The Catalytic Corner Interview
Featuring: Wahida Saeedi
What is your position at Roche Diagnostics?
My official title is Head of Country Chief Accountants for the Americas. This means that I lead the accounting for North America, Central America, and Latin America.
How did you find Roche…or how did they find you?
I’ve always loved math from a young age and had always wanted to pursue something in the medical/healthcare space. While taking accounting in school, a college professor asked me why I am not taking accounting full-time. Out of curiosity, I started enrolling in additional business classes and found that I loved it. Business was so much more dynamic and immediately relevant than science…and I also appreciated that finding a job in accounting would be easy. I ended up double majoring in Accounting and Finance at Indiana University. Following graduation, I worked at Deloitte & Touche as an auditor.
The work in public accounting as an auditor is tough and pushes the work-life balance scale. As auditors, you are shoved away in back rooms, even broom closets (I kid you not), and you work a lot. However, you also learn at an incredible pace. At one point, I was so burned out and asked God/the universe for something else. That evening, while driving home on I-69 in Fishers, I looked over and there was Roche. At home I hopped on my computer and checked out Roche. There was an open financial analyst position that I applied for. I was hired and 17 years later, I’m still here! I always wanted to work in a position that had something to do with healthcare, with a strong purpose and values. I feel lucky that I found that at Roche.
In your role, do you make sense out of a mess?
I get my organizational skills from my mom, who is the most organized person I know. We never lost anything in our house. I feel I am fortunate because this organizational ability has helped me in so many ways. Even in highly complex or ambiguous situations, I’m able to make sense of things. Thanks, Mom!
How did you decide on a master’s degree?
Following a few years in technical and controller roles, I began exploring MBA programs. Butler stood out to me: the program was flexible, the school had name recognition, and I liked the way the program worked, especially given the maturity of the students who attended. Getting my MBA at Butler was one of the best choices I’ve ever made on a professional level.
Tell me about a time when you had to stretch your leadership skills
After I completed the Butler MBA program, I moved into a leadership role at Roche. I felt that I was able to immediately apply my graduate school learning in my role. Within the team I inherited, there was one guy named “Joe” that I was told should be let go. When I spoke with him and got to know him, I learned that he was getting a second master’s degree. Something didn’t add up. I spent time getting to know him and gaining his trust. I gave him a project that impacted a process involving several stakeholders. He excelled! In the end, he just needed some direction and support. Something as simple as giving him the space, recognizing his gifts and potential, and providing him a chance was all he needed. He became a key leader on my team and a high potential employee. Imagine how many “Joes” we have lost.
Be a little more specific about the MBA program, and what you learned.
From the leadership perspective, it gave me frameworks and tools. You don’t necessarily remember everything you learn but you get the cycle of learning going, and that’s what’s so important. From there, it also provided a safe space in which I could test my ideas. I think that’s why I care so deeply about staying connected to Butler: I don’t want to be stuck in a corporate bubble. I appreciate having external connections and understanding what’s happening in the industry.
In terms of “leading from wherever you are”, how have you accomplished that in your positions at Roche?
Looking back at my career so far, one thing that I’ve truly enjoyed is being able to see the gift in everybody: to see the talent, and the positive attributes they can bring. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with a widely diverse group of people across the world. For me, it’s so fulfilling to be able to tap into people’s natural and creative selves and to be able to see them blossom. It’s why the Catalyst Effect resonates with me. It doesn’t matter if you’re leading five people informally, or if your title is Senior Director, at the end of the day everybody just wants to be seen, heard, and valued. I think the gift behind being catalytic and “leading from wherever you are,” is that we can help others feel valued, provide them the space, and then watch them perform at their best.
How did your international position at Roche happen? What are some of the key learning points from that experience?
I said I wanted an international assignment: I spoke up and got it. People always ask me how I made that happen and I tell them that I made sure that I told people. You’re in charge of your development. For many years, I made the mistake of thinking that if you work hard, and do a good job, you’ll get noticed. But that’s not always the case. I chose a mentor at Roche, and she helped me gain confidence. Key learnings from her were to speak up and not take things personally. That was very liberating for me. I raised my hand, received an international assignment, and freaked out a little before moving to Basel, Switzerland. I always thought I was flexible and adaptable because I had immigrated to the US with my family but the move to Basel was hard! I was completely outside of my comfort zone and was stretched in so many ways. I had to be extremely creative about how I made things happen because I was unfamiliar with how things were done there. It took time, but I was able to successfully navigate and learn and grow. And if I had to do it again, I still would. I am very grateful for the experience.
Then you moved to Dubai…your key learning points from that experience?
Dubai was phenomenal because I led a very international and diverse group of people in a volatile region. The office and finance staff were still fairly new in Dubai. That coupled with my years of Roche experience proved to be valuable. There was a woman on my team there who was an incredible talent but kept getting bypassed for new opportunities. One day I went to her and I asked her if she wanted to make a key presentation and she said she had never done it before. Despite the excitement and fear in her eyes, she said yes and after some practice and coaching, she did an incredible job! I wonder how many other talented people have never been given an opportunity to shine.
Who were your key early influences?
My key influencers in my life have been my parents and my two grandfathers. My paternal grandfather, although uneducated himself, was a strong advocate for education. He sent my father to school in the city by himself when he was only 13. That root of valuing education is so deeply ingrained in me. My father was a professor, and my mother a teacher. When we came to America, my parents always said we were very lucky to be in the land offering the best education in the world. I remember even as a young girl, I promised myself that I was at least going to get a master’s degree. This love of learning definitely comes from my parents.
When we came to the US, I began in the third grade speaking only three English words: yes, no, and hello. I recall sitting in class, paying full attention, while some other kids goofed off. I remember wondering if they even realized what a great opportunity they had to live in America and get such a great education. That is how much the value of education was instilled in me.
On my mom’s side, my grandfather was a businessman and one of the hardest working people I know. He had to flee his home twice due to foreign invasions. Despite these challenges, his values of hard work, honesty, ethics, and compassion to those who didn’t have as much never faltered. I definitely know I got the hard work gene from my mom’s side.
Are there any other key learnings that you would like to share?
One thing I’ve learned over the years is to try nearly anything – so what if you fail? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve raised my hand for something and then panicked. But I still went ahead; I succeeded sometimes and failed at other times. With discomfort comes growth. I’ve been surprised to meet people over the years who are capable but sometimes reluctant to try something due to fear of failure. This is where I try to give people a friendly nudge when I see their potential.
Another thing I’ve learned is regarding feedback. Feedback is a gift. If someone cares enough to give you feedback, take it. I don’t need to accept all of it, but I can listen and reflect and take what I can from it. I always assume the person giving me feedback has positive intent. Imagine if we have a blind spot and never know about it because no one has ever said anything.
This Catalytic Corner interview was written by Jerry Toomer and Julia North of The Catalyst Effect, LLC. For additional information and interviews see: thecatalysteffect.org.
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