Belén Garijo, Merck KGaA

Belén Garijo
From bedside to boardroom

Company: Merck KGaA
Title: CEO of Merck Healthcare

A doctor who entered the Spanish workforce among an oversupply of medical graduates, Belén Garijo practiced medicine for 6 years before joining the pharma industry. There was a "very high output of physicians that couldn't get jobs easily," she told The Wall Street Journal in a 2014 interview. So, she looked for other avenues to continue helping patients.

"I saw [pharmaceuticals] as an opportunity to continue to develop myself and serve the patients from a different place," she told the newspaper.

But while the capacity in which she serves patients has changed, her fundamental approach has not. Her experience as a physician has influenced her management style, as CEO first of Merck Serono, and beginning in January this year, CEO of Merck Healthcare.

"I look at the business as I used to look at my patients. I recognize the symptoms. I go to the root cause to treat my business," Garijo said.

She started out as medical director at Abbott's ($ABT) Spanish affiliate and then moved to Abbott headquarters in Illinois as director of international medical affairs. In 1996, she joined Rhône-Poulenc Rorer in Spain as director of the oncology business unit. Following Rhône-Poulenc's merger with Hoechst AG to form Aventis, Garijo then served as global vice president of oncology for the new company in New Jersey.

2003 saw her return to Spain, where she became the general manager of Sanofi-Aventis and led the merger in 2004. From there, she moved on to Paris, trading in Spain for all of Europe as she became Sanofi's ($SNY) senior vice president of global operations Europe. Garijo oversaw Sanofi's acquisition of Genzyme as its global integration leader.

In 2011, Garijo joined Merck KGaA as chief operating officer, before rising to president and CEO in less than three years. And barely a year later, she was named CEO of Merck Healthcare, which encompasses its biopharma, consumer health, allergopharma and biosimilars divisions.

When it comes to developing managerial expertise, Garijo brushes aside the idea of a "magic recipe."

"I learned by making mistakes. I learned by taking risks. I learned by consulting with others. I don't think it's a magic recipe, but you know, just being aware of what do you do well and what can you do better?" she told the WSJ. "I think self-awareness is actually something that's super important. You have to be very self-confident because you have to give this confidence to others every day. But at the same time, if you cross the line of going from self-awareness and self-confidence to egocentrism, then you lose it." -- Amirah Al Idrus (email)

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Belén Garijo, Merck KGaA