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Working Life: Kai Gait, Senior Global Digital Director at GlaxoSmithKline

Published on 06/12/18 at 09:15am

Kai Gait, Senior Global Digital Director at GlaxoSmithKline, retraces the steps that have led him to where he is today, and discusses what prompted his interest in technology, and how he believes it will continue to impact healthcare over the coming years.

What led you to your current position as Senior Global Digital Director at GSK?

My career path and how I got to where I am has been very varied. At school, I wanted to be an engineer. However, I ended up being a research scientist, and not a very good one, so it was safer me being out of the laboratories! I did do some cool innovative work in research though; I became self-taught in web design and web technologies quite early on due to needing to move information around, and from there I chose to start my own business helping companies move online. That was very successful, giving me the opportunity to work across the UK, Europe and the US, winning quite a few awards in the process.

It was from here that I was offered an opportunity to work with the AstraZeneca global digital marketing function to manage one of their key therapy areas – cardiovascular. I grew their key site to become one of the world's biggest cardiovascular websites for healthcare professionals and I absolutely loved the work. We had a really high-performing team and we pushed the boundaries of what we could do with the technologies and how we could grow the audiences. Since then I’ve moved between different pharmaceutical companies, with various roles.  Each of my different positions has moved me around – I lived in the UK, Switzerland, Sweden and the US, mixed with a lot of time travelling, but key is that each role has presented new challenges. 

What first motivated your interest in technology?

My parents brought a Sinclair ZX81 home when I was younger, one of the first real home computers, and I spent hours programming it. I found it fascinating and saw that technology was an enabler, although the early days were mainly gaming. I'm fascinated by technology and how it can be used to expand our knowledge, make connections or even simplify our own lives. That's what really excites me about technology: how we use it and what it can potentially do to help us lead better lives. 

What technologies do you anticipate will have the biggest impact on healthcare in coming years?

From a healthcare perspective, there are a whole range of areas where I see technology having a big impact. Two areas where I’ve been focussed are digital therapeutics and medicines. We have designed products that aren't necessarily medicines but are tools that enable us to understand or manage our health, potentially without medication. The second is digital medicines, where we’re beginning to augment existing medicines or future medicines with technology. There are already examples of this including Proteus, the chip-enabled pill. We’ve also got sensors in medical devices for drug delivery – diabetes has been like this for a while in auto-managing insulin delivery. These are just a few of the things that exist today and GSK is evaluating many new areas where technology can support, from clinical trials, including Apple’s ResearchKit, right the way through to smart medicines.

For me, where this will lead to is going to be phenomenal in terms of helping patients, carers and healthcare professionals understand conditions and medication use in more detail. As we move towards this space, we’ll generate more data and be reliant on technology to help us make sense of it. At the moment, technology companies aggregate health data and we have an opportunity as an industry to build upon that, layering up data to try and help patients and healthcare professionals.

Having worked in a number of large firms, what differences have you found and where do you feel most at home?

Each company I’ve worked at has been slightly different, and to be quite honest, I’ve loved the work I’ve done and the people I’ve had the fortune to work with. If I think back to working with AstraZeneca, we built tools and services fifteen years ago that only feel like they came to market five years ago. We developed survey tools that were miles ahead of products such as SurveyMonkey, and we did these things for a pharmaceutical company. If people say pharma’s never really been cutting edge in digital – that’s wrong! It is, and it has been for a while.

I’ve been very fortunate to work on some amazing projects with GSK and I love that the people here are incredibly passionate about doing the best thing for the patient. I’ve been really surprised by how quickly the business has moved towards agile ways of working. Teams now really focus on solving real problems and iterating their solutions, getting continuous feedback as they progress. It means we can learn quickly, fail faster, but on a smaller scale and also with less risk. It’s fantastic to see GSK taking approaches from other industries and bringing them into everyday use.

What countries have you enjoyed working and living in?

I’m a real fidget because I really do like living in different countries. I’ve loved working and living in Switzerland and Sweden, but I’d say I have a stronger affinity for the Nordics. I’ve been fortunate to work with exceptional people in every country. As long as I enjoy my role and feel like I can make a difference – if I get to see the world as I’m doing it, that’s an added bonus.

What continues to motivate you in your current role?

In my current role, I’ve been given an opportunity to work in a space that hardly anybody has worked in. And I don’t just mean in GSK, I mean across the board. Digital medicines and digital therapeutics are very cutting edge. There are start-ups working in this space that have brought products to market, but we were the first pharma company to bring a mobile medical device app to market with MyAsthma. I feel fortunate that GSK supported us to try something so different and so cutting edge. On top of that, what I really like is that I’m pushed outside my own comfort zone – I have to learn at a phenomenal rate as I’ve been asked questions on areas that I had no experience in previously. I think being in the mindset of the curious engineer, it makes me want to understand it and makes me want to learn more.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

That can be tricky at times, but for me, my family is very important. I saw in Sweden that family is critical, and time is precious together. This means I want to be home for dinner with my family, so that we all spend time together, and we make sure that we’re not on our phones or using technology at the table. We have a lot of technology in the house, but we avoid it at family time. We spend a lot of time together because it’s a good de-stressor, but I know work-life balance can be tricky. I’m very fortunate that GSK recognises how important this is and is therefore supportive of work-life balance, giving flexibility through working hours and being able to work from different locations.

We actually had a digital detox a few weeks ago; we went to Iceland and stayed away from email and all that. We did have phones with us to navigate, but it was much more fun using a paper map, believe it or not. Whilst we have a lot of tech in the house, we automate most things including lights and heating so that we don’t have to worry about it. My little boy is fascinated by Lego as I was as a little boy, so he’s not distracted by the iPad or computers – he’s just quite happy to build, which is great for his imagination. We also travel a lot; we’re always here, there and everywhere, doing little things. When workloads get high and we need that break, we always know we’ve got a little adventure around the corner.

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