It’s hard to walk away from a conversation with Carlos Soto feeling anything but inspired. The vice president of manufacturing operations at Takeda Pharmaceuticals is adamant in his belief that young professionals can achieve their dreams and grow into successful careers as well as fulfilling and enriching lives. He is committed to honoring his parents, who sacrificed a world of family and friends so that their child might have greater opportunities, in everything he does. And he is resolute in his belief that Takeda Pharmaceuticals, which has begun manufacturing a hyperimmune globulin therapy intended to serve in the fight against COVID-19, must move forward with a purpose-driven mission intended to serve patients and employees alike.
Motivation and Good Intention
In reflecting on exactly how he got to Takeda, Soto has a great deal to offer to those looking to make a future for themselves. “I like to think back to the Carlos in high school who had dreams of curing cancer,” Soto says. “I wanted to find a way to help save people’s lives and contribute to this society.”
The problem was, as with a majority of high schoolers, Soto really didn’t have any idea where his focus should lie. “All I knew is that I had a commitment to my parents for their sacrifice of leaving Peru,” remembers the VP, who was born in Peru and raised in Puerto Rico.
But the young man also had a knack for math. Soto was so good, in fact, that he was taken out of his normal studies in Puerto Rico to tackle more advanced math and participate in the school’s academic decathlon team. He realized, though, that the chemistry required to help cure diseases did not necessarily align with his passion for math, and so he decided to pursue engineering.
“I try to be very transparent when people ask me how I got here,” Soto explains. “I knew I was good at math, so I decided to pursue it in a way I thought could be useful to other people. I wanted to make my parents’ sacrifice worth it.”
Out of college, Soto’s first job would offer him a glimpse of the kind of a leader he hoped to grow into. “The organization really impressed me because it provided employees with a good balance between work and personal time,” Soto recalls. “My boss wouldn’t ever micromanage and just worked hard to support me. It accelerated my career so much, and I always knew that once I had the opportunity to be a manager myself, that’s the kind of culture I wanted to work to put in place.”
Culture in a Crisis
Soto’s focus on culture has never been more important than it is today at Takeda. Whereas many companies have fully shifted to remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the international R&D pharmaceutical company, whose drugs are relied on by countless patients with rare diseases, conducts essential work at its manufacturing sites. Employees at those sites knew that they needed to come to work to support patients, Soto says.
“We make medicine that people need to survive because they were born with a condition or disease,” Soto emphasizes. Indeed, the VP says that the Takeda manufacturing space is covered with photos of the patients they’re serving every day as a reminder and as motivation for the good that they’re doing.
That mission has required many Takeda employees to be on-site throughout the pandemic, manufacturing much needed drugs for patients around the world. “We’ve had to balance our concern with the virus with the fact that our patients, who often have little-to-no immune system protection, need us now more than ever,” says Soto, who serves as site head for Takeda’s Georgia manufacturing facility, located east of Atlanta. “And I saw people coming to work having to manage their fears, understanding that they’re doing it for the very best reason.”
Takeda has responded by providing as much support to employees as possible. The Georgia site has implemented numerous safety measures, including limiting the number of people on site, increased cleaning, physical distancing, temperature checks, and mandatory face coverings. The company has also provided temporary benefits such as increased COVID-19-related vacation time, childcare reimbursement, and free meals for employees. “I want this place to feel like a second home,” Soto says. “I want this place recognized for the good it not only does its patients but for the good it does its employees.”
Creating a welcoming culture is crucial for a site that’s ramping up production and regularly bringing on new employees. Soto strives to realize the inverted pyramid model, where leaders are at the bottom of the model working to support the needs of the employees making the products.
He does that by being a servant leader, viewing his work from a place of humility and gratitude. “I don’t think that I’m smarter or better than anyone else here,” Soto says. “I just have access to more information due to my role. My job is to help translate a view that’s maybe a little further into the future than the people who are working hard manufacturing medicine every day.
“I want to make their jobs easier,” the VP continues, “and to make them successful. If they’re successful, I’m successful. And if I’m successful, the company is successful.”
To be sure, humility and gratitude seem to radiate from Soto throughout the entire conversation. He’s keenly aware of the sacrifices that helped get him where he is, and he wants to help those who may be in similar positions—unsure of where their lives may go but willing to put in the work.
“Be proud of who you are; remember where you come from and have a vision of where you want to go,” Soto says. “I fly my Peruvian flag. I fly my Puerto Rican flag. I come from the sacrifices of my parents, and I was motivated not to be better than anyone else but to be better than who I was the day before.”