Q&A with Takeda HR Director Shirley Joscelyne

We speak to Shirley about why she made the change from marketing to HR so late in her career.

Shirley Joscelyne is the HR director of pharmaceutical company Takeda, but she is relatively new to the profession. Until six years ago, Shirley was a sales and marketing expert who began her pharmaceutical career as a sales representative, which led to marketing and senior management positions for various pharmaceutical companies. Two decades later, she became the head of sales and marketing for the same organisation she now represents as the head of HR. CHRO South Africa sat with her to find out how and why she made such a massive career change.

How did you come to make the switch from marketing to HR so late in your career?

My previous MD, who I worked with for 14 years, knew me well from our time together at my previous company Janssen, where I was the head of the Women’s Health Franchise. I later joined Takeda (previously Nycomed) as the Head of Sales and Marketing and, after a couple of years, he asked me to think about switching from marketing to become the HR director. His rationale was that having a Head of HR that really understood the business would be an advantage in supporting the business strategy and that I was perfect for the role. At first, I thought he was joking and I didn't give the idea much thought. Three weeks later he told me that he was really serious and that I was the only person he was considering for the role. It was only after it occurred to me that I had achieved much in the commercial role and therefore thought maybe a new challenge wouldn't be such a bad idea. So I took the plunge and haven't looked back since.

I have to say, I have enjoyed the ride. For someone like me that enjoys interacting with people and loves learning, it has been an experience I would never change. It has reinvigorated my career and given me the drive to achieve the same level of success as before.

I’m very proud of the fact that under my HR leadership Takeda has achieved the Top Employer certification for the last three years, which recognises best practice in employee offerings against global benchmarks. For the 2019 certification, we were the top pharmaceutical company and in the Top Ten companies overall in South Africa.

You had no formal training in HR so how did you manage the transition to a completely new profession?

It was a transition from an operational role to a more strategic one but it wasn't that difficult for me because, at the time, we had introduced a new reporting line into Dubai and the Head of HR there, who has been my HR mentor, guided me through the whole process. She included me on key regional HR projects and advised me on what kind of learning programmes to do to get the accreditation that I needed. It was a very fast learning curve but I enjoyed every minute of it. Also, there were enough HR specialists within my team that I could rely on to get me up to speed on the detailed administration requirements of “everything HR”.  

What was mildly challenging for me was the mindset change that was required because I was no longer dealing with key commercial customers and other external stakeholders. With HR being a support function, I had to remember to keep my focus on the internal workings of the business. Instead of directly generating revenue for the business, my role became one of providing the structure and organisational framework that is conducive to supporting business success. I do sometimes miss interacting with key opinion leaders and some aspects of working in the front end of the business but I still don’t have any regrets. 

Did your previous experience give you an advantage as you took on a completely different role?

Definitely. Especially in the sense that it has given me credibility when engaging with people on the commercial side of the business. They respect the fact that I understand their role and the market dynamics because I have had considerable commercial experience. It also meant they appreciated my understanding and contribution in supporting the development of projects like sales incentive plans, for example.

Also, when I speak to the various departments like the marketing and medical teams about their employee propositions and human capital and L&D requirements, I understand their needs and that has gained me increased credibility. When it comes to compensation and benefits, I have a good grasp of how they need to be structured because I understand exactly what the job entails. 

How have people within the organisation responded to such a major role change? Surely it couldn't have been easy for them to stop relying on you for the leadership you provided under your previous role?

Well, it's been six years now so everybody has their head around the fact that I now deal specifically with HR issues. But you're right in that, in the beginning, I had to be conscious of how I managed my time because many people would still ask me to assist with tasks or sit in meetings to offer value gained from my experience as a marketing leader, but I had to learn to say "no, that is not within the ambit of HR". I quickly realised that I wouldn't be doing my role justice if I agreed to everything so I had to draw a line in the sand and redirect my focus tn the HR function. 

What are you planning strategically within HR for 2019?

We have just completed a major acquisition globally so we are about to embark on the integration process that will include integration of different systems, people and functions. It will be quite a challenging project but exciting at the same time.