Sarah Perrin, journalist

Muzna Hussain FCCA has long set an example for women who have set their sights on leadership roles. Launching her career with Pfizer Pakistan, she worked in a team where she was the only woman among 35 men.

With International Women’s Day close, how does Hussain feel about having built her career in male-dominated environments? The key, says the head of compliance for Pakistan at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare, is to believe in yourself.

‘Even when I was a relatively junior person in the compliance department at Pfizer, people valued what I had to say because I said it with confidence,’ she says.

‘Compliance is the intermediary between the business and the auditors and you have to manage a lot of expectations’


Head of compliance, Pakistan and Egypt, GSK Consumer Healthcare (for Pakistan only from September 2020)

Head of compliance and internal audit, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Pakistan

Compliance, controls and risk lead, Pfizer Pakistan

Assistant manager in risk assurance, Pfizer Pakistan, becoming risk assurance manager in 2011

Management trainee in risk assurance, Pfizer Pakistan

She notes that women sometimes doubt their abilities. ‘You need to be confident in what you are saying and advising,’ she says. ‘If you doubt yourself, nobody will ask for your opinion or follow your advice.

‘Don’t expect any special treatment, either; women have to work harder to prove themselves.’

Strategic decision-maker

Now, as a member of GSK Healthcare Pakistan’s leadership team, Hussain applies her compliance lens to strategic decision-making across the business. ‘I give my input on whether something can be done or not, or if something needs to be changed,’ she says. ‘I am a constant adviser to the business.’

Hussain initially joined GSK Consumer Healthcare Pakistan as head of compliance and internal audit in 2016. Two years later, she relinquished her internal audit activities to add the top compliance role in Egypt to her portfolio, covering for a vacancy. ‘In fact, I was double-hatting for almost three years, until late 2020,’ Hussain says. ‘Of course, this involved regular travel to Cairo; it was a challenging period.’

Now focused solely on GSK Consumer Healthcare’s compliance needs in Pakistan, Hussain still has her hands full. The company’s products, most of which are produced locally, range from toothpaste to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Its high-profile brands include Sensodyne, Panadol and local ‘star’ CaC-1000 Plus – an effervescent calcium and vitamin supplement in tablet format.

‘I feel proud to work for a healthcare company, particularly at this time,’ Hussain says. ‘Every day we are making decisions that are improving people’s lives. Our products are famous, effective and present in almost every household. ’

Compliance challenge

The challenge of maintaining compliance with external regulations and internal policies is, Hussain says, substantial. ‘We have such a wide portfolio and have to comply with so many different rules for consumer and OTC products,’ Hussain explains. ‘I have to keep my eyes and ears open at all times to keep up with new policy developments.

‘Compliance is also the intermediary between the business and the auditors, and you have to manage a lot of expectations.’ 

Hussain’s career journey began when she applied to Pfizer in 2007, attracted by its multinational status and impressive management training programme. ‘I started out in the risk assurance department and grew my career from there,’ she says.

‘I became the risk assurance manager and was then asked to lead some compliance-related activities as well, which I found fascinating.’

‘If an employee behaves inappropriately or there is discrimination, we want people to speak up’

Because products are promoted through healthcare professionals, ensuring that employees are not influencing doctors’ prescription processes is, says Hussain, a key part of her role.

‘The interaction must be purely as per policy, she says. ‘Any transfer of value that goes through the healthcare professional has to be very strictly monitored.’

Corruption control

As part of her role, Hussain runs training sessions for the head office and sales staff, on topics such as anti-bribery, anti-corruption and the company’s code of promotion to ensure everyone know what is expected of them.

As well as ensuring compliance with global and local policies and regulations, she is responsible for ensuring that functional heads in Pakistan take a proactive approach to risk management. To support this, she runs risk management compliance board meetings.

‘Functional heads identify risks and confer with me on how best to mitigate the risk,’ she says.

In terms of risk during the Covid-19 pandemic, Hussain notes that GSK saw an extreme increase in demand for some products: sales of Panadol, a paracetamol-based drug, for example, almost doubled.

‘Panadol is used for the treatment of fever so we had to make sure we produced sufficient quantities to meet demand,’ she says.

Hussain also plays a key role in managing whistleblowing investigations and supplying relevant policies and data to independent investigators. She is keen to encourage staff to raise their concerns.

‘If an employee behaves inappropriately or there is discrimination, we want people to speak up,’ she says.

Follow the money

Although Hussain clearly enjoys her compliance role, she didn’t deliberately set out to build a career in the field. She decided to study for the ACCA Qualification, which she gained in 2011, because her favourite A-level subjects were accounting and business studies.

Despite not working in a finance role she has found her ACCA Qualification essential, she says. ‘In compliance you still have to follow the money to ensure it is spent in a compliant way, so I work very closely with the finance team.

Looking back, she has no regrets about the career choices she made. ‘I love my job. In compliance, you face a new challenge every day – that’s what makes it so interesting.’