Interview With Marion Kuhn
Marion Kuhn is the Director of Sales Management, North America at BASF Pharma Solutions and a member of the Pharma Solutions Global Business Unit Leadership Team. In this role, Marion is responsible for the North American Pharma business including all sales and technical services activities. Her team leverages broad pharmaceutical formulations expertise and digital solutions to support customers in developing efficient, sustainable, cost-effective, and reliable formulations for a wide range of applications.
From 2016–2018, Marion led the Global Marketing & Product Management for BASF Nutrition & Health’s Aroma Ingredients business, based in Germany. Prior to that, she held positions with increasing responsibility in BASF’s Life Sciences Segment in Marketing, Product Management, and Strategy in Europe and Asia. Marion is a certified professional coach and graduated from the Vienna University of Economics and Business with a MSc in International Management, and NEOMA Business School in France, with a Master’s in Business Administration.
What surprised you most about your career?
- As my career progressed, so did the technical component of my roles. I had always liked science, but initially this intimidated me. Turns out, I loved the opportunity to learn, bring in my commercial and sometimes, more out-of-the-box background, and to integrate both perspectives into the bigger picture. I am surprised how much I underestimated the value of being able to live in both worlds and develop an understanding of both the technical and commercial sides to the benefit of customers. I am grateful I stepped outside of my comfort zone and asked for help when I needed it. Today, I am convinced that a learning mindset, humility, and the eagerness to continuously integrate outside and diverse perspectives are fundamental to business growth and to staying competitive.
How do you approach networking—internally and externally—and how do you maintain the connections that you’ve made?
- Having been with BASF for more than 10 years, I have organically built a strong network across business units and hierarchies. These relationships often result from shared challenges, interests, and appreciation for each other and have helped me tremendously to broaden my perspective, grow as a leader, and get things done. Outside the company, I stay in touch with people in our industry, with alumni of my academic programs and a network of coaches of which I am a member. This has not only helped me to grow and gain perspective, but also to know there is someone to cheer me on and give me the encouragement we all sometimes need and that I get to do the same and give back!In addition, I serve as a pro-bono coach and mentor, which allows me to interact with incredibly talented professionals, entrepreneurs, and mentors.
What do you see as the future of women in the Pharma Industry?
- While our industry has embraced female leaders on all levels and in all roles, I do think there is still a gap, despite the research indicating the economic benefits of diversity and inclusion. I’m a strong advocate of a diverse workplace where everyone walks the talk. This needs to start with diverse, inclusive leadership teams. I remain hopeful that self-interest of the industry to stay competitive, as well as passionate change makers, of all gender identities, will continue to drive equal opportunities in our industry. In doing so, the importance of collaboration and connection cannot be underestimated. We have an excellent opportunity to creatively build connections to partner with other women, use our voice, lift each other up, and advance our industry in these demanding times. Looking around during the DCAT Women’s Networking Breakfast pays testimony to that—I love the breakfast for the feeling I get when leaning back and absorbing the energy, competency, and passion in the room.
What have been your career learnings during COVID? What are you going to carry forward in the “new normal”/post COVID?
- What really stood out to me is the importance of truly listening and, importantly, listening with your heart, not just your head. As stresses skyrocketed and many of us felt increasingly isolated, I felt a shift towards the need to create more space for personal exchange, connection, as well as a more empowering and a decentralized approach to decision-making and getting things done. This shift allowed us to fast-forward to more human-focused and flexible ways of working with trust, empathy, and empowerment as a foundation. We made progress, but there is still a lot to experiment with and address—and the infrastructure is still set up in a way that women/caretakers are disadvantaged (record numbers of moms leaving the workplace in 2020–21, inaccessible care, etc.). I want to continue to support my team to create more flexibility in their days and set an example by doing the same. The pandemic taught me how manage my energy better and show up as a leader.
What role has mentoring played in your career, either as a mentor, mentee, or both?
- A huge role. I grew up in the Austrian mountains with a family that worked locally in non-business roles. I am the first one who went to college, and the only one who moved abroad for college and work and entered the international business context. During college, internships, and throughout my career, official and unofficial mentors, and sponsors, have helped me by providing direction, encouragement, and opportunity. I believe having strong mentors whom you trust and connect with can make all the difference to unlock your potential, find your voice, and dare to explore what really drives you. When I started my current role four years ago, I really benefited from the mentorship of my counterpart in Europe, who had been in a similar role to mine at a Vice President level for several years. He supported me not only by having an open door for exchange and sharing experiences, but also by actively inviting me to industry events and introducing me to peers. I’d go one step further and suggest that we need to have and act as not only mentors, but sponsors. Where mentors point out opportunities and make suggestions, sponsors create opportunity, for example, by offering the sponsored talent a seat at a committee, a project, or a panel. I am deeply grateful for the individuals who had and continue to have this impact on me. Paying it forward is important to me, which is why I act as both a mentor as well as a sponsor within our diverse talent sponsorship program.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to women in the Pharma Industry that will help them become better leaders?
- Be authentic and allow your team to understand who you are and what drives you. Invest in building relationships and understanding what your team excels at and respect and appreciate them for it. Encourage them to lift each other up. Trust, appreciation, and collaboration are the basis for everything.
This doesn’t mean things have to be always smooth and easy—it means that everyone feels safe to bring their full self to work, engage in healthy friction when needed, and feels recognized. Finally, believe in yourself and your team and ask for help when you need it. And, especially for women—have confidence and be open for opportunities. Never think you are not good enough for an opportunity just because you don’t check all boxes.