Jennifer Riggs, VP of Chemistry at Nektar Therapeutics, is driven by passion for making an impact; by improving the lives of the people seeking the medicines her company provides; and, an impact through supporting and developing each of her team members of 25 scientists. Leading a team of that size in the hyper-specialized biopharma industry can present unique challenges. Riggs’ leadership philosophy, honed over several decades as a manager, has helped her identify top talent and build cohesive teams. Below she shares her top 4 leadership “musts,” applicable for all industries:
Hire people smarter than you
“To run a successful organization you need to hire people to fill your gaps. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and I hire people that complement me and other team members. And that builds a very strong foundation.”
Keep employees challenged
Scientists are naturally inquisitive and curious, the last thing you want is a scientist doing routine work. So I engage their creative and innovative spirit and allow them to explore their own ideas, whether it’s a new medicine or new capability, or championing a particular product. I’m looking for people that have the learning agility to come out of their comfort zone, and learn things that are necessary for their success in the whole global organization not just their function.”
Address Conflict and Resolve it Efficiently
“Dealing with conflict is something I take very seriously, you have to deal with it immediately, because you don’t want those sentiments and behaviors to fester. So I try to keep a high level of engagement and trust by addressing issues as soon as they arise.”
“Leaders must show their authentic, true selves to their teams. You set the example and lead by example. You can’t have quality work without a safe and trusting environment, and the way to build that safe and trusting environment is to show your true self, show care and empathy for each individual and for the organization as a whole.”
Riggs has practiced what she preached, keeping herself challenged and learning outside of her comfort zone by undergoing a rigorous curriculum in the Certificate of Business Excellence program at Berkeley Executive Education. She sought the certificate to gain the acumen she felt she needed in core business principles, particular business drivers for intrapreneurship.
“I wanted to be able to understand the finances, innovation, business plan, strategy, competitive landscape and funding,” says Riggs. “The program allowed me to choose courses that were very relevant to my current job, the major gaps that I feel that I had at the time, so I was able to choose the program that was able to benefit me in specific ways.”
In 2015, Riggs completed the required 25 days of curriculum, but was so energized by her learning experience, she enrolled in several more courses at Berkeley ExecEd. “It wasn’t a stuffy classroom, it was interactive, and it pushes you. And that’s what career growth is all about, pushing you to your limits and challenging you intellectually. The whole program was valuable, it was life changing for me. I felt that I could go back to work and start applying these things that I’ve learned. Being able to tap into expertise in the Bay area and Silicon Valley -- what is expected of entrepreneurs, what do they look for -- it’s very helpful if you have the aspirations to start your own venture.”
Jennifer Riggs embodies the values of the Berkeley Leader and, in particular, the Haas defining principle of “student always.” Berkeley Executive Education is proud to call her alumni of the Exec Ed Certificate of Business Excellence program.
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