Up close and personal with Tosh Butt, SVP for Latin America and Brazil for AstraZeneca
“Sometimes you need to see things from a different lens,” says Tosh Butt (SVP in Latin Am and Brazil for AstraZeneca). That different lens has been in Tosh’s back pocket throughout his life and is helping him better serve his team and the doctors and patients they serve. Read on to hear how the different lenses from three experiences (a handbag factory, Paula and a newspaper clipping) changed Tosh’s story.
Thank you Tosh. We are so grateful you brought your wisdom and passion to our industry. You are truly a purpose-driven, inspirational leader!
3 lenses that shaped Tosh’s life:
1. Handbag factory
Born in Pakistan, Tosh’s parents moved to London when he was two years old. As a boy Tosh watched his father and mother sacrifice for a better future for him and his three younger siblings. His father worked two jobs to make ends meet while his mother managed the home front. He stills remembers living in a house with only an outside toilet until he was 11! The notion of hard work and doing something purposeful was built into him at a young age. “You do not want to end up like me – leaving the house at 7am and coming home at 11pm, doing two jobs, to just pay the rent and put food on the table,” his father would preach.
It’s one thing to hear a message and another to feel it. When Tosh was 16, his father coerced him to work in a handbag factory during the summer – 12hr shifts 6 days a week. Tosh hated it. He will never forget the huge ah-ha this new lens to life brought him. His father responded to his complaining by saying “You’re there for 12 weeks. Those people have been doing this for the last 20 years. Imagine.” Tosh did imagine and got to know those people and their stories. He has never forgotten them.
It was that different lens Tosh’s father gave him that changed the direction of his life. Tosh was headed nowhere fast, until that fateful summer, working in the handbag factory. Tosh had been attending a school where only 3 of 200 kids would progress to university. He bowed to the lowest common denominator and didn’t apply himself. After the factory job he pulled up his socks. He now understood why his father was so hell bent on his studies. He now appreciated the privilege of a meaningful career. He bravely registered in a new school, an hour away, with a different class of students, so he could apply himself with the hope of achieving acceptance to university. He wanted to pursue a career in healthcare, that his father so wanted him to do.
Tosh vividly recalls the day, sitting in a class in his new school, where once again a new lens changed the course of his path. “I had never seen myself as a good student or necessarily bright,” explained Tosh. One comment from a teacher changed his entire view. The teacher said to a classmate who was complaining about an assignment, “This is so hard” she said. The teacher replied “Paula – you’re not going to get A’s like Tosh – but you can be a good C or B student”. It is frightening to think what that lens did to poor Paula but conversely, it changed everything for Tosh! He began to see himself differently!
The good grades followed until eventually, he was able to compete for spaces in the medical school. However, in an act of individuality and defiance, he chose to pursue the path to becoming a pharmacist instead of physician. After practicing pharmacy for a year, he questioned his choice. He wanted to get to the business side of things, so he did his MBA. A chance meeting with Glaxo people at a career fair in London illuminated his next move. He loved how they were describing their work and the impact it had on society. He realized that this could be the perfect marriage, leveraging the science he learned and building on his interest in business.
3. Newspaper clippings
Tosh had recently turned 30 and was working in pharma as a Global Commercial Director at GSK, when he had a shift in thinking thanks to a new lens that his father gave him. It was around this time his father was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. Still in the UK, his father regularly mailed Tosh newspaper clippings. He was searching for solutions for his prostate cancer. “The clippings were always about a new therapy or treatment or something that wasn’t accessible to him.” Tosh realizes now that was his father crying out for help. It struck him there are millions of patients who feel this way but have nowhere to turn.
“That really is our job – regardless of what function we sit in – if we work in pharma, at the end of the day, our job is to translate science to medicine, and then bring that to patients as quickly as possible,” said Tosh. After that experience, his work became deeply personal – a mission really. Interestingly he notes, when his sense of purpose was heightened, he subsequently experienced a lot more meaning from his work. He sees his role now to help his team build that meaning for themselves.
3 Lessons: Through our conversation, I captured many life lessons from Tosh. Here are just a few:
1. Diversity and inclusion.
Tosh has a tremendous amount of optimism for the world. He explains “news online and on the TV is one thing but wherever I go I’m reminded people essentially want the same thing – health for themselves and their family, safety and security, and a great life for their kids – and, I don’t see any deviations from this around the world.” It is good to remind ourselves, he added that “it doesn’t matter how much money you make, what job you do, or your color, gender, or nationality – people are people, and all deserve the same respect”.
Tosh remembers living very low to the ground as his mother and father tried to make ends meet as immigrants. He feels very lucky that because of the focus, inspiration and pressure they instilled in him to have a career that is not only purpose-driven, but also enables him to care for his family in a way his parents never could.
3. People not numbers
“When I look at the obsession at work we have with numbers on spreadsheets, be it clinical trial stats or a P&L statement, I always remind people that behind every number is a patient; every plot we see on a clinical trial publication is a patient,” Tosh explains. And behind those patients are families, brothers, sisters, communities and societies. And inside our organizations are people wanting to make a difference; wanting to find meaning in their work. Tosh is confident that being “people-focused” both inside and outside the organization is key to success, and by ‘people’ he means the team, your customers, and the patients we all serve in Pharma. “As an industry we have to learn how to obsess about customers- doctors, healthcare providers, office staff, and of course- patients – more than ever before,” emphasizes Tosh.
Tying it altogether – creating people-focused cultures
To incorporate all the lessons above “We need to create people-focused, purpose-driven, patient-centered cultures,” says Tosh. “And to do that, we need to help others connect to their sense of purpose,” he continues. Tosh feels it is now in his DNA, and he feels great watching people he works with grow at their craft, derive purpose from their work, and ultimately have impact on patients. But he doesn’t want to get complacent. He knows it is essential to remind ourselves, our peers, our teams and our bosses on a regular basis of this immense privilege and responsibility of our purpose – which in biopharma is all about bringing science to patients in the form of transformative medicines and accompanying solutions as quickly as possible, and this can only be done through people. “At AZ we are really focussing on the cultural aspect of patient-centricity. If we are going to transform AZ - and our industry - it starts with our people.”
Tosh realizes he can’t assume all people in the organization can clearly see how their day-to-day work ladders up to bringing medicines to appropriate patients as quickly as possible. This is what he sees as a major responsibility in his role. “We all want to make a meaningful difference, but we’re busy,” he reflects. People have the best intentions but sometimes merely go through the motions. Tosh tries to help them by reminding them about the purpose and ambition and values of organization, and regularly asking them why they come to work and what they want to achieve at work beyond year-end performance objectives.
Tosh’s hope is that people on his team don’t feel like work is a transaction. His goal is that at the end of the day, he wants each person on his team to be able to look him or herself in the mirror and say, “I made a difference”.
Final words of wisdom
“Never in any of my career discussions with any boss or even with myself in my own head did I think I would work in France, work in the US, work in Latin America, become a Muslim-American-British-Pakistani, marry an American Jewish girl, and live in Philly and lead an organization in Latin America and Brazil,” says Tosh. He advises us to have a plan but don’t get upset when things don’t go according to plan. More important is how you respond and continue to learn and move forward and embrace the lessons that change and experience teach you.
To hear more of Tosh’s thoughts, enjoy our video interview with him. You will hear answers to questions like:
1) Why should we obsess about our customers as much as our products?
2) How do you help your people have the drive to serve patients?
3) What are the barriers to making patient centricity work?
Tosh Butt interview with Jill Donahue, eyeforpharma Philadephia - Excellerate