Funso Olufade Defines Success as a Swing, Not a Ladder

From Africa to New Jersey and everywhere in between, Cipla Therapeutics’ Funso Olufade wants to bring equitable healthcare to the entire world

Funso Olufade, CFO, Cipla TherapeuticsPhoto courtesy of Cipla Therapeutics

When discussing the upward trajectory of an executive’s career, we often turn to the time-tested metaphor of a ladder. But Funso Olufade prefers to think of his own path as a swing, launching him through the air from one opportunity to the next and being brave enough to embark on new challenges. “Even the risk of failure is a learning opportunity,” he says.

Although Olufade is chief financial officer for the global pharmaceutical company Cipla Therapeutics, he views his journey so far as being much different from other CFOs in his industry. He is not a CPA, and for most of his undergraduate studies at Rutgers University, he majored in biochemistry before switching to economics and eventually earning his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Unlike most CFOs, he has a PhD from at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Public Policy, where he also guest lectures. He has had roles in finance, brand management, business development, and operations. Though, his first job out of undergrad was not in pharmaceuticals nor healthcare but in the beverage industry.

“I started at Coca-Cola,” Olufade notes. “The angle I worked with them was how do we transition the portfolio from a carbonated soft drink to something that was healthier, which ended up being the fruit juices.”

There was a deeply rooted desire to one day break into an industry more closely related to healthcare. Growing up in both Ilewo—a sub-rural village in southwest Nigeria—and Union County, New Jersey, Olufade witnessed the rampant inequities in his communities when it came to access to hospitals and medications. He often wondered, “Why were those with less always left to pay more?” The disparity was further enforced by his father, a physician who trained in Nigeria before his family came to the US.

“He’d talk about the divide in Africa between the haves and the have-nots,” Olufade says. “It’s a country where there’s about a 70 percent poverty level, and close to 90 percent of healthcare is out of pocket. I realized as a young child that there needed to be a bridge between healthcare delivery and the financing of healthcare. Hospitals do not have to be bankrupt.”

“How can we deliver aid effectively in underserved regions? How can we engage all stakeholders on the regional threats of those uncared for around the world? Health equity requires inclusiveness.”

Olufade got the chance to work at a company that strives to make such a difference in 2004, when a recruiter from Bayer Pharmaceuticals reached out to him. He wound up working in their sales and marketing analytics department for four years.

“Within Bayer, I saw a pharmaceutical company that catered to a lot of therapeutic areas, but always kept the patient at the core of what they did,” he says. “That’s one thing that I’ve looked for in companies that I’ve work for since—this compassion for patients.”

In keeping with his swing metaphor and with support of great mentors, Olufade eventually found himself launched overseas after joining global pharmaceutical company, Sanofi (then Daiichi Sankyo). As the director of commercial strategy at Daiichi Sankyo Europe, he made a whirlwind journey to thirty European countries in thirty-six months, which allowed him to deepen his fascination with how healthcare works around the world. Whether he was in Norway or Greenland or South Africa (admittedly on a different continent, but still defined as Daiichi Sankyo’s European market), he would visit as many emergency room departments as he could.

“During my morning walks, I’d say ‘Let me see what it’s like there,’” Olufade recalls. “Sometimes, I’d be greeted by a policeman in front of a hospital, who would ask ‘What are you looking for?’ I would walk into pharmacies and ask them questions like, ‘What medicines are available over the counter versus needing a physician prescription?’

“It is just part of this learning and continued growth and development that completes me,” he continues. “That perspective enabled me to better understand how healthcare systems are set up and what makes them sustainable. They’re all different and have their own individual nuances.”

Olufade joined Cipla in 2020 after being offered the opportunity to greatly expand the Indian-based company’s financial capabilities.

“They were very new to the United States,” he explains. “With the team, we’ve incorporated the organization and have been able to build the infrastructure for specialty-branded business for Cipla Therapeutics in the US.”

Although relatively new to the States, Cipla has an eighty-five-year history of equitably manufacturing and distributing medications across the globe. Cipla was one of the first companies to manufacture medications to treat AIDS back in 1985, and in 2001, it provided antiretrovirals for HIV treatment at a fraction of the cost compared to other pharmaceutical companies.

“Even the risk of failure is a learning opportunity.”

Content as he is in his career, Olufade extends his passion for equitable healthcare to corners of his life outside of the office. There is the American College of Healthcare Executives of New Jersey (ACHENJ), where he sits on the board as chair of diversity and inclusion. He describes ACHENJ as a professional networking group made up of hospital administrators, drug manufacturers, providers, payers, and policymakers, all of whom work together to raise awareness about healthcare inequity and provide an opportunity for lifelong learning in addition to partnering with local charities such as food banks and patient advocacy groups.

Then, there’s Devoted Skies. Olufade founded the New Jersey-based nonprofit about a year ago with the intent of providing lower- to middle-income countries with broader access to modern healthcare. He describes their approach as three-tiered: partnering with local organizations in the respective countries they are trying to reach, researching the most effective ways to provide care, and developing a tangible model of how to actually deliver it, whether it’s in-person medical supplies or teaching international citizens where to find healthcare resources locally.

Right now, Devoted Skies is still in the research phase, having collaborated with non-governmental organizations in Paraguay, Rwanda, Nigeria, and elsewhere to gather information, with the hopes of executing their first mission in fall 2021, depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. He asserts, the hypercollaboration between all healthcare stakeholders cannot be overstated in tackling the challenges of modern care delivery.

“In 2021, we need to start to close some of these gaps, and that’s the premise behind this,” Olufade says. “How can we deliver aid effectively in underserved regions? How can we engage all stakeholders on the regional threats of those uncared for around the world? Health equity requires inclusiveness.”

“A vital strategic element of leadership is knowing where to focus staff and when to seek an experienced partner for support. Prescription Analytics provides a highly disciplined, client-centric approach to government contract management for Funso and Cipla. We’re proud of our long-term relationship.” —Mark Patton, CEO