a switch in cancer. And it wasn’t possible at the time at Abbott. So I moved to Hospira and I was working on biosimilars. That was my entry to global and cancer. So there’s not any day that I don’t think of anything without Lisa and I don’t even work in breast cancer, but that was the impetus.

Todd Radloff:

Well, thank you for sharing that. And we do hear that connection that if you look either between friends or family or coworkers, that’s one of the reasons I’m in the industry, is just the patient side of it. The education on all the terrible diseases that are out there. And how can you contribute to helping those people in some way?

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. I think one of the reasons I like being here is that Servier does make a concerted effort to put 25% of all the revenues into R&D and half of it goes to cancer. So it’s taken very, very seriously here. I mean, we just had an all hands meeting today and we had a patient testimonial, it’s just part of our DNA.

Todd Radloff:

That’s wonderful. You mentioned a little bit ago when we were talking about what led you to Servier Pharma that the relationships that you built while you’re at Baxter, those days, and we’ve talked a little bit about just the need for great mentors and networking to help you achieve success. Can you talk to the audience just a little bit about whether it’s the mentors or just from a networking perspective, how those pieces have been important to you?

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. I think in hindsight, the mentors informally or formally have played a big role. I remember being at Abbott, there was a very formal mentorship structure and Kathy McFarland is somebody I still remember. She was our program leader, but also the head of women leaders at Abbott. And I remember going to a few meetings and learning about it and I didn’t even realize that I was getting a whole lot of skills and working on all these different projects that I was one day going to pay forward at Hospira or Shire when I became the co-leaders. Even here, we don’t have a defined program for mentorships, but we’re always thinking through how do we mentor folks? How do we bring women leaders together? What is from global or U.S? So I keep wanting to look for opportunities to give back.

Todd Radloff:

And as far as the need, why do you think people either need one or what makes a great one for you? What do you think about those mentors?

Deniz Razon:

Whether you need one or not, mentors have a way of shining that mirror in your face. I remember one of my bosses was saying, “Stop with the analysis paralysis. You just need to make faster decisions, take faster risks.” And he didn’t go tell me, “Go buy a car in three days,” but before that experience, I would’ve researched consumer reports Ad Nauseum for three months. So that was really important. I had another boss say, “You know what? You’re just too comfortable what you’re doing. You need Deniz 2.0 and I’m going to put you in this job, that way you’re going to be super uncomfortable for six to nine months.” So I think mentors and bosses, if they give you the right advice and it could jar you from what you’re doing and put you on a different trajectory.

Todd Radloff:

Well what you’re talking about, I mean one, there’s the direct feedback. They’re people that really can make sure they’re addressing it. They’re not working their way around, as you just mentioned that example, it’s direct. Sometimes another word for that might be a hard truth, but they’re creating then a roadmap or perspective on a situation that should help you in your career. But sometimes it takes, like you said, that they hit your mouth a little bit with some feedback.

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. And I can’t tell you that early in my career I was the best at getting the feedback, but now I seek it. I really need that perspective, I need that roadmap and I could really rely on other people who’ve gone before me to see where to not stumble or where to seek. I’m part of the Boston Club now. It’s a volunteer organization elevating, advancing women’s careers through their lifelong journey. And I’m working with a lot of very accomplished women and it is really inspiring to get their experiences. It’s a nonprofit, we were all volunteering, but I’m making a lot of connections. And not only is it fun, but it’s giving me that added input, that perspective that could make it very real for me here, in my daily job as well.

Todd Radloff:

And we’re obviously here in the seaport in Boston today, so you have the Boston ecosystem. You mentioned a little bit about some places that you’ve joined to help you up, but how do you tell people that are listening ways in which they find opportunities or associations that are helpful?

Deniz Razon:

Yeah, I think you’re right. We are in a very easy to network area and I know for myself that I usually follow my interests and I’m looking for a few organizations I can belong to, educate myself and give back. In my case, in Chicago, it was the Healthcare Business Women’s Association. And I was there for many years. In Boston, it’s been the Boston Club and I really like where the organization is going, having a lot of thought leaders on board with equity, wellbeing, entrepreneur ideas. It’s a lot of programming to get women on boards. So there’s a lot of things on what I want that the programming offers.

I also belong to National Association of Board of Directors, NACD. There’s a lot of great programming. There’s some things I want to learn and I could learn from peers and sometimes, I just want to make sure that I am bringing the best value I can to my organization. So those educational pieces are super helpful. And other times, it’s like lifetime making friends at the gym and chatting up with a lot of women in a water fitness class and shooting debris afterwards. And little do I know that half of those people are in healthcare.

Todd Radloff:

Yeah. You’re covering the next point I was thinking about. And that is, within networking, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and you have to be comfortable asking or saying, “What networks are you a part of? Or what associations?” You to get out there because there is a lot of avenues or different ways you can go about it. But having those relationships and things to be able to tap into to learn about, what are good ones that have helped them out.

