Ellen Hudock Helps GSK Pivot with Purpose

As head of global legal operations for GlaxoSmithKline, Ellen Hudock uses technology and empathy to drive change and help teams work smarter, faster, and better

Photo by Kaeleigh Fox

In 2018, Ellen Hudock assumed a demanding new role: heading the operations department within the legal function of a global healthcare company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The multinational pharmaceutical company announced in early 2018 that it was planning to split into two new companies—a leading and growing global biopharma company and a new world-leading consumer healthcare company. That meant that the legal function, too, needed to adapt and ​change.

Then the world was thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus pandemic. More than ever, Hudock’s optimistic approach to navigating work and change was critical as she asked herself, “How can we take the good, leave the bad, and come up with this new way of working for legal?”

Founded in December 2000, GSK has emerged as a leader in the healthcare industry, driven by its three strategic pillars—innovation, performance, and trust—as well as its goal to “improve the health of millions of people around the world.” Throughout 2020 the company reported nine major approvals and nine new Phase 3 study starts, as well as more than twenty business development deals. Now, it has a biopharma pipeline to drive competitive growth with over twenty new products slated for launch between 2021 and 2026, more than half with blockbuster potential.

For Hudock, one of the most fulfilling parts of her role is being part of a company that is focused on helping people do more, feel better, and live longer while helping to develop solutions to treat COVID-19. GSK is collaborating with several organizations that are working on promising vaccines and it’s also exploring potential therapeutic or alternative treatment options for COVID-19 patients.

Hudock heads global legal operations at GSK, and she sees the never-ending potential for change on the horizon for GSK’s legal department and takes any step to reach it. She is supporting the transformation of the legal department to prepare for the separation of GSK into two new companies—expected to happen in the second half of 2022. Namely, she’s leading the team that is building out a technological road map for its future.

“How can we take the good, leave the bad, and come up with this new way of working for legal?”

In 2018, GSK’s General Counsel James Ford was appointed, and the creation of Hudock’s team was something that he prioritized. Previously, key operations responsibilities were scattered across the department, but with Ford’s vision, legal operations would be merged centrally, and made more strategic. “This was pivotal for the legal function and really helped to ensure that global legal operations could enable its purpose for the business while also putting me and my team at the forefront of helping the department work smarter and better,” Hudock says.

GSK’s legal department continues to evolve as it prepares to split into two new companies. In making this pivot successful, “a digital strategy is essential,” Hudock says, alluding to GSK’s general emphasis on technology.

To support the legal department’s own technological shift, a technology road map was created to support simpler process and systems, better use technology, and plan for what GSK would need in the upcoming years to achieve that. “How can we maximize efficiency and drive business value? For legal specifically, this meant first looking at basic technology needs and moving towards enhanced automation and artificial intelligence as well as the integration of platforms,” Hudock explains. “With new technology comes the enhanced ability to mitigate risk, host a secured platform for people to work on, and have a deeper knowledge of analytics.”

The idea for the road map was developed in 2019 as GSK’s legal team investigated ways to automate and simplify their systems and process. Their initial focus was to deliver a modern and secure document management system to store and share privileged documents, have meaningful search capability, and integrate with Microsoft Office apps.

ellen hudock
Ellen Hudock, VP and Head of Global Legal Operations, GlaxoSmithKlinePhoto by Kaeleigh Fox

Looking forward to 2021, the team is focused on enhancing its IP lifecycle management and contract life cycle tools, which would enable improved workflow capabilities for contracting and IP management. The ultimate goal is to integrate legal’s technology and data into a centralized portal.

Along with an effort to improve systems and process, Hudock also notes that there have been many adjustments since the enforced pivot to a virtual workplace. “It’s definitely been challenging,” she says. But she remains optimistic, keeping empathy and flexibility at the forefront of her leadership strategy.

“Ellen is willing to embrace change and support transformative ideas and new technology to fundamentally improve how legal helps GSK realize its purpose—to help people do more, feel better, and live longer,” says James Crowley, senior managing director and North America industry lead at Accenture. “Ellen leads by example. She is empathetic, visionary, and practical, and her deep knowledge of legal issues and life sciences combined with her focus on value and people have enabled her to lead a critical change agenda across legal at GSK.”

As a leader of a function that helps to deliver these solutions by supporting business development deals or intellectual property requirements, for example, Hudock has had to guide her team toward shared success despite everyone being more separate than ever. That aspect, though, is one she is especially proud of.

“I’ve pulled from my own personal experience,” she says about her adjusted leadership style. As the parent of a young school-aged child, Hudock has had an immense amount of change inside and outside work due to the pandemic. But these changes aren’t all bad, she notes.

Within GSK’s legal department, COVID-19 inspired leaders to connect regularly with their teams and more widely across each function, in part through the launch of the “legal coffee shop.” For this initiative, members of the legal team are partnered each month to meet virtually for coffee. They’re then encouraged to share their conversations in an internal Facebook workplace group. “It was amazing how much people really connected through that,” Hudock notes.

This example was not the only way GSK pivoted. On many levels, Hudock points out, there has been a shift in culture for the company. For most of the pandemic, people have been working remotely, although this move is complicated by the global nature of the business and people being at different stages of lockdown at different times. As such, Hudock’s goal to enable the legal department to run like a business and support the achievement of the company’s key strategic objectives became even more important.

“As a leader I have seen the huge value in being more empathetic. It’s important to care about the people who work with and for you, now more than ever.”

According to Hudock, that strategy has included supporting the legal department to navigate the pandemic to date while “aiding the provision of excellent legal advice” and, more than ever, “letting diverse groups of people be themselves, keep developing, and feel good, particularly when it comes to mental health.”

In addition to constant communication regarding work, Hudock notes that there is enormous value in checking in on employees just to see how they are doing.

“We’re all human and we have differing personal challenges to navigate at this time. Whether that is our own physical and mental health, the health of our loved ones, the requirements of childcare or caring for elderly relatives, or simply the feeling of isolation,” Hudock says. “As a leader I have seen the huge value in being more empathetic. It’s important to care about the people who work with and for you, now more than ever.”

In fact, Hudock says she strives to connect to her team in as many ways as possible despite the confines of virtual calls and emails. The key, she notes, is focusing on the positive whilst recognizing that things can be tough.

“I think what’s worked really well with GSK is its focus on giving us the technology that enables us to stay connected,” Hudock says, also adding that those efforts exemplify the company’s “fantastic purpose.”

Hudock says she feels fortunate to work for a company that plays such a caring role in the lives of those inside the company. And all of those employees know that what they do is in the service of patients and consumers. That’s why they’re dedicated to GSK. As Hudock simply puts it, “To work for a company with that purpose is very inspiring and fulfilling.”

Ropes & Gray:

“Ellen’s smarts, her grit, and her clear-headed focus on GSK’s business priorities make her one of the best advisers in the pharmaceutical industry. Add to that her orientation to serving people, and doing so with excellence, and it is immediately clear why Ellen has climbed the ranks at GSK.”

–Colleen Conry, Partner