Henriette Nielsen is Executive Vice President, Business Operations for Hikma – a leading global pharmaceutical company with 8,400 employees, operations across more than 50 countries and a portfolio of more than 700 generic and branded medicines.
Henriette joined Hikma in June 2018 and currently leads the company’s Business Operations, which includes Legal, Pharmacovigilance, Compliance, Risk, IT and Digital Business Improvement. Henriette trained as a lawyer and was General Counsel of the pharmaceutical company Actavis before moving into more operationally focused leadership roles within leading global pharmaceutical companies.
Henriette earned a Law Degree from the University of Copenhagen and a Masters of Law from the University of Edinburgh.
OPL: What initially sparked your interest in the law?
Henriette: Ever since I was teenager I’ve been interested in the law, as well as psychology and acting – the common thread being they all involve working closely and collaboratively with people, which is something I’m passionate about. Before university I took a gap year, thought about what I wanted to do with my career and decided to pursue law. I found my place at law school, the work suited me and after qualifying I joined one of the major firms in Denmark.
OPL: What appealed to you about the pharmaceutical sector?
Henriette: During my schooling I hadn’t specifically focused on pharmaceuticals, but after starting my career in private practice and having the opportunity to work in the sector, I really began to see the tremendous impact the pharmaceutical industry has on people’s lives and their health, and that was something I wanted to be a part of. Hikma is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies manufacturing generic and branded medicines. I am passionate about the work we do to provide doctors, hospitals and pharmacists with high-quality medicines that help millions of people each day.
OPL: Your career started in Denmark but you have gone on to work internationally and are now in New York. How did you make the move?
Henriette: Growing up, I always knew I wasn’t going to stay in Denmark. The world is big and exciting, and I wanted to see as much of it as possible! I’ve worked hard to advance my career at several multi-national companies and that has given me the opportunity to live and work in many different places, including other European countries, which I’ve enjoyed very much. I had a dream when I was younger of working in the US though, and, today, in my role at Hikma, I’m really pleased to have been able to fulfil that ambition. It’s great to now call New York City my home.
OPL: What are the main differences between working in Europe and the US?
Henriette: Cultural aspects are one area of differentiation. I’ve always been a student of other cultures. I enjoy learning about people, their beliefs and their interests, and how they live their lives. Whether it’s Europe or the US, or other places I work in including the Middle East and North Africa, understanding and staying attuned to these sensitivities is important and has helped make me more effective in my job.
OPL: You spent a number of years a General Counsel before moving into a pure business role, how did you find the experience?
Henriette: I spent eight years as a General Counsel at Actavis. When I began in the position I was actually the company’s first real General Counsel, so it was a fantastic opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and establish legal practices and processes. I enjoyed every second of it. For me, part of what I liked best was the interconnected nature of the role and the ability to see everything going on across the company -- you’re in a position to work on matters that impact all areas of the business. Then and now I truly enjoy being able to help connect the dots and bring people together to solve problems.
OPL: Are there any particular individuals or law firms you really enjoyed working with over the years?
Henriette: Yes, I have been fortunate in my career to work with many excellent lawyers and firms, and I especially enjoy working now with Hikma’s highly talented legal team.
OPL: What makes for a strong in-house legal team in your opinion?
Henriette: Collaboration and transparency are key, as is keeping a sense of perspective. It can be easy at times in the legal world to lose sight of the forest for the trees and the larger mission you are all working to achieve. In particular at Hikma, the work we are doing is helping to deliver high-quality, affordable medicines to patients around the world. It’s important not to lose sight of that. Also, along those lines is keeping team morale high. Lawyers are professional and must work hard so keeping an element of fun is important.
OPL: What types of challenges do you anticipate facing over the coming months?
Henriette: Finding ways to do more with less. This is a common theme across all aspects of business, of course, but the world is getting more complicated and we are having to get increasingly creative with how we accomplish more while also managing our costs. It makes it all the more important to be able to work collaboratively and bring people together to achieve our objectives.
OPL: What was a highlight in your career as a lawyer?
Henriette: The first company global legal conference I held was a real highlight. It was the first time the organization had held such an event. Having lawyers from all over the world collaborate, build relationships and share ideas on how to best address legal problems was a transformative moment for myself and the business at the time. I have done the same thing at Hikma with my broader team across all the functions I manage, and it has been great for building teamwork and improving outcomes.
OPL: You moved into an executive business role for a major corporation, how did that happen for you?
Henriette: I was always a business-minded lawyer. Throughout my career I never created an artificial boundary between aspects of the business and legal. I frequently got involved in all parts of the company, business development work for example. The move into an executive business role came about when Hikma’s CEO Siggi Olafsson – a past CEO of mine at Actavis – called me and said they would like some strategic help with where the business was going. After careful thought I took the role, and since I made the move I haven’t looked back. I enjoyed my time as General Counsel, but I am where I need and want to be in my career working as an out-and-out business professional.
OPL: What is the most rewarding thing about your current role?
Henriette: In the role I’m in now, I have the opportunity to see across the entire organization and work with people from all different parts of the business to help the company run better. I wake up each day and something new is always happening. The most rewarding part of my role though, is that I can really see how the work I’m doing is making a difference and improving things at Hikma, which, in turn, is helping to make a difference for the doctors, hospitals and millions of patients worldwide who rely on our products.
OPL: What advice would you give to a young lawyer starting out in their career?
Henriette: Work hard. Always do your best. If you do these two things you will get noticed and opportunities will present themselves. When your chances do crop up be bold and take them.
OPL: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Henriette: In my free time I enjoy staying physically active. I practice Yoga, and my favourite activity outside of work is going for a 10-mile run on a Sunday through Central Park. It really clears my mind and is a fantastic habit I have gotten into since I began living in New York City.