Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Interview With Karen Flynn

About Karen

Karen Flynn was named President, Biologics and Chief Commercial Officer of Catalent in 2020. Prior to joining Catalent, she served as the Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc. from 2016 to 2019, having previously served as that company’s President, Pharmaceutical Packaging Systems since 2014.

Karen holds a Master of Science in Business Administration from Boston University, a Master of Science in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor of Science in Pre-Professional Studies (Pre-Med) from the University of Notre Dame.

She serves on the Chester County Economic Development Council Board of Directors and the Downingtown STEM Academy Advisory Board, and previously served on the Board of Directors for Recro Pharma, Inc.


What has surprised you most about your career?

  • Academically, I always enjoyed science.  I majored in science in college and my early career involved technical roles.  So, when asked if I would consider taking a sales role, at first, I thought that this was certainly not something for me. I am a fairly introverted person and did not fit the “mold” of what I thought a successful sales executive would need to embody.  But I decided to take a risk and try on the role.  Much to my surprise, I loved the opportunity to marry my technical background with building customer relationships so that I could help our companies work together for the benefit of both. I did not need to be the socially extroverted person that I had envisioned a successful sales person to be.  If asked when I was 30 years old if this was a career path I would have chosen, I would have definitely said “No way!” I am happy that I stepped outside of my comfort zone because building a career as a commercial leader helped me tremendously to develop into higher management roles.

How do women get a seat at the table?

  • I believe that anyone developing in their career gets a seat at the table by asking for tough assignments and by demonstrating their worth.  For women, asking for assignments seems more difficult.  I have noticed that women early in their careers sometimes need more encouragement.  Taking on challenges and performing well builds confidence.  Although you may not be sure that you have all of the skills or experience, give it a try.  Use your strengths to your advantage and ask for help where needed.  You will be successful more often than not – and will have earned that seat!

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

  • You will be successful if you have options.  Life sometimes presents unforeseen opportunities or roadblocks.  We cannot always control the path, so don’t be too rigid in your view of success.  Develop a well-rounded education, including a variety of experiences and skill sets.  Look around to find opportunities to continually learn and grow.  With this in your tool box, you will be prepared to take advantage of options as they are presented.

Have you had a sponsor that helped your career advancement? How did you establish the relationship with your sponsor?

  • You likely have heard the statement “The biggest decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room.” This is so true. Of course, you must do your part – consistently deliver a strong performance, advocate for yourself, and build relationships.  Building a relationship that results in a sponsorship may be one of the strongest things that you can do for your career. I have been fortunate to have built a couple of these in my career.  It starts with being authentic and building trust. Do what you say you will do. Be vulnerable and open. Show what you can do and ask for their support in helping you to build your skills. Think about how you can help the other person as well. I believe that the sponsorship happens organically when you have built a solid relationship with someone who has more experience and influence than you do at that point in your career. And, don’t forget to say thank you!

Final Piece of Advice:

  • Leadership is about building teams that come together to achieve goals.  There are many leadership styles that work.  Find your voice and be authentic to the style that works for you.  Although we must all continue to grow, learn and improve, we must first be ourselves. Build upon your own unique strengths to achieve great things.