Finding The Right Chemistry

Sarah Harrison's formula for success

Sarah Harrison
AGE: 50
TITLE: Vice President, Customer Strategy Integration
COMPANY: AstraZeneca
EDUCATION: B.S., Southern University; M.B.A., The University of Houston
MARITAL STATUS: Married with four children
Courage and forward thinking, despite skepticism from family and colleagues, were instrumental in Sarah Harrison making the transition in 1989 from the technical to the commercial aspect of pharmaceuticals for AstraZeneca, one of the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world with over $16.4 billion in global sales. Named vice president, customer strategy integration in August 2001, her basic charge today is to develop and implement strategies to optimize the sales and profit of all products sold to Medicare, Medicaid, and other government-sponsored healthcare programs.

FYI: Looking back on a 25-year career with AstraZeneca, Harrison is a long way from the red soil of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she completed her undergraduate studies at Southern University. She studied chemistry and took pre-med classes, undecided on whether to pursue medicine. She began her career as a production chemist for Union Carbide Corp. in Texas City in 1973.

By the time she completed her M.B.A. in 1986, Harrison, then a process engineer for ICI Agricultural Products in Baylor, Texas, was married with three children. She had solidified a good technical reputation within ICI when she decided to accept the position of business manager, healthcare contracts and planning. The following year, ICI became Zeneca, and Harrison led her company in strategically building relationships with new customers. It was a marketing approach that other pharmaceutical companies snubbed but would later follow. In 1999, Zeneca merged with Astra AB, a Swedish company, and Harrison was appointed vice president, managed healthcare and national accounts, where she was responsible for national accounts sales, marketing, and contract operations.

Proudest Career Moment: “I was part of the leadership that integrated the two companies that formed AstraZeneca. We transformed it into a pure pharmaceutical business. I was a key player in developing the strategic direction for the company, and helping to prioritize the portfolio.”

Greatest Professional Challenge: “In the mid-1990s, managed care was emerging and flexing its power within the healthcare industry. Our business, at the time, didn’t quite understand the implications of this new, emerging customer on the pharmaceutical business. I led the effort to understand it, to interpret the trend, and to help the company develop a strategy that would help us to be successful in the future while working with these large customers.”

Advice to Corporate Ladder Climbers: o Take on broad areas of responsibility. Don’t limit your experiences.

  • Accept assignments, even if they’re just short-term, and leadership roles that will provide high-level visibility.
  • Be a key player and have a global mindset. Take on a global assignment, or work on a team that has a global initiative as early in your career as possible.

For more information, visit www.astra zeneca.com.

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