This much I know
Gilead Sciences’ Karina Inga-Kamienski discusses the importance of purpose, raising your hand for opportunities and why feeling uncomfortable means you’re learning.
Senior Director, Capital Markets
Based in the Bay Area, Karina joined Gilead 16 years ago in a cash management role. Since then, the company’s revenues have grown from US$3bn to US$27bn and the number of employees from 3,000 to 17,000. In 2020, she led dual roles in capital markets and investor relations during an unprecedented year that culminated with the approval of Gilead’s COVID-19 treatment Veklury, and the US$21bn acquisition of Immunomedics, the company’s largest acquisition to date.
Outside her role at Gilead, Karina is the founder of the Women in Treasury Network, the Next Generation of Women in Treasury and the Latinas in Finance and Treasury Circle.
Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a biopharmaceutical company that seeks to create a healthier world for all people. The company focuses on preventing and treating life-threatening diseases, including HIV, viral hepatitis and cancer. Gilead operates in more than 35 countries worldwide, with headquarters in Foster City, California.
How did you arrive in your current role?
I moved to the US from Peru when I was 15 years old. After I finished school (I am a first-generation college graduate) I did an undergraduate degree in finance and began working in a local financial institution as a branch manager. This gave me a great foundation in customer service, and the importance of serving others and connecting with them.
I continued my education with a Masters, and then joined the accounting department of a local corporate. Later I applied for a job in treasury at the same company, starting as Senior Treasury Analyst. Here I learned about the importance of debt and paying attention to cash levels; making sure we were covered for the days and weeks ahead because the company had very thin margins.
After this I became a treasury consultant for a boutique firm in the Bay Area with a large client base. This really opened my eyes to all elements of treasury including FX and investments. I later joined Gilead.
What advice do you have around career progression?
I started out at Gilead doing cash management and investment reporting. There was an opportunity to work in FX and I raised my hand, and I also put myself forward to work in our capital markets division. I asked if I could give it a try and was given the support from management to explore this different area of treasury.
I have also worked in investor relations, an opportunity that came about via having a mentor. I wanted to explore other areas of the business without leaving treasury and learn an area that would be complimentary to treasury. I voiced the idea with management and the CFO was supportive of a dual role working in investor relations and capital markets. It involved a huge amount of hard work and long hours, but I learned so much and got visibility into new areas, particularly executive management and communicating with external stakeholders. I knew I was learning because I constantly felt uncomfortable and stretched!
What are the key ingredients of career success?
I have always been a planner. I remember jotting down as a kid my goals and the age I would finish high school, and when I would go to college! I think it is important to plan, but also keep things flexible. For me, planning involves factoring in additional learning and knowing how to prepare for something two-three steps down the road. But the most important element of a successful career is doing a good job. This way people get to know you and your brand, you become someone who can be trusted; known to deliver and asked to work on the next project. It is also important to consider how you deliver. Networking is essential and it is about people knowing what you can do. Don’t burn any bridges; be kind and understand that you can’t do it alone.
I wanted to explore other areas of the business without leaving treasury and learn an area that would be complimentary to treasury.
What gets you up in the morning?
I believe in the mission of the company and know that somehow the work I am doing is having a positive impact. I also enjoy the strategic aspect of what I do. It involves understanding the business from a high level, knowing the key drivers and upcoming catalysts that could impact the business. All this information is critical in the long-range liquidity planning and making decisions around capital structure and shareholder return. Also, there is continuous learning and staying apprised of the market dynamics. I feel that I am in a privileged position as part of the team and get excited when I know that what we are doing could bring us a new medicine.
What was it like during COVID-19?
I found working during the peak of COVID-19 very tough, particularly not being close to the team. It was also hard to balance work and life. At that time, I was working in a dual role in our capital markets and investor relations teams. However, it was very rewarding to see how our work and Gilead’s COVID-19 treatment was part of the solution and had a positive impact on the pandemic. In 2020, we also completed our largest acquisition in Gilead’s history. Working in various cross functional teams during unprecedent times, I learned to navigate through new challenging circumstances by adapting and constantly re-prioritising. Many new leaders joined our company just prior and during the pandemic which meant adapting to a new executive team and an evolving culture. The support and inclusion coming from the top at that time was very important, and something I carry with my team too.
Describe your style of leadership
In my team we all have different strengths that complement each other. My leadership style centres around trust and inclusion, and I also love to develop talent – we plan it out and I make sure I give them the opportunity to explore new ideas, learn and grow. I also recognise people’s contribution, calling them out individually in the room. I also try and help them if they are stuck on something, removing barriers and coming in as an assistant so that in this way it is very much about serving them. I also always try to anticipate changes so that we can plan for things and reduce future stress levels. It’s important to talk about what is coming and be prepared be it with the right tools, knowledge and resources.
Also, there is continuous learning and staying apprised of the market dynamics. I feel that I am in a privileged position as part of the team and get excited when I know that what we are doing could bring us a new medicine.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
I would say my parents are my biggest source of inspiration and my role models for their kindness, perseverance and courage. My family and sisters motivate me too. The power of the treasury community also inspires me. I meet with my Women in Treasury network about six times a year, and we have just celebrated our fifth anniversary. Mentoring is also a source of inspiration; I am a mentor and also have my own mentor. From her, I’ve learned about what makes the relationship successful, and how a lot of that success resides in the mentee being proactive about sharing the topic of discussion ahead of our meetings and having a growth mindset and open to receive guidance. I know my mentor is also available any time I need her!