Chris McCourt: Mentors, motivation and women in pharma

As Chris McCourt, Global Sales Excellence Lead, Respiratory, AstraZeneca, celebrates three decades in industry, we ask her about mentors, motivation, and encouraging more women into pharma.

What brought you to a career in pharma?

I always had an interest in healthcare and people. My Dad was a vet and from a young age I was exposed to seeing how medicines can help eliminate symptoms and disease. When I met my husband, who’s a pharmacist, he suggested I combine my passion for people and health and entered our industry. It really was that simple and I have never looked back. 

What have been your key career achievements?

I celebrate 30 years in industry in 2018 and have worked in every sales and market access role and won academies six times. The biggest leap for me was moving from GSK to AZ in 2001, it was at this point that I realised I could be more ambitious because people believed in me and that gave me confidence.

Do you have any mentors who had a significant effect on your career?

I have had many influencers but there are two people who stand out. The first was Chris Brinsmead who at the time was our Company President at AZ. He gave me my first line manager position to test me; two years later Karl Hamer supported my move to second line management – a job I loved and thrived on.

What do you love most about your work?

I recently took another role to stretch myself and I am now a Global Sales Excellence Lead at AZ. This job allows me to share my passion across the globe for the impact that Sales Excellence can have, not only on our sales teams and managers, but the outputs of that mean that more patients get appropriate access to the right medicines. I love that I not only get to coach and motivate people, but the output is better healthcare.

How do you spend your time out of the 9 to 5?

I live in Ayr, Scotland. I love to walk with friends and our golden doodle Molly on the beach. As I work away in Cambridge through the week or am travelling, my weekends find me cooking for friends and family in the kitchen. These simple things restore my equilibrium and get me ready for the week ahead.

Do women have enough opportunities to succeed in pharma?

I am fortunate that I have been surrounded by many women role models and they have inspired me – starting with my Mum. I think our industry is unlike many I read about and I am proud that we have a great balance. My advice is to stretch yourself and own your development. This is a generous industry so be curious about your options.

How can young women be encouraged to pursue a career in the industry?

As the mother of two daughters at university this is an important question. My eldest is currently trying, as a postgraduate, to secure her first pharma role. She has watched what our industry has done for me and is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for her. I believe industry should invest more as part of milk rounds at university and offer apprenticeships as many do not realise the potential and scope of our industry.

This summer, through the leadership of my line manager Scott, our global business will welcome four interns to work at AZ and three are women; this has all been on merit. They will complete a variety of projects that will support our business and I hope when they finish their degrees we will see them back in our business. Mentoring is so important and we should start an industry movement to achieve just that.

What developments in AstraZeneca’s pipeline hold the most promise for respiratory patients?

Despite our best efforts, many respiratory patients still live a symptomatic life.  Getting them to comply with their medication is a critical part; integrated patient solutions to support this are well in development and research shows that in combination, patients fare better. For severe patients, biologics can provide a better quality of life in a unique way and as for the future? Maybe cures are on the horizon.

What does your professional future hold? 

I want to excel at my new role as I love learning and feel that the capabilities I have are transferable. People are my passion and developing a talent pipeline to match a drug pipeline at the right time would be a goal. I am also interested in how we capture the DNA of our most successful people so that can help us recruit and retain the best.