And I think a huge piece when we talk about developing those relationships or whether it’s finding the appropriate mentors in your career is you have to be authentic. You have to look at those relationships, not just as what the mentor can do for you, but how you can help them out. They’re going to sense, are you being authentic, do you care about them? And when you do, those relationships just quadruple in return. But I think for me, that’s a part that I think people need to make sure that they are doing as the mentor doesn’t do all the work, they’re there to help with the roadmap, but you still have to do the legwork or the exercises that they’re advising or talking to you about. And you have to let them know that you really appreciate that they’re carving out time to help them out. But what are your thoughts on that?

Deniz Razon:

So I was very, very fortunate last year to have a mentor through the Boston Club, Roberta Madison, and she’s written all these books. I didn’t know. I didn’t have any expectations. I was just hoping that maybe I would get the guidance for somebody who was a chief business officer before. And she’s actually written all these leadership books, she’s advised CEOs and it’s been fantastic. Yes, I had to be organized and have an agenda and ask some questions, but she was also so much fun to learn from and she asked me these direct questions and I got to read her book in progress in draft mode. It’s just been an amazing give and take.

And now that the mentorship is over, we still have the relationship. We can shoot the breeze and meet quarterly for lunch and exchange notes on how we can help each other at the Boston Club or in the Boston ecosystem. So I didn’t go in with a take, take, take mentality, but of course, as a mentee, that’s what you’re doing. And I’m always thinking for where’s the win-win? How can I help pay it forward? And it may not be ever that I can pay to Roberta, but maybe I can pay to somebody in the ecosystem.

Todd Radloff:

Similar experience that you’re getting from her.

Deniz Razon:

Right. Right. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m Turkish or my grandma was like this, that payer forward concept has been ingrained. So I just truly believe that mentorship is really, really critical. And I’ve also heard this concept of sponsorship. Mentorship is more like a transactional… It could be a few times and you just give a nudge to somebody. But sponsorship is really moving somebody’s career forward for them. So I think there’s just so much opportunity in Boston.

Todd Radloff:

I like that, sponsorship versus the mentorship. I like that. And we’re talking about great mentors. According to women in [inaudible 00:22:52], you have achieved what only less than 17% of female leaders have been able to do, which is, have a chance to be on a board. And that is incredible feat. Let’s just start there. Can you share with the audience, because I think that it’s been a big topic of conversation of, how do you get there? What are some things that you contribute? I know we’ve talked a little bit about the career, but if there’s a short list or some highlights, that when you look back, when you think about those things that you could tell people that are listening, what would you say?

Deniz Razon:

Yeah. I think maybe just for context. So I’m in three boards now. One private board, which is my company, Servier Pharma, and two non-profit boards. One is Gateway for Cancer Research and I’ve been involved since 2014. And the other one is the Boston Club as a VP board member just recently. And I really lucked into it, a board seat in 2014. At the time, the company needed somebody with the right healthcare background. Somebody who was learning about or living cancer research and competitive intelligence and the application on a daily basis, somebody who would be willing to provide the right dedicated analysis and support and ask good questions. And one of my bosses decided that, “Hey, you ask a lot of questions, why don’t you go and see if you can interview and get this position, and your world is going to open up.” I had no idea what a gift that was.

And I’ve learned so much from my colleagues at Gateway. I’ve been there since 2014. And it’s different every time. So when I’m thinking about what I would tell others is, you have to have the skills that the company’s seeking. Is it M&A? Is it entrepreneurship? Is it risk management? Is it compliance? What is it that company looking for? And do you have it and do you it well?

Todd Radloff:

Yeah.

Deniz Razon:

And it’s also combination how well prepared you are for that interview and asking some very good questions. And once you’re on the board, you take it seriously and you give your 110%.

Todd Radloff:

And how have the resources or connections helped regarding this level? Because we talked a lot about those pieces. So how’d they integrated themselves when it comes to this topic.

Deniz Razon:

Before I knew about an ACD or the Boston Club, I was just searching for articles on what to think through. But as soon as I was on the board of Servier Pharmaceuticals, I really wanted to make sure that I had the right competencies to be able to deliver the best value. So an ACD offers a lot of true courses to get you certified. So that online system has been a godsend during COVID because I actually could plan my time and do more of that learning and listening.

And with the Boston Club, there is a series of educational events on how to get on a public board. And it’s a four part series that Hillary runs and is fantastic. You better be ready to be called on with your 32nd pitch. They have very practical recommendations on how you seek a board seat, how you prepare for it, and how do you network to make sure. And they also manage your expectations that a public board could be a one to two year progress. And you just have to take it very seriously and make sure that you get well known so that when the time comes to make a decision on the board, people know your name, they know your reputation, and the decision is really easy.

