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A Pfizer exec leading the world’s vaccine efforts says a “high-growth mindset” drives innovation at the company

Pfizer group president Angela Hwang is responsible for helping deliver over 600 medicines and products to patients.


  • In an Equity Talk, Insider spoke with Pfizer exec Angela Hwang about her top leadership principles. 
  • Hwang said a “high-growth mindset” among employees contributes to Pfizer’s success.
  • The exec is referencing the groundbreaking research of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. 

Containing the spread of COVID-19 is arguably the world’s most pressing challenge right now. Over 5.4 million people, including at least 818,00 Americans, have died from the virus. There’s a legion of scientists, researchers, doctors, distributors, and business leaders working tirelessly to find solutions to the pandemic. Angela Hwang is one of them.

As head of Pfizer’s biopharma division, Hwang oversees the company’s ambitious efforts related to its COVID-19 vaccine and booster. Her decisions impact not just the 26,000 people who report to her, but the lives of millions of people around the world.

The executive is known for her business acumen and her ability to lead scientists to research breakthroughs. Her leadership strategy, she said, is all about boosting innovation and risk taking. It revolves around fostering a “high-growth mindset,” she told Insider, referencing the groundbreaking psychological research by the notable Stanford University psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck.

“As I have risen through the organization, I have realized that bringing people along, creating great teams is how we do great work,” Hwang told Insider in an Equity Talk. “Having a high growth mindset is so important.” 

Driving a growth-mindset 

Two scientists working in a laboratoryHwang said innovation comes when teams feel comfortable to express their bold and unique opinions and thoughts.

Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

For Pfizer’s Hwang, having a high growth mindset is crucial because it prepares you to tackle seemingly insurmountable problems, like helping humanity protect itself against a pandemic. 

Psychologist Dweck developed the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset,” based on research she’s done since the late 1980s about how people perceive struggle, and additionally, how that perception impacts their success. Growth mindset is a way of thinking that sees challenges as an opportunity for learning and hard work, Dweck wrote in her 2007 book “Mindset.” A fixed mindset, conversely, dictates that struggling is a sign of failure or inability. 

Dweck found that people who adopted a growth mindset of being open to learning and of not getting defeated by obstacles performed better in their work. Her research has shaped the leadership styles of many CEOs including Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.

“Look at what happened in the last two years. It was completely unexpected, where everyone was not exactly prepared for a pandemic,” Hwang said. “When we think about solving big problems with clear and bold goals, that comes with some discomfort.” 

Making a safe space for new ideas and unique thoughts 

How you deal with that discomfort determines your success, Hwang said, echoing Dweck’s findings. Facing high pressure situations is an opportunity to foster risk taking and bold thinking in your teams, Hwang added. 

“We said, ‘If we’re gonna be useful and valuable to the world, a vaccine needs to be done by October 2020. So let’s throw away all paradigms and let’s focus on the goal,'” the Pfizer exec said. “That’s when I think you can really start from a blank slate and say, okay, ‘What is it that we need to do to solve this problem?'” 

Hwang said that instilling a growth mindset in employees requires leaders to allow employees to bring their “whole selves to work.” In other words, employees must feel safe enough to bring their unique thoughts and perspectives to the table.  

To develop a sense of belonging at Pfizer, the exec mandated that in 2020 all leaders have conversations with their direct reports on anti-racism and addressing hate. She then worked with other executives to establish clear diversity and inclusion goals within her division, including plans to mentor and sponsor people of color. Allowing for more people from different backgrounds to voice their ideas will lead to transformational products, she said. 

“You have to create a culture that embraces uncertainty, that allows people to take thoughtful risk taking,” Hwang said. “I think great things happen because people then can bring their whole selves to work.” 

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