Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Interview With Grace Breen

About Grace

Grace Breen was named Senior Vice President of Quality at SCA Pharma in 2017. She’s responsible for leading a Quality Culture transformation in a compounding pharmacy business as it grows into a pharmaceutical-grade outsourcing company. Her team oversees the quality of compounded medications supplied to hospitals throughout the U.S. Grace previously held global quality leadership roles at Impax, Hospira, and Catalent.

Grace holds a postgraduate diploma in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland; an M.S. in Chemistry from Dublin City University, Ireland; and a B.S. in Chemistry from University College Cork, Ireland. She is a Qualified Person (QP) under EU law.

Grace serves on the FDA/Xavier Pharmalink Strategic Committee working to find innovative solutions for product quality challenges in the global supply chain.


What career risks did you take that have paid off?  

  • I moved from Ireland to the U.S. mid-career. I was asked to take on a challenging assignment at short notice and I thought, why not? There were unknowns and risks, but they presented a learning opportunity which I felt was worth taking. The assignment paid off; I grew in the process, understood and better appreciated cultural differences, broadened my horizons, and developed an appreciation for the global pharmaceutical business. The experience put me on a path to subsequent senior global roles. While the assignment was temporary, it led to a permanent move to the U.S. and I have enjoyed being here ever since.

Is there any specific training / education that you found helpful in your career development?

  • Training to be a Qualified Person (QP) early in my career was one of the key elements of my development as a Quality professional. A QP is legally responsible for certifying that each batch of medicinal product is suitable for release in the EU. My QP training taught me that my Quality decisions needed to be grounded in data, but that I could also draw upon gut feeling. It taught me personal accountability, a trait that has underpinned my career ever since. A QP needs to understand the entire supply chain supporting the batch for release and as such, I learned to see the whole, put things into context, and understand that every link in the chain is key.

Have you ever had a sponsor that helped your career advancement?

  • Yes, I had a sponsor who helped advance my career. He helped me find opportunities that got me out of my comfort zone, and he encouraged ‘sink or swim’ situations to hone my critical thinking skills. Having the right attitude and being inquisitive, resilient, and performance driven will be apparent to many, including potential sponsors. I believe sponsors recognize that something in you that you don’t see yourself. When working with sponsors, be open to unleashing that potential in you, even if you fail sometimes. Failure is proof you’re trying.

What life lessons do you give the children and young people in your life?

  • Get a good, solid educational foundation. Work hard at it and it will pay off. It will instill the confidence you need to help you develop and grow. Be open to opportunities as they arise. Seize the moment, adopt a ‘just do it’ attitude, and don’t look back. Do what you say you will do. Staying true to your word is fundamental to your integrity as a person and is an admirable trait that carries you through your career. Everyone will want you on their team. Be better than mediocre. You’ve got the ability to excel at something you are passionate about, so don’t throw away your chance to be the best at your craft. Above all, you will find great enjoyment in what you do.

Why did you choose to be involved in the DCAT Alliance for Industry Women Committee?

  • I got involved in the DCAT Alliance for Industry Women Committee because I really enjoy enabling young women to advance and succeed in their careers. Specifically, I wanted to avail myself of the opportunity to share some of my own experiences that were part of my leadership journey, in the hope that they may positively influence a young leader’s development. Our committee is comprised of great women who are channeling their experience and resourcefulness to make a difference to a large community of women by providing a networking forum for them and by developing and delivering programs and events that help them learn and grow. The continued engagement, dialogue and interest we’ve seen as a result of the many programs and events that our committee offers is adding value to the DCAT community in a way that is progressive and very rewarding.

Final piece of advice:

  • Successful leadership depends on many things, but at its core I believe is credibility. Know your subject and strive to get even better at it. Use stories and experiences for teaching moments. Be comfortable to acknowledge when you don’t know something but earnestly find the solution. Walk the talk and let your actions speak louder than your words. People will respect you for it and will want to follow you as a leader. I believe that it is in who we are, not what we do, that makes us great leaders. In today’s world, work is fast-paced and reactive problem solving often consumes us. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way and be open to the discomfort of letting go. Rather than simply leading from the front, equip and empower your team to self-serve and make decisions, and help them recognize their own purpose. Be their sponsor. Your team will find satisfaction and will deliver the desired results without you becoming the hero of the story.