When pondering the year ahead, most pharma execs set goals like "grow sales by 10%" or "launch product without incident." Then there's Shields, who says his goal for 2015 is "to more consistently use 'systems thinking'—applying a more holistic approach to solving complex problems—to the challenges with which I'm faced." Such high-minded ambition will come as no surprise to anyone who knows him well, of course. The 18-year healthcare vet has a well-earned rep as one of the industry's most thoughtful strategists and communicators.
While he describes his current role at AZ as "simply a problem solver," Shields has looked far and wide for answers to his questions. Discussing his recent exposure to healthcare systems outside the US, he says, "I think our industry needs to continue to adapt to the world around it. If we don't fundamentally change the way things are done—from the inside—then someone else will." Thus it should be no surprise that Shields even takes mild issue with the "disruption" premise of this feature. "The word seems to be spouted by every tech start-up seeking funding," he says. "I think it's lost its meaning, like 'innovation.' " —Larry Dobrow