“Did she tell you if she’d be willing to be kidnapped with you?”
This is a question posed by Aimmune Therapeutics Senior Director of Compliance Laura Hamm about her boss, Senior Vice President of Compliance Fabiana Lacerca-Allen, and it requires some explaining.
Lacerca-Allen’s early years were well documented by Hispanic Executive in 2013: as a child, she experienced repeated kidnapping attempts made by Argentinian guerillas because her father, Carlos Lacerca (an inspirational and loving father who passed away since HE last spoke with the SVP), was working to unseat the dictatorship that controlled the country from 1976 to 1983. In strange parallelism, Lacerca-Allen also recounts the story of a group of business executives from a rival pharma company who were kidnapped while in Colombia and kept together for eighteen months.
These chilling touchpoints have provided Lacerca-Allen an unorthodox methodology for figuring out exactly who she wants surrounding her in her role and in her life. “I remember thinking that there was no way I would have wanted to be kidnapped along with this boss, because surviving is an attitude and navigating a crisis is a skill and . . . he didn’t have it,” Lacerca-Allen says of the pharma execs’ kidnapping. “That’s why I have the best compliance team in town. We can navigate any crisis together: I’d be parachuted, or kidnapped, anywhere with them. The right leadership makes a difference in everything you do.
“I admire emotional intelligence in people,” she continues, “the ability to assess a situation fast and accurately, the right instinct and intuition, and the courage to do what is right. In my personal life and in my professional world, I surround myself with people that exhibit those characteristics.”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Lacerca-Allen is an entity all unto herself. She speaks directly, but with charm. Most of her compliance team has been with her from previous jobs. They’ve followed her because they believe in her and the opportunities for self-empowerment she provides.
Compliance Specialist Lucia M. Carrero-Rivera has been with Lacerca-Allen for many years: “I’m still learning from her and the amazing way she is able to navigate through difficult times,” Carrero-Rivera says. “She is the most analytical and strategic person I know who brings out the best in you even when you do not know it. Fabiana will give you passage to excel to the highest levels and has your back every step of the way. Her leadership is strategic and compassionate.”
Lacerca-Allen says she’s deeply proud of how Aimmune has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. She says that Aimmune was able to demonstrate its care for its employees, its patients, and the communities it serves in a responsive yet proactive manner.
Lacerca-Allen is particularly proud of Aimmune’s development of Palforzia, the first-ever FDA-approved peanut allergy treatment for children aged four through seventeen. “Peanut allergies affect so many parts of a child’s life, from where they sit at lunch to whether or not they can attend a movie with the rest of their friends,” Lacerca-Allen remarks. “We can do something to help them, and it makes me passionate about being able to make a difference.”
Lacerca-Allen, no stranger to extreme circumstances, has thrived during the pandemic. “I feel like my upbringing prepared me to address any crisis and to rise to the occasion, including the current global pandemic. Strong leaders display emotional intelligence and an understanding of the issues in a rapidly changing environment and can make a difference. We need to start accepting that life is never going to be the same, and the faster one adapts to that fact, the happier they’re going to be at the end of the day.”
The compliance pro made the best out of suddenly having an extra three hours from her commute to San Francisco available: she grew a garden for the first time in her life, and she’s learning to knit. “I’m so efficient working at home, it’s hard not to look at all of that commuting time—even if it’s just twenty minutes—as wasted time,” Lacerca-Allen says. “It’s about finding ways to connect with people and prioritizing what’s important.”
For the SVP, adapting is about embracing and evolving with the big picture. It’s a quality that Director of Compliance, Auditing, and Monitoring Brenda Crabtree says her boss possesses in spades. “She is the best boss I’ve ever had, and I don’t say that lightly,” Crabtree notes. “Her leadership style is so unique, and her strategy is incredible and—from my perspective—one of her greatest strengths.”
“A corporate environment is a big ship, and a hard one to maneuver,” Hamm adds. “But she’s so nimble. Her risk assessment is based on true active risks that are ever-evolving, and she changes course on a dime to meet the needs of the business.”
“I feel like my upbringing prepared me to address any crisis and to rise to the occasion, including the current global pandemic.”
The development and mentorship Lacerca-Allen provides is also, in its own right, unique. Lacerca-Allen strongly believes in giving back to the community, serving others, and paying it forward. She serves as a board member and an Audit Committee member of Shield Therapeutics, a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of products to address unmet needs in the treatment of iron deficiency. She is also a board member of the Center for Excellence in Life (TCEL), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering youth through life skills development, mentoring, and career counseling.
“I’ve grown and developed with her so much because, as a leader, she will stretch you,” Hamm says. “Both Brenda and I have been volunteered [or] told to do something, and we had to learn how to do it. The difference is that she may push you out of the nest, but she will never, ever let you smash on the concrete.”
“I know she treats her kids exactly like she does us,” Crabtree adds, laughing. “She knows that it’s good for us. She really does things solely for our benefit, and unfortunately that’s incredibly rare in business. She should be the standard.”
Associate Director of Compliance Tatiyana Akers says, “I have also had the pleasure of working with Fabiana over the past eleven years, and she has earned my loyalty and respect through her outstanding leadership which includes pushing us out of our comfort zones, empowering us and giving us the space to flourish, and showing us that strong women can be not only fierce and effective but kind and empathetic as well. I hope I never get kidnapped, but if I do, I am definitely grabbing onto Fabiana until we figure a way out!”
Lacerca-Allen doesn’t tell me whether we would make it if kidnapped together, but at the end of our conversation, she offers, “I’m pretty intuitive and I tend to make accurate and fast decisions about people and their capabilities. I like you a lot. I think you’re going to make a difference.”
The feeling of relief I experienced is enough to understand why Lacerca-Allen’s people stay with her. You want to do right by her because she is looking out for you, always.