“There’s a world of difference between high achieving and perfection”
Jeannette is Senior Director for the manufacturing, technology and science group at Teva API, overseeing process improvements, including the introduction of new technology and products. Here she discusses her globetrotting role and why you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room to be a good leader.
I’ve tried to explain what I do to my mom and dad. The simplest thing to say is that I make medicines. My husband also works for Teva, in the Quality function so I joke that I make it and he checks it.
There is no typical day for me. My role involves a lot of interaction with people scattered across the globe. We could be trouble-shooting a process or trying to understand new technologies and processes so our plant can continue to deliver growth. No two days are the same.
I spend about half of my time travelling to Teva sites across the world. I just got back from our facility in Mexico, where I was meeting with the site operations team to check we have the right capability and capacity to meet our targets.
I may not be the smartest chemist or engineer. That said, it’s my job to ensure that my team are the best chemists and engineers. If there's a problem then we need to fix it, or if there's an opportunity to optimize or improve, we look at that. It’s a mix of leadership and technical skills.
I’m not here to provide my team with the answers. They need to find them out for themselves, but I do have to be technically competent to be able to guide and support them. Leadership is about getting to know the team and understanding what makes them tick. You need to find out what’s going well and where they’re facing challenges. If I can be empathetic and agile - as well as have a healthy perspective of what’s important, and what is less so – then I can foster an environment of trust, which is so important.
I strove for perfection when I was younger. You realize there’s a world of difference between high-achieving and perfection. You’ll never attain perfection so it ends up holding you back.
I worked for my last company for 21 years. I started there after university, learned my trade there, and grew up. For me to leave there was uncomfortable, unnerving and frightening. At the time my husband and I were working in different countries and we’d decided it was time to be back under the same roof.
Moving from the UK was an emotional wrench, but the best thing I’ve ever done. My husband was offered a job in Dublin and I just couldn’t see it happening and refused to talk about it. But since then we’ve had a great experience living and working in three different countries. Now I live in Amsterdam which is an amazing city… very frenetic. So, yes, moving was a wrench, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
When I did my degree there were relatively few women in my class. Very few of my school friends chose to do science. There are still more men than women in science and engineering but I do think that’s changing. I’d find it strange if other people thought it weird that there’s a woman in this role.
The best advice I ever received was to focus on what’s important. A head of operations at my previous company told me that when things are going wrong, when you’re in a crisis situation, it’s easy to become flustered and distracted by the political noise that’s circling around you. He taught me to stay focused on what’s important.
My mom always told me that we should treat people as we would like to be treated ourselves. I don’t think you can go far wrong with that advice. The chancellor at my university encouraged us to keep a sense of perspective - whatever we do, it’s just a job. Friends and family will be with you for a lifetime.
In any job you need to be true to yourself. My advice to other women in this industry would be not to pretend you’re something you’re not.
Jack de Graaf
Jack heads up Teva’s Environment, Health and Safety function in Europe. It’s his job to make sure the company’s many European factories, research and development sites, and offices are all safe to work in, so that anyone who enters one of our facilities in the morning will leave safely by the end of the day.