Shilpa Shah-Mehta

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executive director of oncology marketing | Novartis


What would you do if you didn't work in healthcare?

As a biochemistry major in college, I have always been drawn to the sciences, particularly anatomy. The resilience of the human body has always fascinated me. I thought of pursuing a PhD in bioresearch. Before I went into pharma, I worked in a lab on a project to create artificial blood.

Caring for the human body, how to make people better, leveraging the body's resiliency – this is my calling, regardless of the role.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.

I was the marketing lead on a product with 25 years on the market that was facing competition for the first time. We put a plan into place fully expecting our market share to decline. I was thrilled when our year-end numbers told us that we not only avoided a decline, but we grew the product. For a treatment that was a quarter of a century old in a competitive environment for the first time, this was a truly victorious moment.

When was the last time you endured an “agony of defeat” moment? What did you learn from it?

While I tend to look at “defeats” as learning experiences, the last time I felt real agony was when I didn't get a job that I really wanted and for which I felt extremely qualified. After I beat myself up wondering what I could have done differently, I realized that things happen for a reason. Not getting the job allowed me to spend more time with my kids, not travel for work so much, and eventually find a job that was even better. Perceived defeats are temporary. I learned to focus on the long term and what is truly important.

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?

Last year I took my family on a tropical vacation and made sure I wasn't glued to my mobile devices. I made a commitment to only check my emails and messages a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening. If something was important, I delegated it. Aside from that, I was completely devoted to my family. We spent quality time at the pool and beach, and even took a helicopter ride with no doors. Being unplugged with my husband and kids while we were able to simply relax and enjoy our vacation was really rejuvenating.

What do you find frustrating about working in healthcare marketing?

Most frustrating for me is how the regulatory environment has changed since I first “carried the bag” when I started in pharma. While I certainly understand the value and importance of oversight, it has become extremely difficult to provide physicians access to critical information on a timely basis that could help treat patients more effectively. Our current regulations can paralyze us, but we have to look for solutions because it's the patients who suffer the consequences. At the end of the day, we have to remember the work we do helps patients and caregivers.

What are your words to live by?

Be content with who you are, but always aspire to be better. Always continue to set higher goals and improve who you are as a human being. Never stop learning, never stop sharing.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Make yourself a priority and take good care of yourself.  For a long time, my family came first, my job second and me third. It took me a while to understand that I couldn't do my best for my family or my colleagues if I wasn't on top of my game. When you take time for yourself, the time for others is infinitely better.

What is one thing you would tell women starting their careers in healthcare marketing?

Be authentic, be true to yourself, and don't try to be something you're not. It's too hard and doesn't get you anywhere. It's also critical to accept the fact that you have limitations, so don't feel the need to always apologize and create obstacles that don't exist. Seek solutions, not excuses.

Favorite drink? Champagne – life should be celebrated.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say as you enter? You did good. We've been waiting for you.

Attend the MM&M Hall of Femme summit in June in New York City to hear Shah-Mehta talk about leadership


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