Jacqui Hall has risen up the career ladder in the rapidly changing pharmaceutical and biotech industry, negotiating multiple roles, mergers and takeovers.
She is also, like a growing number of women, facing multiple caring demands. Not only does she have two children, but her elderly parents are becoming more physically frail.
When she started her career she was focused on clinical research, doing three years at Schering Plough learning the nuts and bolts after graduating in chemistry.
Now she is Vice President, Learning, Standards and Insights at MedImmune, a role she grew herself, and is responsible for a team of 33 across the UK and US supporting policies, standards and training for around 2,000 staff working in R & D.
To get to that role has involved a circuitous route. After Schering Plough, she moved to PPD, a contract research organisation, as clinical project manager/senior clinical research associate. It was a more business-focused environment than she was used to and it made her realise that she preferred research and development. While there, she was responsible for the successful initiation and completion of the UK component of a large multicentre study in Generalised Anxiety Disorder run by SmithKlineBeecham and, after two years at PPD, she moved over to SmithKlineBeecham as a senior clinical scientist in 1994. She stayed there for 12 years through its merger with Glaxo, switching along the way from clinical research to project managing drug development, mainly for gastro-intestinal drugs. She led large multidisciplinary teams which were responsible for everything from the early laboratory stages of drug development to late clinical trials and commercialisation.
In 2000, she got married and in 2002 had her first daughter. When she returned she used her holiday so she went back initially on a four-day week. She could not afford to go part time as she was the main breadwinner. She soon realised that it was impossible to do her job in four days and went back to full time.
Three years later, she went on her second maternity and found herself being headhunted to set up a project management group in a medium-sized biotech company in Cambridge, Cambridge Antibody Technology. “They seemed very forward looking and impressive,” she said, “and the project I had been working on before my maternity leave was finished.” She got the job, but had to return to GlaxoSmithKline after Christmas 2006 to work her notice. A week in, however, the company was bought by AstraZeneca and Jacqui wondered if she had done the right thing. In the event, everything was fine. AstraZeneca then bought the biotechnology firm MedImmune in 2007.
Large changes in the structure of the organisation came as a result. A new CEO was brought in, the company rapidly grew from 350 when Jacqui joined to 600. Jacqui’s role changed hugely. She had been leading a team managing drug development projects. When AstraZeneca bought MedImmune the new Chief Medical Officer saw what her team was doing and said MedImmune needed something similar. Jacqui was tasked with setting up and developing a new group of product development team leaders for all MedImmune projects. In 2011, following a reorganisation in AstraZeneca her group was redeployed and she was offered a permanent rather than transitional role setting up a training group across the whole organisation. Jacqui inherited a small team who were doing training in the clinical part of the organisation. She grew this to a team of over 30, covering all training for MedImmune, including science and technical skills, compliance, soft skills, scientific information and policies and standards. Her role also has an external facing element as a scientific ambassador for MedImmune in Cambridge.
As she is fairly senior now she says she has a certain degree of flexibility over how she organises her time. She has to go to the US for several days every six to eight weeks, but she can work from home if she needs and is able to. She says the trips to the US are not something she looks forward to family-wise. She feels “like my heart is being ripped out”, she says, and things don’t tend to run as smoothly when she is not there, although she describes her husband as “brilliant”. On normal days, she tries to get back in time for homework most nights, unless there is an evening event, and hardly ever works at weekends unless it is unavoidable. Instead she often works on weekday evenings when the children are in bed, but is careful not to burn the candle at both ends.
She attributes her recent career rise in part to “brilliant childcare”. She used nurseries when she was based at GlaxoSmithKline. Then she developed a long-lasting relationship with a local childminder who is now almost part of the family and helps out in the holidays. “Her children grew up with mine,” says Jacqui. She now has a wonderful part-time nanny.
However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. When the children started school, Jacqui hired a full-time nanny at first, which didn’t work out. After 18 months the family had to make her redundant and Jacqui and her husband tried to make everything work between them for a year. Jacqui was between jobs at the time after her position at the helm of the project leaders team had finished. Her husband was able to flex his hours so he could pick the children up from school and her next door neighbour helped out as her daughter went to the same school.
But after a while it became too stressful so Jacqui rang a nanny agency and got the perfect nanny. “We had Mary Poppins for a year,” she says. “It was fantastic. We only parted with her because she set up her own business.” Their current nanny doesn’t work a full week because Jacqui and her husband want to ensure they pick up the children, now aged nine and 12, at least one day a week. Both are at the same school, which covers primary as well as secondary age groups.
Like many women of her generation, Jacqui is facing not only childcare issues, but also elder care ones. Her parents are in their 80s and, although they live fairly nearby, it is far enough away that she cannot just pop in on them. They have both developed health problems, but her biggest concern is their loneliness. “They are both housebound and there is a tremendous sense of guilt about seeing them as often as possible,” she says.
Although Jacqui says the pharmaceutical industry is quite female dominated and “more enlightened” than many when it comes to the kind of issues many families – and particularly women – face these days, she would like to help support other women in the healthcare sector and thinks more needs to be done to change the mindset on flexible working. She is a mentor and is trying to get together a Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association group in Cambridge. MedImmune sponsored a recent HBA event in Cambridge where Jacqui spoke about her career.
By speaking out about her own experiences and encouraging others to do so she hopes to give a realistic picture of the issues many women face as they try to make their way in the industry.