Pedro Valencia was born to lead. The vice president of the corporate strategy group at AbbVie has spent the last five years putting his passion for vision and strategy to work at a company known for innovative biopharmaceuticals.
“My role at AbbVie is the convergence of everything that I’ve been trained for,” Valencia explains. “I was trained in engineering and cancer research, I spent time in venture capital, and I’ve worked with various biotech and pharmaceutical companies. I’ve been able to put all of those skills together and really give the best to one company focused on innovation and patient impact—two things I’m very passionate about.”
As the VP sees it, his role is to help senior leaders at AbbVie make critical decisions on wide-ranging topics that have an impact on major investments the company makes and, consequently, impact the overall direction for the organization. Every day, Valencia helps AbbVie address questions like:
“Where are the greatest unmet patient needs? How does the company expand investments to elevate standard of care in key therapeutic areas? What potential technologies could act as disrupters for their business?”
“To answer these questions, there is usually imperfect and complex data where a robust set of frameworks, analytics, and methodologies are critical to help leaders navigate through this process,” the VP says. “I lead a team that, similar to me, has both scientific and business experience, and we closely collaborate with leaders across the company to bring the best thinking and help our leaders make decisions.”
Valencia’s business and scientific expertise aren’t the only contributors to his success. As he explains, he grew up as the youngest of sixteen children. Born and raised in Colombia, the scientist says virtues like order, patience, collaboration, generosity, and hard work were constant family practices.
Valencia immigrated to the US when he was seventeen with five dollars in his pocket. He wanted to attend MIT, but his father relied on him to help pay bills at home. He needed to learn English, find a way to fund his education, and, in the meantime, create an academic record so stellar that MIT couldn’t possibly say no.
MIT didn’t say no, and Valencia thrived at the school. He was even named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for his contribution to nanoparticle synthesis at MIT—an effort that would help make drugs more effective, less toxic, and capable of being combined with other types of medicine. But he soon decided it was time to do something else.
“I enjoyed my time at MIT doing science in the lab, but I gained an emerging passion for biotech and pharma from the business and strategy perspective,” he remembers. “I knew I was missing one key component: business training.” Valencia accepted a job in strategy consulting with a focus on helping major pharma and biotech companies and he began to develop a new area of expertise.
The perseverance Valencia demonstrated at an early age is complemented by an adaptability that has been well honed over the years. Even after he moved to the US, Valencia continued moving around: from Florida, he moved to Wisconsin for undergraduate studies, then attended graduate school in Boston. And as a consultant, he went on to work for new clients in new cities all over the world, roughly every three months.
“I’m always changing my environment, which is incredibly helpful for the work that I do,” the VP explains. “At any point in time, I’m dealing with new kinds of questions from different leaders in the organization while the pharma space itself is undergoing quite a bit of change in the rate of innovation and the way we do business. The adaptability I gained over the years is helping me navigate these changes.”
Today, Valencia is paying it forward as both a leader and mentor. At various points in his career, he has found and connected with mentors that helped him navigate key challenges and unknowns.
Despite a busy schedule running the largest biomedical engineering lab at MIT and founding and advising dozens of companies, Valencia’s PhD advisor at MIT, Robert Langer, invested his time in helping Valencia find and pursue his business calling while completing his scientific training. In addition, Valencia speaks of AbbVie chief strategy officer, Henry Gosebruch, as someone who has continued to impact his journey.
“It’s important for me to give back now, so I spend quite a bit of time trying to help others and give back what I have received,” Valencia says. “I take career development very seriously with my team and spend a significant amount of time helping them navigate changes and find exciting opportunities at AbbVie.”
Off the clock, Valencia stays busy with his six children, all under the age of twelve. The leader and strategist is probably doing some of his best work partnering with his wife to simply managing the children’s busy schedules. But no matter how hectic things get, Valencia knows he’s found his calling.