Priorities for C-Suite in 2022, According to Dr. Leen Kawas

Priorities for C-Suite in 2022, According to Dr. Leen Kawas

Daniel Hall 16/12/2022
Priorities for C-Suite in 2022, According to Dr. Leen Kawas

Dr. Leen Kawas co-founded Athira Pharma and served as CEO from 2014 until 2021.

This experience taught her a lot about choosing and managing priorities for a growing company. She became adept at managing in times of uncertainty and always looked for the opportunities presented by change, rather than just the challenges. Despite her optimism, Dr. Kawas acknowledges that the past two years have been like nothing any C-Suite executive has ever faced.

What Are the Current Challenges?

No industry has remained unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic that began in 2020, and many of the initial challenges are here to stay. For example, the remote workforce exploded out of necessity and will only continue to become an everyday reality for the industries that can accommodate it. 

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to grow, so do cyberattacks. When executives add in supply-chain issues and consumer behavior that has permanently changed, knowing where to focus can seem overwhelming. Dr. Kawas has been in this position and understands the challenges all too well. She recently shared some of her top ideas for where C-Suite executives should focus their time, energy, and finances in 2022 and beyond. 

Gain a Greater Understanding of Artificial Intelligence Capabilities

From surgery performed by robots to assessing a patient’s prescription drug history based on publicly available records, Dr. Kawas has seen AI play a huge role in the broader medical industry. She has also observed that many executives want to use AI but do not understand what it can do or how to use it. A good place to start is to understand the following basic capabilities of AI:

  • Processing an enormous amount of data in a short time

  • Making granular predictions

  • Continuously learning and improving the more people use it

  • Ability to scale at little to no cost

At the same time, AI is not human and still relies on the creativity and judgment of the people running it to operate as efficiently as possible. In a best-case scenario, AI can transform any operating model or business process, run by humans. 

Dr. Kawas urges executives to use AI according to the company’s values to avoid outcomes that could cause reputational damage. Investing in extensive training before operating any form of AI is highly recommended.

Take a Dual Approach to Data Protection and Cybersecurity

Remote and hybrid work allows business owners to reduce overhead while providing employees with greater flexibility in their work schedules. Even so, a downside to the arrangement quickly emerged after the pandemic forced millions of people to work from home – the increased risk of cyberattacks. With the dark side of the internet quickly growing, any executive should assume their company will face an attack sooner rather than later. They also need to consider that these attacks affect all endpoints, including third parties, vendors, and clients. 

How can C-Suite executives protect their company’s resources against an inevitable cyberattack? According to Dr. Kawas, the key is to develop a cybersecurity strategy that offers multiple layers of resilience and protection. The plan must provide visibility across the company’s entire infrastructure and the company must be able to effectively aggregate data to obtain higher quality intelligence. Businesses must prioritize investing in cybersecurity tools and processes, especially now that some have more people working from remote locations than in the local office.

Focus on Building Stronger Relationships with Employees and Contractors

Employees were making greater demands for things such as flexible work schedules, healthier work environments and benefits that better reflected their lifestyle before the pandemic. The past two years have caused many people to reflect on what is truly important to them, and the need for greater work-life balance has come out on top. 

Employees realize that they want more than a job or career and many will not hesitate to leave a company that places too many demands on them. Fulfilling a deeper purpose has become much more important to many employees, as has developing relationships with peers and managers that go beyond surface-level politeness. 

Dr. Kawas advises executives to accept the new world of work and not try to cling to the way things were. In other words, she recommends that they take the time to recalibrate; speak to employees at both ends of the spectrum, which describes those who are obviously happy with their job and those who would leave if the right opportunity came along. 

What makes the most content workers happy and the least content workers unhappy? The answers to these questions will serve as a starting point for improving employee relations across the board. Here are some questions Dr. Kawas recommends asking employees who state that they are unhappy with their job and/or employer most of the time:

  • Do you have any specific ideas about how to make this a better place to work?

  • What resources would you need from me or the company to experiment with some of the changes you suggest?

Employers are often surprised to learn that while salary is important, it often fails to make the list of top three to five things people would change about their jobs. The importance of benefits, such as daycare stipends, employee assistance programs, reskilling and upskilling, became obvious during the earliest days of the pandemic.

Flexibility continues to top the list of employee concerns, with people desiring to have more control over their working hours and whether they complete their duties from home or the office. Having observed several medical manufacturing environments, Dr. Kawas stresses that it is not just office workers who need greater flexibility. Manufacturing companies often start shifts before daycare centers are open, so even small changes like adjusting the starting time could go a long way in reducing worker stress.

Dr. Kawas urges executives not to stop trying to improve employee relations with these types of changes. They need to begin making real human connections with the people they manage and do whatever they can to support employees and their families. When employees feel taken care of, they respond by doing the very best work that they can.

Seek to Understand How Consumers Make Decisions

Consumer confidence is returning, but that does not mean businesses should immediately start advertising and selling the way they did before the pandemic. Most businesses will still be in stabilization mode from the pandemic through at least the end of 2022. Dr. Kawas believes this is universal, although she concedes that some industries will recover faster than others, based on their customer base and primary product or service offering. She believes businesses that produce or sell direct-to-consumer products should focus on the following things in the coming year:

  • Becoming more relevant to customers

  • Improving digital adaptation

  • Resolving supply-chain issues to the best of the company’s ability

With more people shopping online than ever before, it is critical to establish downstream capabilities such as ecosystem partnerships, sales, and marketing. An investment in frontline digital technology will help businesses reach customers who prefer to do most of their shopping online.

Supply-chain issues are worldwide, and not always something that individual businesses can control. Dr. Kawas advises executives to sign contracts with local suppliers whenever possible, to make themselves less vulnerable to delays and inventory shortages. A resilient supply chain with a good mix of products is key to success in a consumer culture forever changed by the pandemic.

Executives of consumer businesses must understand that pre-pandemic ways of shopping are unlikely to return entirely. Since people do not value brands in the same way they used to, [according to research/consumer trends], businesses are seeing greater diversity in the demand for products in various categories. 

During the pandemic, people have also spent more time online, which has made many more conscious of health and environmental sustainability. However, marketers should not zero in on making sales based on these parameters without understanding what drives them. Dr. Kawas predicts that companies that take the time to understand how consumer demand has evolved will enjoy the most rapid recoveries.

About Dr. Leen Kawas

Dr. Kawas arrived in the United States in 2008 to attend Washington State University, where she earned her PhD in molecular pharmacology. She has since made Washington State her home, going on to complete the Executive Education program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in 2015. Before attending WSU, Dr. Kawas earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Jordan, in her home country. 

According to Business Insider, Dr. Kawas was one of only 22 female founders and CEOs to lead their company to an Initial Public Offering (IPO), as of February 2021; and was also the first woman to guide a company through an IPO in Washington State in over 20 years, when Athira went public. 

Dr. Kawas currently sits on multiple boards related to Alzheimer’s disease and life sciences in general. She invented Athira’s lead drug candidate, ATH-1017, as well as several other drug candidates in Athira’s pipeline. 

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Daniel Hall

Business Expert

Daniel Hall is an experienced digital marketer, author and world traveller. He spends a lot of his free time flipping through books and learning about a plethora of topics.

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