Todd Radloff:

No, you’re bringing up some really good points because we’ve talked to a lot of candidates that have asked, “How do I get on the board?” And they’re lost in the pattern and we talk a lot about some of the things that you mentioned, but obviously, their network, right? And people that are on those seats asking them their journey or partnerships. But as you said, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it. I mean, you talked about the board resume, your bio. That a lot of these target companies, they’re going to look for a specific experience. You’re not going to fit all of the opportunities. You’re going to really look forward. Do you have opportunities, let’s say, whether it’s in the vaccine market whether antibiotic? You’re going to look for very specific ones or launch experience or M&A or BD.

Deniz Razon:

That’s right.

Todd Radloff:

How can that help that particular organization? And so the more you can talk to how those skill sets match those things and the preparation of the work going into it is so important. Know who you are and what value you can bring to the table.

Deniz Razon:

Absolutely. You really need to know your value proposition and you also need to network. There are many, many organizations now that help promote women, whether it’s online or in person. And there are also some certifications that help you get those credentials. So all of those are super critical.

Todd Radloff:

Absolutely. So before we go, we have covered a lot of great topics about the journey, the importance around the networking and authenticity. We have a couple mix questions that we ask every participant that we have, that joins us on the podcast. So the first question is from interview questions, what is your favorite one to ask or that you’ve been asked in an interview setting?

Deniz Razon:

Probably my favorite one to ask is, what’s the biggest influence in your life?

Todd Radloff:

I like that. That can be such a array of answers. You really don’t know where they’re going to… You talked about the story about the oncology piece, you can get a great one. I love that. And then the second question is, favorite song for a playlist?

Deniz Razon:

Well, these days I can’t seem to get this Left and Right out of my head. It’s by Charlie Puth. And he went to Berkeley School of Music and it keeps resonating from left and right side of my stereo in the car. So what’s in the top of my head.

Todd Radloff:

Love it. Well thanks again, Deniz for joining us here on the Mix Tape. Loved having you on. It’s always great to see you. Thanks again for your time.

Deniz Razon:

Oh my pleasure, Todd.

Valerie McCandlish:

Well, Natalie, after hearing Deniz talk, I think I got to go find a mentor.

Natalie Taylor:

I know. Talk about a good mentor. I think Deniz would be the best mentor ever.

Valerie McCandlish:

I know.

Natalie Taylor:

She is so fantastic.

Valerie McCandlish:

How do we get her down here to Columbus?

Natalie Taylor:

Yeah, we do. Deniz, this is a call for you to come chat with our team. You’re so incredible to listen to. I loved that.

Valerie McCandlish:

I know. What a great story too. It’s just, I think so important to hear directly from some of these business leaders who have so much care for what they do and have so much care for their patients. And that’s what we hope for with these companies that are doing great work for life changing therapies for patients is that the patient stays at the forefront of that conversation and it’s really evident hearing Deniz’ story, that that is what drove her. And so just really special to be able to be part of her journey and listen, get a little inside scoop.

Natalie Taylor:

A little inside scoop.

Valerie McCandlish:

To how she leads. And I think that’s really evident too in the success that they’ve had at Servier Pharma and the type of company that they’ve been able to grow into over the past few years.

Natalie Taylor:

I know, I think that’s incredible that they’ve won best place to work two years in a row. And you can tell Todd is very passionate about that as well on our end. So I think it’s just a testament, again to their excellent relationship that the two of them have and those shared values and how both of our organizations really put a huge emphasis on culture and how employees are being treated and all filling a part of the same team.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah. And like they both said, how important that authenticity is when you’re leading, when you’re working and having these relationships with each other. Just another side now, I really liked that Deniz had a little mention about how some of the lateral moves that you can make in your career are some of the most important ones and can really make a huge impact on your overall success or some of the changes that can happen because I think a lot of people assume that the best way to continue to succeed or getting promotions, or getting up to the next level or some recognition that puts you up the ladder, I guess. But I think her highlighting that what really helped her was taking some of those lateral moves, is a really good call out and something that we sometimes forget. And for me that’s been a huge factor in my ability to grow here at Mix, was being able to be part of some of these different teams and learn so much as I continued to take on new positions.

Natalie Taylor:

That’s a great point. So I think there’s only one thing left to do.

Valerie McCandlish:

That’s right. We’ve got a song to add to the playlist. We’ve got a little Charlie Puth to add on and I think it’s the first time that he is joining the playlist.

Natalie Taylor:

I think it is.

Valerie McCandlish:

I listened to the song on the way here and it was great. So Deniz, you’ve got some awesome music taste and with that, we’ll wrap up this episode. Thanks for being in the Mix. We’ll see you next week.

 

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