Black Heritage ERG Spotlight: Charlene Brisbane

Charlene Brisbane
Charlene Brisbane

Senior Director, Biologics CMC, Drug Product Development & Operations

Charlene Brisbane is the Senior Director, Biologics CMC, Drug Product Development & Operations, based in Teva’s West Chester, PA office. She has been with Teva for 4 years. Following is an excerpt from the Black Heritage Employee Resource Group (ERG) newsletter interview in which she shares her professional journey, the importance of mentorship, and advice for transforming into a leader.

What principles have guided your career journey?

The principles that have guided my career journey are grounded in my Christian faith. It is important for me to treat others in the way in which I want to be treated and not hesitate to help others. Transparency, honesty and respectfulness are key principles that guide my work ethic. In addition, flexibility, a willingness to learn, and resilience have also been key components as I navigated my career. As you move through your career, there will always be obstacles, but obstacles, in reflection, can be opportunities to learn something about yourself or help redirect you onto a path that you may not have considered.

What impact did mentors have on your career progression?

Mentors are and have been integral to my career progression. I have had technical mentors and what I will term developmental mentors. However, both were important in helping me to find my voice, evaluate a situation or circumstance, and/ or challenge me or be my champion. Technical mentors were very important early in my career to help me in understanding the field of biologics and how to apply what I learned in school practically in a pharmaceutical environment. In addition, technical mentors provided me a safe place where I could explore my technical thoughts and helped me gain the confidence to bring them forward. Developmental mentors were and have been important to me later in my career. This type of mentor has helped me evaluate circumstances. They have been invaluable in helping me “check myself” in my understanding of a situation and provide probing questions and/or sound advice based on their experiences. In addition, developmental mentors help me consider career moves and even have been advocates in certain situations.

Charlene Brisbane info

How did you identify your mentor(s)?

I found that my identification of a mentor has been based on where I am at in my career. Technical mentors were very important to me early in my career. In that regard, I would seek out a mentor who had experience technically that I wanted to learn, who were willing to share their knowledge and be open to answer questions. One of my early technical mentors enabled me to gain expertise in gel electrophoresis that set me up to lead the focus group in that area which was one of my early leadership opportunities. When it comes to developmental mentors, I found it important to find someone who sits outside of your department because it allows you the freedom to openly discuss topics and to gain perspective from a person who is not close to the situation.

As I progressed in my career, developmental mentors were able to help me explore opportunities and challenged me to consider what was possibly holding me back from making a change, whether it was considering expanded responsibilities in my current role or applying for an internal or external position. For example, when I was considering applying for the role I have at Teva, I discussed it with one my mentors and he helped me work through the analysis of the opportunity, including understanding my current role and what was appealing about the new role. Ultimately, whether it is a technical or developmental mentor, it is very important that you seek someone with whom you feel comfortable, that you can trust to share experiences and concerns, but also trust they will give you their honest opinion and is willing to take the time either scheduled or ad hoc to meet with you.

What risks have you taken in your career?

In my career progression, there were inflection points where I have taken the riskier of two options. When I completed my undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Biological Sciences, I had an opportunity to teach in the Philadelphia School District or accept a position at a pharma company where I had interned for two summers. I am a teacher at heart. Teaching is my comfort zone. Although I had enjoyed working there, it was not clear to me what my career path would look like at a pharmaceutical company. However, I accepted the position which resulted in a career that has spanned over 30 years in biopharmaceuticals, and the pursuit of my MBA.

A more recent risky move was accepting the role at Teva. I was doing very well at my former company, another pharma company. I had just been accepted into a program called Pulse, which would have allowed me to work for a non-profit in Seattle for 6 months and then return to my position, managing a drug product team. I found out I was accepted into the program at the same time I was offered the position at Teva. It would have been more comfortable for me to continue where I had worked for almost 20 years, was established in my role, and excited about an opportunity to do something different. Accepting the offer from Teva was going to take me out of my comfort zone. I would have to take on leading a department, establish myself with peers on the senior leadership team, work with a new manager, and create relationships with stakeholders outside of CMC. The position at Teva created an opportunity to move outside of an organization that I knew very well and could easily navigate to one that I did not know at all. It also presented me with an opportunity to help build Teva’s new space in biologics or I could continue excelling in the status quo of my current environment at the time. The risk of failure felt very high and my first year at Teva admittedly was very challenging. In the end, it was truly worth the risk. I have had the opportunity to develop my managing skills in ways in which I do not believe I would have if I remained at my former employer.

What are some of the methods/practices you use to deal with obstacles and challenges that you faced along your path?

I believe it is important to put any situation that is an obstacle/challenge in perspective. I am a “glass half full person.” I believe that obstacles and challenges are really opportunities that allow you to learn how to overcome, to go through, and even go around obstacles and challenges. It may even mean waiting. I know these are easy words to read and harder to put into practice but, if you can have your “moment” and then take time to reflect, you might be surprised at what you gain. Talking to a mentor about the obstacle/challenge is a practice that has been helpful to me at various points in my career.

For an individual that is early in their career, what advice would you give to them?

Be open to learn, don’t be afraid to ask questions, share your ideas or take on additional responsibilities that will help you grow your leadership skills. Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. For example, an opportunity such as representing your department on the safety committee may not seem to be a big deal, but it could give you a chance to work with people outside your department and help you develop leadership and communication skills.

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