Joanne Hilton, from Whitstable, embarked on an MBA with Kent Business School in 2018. After briefly setting up her own consultancy business providing medical writing to life science organisations, she was approached by the talent acquisition arm of AstraZeneca and employed in April 2020 as a senior leader within the Medical Communications team. The research-based biopharmaceutical company with headquarters in Cambridge has played a vital role in the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
Here, Joanne, who is Medical Communications, Therapy Area Head for Late Oncology & Immuno-Oncology at the company tells us how her MBA qualification shaped her management style and successes to the present day…
“My working life started as a research scientist, but after a decade at the bench, I moved into medical communications – the writing of scientific and medical documents for public education, as well as for health authorities.
Prior to enrolling in the MBA, I had spent nine years building a department at a boutique life sciences service provider and we had been successful. My career path had been accelerated with the fast growth of the company. During this time, my team had gone from two to 100. There were few role models in the company to turn to and I knew there were gaps in my knowledge that I wanted to fill. I was looking for the magic answer on how to be an effective leader – I hoped an MBA could provide this. I was also ready for a change and very tired – travelling around the world for work since my daughter was a toddler, I needed to find more of a work-life balance.
Kent Business School was always my first choice – the MBA programme has an excellent reputation and it also happened to be right on my doorstep. I went for an MBA Masterclass and met with the MBA leader who took me through the curriculum; I quickly found that the theme of transformational leadership fitted well with my ambition. I was also impressed with the great emphasis on corporate social responsibility and innovation – areas I knew were growing.
I really enjoyed all the classes, the work was intense but it was also fun. There was animated discussion and active debate in every seminar and the teaching was excellent. Listening to the different points of view of various topics enabled my learning and the diversity on this course really inspired me – I had classmates from all over the world!
Writing the reflective essay for the Leadership module was a cathartic experience and helped me to centre the kind of leader I want to be. It cemented the idea that I wanted to be transformational, with ethics at the heart of everything I do. I also enjoyed marketing and strategic people management. Corporate social responsibility was intellectually stimulating and I want to continue to bring that into my work as I continue my career. I surprised myself with how well I got on with the Finance modules – I now feel I have a better understanding of the stock market!
It was in early 2020 when AstraZeneca approached me about a role in their Medical Communications group. At first I was hoping they would use my consultancy, so I went to the interview with that in mind, but after the meeting I felt inspired and I knew I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I also checked to see how many other women were in senior leadership positions and I was pleasantly surprised that it is an area of real focus for the organisation.
My role is largely a balance between management and leadership. My team lead the authoring of clinical documents that are required by health authorities to be compiled and submitted for the registration of medicines. My top priorities are to ensure my portfolio, which is oncology, has all the resources it needs for the work to be delivered, and that the individuals in my team have the support they need to be effective in their roles.
The team has doubled this year, and we are actively recruiting new colleagues. I really liked the fact that the company was going through a growth phase when I joined, where I felt comfortable applying my knowledge and skills. This confidence I credit to my MBA. Many things that I did intuitively are now reinforced with more certain knowledge.
My MBA has come in to play in all areas within my job role. I did a small piece of consultancy exploring how we could work more efficiently, bringing in my senior team to contribute to how we could ‘standardise and simplify’. I also helped my group implement metrics by applying what I learnt during the operations modules on the MBA, looking at our performance objectives and doing an analysis using the tools from my MBA. I have also used the SWOT tool from the strategic management module many times.
The best thing about my job is definitely the people. It is a friendly company to be part of. I am incredibly proud to work at AstraZeneca, obviously because of their efforts during the pandemic, but also for all their efforts around sustainability, which is a topic I am very passionate about. I have recently taken on a role as a sustainability champion, and the main intention is to raise awareness of this important topic. I feel that my MBA has provided me with the tools and confidence I need to do this effectively.
I am very grateful to the MBA for everything I have learned. For those embarking on the course this year I would say ‘enjoy it’ even though it can be very intense. Also remember that there is no rush into your next role, the skills you learn at the Kent Business School will set you up for life. Companies growing for the future have to be adaptable, and in order to succeed you need to be adaptable too – so keep learning!”