mar 16, 2024

Suja Subramaniam

Suja Subramaniam is the VP of Intellectual Property at Roche Diagnostics – a global leader in healthcare diagnostics, providing innovative solutions and cutting-edge technologies for the accurate and efficient detection of diseases. She is a Member of the Diversity and Inclusion Council at Roche Diagnostics. Suja is an Alum of St. Stephens College, University of Notre Dame, and Franklin Pierce Law Center.

Episode Highlights

  • [00:00] Nitin Bajaj welcomes Sujatha Subramanium (Suja), the head of the intellectual property group for Roche Diagnostics, to the show. Suja discusses her role in driving Roche Diagnostics’ success through innovation and intellectual property.
  • [02:33] Suja highlights the importance of innovation and intellectual property in the success of Roche Diagnostics. Her team is responsible for protecting and preserving the company’s intellectual property related to innovative diagnostic tests.
  • [05:39] Suja discusses the challenges of bringing innovation to life, particularly in the fast-paced world of evolving technology. Staying up-to-date with technology is crucial for patent attorneys to remain relevant.
  • [08:08] Suja emphasizes the need to adopt new technology in an ethical and responsible manner. Balancing the excitement of innovation with potential risks is important for both the team and the organization.
  • [09:24] Suja shares her personal definition of success, which involves building and leading a team to deliver and protect innovation. She reflects on a lesson learned from working in a Swiss German-speaking organization and the importance of accommodating language differences.
  • [13:33] Suja discusses her hobbies and ways to de-stress, including fashion design and sewing. Sewing is a stress-reliever for her and allows her to have “me time.”
  • [16:24] Suja shares her top three life lessons: believing in optimism without expectation, listening without judgment, and persevering through challenges.
  • [17:42] Nitin Bajaj expresses admiration for Suja’s journey, story, and lessons. Suja thanks Nitin for keeping people safe and healthy and expresses gratitude for being on the show.

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

[00:00:00.00] – Nitin Bajaj

Hey, everyone. Welcome to the industry show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj. And joining me today is Sujatha Subramanium. Sujatha, welcome on the show.


[00:00:09.30] – Suja Subramanium

Thank you so much for having me, Nitin.


[00:00:11.90] – Nitin Bajaj

Pleasure is all ours. So let’s start with the question. Who is Sujatha?


[00:00:17.60] – Suja Subramanium

Alright. I go by the name Suja, by the way. So I head the intellectual property group for Roche Diagnostics. So as a seasoned patent attorney, I bring a unique blend of legal expertise and a strategic vision to drive Roche Diagnostics success to bring innovative products to our patients. One of my superpowers, if you may, is to build transformative teams so that we are delivering high impactful services and solutions to our organization. Outside being a patent attorney, I’m a wife and mother to two beautiful young girls. I believe in and very passionate about coaching, mentoring, talent succession, especially of young leaders from the Southeast Asian community and believe in community services that have an impactful impact on the society long term and create value. So that’s me in a nutshell.


[00:01:23.70] – Nitin Bajaj

Thanks, Suja. And Roche is no small name. And heading up IP for them, that’s big responsibility, but then you also have the big shoulders to to lead that. Tell us and share as much as you’re able to the impact that your team is able to bring around.


[00:01:46.09] – Suja Subramanium

Yeah. So just to take a step back, Roche Diagnostics delivers diagnostic tests and instruments and digital solutions to our patients worldwide. So it is really a cutting edge innovative company. So intellectual property plays a very important role in the overall success of the organization. So what my team does is really be at the forefront of that innovation to protect the innovations and also the related intellectual property that lies within the innovation so that Roche continues to bring impactful and meaningful diagnostic tests to the patients worldwide. And to me, it is really important. We are partners with our business organization because innovation is one part, but you also need to protect it. And you can imagine for diagnostics, it’s really important to have those accurate tests without which it’s not just the patient, but the whole ecosystem of their environment that relies on accurate test results. Sometimes knowing what the problem is half the solution. So my team is global. We work across US and Europe. And so we really work with the business and to protect the valuable asset of Roche.


[00:03:14.00] – Nitin Bajaj

And that asset is fairly large.


[00:03:16.00] – Suja Subramanium



[00:03:18.00] – Nitin Bajaj

Now, you know, what makes me curious is to learn why people do something. And in many ways also what’s so exciting and what’s the curiosity and what drives them to do those things. I’d love for you to share the why behind what you do.


[00:03:41.40] – Suja Subramanium

Oh, it’s very simple. I love science. I love innovation. I love science. And I cannot imagine to be in a different place where I get to see totally cutting edge technology before anybody in the public gets to see it. And that is just so exciting. Long time ago, when I had to go to my kids’ school to explain what does mommy do, I had this analogy and it stuck with me that, oh, this is a good analogy to give. Imagine explaining to five year olds what a patent attorney does.


