Susan Kilsby

Why did you take the job at Shire?

Because they offered it to me! I am very interested in the world of healthcare – it’s why I joined the board [as a non-executive director] in the first place. I was very excited by this board and the way it operates as a partnership. There was a lot of camaraderie. People act as though they are partners and each has something to contribute. I was excited to be able to be Chair of a company that was doing things that change people’s lives. I liked the mission of the company and the chemistry of the board.

What was the first thing you encountered in your new role?

The Abbvie situation [proposed merger with a rival group made in autumn 2014]. I came back from chairing my first board on a Wednesday and on the Friday I received a call from Abbvie. In many ways it was quite dramatic but quite familiar to me, given my background. [In 2002 Kilsby became the first woman to head a mergers and acquisitions department of any major bank, in this case Credit Suisse]. The call came in to my mobile, not to my office. I answered it but thought ‘who’s this person calling me from Chicago?’. The message was delivered somewhat in code but I thought, hmmm, I know that script, I’ve written it for people.

How would you describe your management style?

I like to communicate. My style would be to communicate with board members between board meetings if there’s something to say. So if something happens I don’t want to wait until the next board to tell people, I’ll call them individually and update them. I did that frequently during the Abbvie process – as you can imagine there was a lot going on.

My style is to ensure that everyone speaks before I speak; I want to hear what everyone has to say – which actually has been hard for me to do! I think that as a chairman one of the important things is that everybody is heard and that you then summarise and make sure your view is part of that. My role is to get people to either agree with the conclusion or understand it. I am particularly interested in the ‘out there’ point of view because if someone doesn’t give you that unusual, not-thought-of-before or maybe even crazy point of view you’re not pushing the boundaries. If everyone thinks the same way I do, you don’t need anybody else.

What type of people were you looking for?

I don’t want ‘yes’ men or women. I want people who are critical thinkers, who can support why they have a point of view and are open-minded to see other perspectives. I like hearing people’s perspectives; not only shareholders but also patients, physicians, employees… I’m an information junkie.

What do you do to relax outside of the working environment?

I have this wonderful home in South Africa and it is peaceful and lovely and relaxing. I have good friends there who call it ‘happy land’. It’s a lovely place with wonderful views over the mountains and vineyards: it really does keep me sane.

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