Amgen CEO Bob Bradway spoke by video conference on July 29 with the company’s approximately 180 summer interns and co-ops as part of the internship program’s Summer Executive Speaker Series. He shared his perspectives on Amgen’s business, the company’s responses to COVID-19 and societal protest against racial injustice, and his own experience and learnings as Amgen’s CEO. He also offered several pieces of career and life advice.
Noting that it is an especially exciting time to work in biotechnology, Bradway urged his listeners to consider pursuing careers in the biotechnology industry. He observed that healthcare will be a huge growth area in coming years as populations continue to age and become more susceptible to diseases associated with the aging process, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Advances in human genetics and immuno-oncology, where Amgen has particular expertise, are raising the prospect of meaningful improvements and even cures for people living with cancer and other diseases. Bradway highlighted unmet need in neurodegenerative disease, expressing hope that Amgen’s capabilities in human genetics might eventually enable the company to make meaningful progress in that area.
Asked about the most pressing challenges facing Amgen, Bradway cited the need to continue supplying every patient, every time (something at which Amgen excels but where other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies have struggled); to find new ways of interacting virtually with prescribers when face-to-face engagement isn’t possible; and to have the courage to continue investing huge sums in high-risk research and development of new medicines. The interns had many questions about what attracted Bradway from finance to biotechnology, how he approaches his responsibilities as CEO, and what he has learned in that role. “There’s something special about devoting your life’s work to helping people live longer and healthier lives,” said Bradway. As CEO, he added, “my success depends largely on the quality of the people around me. I’ve focused on recruiting, developing, and retaining the best people I can find. I’ve also learned that with a more diverse group of people joining me around the table, we make better decisions.”
Asked what challenges he has confronted in leading Amgen during the coronavirus pandemic, Bradway noted that “COVID-19 has taught us that even when you think you’ve got it all figured out, nature humbles us. For me and CEOs from other companies and industries, COVID-19 is the great equalizer. We’re all trying to figure it out together.” He added, “my heart goes out to all of you who are trying to complete your education at this very disruptive time.”
Here are five career and life tips he shared:
- Don’t wait to make a difference
“Life is not a dress rehearsal, and all of us get only one shot. If you’ve got a good idea, don’t lose time pursuing it, and if you find something that needs to be changed, help to drive that change.” The greatest lie we tell ourselves, Bradway observed, “is that we have infinite quality time remaining. Get off the starting blocks as fast as you can.”
- Find a position in a company (and industry) doing meaningful work
“At Amgen, we do things every day that really matter, that improve people’s lives. It’s special being associated with a company that has such an important mission.”
- Stay curious and never stop learning
“If you’re working on something that matters, staying curious is easy – it’s inherently interesting to you. I encourage you all to be lifelong learners. However much you think you understand, many things will change during your life.”
- Have confidence in yourself
“Knowing that other people had confidence in me inspired me to have confidence in myself, and that helped to open new opportunities for me.”
- Don’t be afraid to take on challenges for which you might not be ready
“My predecessor and the Board asked me to take on the job of CEO before I was ready, but one is never fully prepared for such a responsibility. Amgen’s best people are those who perform when they are stretched. All of us do better when we take on responsibilities before we are fully ready for them.”