As the new head of Pfizer’s Swedish organization, Malin Parkler’s plan is to take past professional experience, multiple perspectives and the strength of collaborative leadership to lead the company forward in the fluctuating world of pharmaceuticals.
Malin Parkler assumed the post as Country Manager of Pfizer Sweden this spring, taking over after Edward Lysen, in conjunction with a reorganization of the company. The last few months have been hectic and stimulating, she notes.
“It’s been quite intense and a very exciting time this far. I look forward to finding new and innovative ways to develop the company and continue our commitment to Swedish healthcare. My ambition is, together with my colleagues and the Swedish healthcare, to ensure good treatment and services for patients in Sweden and to create a strong and competitive life science climate.”
Pfizer established in Sweden in 1954. Today Pfizer has around 450 employees in Sweden, working within sales and marketing, clinical trials and production. The majority of the workforce is connected to the production unit in Strängnäs, Sweden’s largest biotech manufacturing facility with worldwide export. Although Pfizer doesn’t have any in-house research Pfizer conducts clinical trials in Sweden. The company has several direct and indirect research collaborations with the Karolinska Institute and a research agreement with Karo Bio, as well as it is supporting scientists in 30 research projects within areas such as breast cancer, vaccines and inflammation. Multiple, high quality collaborations are highly prioritized, says Parkler.
“We have several close collaborations with Nordic, European and global colleagues. As a company this has increased the possibility for countries’ organizations to influence decisions. We have our own team of responsible managers in various European companies that can exchange knowledge and competence on pharmaceutical development and operations in society. The world is such a global and international place today, it’s really a huge advantage to have access to the different cultures and perspectives.”
AstraZeneca deal shed new light
Operating in a global and competitive pharmaceutical market is a challenge for both big and smaller companies. The competition is fierce, which Pfizer’s recent interest in acquiring rival AstraZeneca also showed. During the spring of 2014 the life science industry followed the development of a possible deal between AstraZeneca and Pfizer. In April Britain’s Sunday Times reported a rumor that Pfizer had approached AstraZeneca to propose a 60 billion GBP takeover. The rumors were confirmed by the end of the month by Pfizer who announced that it had made contact over a possible takeover bid. Then the bidding started and after several offers from Pfizer – where the bid was eventually upped to 55 GBP a share – AstraZeneca turned down a third and final offer to merge the two companies. The possible merger raised many questions and debates in Sweden and around the world. Malin Parkler wishes not to give any further comments on the deal but notes that Pfizer will continue to look at and evaluate potential transactions that benefit patients and create value for shareholders. The issue has contributed to showing the whole industry in a new light.
“The positive effect of this is that life science has become a central focus, which has not happened a day too soon.”
In recent years the Swedish pharmaceutical market and the life science industry has been going through a turbulent time. Among other things the issue of the decrease in clinical trials has been debated and highlighted. For Pfizer’s part however there has been a positive development with an increasing number of clinical trials, says Malin Parkler. Sweden is participating in almost a quarter of the company’s global clinical trial program, with clinical trials in almost all phases, as well as close collaborations with academia and smaller research companies. And more collaboration is what she believes is key for a successful life science sector in Sweden.
“There needs to be more partnerships between academia and healthcare and the industry, and also between academia and healthcare. We need a healthcare that is encouraged to participate in clinical trials and start using new innovations quickly,” Malin Parkler states.
She also points out the importance of a well-functioning infrastructure with biobanks and databases, and highlights the necessity of recognizing and start using new treatment methods.
“I am very positive about the current strategy to coordinate efforts and identify the development potential of the life science sector that is taking place in Sweden. I think it’s a good start and I hope that this will lead to a long term vision for life science in Sweden. Within Pfizer there are exciting things happening with increased investments within research and production. Our new research model means that we have moved from traditional research and development in closed facilities to trying to solve medical challenges in a more open innovation climate which means more collaborations with leading scientists and companies. I believe there’s a bright future in store for us as a country and that there are great possibilities to become a leading industry.”
