Malin Parkler, CEO of Pfizer Sweden, is driven by curiosity and a passion to build knowledge and evolve the life science industry – with the ultimate goal to yield real benefits for patients.
Rarely has the world been more in need of leaders. As the global community struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic last year, people sought answers and hope. Both were in short supply at first, but looking back to those frantic times, the CEO of Pfizer Sweden, Malin Parkler, is pleased with the roles Pfizer and the life science industry played in developing a vaccine and slowing the spread of the deadly virus.
“The value of a strong life science industry has clearly been in the spotlight during the pandemic,” she says. “I’m super proud of being part of this. Curiosity and research production were able to contribute to save millions of lives. It’s hard not to be proud to work at Pfizer. It showed how important partnerships are, and not just in a crisis. No one can do this alone.”
Working together, using our full capacity
Malin Parkler is also the chair of the board of LIF (LIF Service AB), the trade association for Sweden’s research-based pharmaceutical industry, and she emphasizes that it is just amazing what has been achieved this year.
“The biggest potential is when we all work together, using the full capacity and competencies in the sector as a whole – companies, healthcare, academia and the authorities.”
“In less than a year, we have made a vaccine available to beat a global pandemic. Companies, not only those in life sciences, have re-focused and re-prioritized their investments and efforts to support a world in need. The biggest potential is when we all work together, using the full capacity and competencies in the sector as a whole – companies, healthcare, academia and the authorities.”
Her priorities for Pfizer and LIF are similar, expanding patient access to quality care and ensuring healthcare systems are patient-centered, she says.
“We need to keep evolving with the environment, and continuously and relentlessly improve the value we bring to patients, society and healthcare. We need to strengthen our partnership with healthcare to build knowledge and ensure patients not only get access to innovative treatments, but that they are equipped to get the best possible treatment outcomes.”
“In order for Nordic life sciences to thrive, we need to act as thought leaders. With international forums and congresses, we can be better at showcasing what we do and what we’re good at. It’s about daring to invest, even in tough times.”
The industry assumed a critical leadership role during the pandemic, and is poised to continue that role.
“In order for Nordic life sciences to thrive, we need to act as thought leaders,” Parkler says. “With international forums and congresses, we can be better at showcasing what we do and what we’re good at. It’s about daring to invest, even in tough times.”
A good leader
In keeping with that trend, Malin Parkler says she has been playing more of a global role for Pfizer, working on transformation and ways to bring better value to customers as part of the evolution of her responsibilities. Since she began her career with the company in 2002, she has held numerous positions, including Business Unit Director for Pfizer’s primary care products and services.
“I’m very happy I studied public health,” notes Parkler, who earned a Master’s degree in medical science from the Karolinska Institutet. “It is one of the best things I’ve done. I’m passionate about science and health and being a leader, so it is important to understand the concepts of health and wellness.”
“As a senior manager in Pfizer once said, ‘When given the opportunity to lead – lead,’ meaning you shall take leadership when you can, based on a situation, your leadership skills or your special expertise.”
According to Parkler, among the attributes of a good leader is the ability to empower and inspire all people to be leaders when they can. “As a senior manager in Pfizer once said, ‘When given the opportunity to lead – lead,’ meaning you shall take leadership when you can, based on a situation, your leadership skills or your special expertise.”
High emotional intelligence, understanding others, but most of all understanding yourself and being comfortable with both your strengths and your weak or blind spots are important as well, she adds.
“Diversity also is critical for developing leadership,” she continues. “Companies benefit from a collection of leaders with a diverse set of perspectives and skills that will enable leaders to complement each other.”
Build a broad network
The influence and support of friends and colleagues has helped Malin Parkler develop as a leader, she says.
“It is so important to surround yourself with people of different perspectives who share the commitment and interest in continuously learning and developing as a leader.”
“There is not a better gift to have people around you who are honestly engaged in making you a good leader. I appreciate them immensely and they inspire me to do the same for others. It is so important to surround yourself with people of different perspectives who share the commitment and interest in continuously learning and developing as a leader. Conversing, reflecting and listening to others enriches. I love podcasts.”
Among her personal goals are to schedule meetings with at least 12 new people every year, to learn from others, get new perspectives and broaden her network.
“Build a broad network,” Parkler advises. “Don’t only mingle with the most senior leaders. One of the most important things for me is being able to explore new things and meet new people. I’m very curious about things and people. This has been my driver and given me insights. I’ve had some really good leaders around me, who have been helpful and supportive and helped me see where I could contribute more. When you create something with others, it makes me contribute more and feel valuable. I love to build my network and talk to different people. If I have an assignment I try to think who would be good at this? Who would be most helpful?”
Failure is not an enemy
Parkler got a wake-up call when a former manager urged her to jump on a new experience. “I strongly believe in the concept of lifelong learning and love to explore new things and develop myself so I consider myself being someone who learns every day. Then my manager said, ‘Malin, your learning curve is flat’, meaning that I learn, but can learn and develop more.”
“Define how to make a difference, find a voice and make it heard, and speak about the things that you believe matter and where they can matter.”
Failure is not an enemy, she says. “I have learned as a leader and a mentor that I can ride things out,” Parkler notes. “I make sure I go through mud and difficulty. I’m not afraid of being unsuccessful. If I fail at something, I learned something. I’ve learned not to just try something twice. If you really want something, don’t give up. Just find a way.”
Her advice to other female executives and rising executives is to define how to make a difference, find a voice and make it heard, and speak about the things that you believe matter and where they can matter.
“Ask yourself if your heart is in it. Then lean in. Be curious, don’t underestimate the value of communication.”
Drive to build knowledge and evolve
Parkler also hopes to see the Nordic region’s already solid life sciences industry thrive and grow. A strong research and innovation-driven environment and advanced production is fundamental for a solid life sciences footprint, according to Parkler.
“The drive to build knowledge and evolve needs to be ‘in the air, everywhere’.”
“We have this in the Nordic countries, although I can speak mostly for Sweden. This is nothing to take for granted, it needs investments to be sustained. Incentives and strong interest from the government are needed as well, not only for the companies, but for the whole ecosystem. There needs to be investment in strong and sustainable research environments. Broad, basic research is required, but also long-term research and innovation programs in clinical research, and not to be forgotten, the importance of healthcare that is world class where new technologies, treatments, medicines and vaccines are introduced. The drive to build knowledge and evolve needs to be ‘in the air, everywhere’.”
Among the ways to enable this is through access to health data for better care, building knowledge that yields real benefits for patients, and for research, including development of new innovative treatments, she says.
The same philosophy of growth and variety applies to Malin Parkler’s personal life as well.
“I hope to always be on a learning journey filled with joy, experiences, surprises, diverse perspectives and great people.”
“I want to keep my life rich and exciting, full of lifelong experiences and learning. I hope to always be on a learning journey filled with joy, experiences, surprises, diverse perspectives and great people. I believe I can make this happen by staying curious and broadening my internal as well as external network. I also hope that I will always be exploring what the next best version of me is,” she concludes.
2 X Malin Parkler
Family: Married, two daughters aged 18 and 16.
Interests: “Outdoor activities, such as skiing, running, mountain biking, kayaking and hiking. I love music, arts and cultural activities. I enjoy many things that give experiences to the body, mind and soul.”
Photographer/Copyright: Jenny Öhman/Nordic Life Science