Tracy Ting’s Mission to Innovate

Tracy Ting helps Avanir Pharmaceuticals promote its message of commitment to patients

Photo by Cass Davis

Grit and resilience. Those two words define the worldview of Tracy Ting. As vice president and chief people officer at Avanir Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Aliso Viejo, California, Ting has been helping the company transform its messaging—including its mission, vision, and values—to better reflect the work it does and the people who do it. That grit and resilience, she says, come directly from her father.

Ting and her family moved from Hong Kong to the United States in 1983 when she was eleven. As a young man, her father, a native of mainland China, had been directed toward a career in farming by the government. “But he was scholarly and wanted to go to school, so he took his mom and moved to Hong Kong as a teenager,” Ting says. There, her father finished high school and began to work as a sales representative for a semiconductor company. “Back then, my dad was one of very few non-Westerners in his Hong Kong office who would walk around with a Wall Street Journal. He thought outside the box by using publications like the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine to learn and refine his English,” she says.

Tracy Ting, Avanir Pharmaceuticals Photo by Cass Davis

“My dad is a great example of grit and resilience, and that has transferred over to who I am today, as a fighter who believes that everything is possible. The inner strength and ambition that my dad possesses continues to inspire how I approach my own career.”

Her own life followed an unlikely path as well, beginning at UCLA where she studied communications. “I wanted to go into broadcast journalism and be the next Connie Chung,” she says. But after college, she got a job with the public accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand LLP, now PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). “In the early 1990s, it had a unique program where it was looking for liberal arts people with no financial or accounting background from targeted schools to join their audit practice,” she says. She was one of only thirty in all of US, and the only UCLA graduate, chosen for the program that year.

After PwC, she then went to work at Varian Medical Systems, a global medical device company, in 2000. While there, she decided to leave finance to take a human resources role. “I had no HR experience either,” she says. “The company encouraged me to expand beyond my finance functional expertise and created a role for me in HR. I have been very lucky throughout my career. When I raise my hand to take on something new, the company was always supportive of me and let me do it.”

She left Varian in 2014 to become the senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Affymetrix, a global biotechnology company specializing in genomic tools. When it was acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2016, all the C-suite roles, including hers, were eliminated. So, her family moved from Silicon Valley to San Diego, and she took the next eighteen months off to spend time with her husband and two daughters. “I am so thankful for that time,” she says.

When she was ready to return to work, she wanted to make sure she worked for a company she believed in. “I wanted to join a company with an exciting story to tell, a transformational story,” she says. “I love transformations, driving culture change, building engagement, and branding the company as it embarks on a new journey.” That company ended up being Avanir Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company focused on bringing innovative medicines to patients with central nervous system (CNS) disorders, where there remains a high unmet medical need. 

Photo by Cass Davis

She joined Avanir in December 2017, charged with leading the HR and corporate communications functions, including setting a strategic direction for its people and the overall company culture toward innovation and growth. She was part of a new executive management team, which decided it was time to share the new Avanir with the world, she says.

“To do that, we needed an anchor. To me, a mission, vision, and values statement is the perfect anchor to start that journey to represent who we are, what we believe in, and what we are here to do.” She wanted the new mission, vision, and values to represent the voices of Avanir’s people, and she cosponsored a passionate team of employees who created the company’s new value statement. She asked that the new vision statement be gritty and edgy, perhaps even make the readers feel slightly uncomfortable, because the greatest growth and transformation comes from being uncomfortable, she says. “We don’t want to be like every other pharma company, because we are not like the others,” she explains. “Let’s think outside the box. So, we did.”

Launched in May 2018, the new mission, vision, and values has been incorporated into training sessions, rewards programs, competencies, company processes, and procedures. “For this to live forever, and not just be a nice poster or wallet card, you want people to live it every day,” she says.

Grit and resilience, that fighting spirit, is now written into the company’s DNA—just like it is in Ting and her father. “Every job I had, I didn’t have training for. I was fortunate enough to be in supportive environments and was encouraged to try things I had never done before. In a sink-or-swim situation, I will always learn to swim.”

Avanir’s New Mission, Vision, and Values

Mission statement: Delivering innovative central nervous system solutions to improve the lives of patients and their care communities.

Vision statement: We’ve got nerve! When there’s a patient, caretaker or provider in need—we’ll protect. When there’s a call for innovative treatment solutions—we’ll answer. When there’s a central nervous system case that seems unsolvable—we’ll challenge. It’s who we are. We’re fighters. It’s why we’re here. We are Avanir.”

Values of CARE:

C: Commit to serving together. Show compassion, get involved and advocate for patients, caregivers, communities, each other, and our company.

A: Achieve with integrity. Be transparent, honest, and accountable for yourself and others.

R: Rise to the challenge. Be curious, explore beyond your comfort zone, and drive innovation. Show grit; be tough, tenacious, and resilient.

E: Energize each other. Engage with enthusiasm, celebrate and contribute to each other’s successes, collaborate and harness our collective power.

The Courage to Do Differently

“Do Different, Differently.” That’s the working title for a book Tracy Ting would like to write. “It stems from the idea that, if I could go back to my younger self and give her advice, here is what would I tell her,” she says.

• Embrace your innovative spirit.

• Be courageous and take calculated risks.

• Surround yourself with great people.

• Gain meaning in what you do.

• Be authentic, use good judgment,
   and trust your instincts.

• Then, put on your wings and fly.