[00:04:17.89] – Nitin Bajaj



[00:04:18.19] – Suja Subramanium

So I explained to them saying, hey, have you all been on an airplane or seen an airplane? And they all said, yes. I said, imagine I get to see it even before it is build and up in the sky. So that is exactly what excites me, and technology is always evolving.


[00:04:38.80] – Nitin Bajaj



[00:04:39.19] – Suja Subramanium

So innovation comes with this concept of evolution of technology. And when you are working at a company like Roche that does cutting edge innovation, you get to see innovation at its birthplace.


[00:04:56.69] – Nitin Bajaj



[00:04:57.00] – Suja Subramanium

So that’s very exciting, and I’m very excited to work with some of the smartest people on this planet who bring innovative solutions to patients.


[00:05:06.69] – Nitin Bajaj

That is truly exciting. And I think just to take a step further, and correct me if I misunderstand this, but just knowing a little bit about Roche, it’s not just cutting edge, but you’re, in many cases, defining what that edge looks like. And you kinda get to be on the front row seat to see all of that happen and transpire in front of your eyes. So, yeah, I can imagine.


[00:05:33.50] – Suja Subramanium

Yeah. And it’s front and sometimes backstage too, which is more excitement. Absolutely. Yeah. And we define innovation. We define solutions. And as a patent attorney, I get to see it all.


[00:05:47.10] – Nitin Bajaj

That is amazing. I’m a little bit jealous. So now that’s the why and that amazing opportunity that you’re driving and helping bring this innovation to life for several million of us on pretty much a daily basis. What’s the one big challenge you, as the leader of the team, as a patent attorney, that you face in bringing this innovation to life?


[00:06:20.30] – Suja Subramanium

I think it’s the same thing. It’s the fast pacing changing technology. Right? I think as patent attorneys, we are scientists at heart and we have to keep up with technology to keep pace with the evolving innovation.


[00:06:39.10] – Nitin Bajaj



[00:06:39.39] – Suja Subramanium

And I would say for my team, that is the biggest challenge. If you look in the last one year with AI, it continues to be a big challenge. And you would think, what is that got to do with patent attorneys? But AI is everywhere. How do we use those tools effectively? How do we work with our scientists who are potentially using AI? So these are some of the challenges. It’s both a gift and a challenge to work with such changing innovation because you have to keep pace yourself and constantly stay curious and constantly stay involved, and that takes a lot. And sometimes change feels a lot to people. So motivating the team to be curious, motivating the team to stay in pace with the technology, giving them the space to learn new things, I think it’s a constant challenge that I’m constantly thinking, how do we work with our scientists, but also give the space to my team to grow.


[00:07:49.10] – Nitin Bajaj

Yeah. And I would think in some cases, it’s also tempering that excitement that, hey. Maybe we can’t do that just yet. As exciting as it may seem, we need to put some guardrails around, or we need need to think about that a little more before we can venture because lives are at stake in Right. In this case.


[00:08:09.80] – Suja Subramanium

Yeah. Absolutely. And I think that’s the key. Right? It’s to me, when a new technology is presented, it’s not always when we adopt adapt it. Right? It’s how and the right way to adapt it so that we’re doing it a ethical way. We are doing it the right way. This is no joke when it comes to innovation. So it’s always striking that balance, not only for my team, but also for the organization as a large.


[00:08:39.60] – Nitin Bajaj

Makes sense. Now as we think about these things, I would love for you to take a look back in the mirror and take us in the past. Talk about two moments. One, where things did not play out as you had expected, and it was maybe a failure and a lesson. And another one where it exceeded your own expectations and became a success beyond what you had imagined.


[00:09:11.50] – Suja Subramanium

Wow. That’s a, that’s a tough one. Right? Let me answer the success question first. Right? I think to me, the fact that we innovate and we continue to protect innovation, I think, is a success every day. To me, personally, the team that I create and build to deliver that innovation and protect that innovation, to me, that is a success. And I celebrate every day as a success. So to me, I wake up in the morning and I’m like, yep. This is a good day. I go to bed saying, okay. Was a successful day. So I think that’s to me, success is defined every day. In terms of lessons learned, I think if I go back about fifteen years, I did an assignment, an expat assignment in Switzerland with Roche. But this was not in the headquarters of Basel, but a small company that Roche had bought. And this was in the middle of the Emmental Valley, so very Swiss German speaking organization. We had retained ninety percent of the scientists. So, again, very local, very, very Swiss, great place. I went in with a very big rush mentality. This is a we are a global company. Everybody should be speaking. How can they not speak English in at work? And I was so uptight about it. I wish I had paused and really looked at solutions and taken help from others to say, okay. It’s okay. There are people who are comfortable speaking to me in English, and there are people who are not. And what can I do to help people who are not comfortable? Can I put a team member who they are more comfortable with? But I took this whole them not speaking to me in English so personally that I pretty much made my life miserable. And here I was in beautiful Switzerland, but I had made my life miserable because I was so upset that people were not speaking to me in English. This is Roche. What are they thinking? So if I were to go back and change, and I actually learned that, and I reflected on it ten years later. And today, I lead a global team, and I do have local people both in Switzerland, Germany, and other places. And the way I lead now is I have somebody there who is my trusted partner when local topics come up. So it’s not all about me being the person who needs to communicate, but having a trusted partner. And I can tell you this has made my leadership journey so much more richer and so much more empowering than what it was fifteen years ago. So I I don’t call this a failure, but a very important lesson for me in my own creating my own happiness, if you may, in not holding on to things and taking things put personally, but trying to find a solution which creates the space to do something else. True.


