Carol Malysz, Executive Director, RI Bio | Roundtable Moderator

We invite you to join us for an enlightening forum featuring Alli Ferguson and Satpal Kundra, two distinguished women leaders at Amgen. In this article, they share their remarkable insights and perspectives on their journeys as women in science. Alli and Satpal delve into their invaluable experiences, offering lessons learned from overcoming challenges, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and harmonizing the demands of leadership with their personal and professional development.

What pivotal experiences or challenges shaped your leadership journey at Amgen, and how did you navigate them?

(Alli) During my three and a half years at Amgen, my scope has continued to change with increasing levels of responsibility and management of various teams. These changes have enabled me to foster a growth mindset personally and professionally and challenged my confidence, adaptability, agility, and abilities as a Quality professional. I navigated these changes with a sense of curiosity to fully understand the applicable processes and tasks the teams perform and seek to understand the challenges the teams experience day to day to determine how best to support their needs and influence for change and innovation. I also strive to build relationships and partnerships with our internal customers to understand how our teams can effectively collaborate to best support the business to drive results.

(Satpal) My early years in management were pivotal in shaping my leadership journey at Amgen. My journey started with an opportunity to establish a new team as the manager of the Quality Control organization, a position that had increasing responsibilities as we prepared for commercialization. During this period, I was provided with the opportunity to remodel laboratories and to completely transform the way we worked as we prepared for the future. With my dedicated team, we successfully navigated through the project towards our shared goal. The key to our success lay in our collective efforts to achieve a common vision.

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Can you share a specific example of a time when you had to make a tough decision as a leader? How did you approach it, and what were the outcomes or lessons learned?

Satpal Kundra, Process Development Scientific Associate Director, Amgen

(Satpal) I relocated with my family from the UK to the US in 2017. At the time, I was a Senior Manager when an opportunity was presented to me to move to Rhode Island as a Senior Specialist. At the time, it was a tough decision for me to leave management as I enjoyed my role and had envisioned my career advancing in management. Also moving to an individual contributor role, meant adjusting to different expectations as well as moving to a new country. Nevertheless, I welcomed the new position enthusiastically and it led me to a parallel path where for four years, I embraced new opportunities that allowed me to continue cultivating my leadership skills in a different capacity. 

(Alli) As a Quality Manager supporting Assembly Production at a prior employer, there was a supplier related defect challenge with a key component required for an instrument build. This defect prevented the operators from initiating the build process, thus impacting factory order completion, and required action with the supplier for resolution. Because this challenge had the potential to impact quarterly revenue, I was in a position where I needed to understand all options to protect the business, quality of the product, and compliance to make a risk-based and balanced decision for path forward. To approach resolution, there were daily huddles to drive action, engagement with Engineering to understand design aspects, understanding workload of inspection staff who are assessing this material upon arrival, and working with Production Planning and Assembly operators to understand capacity and resource needs to fulfill orders once conforming material was received. Although this challenge was incredibly difficult, it provided me with a broader understanding of business operations and how to make informed decisions from all perspectives to enable success through communication and collaboration with different partners.

As a woman leader in a male-dominated industry, what strategies have you employed to foster diversity, equity and inclusion within your team or organization?

Alli Ferguson, Associate Director Quality Assurance (IQA/Disposition/DMS and L&P) Amgen

(Alli) The Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DI&B) culture at Amgen is incredibly robust, which has allowed me the opportunity to network and engage with different female leaders in the business to witness how they role model DI&B focused behaviors and leverage their techniques to role model for those I support and interact with on a regular basis. I encourage and empower my team to participate in DI&B activities or take on leadership roles within the various Employee Resource Groups on site. I also seek ways to provide opportunities for Manufacturing staff to participate in events as shift workers have challenges with engagement due to schedule availability. I have been fortunate enough to lead the Women in Manufacturing (WiM) ERG at Amgen Rhode Island, and I am currently supporting the creation of the Women in Manufacturing Rhode Island Chapter as part of the National WiM Organization with other strong female leaders and allies in RI!

(Satpal) To me, it’s about building trust and providing staff with a safe space to be their authentic self. By leading by example and visibly supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, I hope to inspire confidence that we are moving in the right direction. Just over a year ago, I had the opportunity to start a new Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Amgen Rhode Island called ASAN (Amgen South Asian Network) which has been very well received by both staff and leadership. At Amgen Rhode Island, we have many distinct ERGs providing numerous opportunities for staff to engage with diversity, equity, and inclusion, to help strengthen our culture. 

How do you balance the demands of leadership with personal and professional growth? What habits or routines do you prioritize to maintain this balance?

(Satpal) I’ll be honest and it’s something I quiet often look back on and wonder how! Early on in my career, I balanced a full-time role and a young family, but the balance was always good. I gave 100% both to my career and raising a family and as my family grew, I experienced wonderful growth in my career. I owe this to a very supportive family (my husband, children, and my parents) and network of mentors and advocates who have supported me through this journey. Routine is very important to me which involves exercise, mindfulness and trying to get 8 hours of sleep! 

(Alli) Balance can be rather elusive, and I think needs to be defined at every challenging moment because it is impossible to meet all the demands of work and personal life at once. As an Employee, People Leader, Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, and Friend it is important to understand what area of my life require my attention at that time and give myself grace if the ball drops in another area. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to learn more about myself and identify the habits that truly serve my wellbeing. Meditation, walking, working out, and spending time in nature help keep me grounded and put what really matters into perspective.

What are some key skills or qualities that have contributed to your success as a leader at Amgen, and how do you cultivate them in yourself and others?

(Alli) Some key skills that have contributed to success at Amgen would be curiosity, adaptability, which goes along with being open to change, and finally empathy. I challenge myself and my teams to ask questions and seek to understand – when you learn about different processes and perspectives it can inform how you make decisions in the future or influence for action. Adaptability has allowed me to support different areas of Quality and learn from my teams. This has then allowed me to empower my teams to think outside the box and seek ways to streamline or transform how we do our day-to-day tasks. Empathy enabled me to provide an active caring mindset with my team when we went through a resource challenge at the end of 2023 — I was able to reach a deeper level of understanding with the team to ensure they felt heard and supported so we could navigate the challenge together. 

(Satpal) It is important to maintain a level of curiosity and to be open to new experiences. Excel in something you enjoy and always seek ways to better things, it does not matter how small or big as each contribution plays a part in your own success. 

As you reflect on your journey, what advice would you offer to aspiring women leaders who are navigating their own career paths within the biotech or pharmaceutical industry?

(Satpal) Keep it simple and have a goal, your goal may change and that’s ok. Keep an open mind because you never know where your next opportunity will be. Embrace change, build networks and be comfortable with lateral moves as they can be powerful in building new skills and strengthening skills you already have to prepare you for future positions. 

(Alli) I would advise aspiring female leaders to seek opportunities that make you uncomfortable and stretch your current abilities and ambitions – a great period of growth and learning about yourself can happen when you get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Along with that I would remind them to give themselves grace while working on stretch opportunities — it is about progress not perfection. And don’t be scared to advocate for yourself – champion yourself and know your worth because you know better than anyone what possibilities you bring to the table!