Suzanne Blaug ’83 has worked in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry for 35 years, in both general management and commercial leadership roles and across multiple geographies. She is currently senior vice president of global marketing and commercial development at Amgen, where her organization drives the global strategy for in-market and pipeline products across all of Amgen’s diseases areas, as well as the commercial strategy for business development opportunities.
Prior to joining Amgen, Blaug spent eight years in several roles at Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson. These included head of Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy Research & Development, LLC; vice president, strategic marketing EMEA; and area managing director for the U.K., Italy and Greece. From 1983 to 2002, Blaug was with Bristol-Myers Squibb in marketing, strategy, and general management roles.
What’s one impact you’d like to highlight?
Changing people’s behavior is hard—especially when it comes to patients’ adherence to medication.
The traditional approach in our industry had always been to educate patients and physicians: “If only they understood the benefits of the medication, they’d stay on treatment.” We used to try everything, from sending reminders in the mail to developing detailed information leaflets. Nothing really worked.
After many years in the industry, I became convinced that we didn’t really understand why patients don’t stay on treatment and until we understood that, any solution we came up with was only as good as throwing darts.
So one of the very first decisions I made at Amgen was to set up a new organization using unique approaches such as design thinking to get deep insights about our customers, and then to use these insights to develop tools that help people fit their medications more easily and seamlessly into their daily lives—instead of feeling that their lives needed to revolve around their medications. The team has developed solutions that have had material impact on patients’ ability and desire to stay on their medications.
We’re still in the early stages of our journey, but our initial efforts have been promising, and our hope is that we will help to transform the patient experience and improve people’s outcomes.
“Healthcare is a business”—what’s your take on this statement?
I think it’s critical to remember that people aren’t looking for healthcare; what they want is health. Healthcare, then, is just a means to an end. And while I do believe that healthcare is a business, a sustainable business must stay focused squarely on the needs of the customer: the patient. With all the complexities of the healthcare system, there’s a tendency to forget this and thus to neglect to put the patient at the center. That should always be the end goal.
How has Kellogg been of value for you?
I went straight from college to Kellogg, with zero academic or professional experience in business. So everything I learned at Kellogg has been of value.
That includes what I learned in classes and from fellow students. My marketing courses have given me an appreciation for the importance of putting the customer at the center of my decision-making, and have driven my structured approach to problem-solving. I still use many of the frameworks that I learned in strategy and finance courses. But most importantly, I gained an appreciation for different backgrounds and styles among people, and learned the value of collaboration, which I believe has been fundamental to my success.
What I learned at Kellogg is just part of my DNA now.
What’s your advice for rising leaders in healthcare and business more broadly?
Those of us in healthcare must never forget who our ultimate customer is: the patient. And we must never forget that the goal is to produce better health and better outcomes—doing that will lead to a successful, sustainable business.
In general, and especially in the dynamic healthcare market, I think it’s nearly impossible to plan a career 10 years ahead, let alone 20 years. I’ve learned that roles that may at the time seem like a detour from an ideal path are in the end the ones that make you a much more effective leader or a more competitive candidate for future leadership roles. You can’t see in advance all the connections that your experience will help you make down the road.
So do the things you love, take on diverse and challenging roles, and don’t assume your path will be linear. But more than likely it will eventually come together and make sense for you.