Feature Stories

Astellas Executive Interview Series – Bill Fitzsimmons

May 22, 2017

Helping new treatments come to market is just one aspect of Bill Fitzsimmons’ job that drives his passion and work at Astellas. As head of Regulatory Affairs and Clinical and Research Quality Assurance, Bill firmly believes in using his leadership role to serve others and break down barriers to help unify teams. He is passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, particularly when it comes to advocating for more female leadership and career support. And he takes pride in supporting emerging leaders to help them develop and advance their careers.

We sat down with Bill to learn more about his career, approach to leadership and passion for diversity in the workplace.

What drew you to the pharmaceutical industry?

I'm a pharmacist by training. After graduate school, I became a pharmacist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a faculty member in the Rush Medical College Department of Pharmacology and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy. During that time, I became interested in clinical trials, so I pursued a master's degree in clinical research design and statistical analysis from the University of Michigan. After graduation, I accepted a position at Astellas (at the time Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co.) working in clinical research.

What is your leadership style?

I'm a big believer that leaders need to focus on serving others, not themselves. They need to break down barriers for teams and help ensure they are aligning the talents, skills and aspirations of their staff with the priorities of the company and the needs of patients. When you have a diverse group, it may take longer to come to decisions, but it ultimately results in better decision-making. I've come to appreciate that a top-down command and control type of leadership is not an effective way to build trust and long-term commitment. Also, one of the mistakes we sometimes make is thinking that organizational structure is most important, when, in reality, structure is a tool to help the organization function better. It's more important to get the people part right and use the structure to help facilitate what those great people are trying to do.

What are you passionate about?

I'm passionate about advocating for more female leadership in our company, which is why I am the executive sponsor of Stellar Women, the Women's Employee Resource Group (ERG) in Northbrook. Over half of our employees are women, so there is a great opportunity to help them take on bigger leadership roles within Astellas.

What can we do to help advance women at Astellas?

First, I think our male managers can help by ensuring they provide support. Line managers have the biggest impact. Second, our male colleagues should take an active role in coaching, mentoring and sponsoring women. These three activities are very different: coaching is encouraging women to raise their hands for more opportunities within the company; mentoring is giving valuable advice and support; and sponsorship is publicly advocating on behalf of women. This will help our future women leaders seek new opportunities and seize them.

At the same time, women can also do a better job of supporting one another. Female colleagues who have achieved success serve as powerful role models who have faced and overcome many workplace challenges. These women have invaluable insights to share with more junior colleagues and can encourage them to take on bigger leadership roles.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

First, there is nothing more gratifying than knowing you played a small part in bringing a new drug to market that could help thousands of patients. Second, it's rewarding to help others develop as leaders and advance their careers. 

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