Executive Leadership Profile – Meet Rita Amirana

After working 15 years in the clinical operations field of drug development, Rita Amirana wanted an MBA to gain the business knowledge and perspectives needed to move into a broader leadership role in her industry. She came to the MIT Executive MBA Program for its general management curriculum and real-time learning. Her efforts paid off and half-way through the program she became the program lead for neurology and ophthalmology programs at Biogen. After graduation, she was placed in the position of portfolio director in R&D strategy and portfolio leadership.

Q. How is this program helping you to achieve your career goals?

I came to this program with a very open mind. I knew I wanted to break the ceiling and advance from my previous role where I felt I had reached a plateau. I wanted to move into a higher level of strategic influence in drug development, but I didn’t have a clear path mapped out. In the program, I drank from a firehose of knowledge and perspective and immersed myself in new ideas. Now, I’m a lot better equipped to marry my core strengths with the new insights and habits I learned at MIT, which allows me to work at a more senior leadership level. As portfolio director in R&D strategy and portfolio leadership, I’m responsible for driving neurological disease area strategies, portfolio growth strategy, and portfolio prioritization in an emerging growth area for the company.

Q. How applicable is the knowledge from this program to your current role? How is it helping you as a leader?

A major benefit of this program is that you can apply your learning to anything and everything. It’s directly applicable and the impact is immediate. The program provides you with new frameworks, and it changes how you look at things and the way you think. I wouldn’t have been able to transition from my former role in clinical operations to become portfolio director without this education.

Another benefit is the focus on transforming students into innovative and principled leaders, which you see in every aspect of the program. It taught me how to be a courageous manager and think outside the box. I have the knowledge, skills and confidence to make the right decisions, even if the decisions are hard.

Q. How important is diversity in business? What is the environment like in this program?

Diversity in all its forms is important to create a rich environment in any organization. Diversity of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives sparks innovation. But if you look at most industries, there isn’t enough diversity among senior leaders. Top EMBA programs train students to become future business leaders, so it’s important to educate and empower everyone. MIT Sloan’s mission is to develop principled leaders who will improve the world through innovation; diversity of perspectives is a big part of that.

I was immersed in a class of 120 extraordinary people from all types of industries, cultures, parts of the world – you name it. We had about 30% women, which was relatively high although it could be better. All the students are smart, talented and driven to achieve a better version of themselves and improve the world.

Q. Why might it be more challenging for women to come to an EMBA program?

At this stage of life, many women are thinking about starting families or are taking care of children on top of demanding jobs. (I now have three children: a 3-year-old and twin 9-month-olds.) Adding a rigorous academic program to their very busy schedule is daunting and might prevent some women from applying. But there will never be the perfect time to go back to school. Instead of waiting for the planets to align, I advise prospective applicants to think about their definition of success and what they want to get out of an EMBA program. If they have the support of their family and employer and know their goals, then they should go for it. This is very doable.

I realized I was expecting my first child during orientation week. So, I spent half the program pregnant and the other half with an infant. I wasn’t alone in having many balls to juggle. Most students are managing more than work and school. Some are taking care of kids, others are starting new jobs, and others are moving to new locations. Some have incredibly long commutes from overseas! The faculty and administration understand this and are very supportive of students. When my due date fell on the same day as a final exam, the professor was very helpful in accommodating me. The staff also made sure I had a private room to pump milk after my daughter was born. Everyone goes above and beyond to help and ensure that we get the most out of this program and no one is left behind.