Manifest Boston Change Maker: Meeta Gulyani

Head of Strategy, Business Development and Transformation, MilliporeSigma

Manifest Boston Change Maker Meeta Gulyani —Manifest Boston

Meeta Gulyani is Head of Strategy, Business Development and Transformation at MilliporeSigma. The life science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany operates as MilliporeSigma in the U.S. and Canada.  In this role, she leads the development of the sector strategy and strategy realization across the organization. She also searches out and delivers deals of value to enable the achievement of the life science strategy and growth ambition.

Gulyani was previously executive vice president and head of Strategy and Global Franchises for the biopharma business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. In this role, she was responsible for global business franchises, including Oncology, Neurology, Fertility, General Medicine & Endocrinology and Medical Devices, as well as key global functions.

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Prior to joining the company, Gulyani served as general manager for South Asia at Roche, and before that as vice president, head of Global Portfolio Management at Roche. Prior to Roche, she held several marketing and sales leadership positions of increasing responsibility within Sanofi-Aventis’s global and U.S. organizations. Gulyani also served as a strategy consultant with the Monitor Consulting Group based in Hong Kong and the United States.

Gulyani holds a Master of Business Administration from the Asian Institute of Management, Philippines, accompanied by an exchange program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Shri Ram College of Commerce at Delhi University in India.

Lindsay Gearheart: Tell me about your background and what brought you to MilliporeSigma.

Meeta Gulyani: It’s been quite an interesting journey. Lots of pivots, and as you’ll see, anything but linear. I started my career in fashion, and as much fun as I had in fashion during those early years, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for my entire career. I decided to retool a bit and went to business school to get a broader generalist perspective. From there, I joined strategy consulting. I was with an international strategy consulting firm for about five years, which is where I got hard-wired into my approach to strategy. 

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Then, as I was thinking through next steps, I had a couple of options. One of them was joining Aventis (now called Sanofi), a leader in the pharmaceutical industry. What drew me to it was that I had the chance to join an industry that was focused on improving and saving patients’ lives. That felt quite meaningful to me and like a great place to start my corporate journey. Fast forward, and I found myself in healthcare for about 15 years. 

Then about four years ago, I took another pivot and joined an adjacent sector, the life sciences industry. When this opportunity came my way, it was one of those moments where I felt I could not say no; it was a can’t-miss opportunity, especially for someone passionate about corporate strategy, business development, and most importantly, making a difference. At the time, our parent company, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, was acquiring Sigma-Aldrich, another major life science player, to augment our existing business in this sector. It was the largest acquisition in the history of our company and also the entire life sciences sector at the time. I felt this was a unique opportunity where I could play a key role in impacting not just my company but the sector as a whole.

In life sciences, we are a tools supplier, so we provide products and services to pharma, biotech, diagnostics, academia and other select industries. After my 15 years in healthcare, I recognized the important role life science plays in providing products and services that ultimately produce life-saving therapies. It was my notion that I could bring my experience in healthcare sector to bear in the life science industry to help address some of the most common challenges that impact bringing therapies to patients, just from a different angle. So, I jumped on the opportunity and it’s been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career. 

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LG: How do you see the role of strategy, business development, and transformation making a meaningful difference in an organization like MilliporeSigma?

MG: Having done strategy-type work in many companies, I have a very firm belief that the backbone of any successful company is a clearly articulated strategy that shapes decision making and is well understood and executed throughout the organization. In this case, we were acquiring a company and I had the chance to develop — along with the CEO and the leadership team, of course — the combined strategy of the two companies. I think one of the best things we did is that we had a strategy articulated for the combined company during the first six months post-closing. This strategy then helped us identify where we wanted to play, how we wanted to play, and where we wanted to focus our energy. The result is that today we have leading positions in many of the key segments that we play in. 

There were three important pillars to the strategy we developed. First, we needed to execute on the integration of Millipore and Sigma-Aldrich, because we had to deliver the value we promised to our internal and external stakeholders. Second, we sought to strengthen our core portfolios so that 1+1=3. Third, we wanted to capture future trends that could shape our industry and develop future pillars for growth.

Let me give you an example. As we were evaluating the trends for life science, we realized that cell and gene therapy is a promising, up-and-coming area of biomedical research and treatment for patients in key areas such as oncology. The reason the field is so promising is that these therapies are highly efficacious versus the current standard of care and could potentially be curative. As we assessed our newly combined organization, we realized that we had capabilities in this area scattered throughout the organization that we could pull together to meaningfully contribute to this space.  So we formed a dedicated team around cell and gene therapy. Fast forward, as more of these therapies are coming to the market, we are a leading supplier in this area. In fact, we were the provider for some of the tools that went into one of the first two therapies that were approved in this area. I think that’s a pretty good example of how strategy can make a difference.

I would also link it to the current COVID situation. When you go through your strategy, you ask yourselves what are your strengths, capabilities, and what do you want to augment? When you have a situation like this, you can then rapidly say, “How do I bring these strengths and capabilities to the table?” This approach has allowed us to respond quickly to this pandemic. 

LG: That leads well into one of the questions I have for you, which is, what are MilliporeSigma’s strengths when it comes to responding to a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic?

