Talking courage with a General Manager

(3 minute read)

rob hetherington ANZ Lisbon photo 2016

Rob Hetherington has held the position of General Manager for Gilead Sciences, Australia and New Zealand since February of 2008.  His proudest moment in this role took place in March 2016 when Gilead’s Hepatitis C portfolio was listed on the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), heralding a transformation in the treatment of Hepatitis C.  The result?  Between March 2016 and December 2017, more than 50,000 people have been treated with these medicines and nearly all have been cured of this life-threatening disease.

 How would you describe workplace courage?

In a few ways:

  • Choosing to do the right thing irrespective of the consequences
  • Choosing to speak up even when your view is unpopular or in the minority
  • Ensuring that you understand the impact of your own positional authority in an organisation and only using it positively (despite external and/or internal pressure)

What does courage look like in your workplace?

At Gilead, it is being willing to take specific action that maybe at odds with conventional wisdom, including management or other colleagues when it is clearly the right thing to do.  It is holding people to account with respect to stated organisational mission and values.  It is also appropriately holding to your position, even when under pressure from peers or senior management.

Please describe 1or 2 examples of times in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?  

Courage was demonstrated in reaching agreement with the Australian Government for supply of an important group of new Hepatitis C medicines.  In spite of significant pressures, including:

  • Pressure from the Australian Government on cost
  • Internal organisational concerns that the value of the franchise was appropriately recognised and maximised
  • Career, time and personal pressures; we persevered and succeeded.

The interplay between patients, physicians and organisational goals helped manage the above-mentioned pressures.  Importantly, the dedication of the Gilead team and experiencing this together cannot be undervalued.  My own mind-set provided focus and persistence –  it was important to me to do the right thing.  The fact that the end goal was so worthwhile made it sensible to continue – if it had not been such an important outcome the ‘costs’ of continuing would have been too high – I just would have stopped.

What does ‘doing the right thing’ mean?

It is having a clear path that is aligned with your own personal values and those of the organisation with which you are working, so that you can:

  • Assess when you are on the path, or off it
  • Confidently and openly explain your position to someone else
  • Balance the needs of all parties involved; in this instance, the patients, the health care professional, and Gilead
  • Help each party understand why you are undertaking certain actions

What has been the impact on you (Rob) of listing Gilead’s Hepatitis C portfolio on the Australian PBS: 

I am very proud of this achievement; this has been the most important thing I have done in my career.  It has been worth all the stress and the angst.

It was the right thing to do.  A key learning has been that the only way to deal with a big, challenging problem is to focus on the desired outcome and keep that as a clear goal irrespective of the obstacles.

hep C


As a result of the agreement:

  • Australia leads the developed world in terms of eradication of the life threatening communicable disease that is Hepatitis C; previously, 900 people were dying per year of complications of this disease
  • Australian doctors, patients and the wider community are ecstatic about the availability of these new transformational medicines
  • The Government and Gilead has created a market for r these medicines that allows other companies to compete on a level playing field with their own products
  • Gilead’s reputation has been greatly enhanced with government and other stakeholders, and
  • In 2018 the Australian business is likely to be the third largest Gilead business (on the basis of revenue in the company) behind only the US and Japan

 From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?

It is very hard for me to assess this as I don’t directly see other leaders in action all that often.  From a political point of view, I rarely see people leading with courage.  Through recent events (e.g., marriage equality), I have seen leaders avoiding positive action to enhance their own political standing.  Crises at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia have been very poorly managed with a seeming inability to put the right thing to do ahead of profits.

With all that said, as we worked through the process of listing the Hepatitis C medicines, I saw some tremendous examples of selfless behaviour on the on the part of a number of politicians and patient groups.  This has restored my belief in the political system ….at least to some extent!  It is important to acknowledge that our politicians work in a difficult and imperfect system and in most cases, are doing the best they possibly can in an environment of strong views and fixed positions.  My experience suggests that people will usually do the right thing if you can provide a worthwhile and clearly defined goal and help to create the right context for them to work in.

We are grateful for Rob’s generosity, wisdom and continued support of insium, enabling us to live our purpose with passion.


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