Interview With Maha Mehanna
Dr. Maha Mehanna is the Associate Director of Portfolio Management at XGen Pharmaceuticals DJB, Inc., a privately held generic pharmaceutical company focused on developing and delivering specialty pharmaceutical products. Maha joined XGen after being the Manager of Business Development & Sourcing at i3 Pharmaceuticals, a start-up that focuses on developing high-technological-barrier solid oral generic-drug products, and its sister company, Pontis Pharmaceuticals, LLC, which co-develops complex injectables. Prior to that, Maha was the Operations Manager at Absorption Systems, a pre-clinical CRO, and its sister company, Clayton Pharmaceuticals, which focuses on expanding the reach of Biopharmaceutics Classification System-based biowaivers.
Maha has a multidisciplinary background in chemistry, microbiology, and engineering. She has lived and worked on three different continents. Maha earned her Ph.D. in process and environmental engineering at the Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse in France. She did her post-doc at Pennsylvania State University in the US. She holds a certificate in Leading with Finance from the Harvard Business School. Maha is an avid skier and cook. She serves on the Board of Directors at PhilaFLAM and is an active volunteer of the DCAT Science & Scholarship Committee.
What career advice do you have for someone new to the industry?
- I would say be open and adaptable and embrace learning. Take every opportunity to expand your knowledge and understand every aspect and intricacy of your daily job. Communicate clearly and build a powerful network around you. I would like to share advice given to me by my French Ph.D. advisor, early on in my career. It is actually, an excerpt from the Nepali movie, Himalaya. “When two paths open up before you, always choose the hardest one.” The only reward of an easy path is that it is easy while choosing the most challenging route brings the best in us, and that’s when we realize that we are stronger and more capable than what we thought.
What surprised you most about your career? What has been your biggest learning to date?
- My career path is atypical. I grew up in an entrepreneurial mindset where reaching one’s highest potential was not an option among others; it was simply a work ethic. My parents didn’t have the luxury of an education. They made a lot of sacrifices, so my brothers and I could receive the best education possible. I got a scholarship for my Ph.D. in France and wanted to experience the American Dream, so I arrived in the United States in February 2009 for my post-doc. While my education was more science-focused, early on, I worked with my parents in our family-owned business. There I learned about negotiation more than any school could teach. I think having a strong education enabled me to advance faster in my career. I am thrilled to be able to combine my passion for business with my science education and am proud to work in an industry that truly makes people’s lives better. It is so rewarding to wake up in the morning and feel that somehow, I can contribute, even a little, to make the world a better place. My biggest learning is when you don’t get what you want, when you want, then something better is waiting for you. Keep an open mind and work hard and smart. Don’t be afraid to fail. Michelangelo said it right: “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”
What role has mentoring played in your career, either as a mentor, mentee, or both?
- A crucial role! Five years ago, while reading the book, Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, I realized that 90% of successful leaders had a great mentor. I am very fortunate to have many outstanding mentors who guide me and help me find my path, encourage me to get up when I fall, and believe in my potential. I strongly encourage everyone to reach out to people who inspire them and whom they admire and ask them if they would be willing to be their mentor. You would be pleasantly surprised to realize how many would actually agree. I recall how, in my early days in the industry, on a rainy Friday afternoon, I cold-called an extremely accomplished, self-made leader and asked him to be my mentor. He had just sold his company and started a new one that was flourishing. You would assume he wouldn’t have time to waste advising a novice, but he was so pleased and made a big difference in my life. I had the opportunity to be a mentor for women across the globe at different stages of their careers. I found it quite rewarding, especially when they succeed, exceeding any expectations. In one instance, as a volunteer at a global foundation, based in the UK and focused on women economic empowerment, I mentored a remarkable woman: she was the founder of an energy trading company in South Africa. Despite the very hostile environment, she managed to successfully grow her engineering company and improve the lives of people in her area. Her strength and drive were truly inspiring.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to women in the pharma industry that will help them become better leaders?
- I would like to share a piece of wisdom that was given to me by my father a long time ago: “You can buy anything but your reputation.” Therefore, my advice would be work with people who share the same work ethics and have high morals. And instead of asking yourself: “How can I be successful,” rather ask: “How can I reach my maximum potential and enable everyone around me to do so as well” because a hand alone can’t clap—together we will go further.