MG: It’s a great question, and I’ll give a few points on this. The first point is that our parent company, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has been around for more than 350 years. Needless to say, our company has weathered a lot of storms and plenty of ups and downs. And while this situation is quite unprecedented, we pride ourselves on having a long-term view where we can really think about our employees and the role we want to play in situations like this. 

The second point is that our life science organization is deeply rooted in our sense of purpose. Our purpose is that we want to solve the toughest problems in life science by collaborating with the global scientific community, all in an effort to accelerate access to health. If you break that apart, the COVID-19 situation is one of the toughest problems we’ve faced as a scientific community, and it’s certainly about providing access to the right research tools, diagnostics, and therapies. So this situation speaks to the heart of what we are about. I think our purpose has been a guiding factor here. 

Since we work quite deeply with the scientific community, we already have a network of collaborations and partnerships that we could very quickly leverage to start participating in this pandemic response. I’ll give two examples. The first one, right in our backyard, is MIT. We have recently partnered with the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and the MIT Community Biotechnology Initiative on a collaborative effort to address pandemic response. What’s cool about this is we’re going to crowdsource ideas and potential solutions that address critical areas of pandemic response. We are doing this by bringing together some of the top scientific minds from our company and the MIT network, but also the broader global scientific community. 

The second one is Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, which is one of the leading academic institutions working on nonprofit vaccine development. They have one of the leading vaccine candidates for COVID-19. We had already been working with them on developing a manufacturing platform, so when this pandemic hit, we were able to work with them to accelerate the development of the manufacturing process and potentially reduce the timeline by several months for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate – this is in a situation where every day, every week, every month matters. This is a clear example of how our commitment to collaborating with the scientific community is a clear strength not only in times like these, but in our overall mission to accelerate access to health. 

LG: Can you tell me a bit about MilliporeSigma’s approach to the fight against the virus and how you contribute to it in your role?

MG: Here, I’d say we began with a three-pronged approach. The first thing we had to ask ourselves: What are our guiding principles and do we all share them? That comes from the top, in particular our CEO and our leadership team. The second is: Do we all have the same set of assumptions and understanding of the situation? Are we all addressing it in a consistent manner? The third is: How do you operationally execute against a situation for the short, mid-, and long-term? Let me talk through each of the three.

We started with our guiding principles: First and foremost is the safety of our employees and our families. Second, we are focused on meaningfully contributing to this public health crisis, particularly in the key areas of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.  Third is business continuity, because our customers are relying on us and we need to ensure that we can meet our customer obligations both for the COVID situation AND for other situations. These were the guiding principles that we said we wanted to follow. Everyone across the company knows, understands and is grounded in these principles.

Then we asked, does everyone have the same scientific understanding of the situation, the epidemiology on how this pandemic is unfolding? Because as you can imagine, there’s so much information out there, we needed a common framework to ensure we were all working off the same set of assumptions. So we tasked some of our company experts to monitor and evaluate the status of the ongoing pandemic and they review it with the leadership team two to three times per week. With that common understanding, we formed a task force around this with different workstreams to address immediate needs like meeting the needs of our customers, supply continuity, effective communication, etc. 

Alongside this, we’re developing these mid-to-long-term scenarios. There’s not one way in which this pandemic may unfold. Nobody knows how it will unfold. So how do we get prepared for if there’s a resurgence, what would we need to do? What is the situation if there is no resurgence? What is the situation if this comes back in different geographies? I think with this very systematic approach, we’ve been able to focus our energy and attention on areas that are important.

LG: What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in your daily work since the start of the pandemic? Do these have any impact on your future directions?

MG: On a personal level, I think my colleagues and I are going through what many people are going through, which is figuring out how to work remotely and virtually. I think this is going to make us reflect a little bit on how collaboration is best done going forward, including how we’re meeting our customers. I think we’ll discover a new normal there, but I do miss the energy and in-person collaboration. 

If I shift to our business, I would say that we have been laser focused on ensuring the health and safety of our employees, including about half of our 22,000 employees who are continuing to work in the manufacturing sites, albeit on a different schedule and following stringent safety measures. The challenge there continues to be: How do we keep our employees safe, healthy, and connected? It goes back to our principles. 

We are deeply participating in this fight against COVID-19 by providing products and services that support virus detection, characterization, and vaccine and therapy production. The challenge here is to ensure that we can deliver these products and services to our customers so that we can continue to contribute to this public health situation. 

And lastly, when pandemic began, the other important, life-changing work that our customers are doing did not stop. That is why we our teams are hard at work maintaining business continuity and ensuring that we can continue to meet the needs of our customers who are, and are not, focused on COVID-19. 

And while this pandemic situation has presented these challenges, I am so proud of how our teams have responded.  For example, at each of our global sites, the teams have swiftly implemented stringent safety measures that prioritize the well-being of our employees, while allowing our manufacturing sites to remain operational. As a result, we have been able to play a key role in this fight against COVID-19. Our products and services are supporting the development of more than 25 testing solutions and over 45 different vaccine candidates, while continuing to deliver on our other priorities. 

For your question on the future, a lot of energy is focused on how we can do the best we can now, because so much depends on it. I would say that we are now starting to think through what this means for the future. As a tools provider, we are already looking into what some of the new emerging technologies are that could make a difference in how research and manufacturing is done. These could ultimately lead to better therapies coming faster to market or coming at a lower cost. For us, this is our purpose in action.


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