Tola Olorunnisola tells women to dare themselves to try - and to never underestimate their skills

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

Women in Science - Avantor's Tola Olorunnisola

Related tags scientist Digital innovations Supply chain Logistics Manufacturing CDMO Supply chain management

Tola Olorunnisola is currently senior vice president, clinical services & strategy at Avantor and along with her team is working on delivering digital innovations in the lab.

Could you give us an overview of your work?

My team is responsible for Avantor’s overall services strategy, which centers on the innovations in the lab to drive efficiency, productivity, and transparency. We are also responsible for delivering end-to-end supply chain logistics and sample management for clinical trials, general healthcare, and clinical and diagnostic labs.

In this position, my team and I consult with customers and identify their unmet needs to address the problems they are trying to solve. From there, we configure a unique plan that combines Avantor’s products, services, and experts to help them solve their challenge. This could be anything from digital platforms to manage their inventory, assembling kits for specimen collection, trial equipment setup, and managing/storing samples either onsite at their locations or offsite at one of Avantor’s biorepositories.  At Avantor, we are committed to customer centricity and bespoke solutions to push our biopharma partners’ scientific breakthroughs forward. I help equip our customers, from small biotechs to large pharmas, with the extra arms and legs they need to drive efficiency and optimize processes from bench to bedside.

I am particularly focused on building the lab of the future for the next generation of scientists, leveraging our expertise in workflow optimization, digital commerce, data informatics, and digital services. Our goal is to craft a connected and adaptive digital ecosystem that is uniquely designed for each customer so that they can focus on their scientific goals.

When did you realize you were interested in science, was it as a young child, teen, older?

I studied electrical engineering in college and had my first internship with GE Healthcare, which solidified my interest in hardware and software engineering. This is also when I was officially introduced into the medical device and life sciences industry. I enjoyed working with the bright people in this space, and from there I knew that I wanted to continue providing technological solutions in support of scientific innovation.

Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

Upon graduating as an electrical engineer and completing my internship with GE Healthcare, I received a full-time position in GE’s digital technology leadership program, which consisted of four 6-month rotations in different roles. Early in my career I was tasked with big business problems and had to learn and react quickly before moving on to the next area of the business. This experience embedded me in the business process, where I learned what makes GE Healthcare tick.

After 10+ years with GE, I shifted to a career as a consultant where I touched a variety of industries including consumer packaged goods, luxury and fashion, financial services, and mergers and acquisitions. In this 5-year phase of my career, I learned how to grow, commercialize, and build revenue.

A role at Avantor was presented to me by a former colleague, and I knew it was the best of both worlds. In this position, I could combine both my business and technological expertise, all the while working together with customers who were making profound impacts on the life sciences industry.

What challenges did you face (as a woman or otherwise) along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

A challenge that has impacted both my professional and personal life has been finding a balance that works for me. I traveled very often in my career through GE and as a consultant, and it put a strain on my growing family and work-life balance. I decided to pivot my career outside of consultancy, as it provided a better balance at that point in my life. As a woman, it is a constant battle to balance your work, time with loved ones, and time for yourself. It can be disheartening when you lose control of that balance.

Another challenge that has shaped my career is managing the balance between working in ​the business and working on​ the business. What I mean by that is balancing the short-term goals, the everyday work and the immediate wins, with the long-term goals that will ultimately drive your company and customers forward. It is common to want to see immediate gain come from your efforts, but sometimes you need to step back and look at the bigger picture. It could take months, or years, to see your goals come to fruition. On the other hand, it’s important to celebrate the small wins. Perfect can be the enemy of good; I work hard not to miss the opportunity to be good consistently!                                                                              

Through these struggles of finding balance, I’ve become more adaptable and accepting of change. I have come to accept that my personal and professional life will be constantly evolving. The most valuable lesson I’ve gained from this is that the ability to pivot and take challenges as they come will make all the difference.

What ignites your passion in your current role?

My passion is ignited by the people we help with what we do at Avantor, from their discovery to delivery journey and the ability to play a part in their success. I see myself as one of many ambassadors for Avantor’s scientific expertise. The services that we provide are eliminating wasted time in the lab, in turn helping these scientists carry out scientific innovation that is bringing groundbreaking drugs to market faster. The impact starts in the lab but extends through to commercialization of a drug. The feedback we receive from the scientists when we help them solve a problem or mitigate a pain point and knowing that we are setting the next generation of scientists up for success makes the work worth it.

What is your current work ethos/style?

My current professional philosophy is to not be afraid of a challenge and to tackle it head on, no matter how daunting. Our customers come to us for answers that they cannot find anywhere else. They put their trust in us, and it would be a disservice to them and the science to not face these challenges head on. I approach situations with optimism and confidence in Avantor’s products and services and our collective partnership.

Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

I would tell young women to not underestimate themselves and their abilities. Don’t avoid tough challenges; dare yourself to try. Accept the role that no one else wants. Be the leader that steps up. In science, knowledge is acquired through trial and error. This is how I push myself to grow, and how we uncover solutions for customers so that they can make breakthrough discoveries. Be accepting of the challenge and if at first you do not succeed, pivot and try again. The struggle and the mistakes will only educate you. You, your career, and the industry will not evolve and grow if you cannot embrace change. 

Related news

Show more

Follow us