Clare Walker, category group director, R&D, began her career as an analytical chemist before moving to Boots Healthcare International. She joined RB in 2006 and has managed the global condoms team in Thailand and led innovations in pest control in India. She’s driven by diversity, partnerships and a passion to go beyond the day job
There’s something about condoms that people find funny. I get sniggers from taxi drivers when I tell them I develop Durex for a living. Or sometimes just a stunned silence. But I love talking about what we do and explaining how our products are saving lives in countries such as Africa, where so many people are dying of AIDS.
If you sit in your Western ivory tower you don’t see what’s going on in other parts of the world. Dengue fever and malaria are still killers in countries such as India. At RB we go beyond just getting products out there; we’re also committed to helping educate people so they can protect themselves from that bite that could lead to a fatal illness.
Our company is genuinely all about people and partnerships. Sure, you make your own opportunities, but you still need the support of others. It’s the people here that matter – they’re at the heart of our business and they drive it. It was one of the things that most surprised me and convinced me to join RB. A headhunter once told me once told me I was a “people person” so I hoped RB would be a great fit for me. It is!
I moved to India in 2015 and had a wonderful couple of years working with amazing scientists who were passionate about what they do. But it was a challenge to begin with. I was the most senior person in research and development over there and initially I felt as if everyone was operating independently; it didn’t feel like a cohesive group. So we created a leadership team to help understand what each group could offer the others. From that, we established one big R&D group rather than having people working in silos. It makes a real difference when everyone wants to pull together.
You have to adapt to a country; it won’t adapt to you. I’m fairly well travelled and have learnt not to underestimate the importance of local culture. You only really understand a culture when you live in a country and spend time with its people and try to establish a rapport. When I first went to India and Thailand I got the impression they were thinking: “Who is this English lady and what does she want?” I gave it my best shot and had a wonderful time there.
Work-life balance comes in waves. Sometimes things get out of control and work takes over, but it’s usually for a good reason. When you’re passionate about something you want to do a good job and that demands more of your time and commitment. But I also have a good life “after hours”.
I truly appreciate the honesty of colleagues; I find it inspiring. Feedback can be tough to take, but it’s ultimately a gift if people are challenging you for the right reasons. It’s often inspired me to do things differently and turn difficult situations into something positive. You have to be open to listening and have confidence in what you believe and want to achieve.
The right decisions are often the toughest to make. A couple of years ago we were really close to launching a new healthcare product in China. It was manufactured, packaged and ready to go and promised important income for the business. During final testing, we received an erroneous set of results. We believed any risks were low, but we didn’t want to take a chance. After many late-night meetings trying to resolve the problem, we took the painful decision to pull the launch. It was hard, but I agreed with experts that this was the right thing to do.
As a company we’re driving healthcare into the next decade. We embrace digital and always think “consumer first”. That makes us stand out. I’m passionate about being a good coach and mentor and helping others grow and develop. It’s as much about how you act as what you say. Being “authentic” has become a bit of a buzzword, but at heart it’s an important value. It means just being yourself. I’d love others to take something from that.
I’ve taken a big leap of faith with a new challenge. I’ve been made UK Chapter Chair for the LEAD Network, of which RB is a founding member. It’s an external European network focused on advancing diversity and inclusion. When asked if I was interested, I immediately said “yes, 100 per cent”. Do I have the time? I’ve no idea, but it’s something I feel so passionate about that I’ll make it happen. Last week I was in a meeting of eight people at work and I was the only woman. That felt wrong and brought home to me the importance of this network. A diverse group gives you a different perspective and a more dynamic conversation. This is going to be a personal and a professional challenge. I’m looking forward to diving in.