The stages of a career well-spent in advancing healthcare innovation.
Emerging Pharma Leader Shetal Vyas has been in the life sciences industry for more than 20 years. Currently, she is the vice president of operations at Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a privately owned biopharmaceutical company, with leadership in reproductive medicine and maternal health, as well as specializations in gastroenterology and orthopedics. Ferring is focused on developing life-changing innovations that help people live better lives. This mission, combined with the company’s “people-first” philosophy, extends to patients and to employees, as evidenced by, according to Ferring, its industry-leading 26-week leave policy for birthing and non-birthing employees. In addition to her role at Ferring, Vyas serves as board chair of the National Kidney Foundation and is a certified HBA Mentor for the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.
But her entry into pharma was completely unintentional. Vyas was pursuing an MBA as a full-time student and initially took a part-time administrative job at AstraZeneca at the time Astra and Zeneca were completing their merger in 1999. “As I was finishing my capstone, they put me on a path to talk to all the executives to figure out where in the company I wanted to be,” she tells Pharm Exec. “Everyone said that if you want to stay on the commercial side, ‘you must carry the bag,’ an old pharma adage that means sales. So, naturally I decided to the ‘carry the bag.’ It was the perfect combination of business education and scientific training, and it set me free.”
“Carrying the bag” was an incredible experience for Vyas. With her unquenchable thirst for learning and innate curiosity, she was inspired by these early lessons in how healthcare professionals drive business strategy, as well as how patient treatment decisions are made. Given her analytical strengths, she enjoyed the data and performance metrics portion of the job as well, and quickly began to build her business acumen.
Vyas spent the beginning of her career at AstraZeneca in multiple roles of increasing responsibility within sales, marketing, and commercial operations. She then spent several years in biotech, and later took a role as vice president of marketing and became a member of the executive leadership team at Pentec Health, Inc. In 2019, Vyas joined Ferring as head of the gastroenterology and urology business unit and was soon promoted to vice president of operations to lead commercial strategy and operations for the business. Vyas also then became a member of the Ferring US executive leadership team.
When Vyas reflects on her career, she sees how her on-the-job education and experience played out in three distinct phases, which she often shares with her mentees: breadth, depth, and enterprise. She describes breadth as something you acquire in your early years that provides a full view of the business and helps you get to know the engine that drives innovation and delivers the product to the patient. “It’s not just about your job and how you do your job, but where your job fits within that business model,” she says. “Building that foundation comes with exposure to different areas of the business and different leadership styles at various levels. These early learnings don’t just help build a strong level of business acumen; they inform future leadership style. That helped me to integrate into new roles very quickly.”
This breadth provides a foundation to move into a bigger role, which can develop depth. Vyas articulates depth as the period when you begin to grow into management and leadership roles. For her, this began when she made the leap to leading large teams and organizing transformational internal projects.
The enterprise level is Vyas’ favorite. “I love my role because I thrive in complexity—everything from market access to training to communications to customer engagement to commercial operations and so on,” she says. “Throughout the day, I’m wearing different hats. In addition to the day-to-day management of these various functions, I have the privilege of working with our executive team to drive our business forward and develop our people.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are among Ferring’s key priorities in people development. Vyas firmly believes that mentorship and gender parity are intertwined, as women or people of color may not typically raise their hands or are not chosen to be mentored, which in turn precludes equity. Vyas tells Pharm Exec, “Within Ferring and outside, we’re still striving for parity. I enjoy leading by example, as well as mentoring those within my organization who aspire to grow to the next level.”
In Vyas’ opinion, mentorship is the secret sauce to achieving balance in gender and racial representation. “I always share my experience and point of view with my colleagues or mentees who are contemplating a larger role,” she says. “I push them to look beyond the role requirements, and reflect on how their accomplishments to date, transferable skills, and aspirations could contribute to their success.”
Vyas is extremely grateful for her own mentors, as they have been—and continue to be—instrumental to her professional success. She still calls on many of them to this day.
“Anytime I take on a new transformational role or project, I seek the guidance of a mentor to offer a fresh perspective and share experience-based advice.”
Today, Vyas is laser-focused on Ferring’s growth. In her multidimensional role, she is guided by four key objectives: to drive Ferring’s digital transformation, to outline its US environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities and approach, to deliver results so patients can benefit, and to ensure the engagement of her teams, as they make it all possible.
On digital transformation, Vyas says the pandemic has been a key driver of progress.
“Pharma’s evolution to the commercial model was initially slow to adopt but, in the wake of COVID-19, the industry was forced to accelerate on all fronts.”
To develop a new digital strategy for Ferring, Vyas started out by listening to customers to obtain a 360-degree view of their perspective. She also worked with her team to “peel back the onion” and conduct an internal analysis to better understand how to strengthen Ferring’s foundation. As a result, Vyas put a three-year plan in place. The first year would be dedicated to building and strengthening Ferring’s foundation, the second year would be focused on building out technology and elevating skills for the commercial teams, and the third year would be centered on automation.
Vyas’ thirst for excellence extends to her teams as well. She seeks to understand the strengths of each individual and strategically tap into each person’s skills in order to optimize the collective team. Transparency is critical on Vyas’ teams as well. “Open, objective feedback on both sides, in terms of what’s working and what isn’t helps the team grow together,” she says.
For Vyas, reality isn’t a work/life balance but rather an integration of work into life. She aspires to continue to learn and grow on her journey to face more challenges and complexity, as evidenced in her personal passion for viniculture and long-time practice of yoga.
Most importantly, she puts people first, just as Ferring does. Her family likewise bridges the work/life line, as she says her husband and two children are “very much a part of this journey as cheerleaders, supporters, and learners as well.”
Fran Pollaro is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. He can be reached at