Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Interview With Dawn Von Rohr

About Dawn

Dawn Von Rohr was named Curia’s Senior Vice President of Strategy in March 2017. She leads Curia’s strategic planning process, developing and influencing Curia’s strategy, and overseeing the execution of corporate strategic initiatives. Dawn joined Curia, formerly AMRI, in 2016 as Senior Vice President, Head of API and later served as Senior Vice President, API Operations. Prior to Curia, she was Vice President and General Manager of the global API business unit at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. She has held senior roles in business development and marketing as well as research and development.

Dawn holds a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Washington University. She served as an extended board member of DCAT from 2013-2015.


What is the one piece of advice that you would give to women in the Pharma Industry that will help them become better leaders?

  • Take the challenge – step outside the “been there, done that” comfort zone. Through my career, I’ve had the opportunity to experience research and development roles, full commercialization roles, direct line P&L ownership, support function leadership. Also, I had the opportunity to actively manage outside my geographic area and manage global teams. I wasn’t the expert when I started the role. I made mistakes. I learned and because I took the challenge, I developed as a stronger, well rounded leader. Challenging yourself will definitely expose you to new perspectives and enhance your ability to effectively communicate across a broad spectrum of individuals.

What risks have you taken in your career that have paid off?

  • My biggest career risk was disrupting the norm of operations and changing the strategy to transform a business. We converted a global business from a cost leader strategy to a more value-add strategy and hence, made the business much more sustainable in the future with solid investments at our operational sites. Going against the grain is never easy, particularly when the business has been successful in the past. I had many challenges thrown at me when transitioning a business. I clearly remember a leader at the time not wanting to change and hence, was not engaged. The transition would have been significantly easier had this leader joined forces and embraced a transition. It forced me to collaborate across a wider network to gain more credibility in the transition. I found that using fact-based knowledge, influencing others, and having the personal confidence to try something new made all the difference.

What do you wish that you knew early in your career that would have been helpful?

  • A successful, satisfying career can happen while being a fantastic mom. I believe mothers with demanding careers all go through a similar emotion of wondering if they can balance it all. I recall my years of child daycare and questioning if all that time away from my children was unhealthy. A fantastic friend and doctor told me, “It is quality of the time together, not quantity.”  And so I live that way, being in the moment you are and appreciating the time you do have together.  Also, I have surprisingly found colleagues and managers are incredibly supportive of balancing life and work. Just recently, my boss told me not to miss my daughter’s school event and leave the Board meeting early. No worries. No backlash for doing so.  There’s an entire network of colleagues, many successful mothers and fathers, who can share their experiences and support. Just ask.

How have opportunities for women in the Pharma Industry changed over time?

  • Admittedly, the industry has more room for growth, but opportunities for women over the last 20+ years of my career have expanded significantly.  Specifically, I have seen the transition that women’s voices are more heard, from local day-to-day cross-functional meetings to Board meetings.  The Pharma Industry has a more diverse employee base and has embraced the value of listening and gathering diverse opinions to come to better decisions.  That being said, the industry has a long way to go, with a recent article reporting fewer women in positions higher on the corporate ladder1:  an analysis showing only 8% of CEOs from the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry Index as well as 14 publicly traded pharmaceutical companies were female.  I do believe that many companies realize the potential to improve performance and drive innovation with more diversity.  The challenge is getting there at a faster pace.
    Source1:  Business Insider “Men fill more than 9 in 10 biopharma CEO positions, an inequity that costs women more than $500M in pay each year”  Shelby Livingston and Andrew Dune, June 30, 2021.

What role has mentoring played in your career, either as a mentor, mentee, or both?

  • Informal and formal mentoring has been a critical factor in the success of my career.  I am very grateful to the mentors that gave their time and constructive criticism in guiding me and expanding my career.  I would not underestimate the importance of informal mentors.  Meaning, one does not need to wait for a formal company program to find a mentor.  I have found that taking the initiative on my own has been absolutely invaluable.  I took the liberty of talking to my colleagues and asking my management their opinions on topics directly related to help become a stronger leader in the company and in the industry.    More rewarding to me has been those opportunities that I could mentor others.  When I was General Manager of a business, I was asked to mentor a Sales leader who aspired to run a business.  Great mentoring is an interchange of ideas that truly benefit both individuals.  In this situation, we had fantastic discussions from balancing the needs of clients to managing the costs within a P&L statement.  I am happy to say my mentee did go on to successfully run a multimillion-dollar business later in his career.  Mentoring has been one of the most satisfying parts of my career:  the ability to coach and help others develop and find rewarding experiences within their professional career.