ELITE Transformational Leader Deborah Waterhouse of GSK

Deborah Waterhouse

Senior Vice President, Primary Care




The Meryl Streep of Pharma

When Deborah Waterhouse describes the type of leadership style she wants to emulate, she mentions actress Meryl Streep.

“She can play everything from Mamma Mia to Sophie’s Choice to Margaret Thatcher—she’s got an extraordinary range,” Deborah explains. “As a leader, I’d like to have the range of Meryl Streep so that in each geographical or cultural situation, my style and my approach work well with people.”

And Deborah has proven to be very Meryl-like in her ability to adapt to any leadership role in any country. She has been the General Manager of GSK Australia and New Zealand; the SVP and Regional Head of Central Europe (which is comprised of 22 countries with more than 2,000 employees); and in 2013 she moved with her family to Philadelphia to take up the role of SVP and Business Head U.S. Vaccines.

“If you’re going to work across multiple geographies, you need to understand, and be exquisitely sensitive to, what works and doesn’t work in different situations,” she explains. “For example, Australians are direct and to the point, no frills—they have a strong, driven, can-do culture. In Asia, the way you work with peers is much more quiet, thoughtful and reflective.”

But Deborah also has core values—at the center of which is compassion. She believes you “turn around a business with your heart.” That’s why in addition to making sure you have the right leaders in place and a vision for the future, she believes it is essential you understand your customers, get their feedback, and get the feedback of the people within your organization who are dealing with customers directly.

Deborah also wants the best for everyone within her own organization and works to ensure everyone is treated equally. In Australia, a 15% to 20% wage gap existed between men and women which the government was working hard to bridge. She became involved in a number of government initiatives to ensure equal opportunities for women in the workplace. And now back in the U.S., she is involved with GSK’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, which embraces a culture of inclusion and empowers women to realize their full potential without limitations.


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