[00:12:44.60] – Nitin Bajaj

First off, thank you for sharing that. These moments are so personal. These are sometimes even shameful that how could I be? And because we once we cross that line, we see, oh, how could I have been that silly? Yeah. So thank you for sharing that. Two, I agree with you that it’s failure is just a different way of talking about lessons. Because if we learn from that, we didn’t really fail. We grew. We matured. We now have a different perspective of life, of ourselves, and how we can be better each day. And to your point about success, we should have a daily measure and say, was I successful today? And if so, what did I learn? How did I grow? And how can I be a better person for myself, but also for my team, for my family, and others? Really appreciate you sharing that. In terms of if we take a step back and talk about what do you do for fun, What do you do to de stress? What do you do to just reset? Because there is a lot going on. Right? There is innovation, culture. There is different time zones. And then, of course, you being having your own family responsibilities. So how do you step back?


[00:14:07.60] – Suja Subramanium

Yeah. So two years ago, I started taking fashion design classes.


[00:14:14.00] – Nitin Bajaj



[00:14:15.29] – Suja Subramanium

Yeah. I’ve always been interested in clothes and jewelry and fashion. Not like Emily in Paris kind of a way, but just curious about it. And so I said, okay. I had a little bit of time. A friend of mine who’s very creative was giving these classes, and I said, fine. She was quite flexible. And this was still when we were working from home, so I had a little bit more time and at least the flexibility. And and it’s been really fun. So what I do is I actually am big time into upcycling. So I take old clothes and try to give it a new look, and that is so much fun. It’s this transformation. Right? You pick a piece of cloth and you transform it into something else. It lets you have that imagination. It’s just fun for me. And I think the best part about stitching that I found was you can always undo and redo it. Cool. That’s the beautiful part about it. That’s my kind of de stressor. If I sit with my sewing machine or a needle thread in hand, everybody knows that, okay. Now she just needs her me time, and she’s thinking about what to do and stuff like that. So, yeah, that’s my that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two years. I also practice yoga pretty much four four days a week. So that’s the other thing that I really incorporate into my daily life. Yeah. But apart from that, those are my two big de stressors that I do.


[00:15:48.29] – Nitin Bajaj

So we’re looking forward to seeing some of your upcycle designs showing up in some of these Swiss stores pretty soon. I I


[00:15:56.79] – Suja Subramanium

I I don’t think so. This is mainly for me. It’s just fun. I just love Yeah. Looking at a piece of cloth and now I’m, my kids get so annoyed because when I go shopping, I’m, like, looking at the seam and going, okay. How much seam does it have? And but there is a downside too because my kids now think that I can pretty much, they can buy whatever size they want. And I And you you


[00:16:17.50] – Nitin Bajaj

you you can just


[00:16:18.60] – Suja Subramanium

I can just do it. But so I’ve had to temper those expectations. So That


[00:16:25.50] – Nitin Bajaj

is so fun. Now onto my favorite part of the show, which we call the one line life lessons. Suja, we would love for you to share your life lessons with us.


[00:16:37.79] – Suja Subramanium

I think I have top three. And the first one is I believe in optimism and not expectation. So when I whenever I’m looking at things, I’m looking at it optimistically, but zero expectation. The second one is my all time favorite because I think we need to remind ourselves this more, and it goes back to listening and not coming to a table with judgment. So it’s don’t yuck someone else. Yum. And the third one, which is my mantra when I’m sitting in a meeting and going, this is not going the way I want it to go or things at home are not going, it’s let’s keep swimming. So I just believe in that that you just have to move forward. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. So I have a little Dory on my table to remind me of that. Yeah. I would say these are my top three, like one liner that I live by and have a little post it note on my computer to remind me of these.


[00:17:42.90] – Nitin Bajaj

Love those. Love the simplicity. Love the execution. Just focus and keep moving. Suja thank you so much for making the time to share your journey, your story, your lessons. And thank you again for all you do, obviously, with your team to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, and really appreciate all of that.


[00:18:03.20] – Suja Subramanium

No. Thank you for having me. This was fun. And, yeah, I appreciated being on your show. Thank you again.


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