“All the stakeholders in the life science sector have to take an active role and work together. Sweden has a long tradition within research and pharmaceutical development. But the global competition is tough and the industry is changing. The health care system is the engine of life science. World class health care attracts investments, for example when companies want to develop and document new products. Top class research and researchers’ ability and willingness to enter into commercial partnerships with the industry are critical factors in where investments are placed,” Malin Parkler explains.
You have previously mentioned that you wish to strengthen the company’s role and commitment within Swedish life science. How do you aim to do that?
“Through a wide engagement by being part of the whole eco-system – within research, production and healthcare system. Also, we are highly engaged in other organizations such as LIF, the Swedish trade association for the pharmaceutical industry, and Sweden BIO. For many years Pfizer has kept a low profile. But now our aim is to be more active and visible as a company in the public debate regarding Swedish healthcare and life science.”
Parkler is far from a new face at the Pfizer. She has been working at Pfizer for the past twelve years. Before taking on the position as Country Manager she has held several posts; most recently as business unit director for the company’s primary care products and services. Her previous experience from her years at the firm will be of help when taking on the new role, she notes.
“All of the meetings, people and situations that I have been in over the past years have influenced who I am. I have always appreciated meeting new people, listening to them and learning from them. Over the years I have been lucky to be surrounded by really good colleagues and executives from different cultures and countries,” says Malin Parkler.
Leader that listens
The value of a wide range of perspectives is something that Malin Parkler finds important to integrate in her leadership.
“As a leader I believe it is important to include diversity, not only in terms of gender and ethnicity but especially regarding points of view. You have much to gain from listening to others and being willing to make changes. If you really can reach a high level of diversity and inclusion you can make great things happen in your organization.”
She describes leadership as the art of gathering all the power of each co-worker and pointing it in one direction. As a leader, she says, her role is to provide the right conditions and to rely entirely on her colleagues’ competence for a successful business.
“I am very dedicated and I know what I want. At the same time, I am a good listener, and easily delegate responsibilities to lead and develop. I believe it is key to let go and not micromanage. My job is to provide guidance where needed. As a leader it is important to include everyone in the creative process and make them feel independent and responsible, to create meaning, a sense of belonging and a clear connection to our visions and goals.”
Other qualities she values are curiosity, dedication – and closeness to the operations. She appreciates having her desk in an open-plan office, and not in a separate room as a Country Manager traditionally would.
“I wouldn’t dream of sitting in a secluded room all day. For me it’s important to be present and available for my colleagues.”
Background in medicine
From the beginning Malin Parkler had set her sights on becoming a doctor. She went abroad to do preparatory studies for some time. When she returned to Sweden she started studying preventive medicine at KI, the Karolinska Institute, gaining a Master’s Degree in medical science. For some time she devoted herself to science and teaching at KI, where she became project leader for a study on the prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases among children and adolescents. As she was in two minds about continuing the path of research, Malin Parkler received a job offer and in 2002 she started her career at Pfizer.
“As a person I tend to be drawn to several different areas. I’m not really someone who specializes in things, so for me it suited well not to concentrate on a specific scientific subject but to work more on a broader scale. That’s what I’ve found to be so exciting with working at Pfizer; it offers a width both from a business perspective and the social value behind our operations.”
Her strongest driving force in her work is to continuously improve, she says.
“Working in this environment I really want to make the most of business opportunities together with my colleagues. That’s something I believe all colleagues at Pfizer have in common. We take a great pride in working with healthcare and bringing medicines to patients who need them.”
Looking ahead, Malin Parkler describes her ambitions for Pfizer Sweden’s future as an innovative partner for healthcare.
“I want us to be invited to collaborations as a business with new ideas, competence, entrepreneurship and courage, and that we take an active part in keeping Swedish healthcare at the forefront.”
Born: In Rönninge, July 16th 1971
Family: Husband Magnus, two girls Smilla 11 & Svea 9
Position: Country Manager Pfizer Sweden
Lives in: Tullinge, South of Stockholm
Education: Master of Medical Sciences, Karolinska Institute
Professional career: Project Lead / Health Planner at SLL/KI, Consultant at Kinchard Consulting and a number of marketing & sales roles in Pfizer
Photographer: Jan Torbjörnsson