Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Charlene Banard, Global Head of Technical Operations in Cell and Gene Therapy at Novartis

Jess Li
Jess Li
Mar 25 · 3 min read

I spoke with Charlene Banard, Global Head of Technical Operations in Cell and Gene Therapy at Novartis. Charlene studied biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology and has spent her career in the biotech space in senior leadership roles at companies including Chiron, Cell Genesys, Gilead Sciences, Shire, and Takeda prior to joining Novartis.

Charlene saw the rapidly growing opportunity to create life saving therapies through cell and gene therapy, specifically through CAR T-Cell Therapy. So when the role at Novartis in the cell and gene therapy group came up, she was excited to join the innovation focused company.

Charlene shared her advice on constant learning, effective leadership, and driving organizational efficiency and growth.

Move the S curve of learning. Be excited about the new and the different. Don’t pick the path of least resistance but rather allow yourself to constantly be pushed toward the frontier of your potential. In taking on new projects and roles, optimize for learning and growth.

Find your strengths in your instincts. Charlene’s career has been centered around her organizational leadership. She is incredibly execution, process, and structure focused as her career achievements have shown. In identifying these strengths early on in her professional journey, she turned to noticing her instincts. She found that she was incredibly meticulous about each aspect of her life not just at work but at her core in how she organized her closet, files, and schedule. She drew upon this insight in identifying and compounding her strengths through continuing to focus and exercise them over time in different roles.

Never work alone. No job can be done by yourself. Commitment to partnership with teams internally and externally is crucial to the success of any project or company. Even the most moonshot ideas can come to life when you have the proper team collaborating behind it: everything is impossible until it is done (Nelson Mandela).

Listen first. When coming into a new leadership role, department, or company, take the time to listen first. Meet customers and physicians to understand how your product is used and how it impacts people. Do a deep dive on the industry and the business to truly understand how different stakeholders relate to each other internally and externally. Get to know your team members and listen to their challenges, interests, and working styles so you do not unnecessarily constrain them by being too hands off or too hands on.

Capture all that surprises you. In your first few weeks in a new role, take special note of everything that surprises you: these are either excellent best practices you can learn from or obstacles that you can apply prior learnings to. Take advantage of your fresh perspective when you have it to make the most of these aha moments.

Set a cadence. In a field as fast moving as cell and gene therapy, the time horizons for strategic change are even shorter than the norm. As a result, staying aligned and on target while taking in new information is especially crucial in Charlene’s role. To this end, she sets a regular cadence for her and her team members to connect synchronously through meetings and asynchronously through message channels, task boards with daily prioritized action items, and work files. Cadences become habits and shared patterns, which in turn form the foundation of your organizational operations, so it is critical to set the cadence from the start.

Don’t be afraid of taking chances. Remove your self doubt and bring your whole self to work and in each relationship you build. Be proud of your life and achievements professionally and personally. Don’t underestimate the latitude you have, especially when you are young. Challenge yourself and challenge others. See failure not as failure but rather as learning opportunities.

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