Q & A with Shannon te Roller, General Manager of Mundipharma SA

1. Tell us about yourself and Mundipharma SA

In September 2011 Mundipharma commenced operations in South Africa. I joined the fledgling company as a Sales Manager in 2012 along with a handful of other employees and have been privileged to be part of growing the company to what it is today.  Mundipharma South Africa is part of the Mundipharma network of independent associated companies which cover the world’s pharmaceutical markets.  We have a diverse range of innovative products for patients and customers focused on OTC products, ophthalmology and pain.  

I have been in the pharmaceutical industry for 16 years and before that, I worked as a town planner for 6 years.

Image: Shannon te Roller, General Manager of Mundipharma SA

2. Having originally started your career in Town and Regional Planning, was it a big adjustment moving onto the pharmaceutical industry?

It was like moving to a different planet, not only in terms of being a completely different industry but the nature of people and jargon were worlds apart.  It took an immense mind-shift and learning agility to navigate the differences in the first few months.

3. Women must have role models at the start of their careers. Who has been your source of inspiration and why?

The answer to that question is not obvious.   The source of my daily inspiration is my childhood.  I was brought up by a single mom who had incredible potential to be a career journalist, but life’s circumstances landed her in a position that she was not able to pursue this avenue – invariably being ‘trapped’ by the limitations of her education and means.  Growing up was a continual financial struggle with her just literally surviving from paycheck to paycheck.  I was determined to get a strong education and provide a platform in my life that would allow me more choices and resources, a platform to have the best chance to reach my full potential.

4. What were the benefits, if any, of being a representative at first before moving up the ladder?

There are so many incredible benefits of being a medical representative for originator brands. 

•    The training gives you significant insight into the disease areas for which your products are relevant

•    The ability to articulate complex clinical and business terminology

•    Lessons in how to effectively communicate to a vast variety of personalities

•    You get to understand the inner workings of the industry that extensively inform the marketing / promotional needs of a product

•    You need to be self-motivated, focused, driven and forward-thinking to be successful amongst all your competitors – need to dig very deep through all the negative come-backs and obstacles

5. If any, what challenges have you experienced as a woman in business during your overall career?

There are so many to name, but overarching would be an inherent cultural mindset that has been instilled over generations that a woman is not as business savvy as a man and therefore your comments, suggestions, and efforts can very often be overlooked.   You have to work that much harder, prove your worth and that much more before you get their audience and respect.  Working with many men over the years from various countries, I am confident that there are many places in the world where this mindset has changed significantly and where they value the diversity to the business world that women bring.  We still have a significant way to go if one considers that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap (The World Economic Forum’s 2018 gender gap report). This can only be achieved if more women in leadership are actively disproving out-dated beliefs and inspiring young girls that they can expect more from themselves and their lives.

6. Why is gender balance and having a more diverse workforce important, especially in senior management teams?

Gender diversity is essential, in my view, to bring balance into an organization and one of the single strongest ways of optimizing an organizations culture.  It brings different perspectives and approaches to the business and can spark creativity and innovation.  McKinsey showed that most-gender diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. 

7. Are there processes in place to aspiring female employees within Mundipharma SA to further their careers?

There is no bias in terms of access to opportunities for either men or women. This is the most critical part – everyone has an equal opportunity! We really look at who is the right person for the job and then provide as much support as possible to allow them to be a success in their role, this could be from training to flexible of office hours to accommodate family demands.  Our organization is 60% female with 60% of the executive leadership team being female.  This has not been through active policies to recruit or favor women over men but just allowing a neutral playing field for access to these opportunities.

8. What one piece of advice would you give any aspiring female business leaders reading this?

Don’t ever under-estimate what you can bring to any business or situation – you have a voice – don’t be afraid to use it!  Tenacity and hard work are two qualities that have never let anyone down, but these are underpinned by a deep-seated belief in oneself – believe you can and you shall!