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Around The Health Tech World

Around the Health Tech World: Dr. Anna van Poucke

Global Head of Healthcare, KPMG

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KPMG

As Global Head of Healthcare, Anna leads the KPMG healthcare network of 5,000 professionals who provide Audit, Tax and Advisory services to healthcare organisations in 70 countries and territories around the world.

Anna is a trusted advisor to health leaders ranging from ministers of health, hospital CEOs and executives of payor organisations across six continents.

She draws on more than 30 years of experience in diverse senior managerial, board and consultancy roles in the sector.

What is your morning routine?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve made a conscious effort to get up relatively early every morning and practice yoga.

Before the pandemic, I simply didn’t have the time to fit in exercise and wellbeing due to my daily commute, but my new hybrid model of working has enabled me to focus on keeping my body and mind in shape.

Which technology could you not live without?

As KPMG International’s Global Head of Healthcare, I’ve got a truly international role, working with colleagues and their clients right around the world. For that reason, Microsoft Teams is definitely the tech I couldn’t live without.

For example, in one recent week, I travelled to the Bahamas to meet colleagues face-to-face and have conversations with representatives from the country’s parliament and public sector with whom we work together on helping to transform the healthcare system in the Bahamas.

It was a great example of why it’s so important to continue physical meetings where it’s needed and connect face-to-face with KPMG team members on the ground.

At the same time, though, Teams enabled me to continue connecting with colleagues right across the planet. During that week, I held online meetings with my counterparts in Saudi Arabia and even a 4am call with Sri Lanka!

I tend to describe my job as one where the sun never goes down. That has its challenges, but Teams has been a huge help in enabling me to work productively on a global level.

How do you relax?

My career tends to keep me incredibly busy and I am most of the times completely focused on shaping KPMG’s global healthcare practice so I’ll struggle to make time for myself.

That said, I have a 1,600 square metre garden and maintaining it and watching ‘my personal space’ grow is a real passion.

One of my favorite movies was ‘Being There’ starring Peter Sellers. It was a work of art and really shaped my view about how a space like my garden can offer a moment of calmness amid the turbulence of a global role.

However, I’m never one to switch off and actually find that my garden work is a great place to think through my professional work with a clear head.

Gardening is a great metaphor for leadership.

One of the disciplines of growing plants is that if a plant isn’t flourishing, it doesn’t mean it’s dying, it’s probably just in the wrong position.

It is the same with people, when they don’t flourish, they might just need another position and environment.

It’s the simplicity and focus of gardening that really helps me. Ultimately, I don’t completely turn off my brain to relax, I simply use the opportunity to clear a space, reflect and refocus.

Which quote resonates with you?

This is a difficult one so I’m going to have to go with two quotes.

They both relate to a survey with 200 global health leaders that KPMG did a year ago, where nearly 80 per cent of all leaders said healthcare would transform in all its aspects.

Now how do you keep renewing?

Firstly I am inspired by the author Aldous Huxley.

In ‘Brave New World’, there is a conversation between the key character and another character where he says:

“In exchange for comfort and ease we handed in the search for truth and beauty.”

It really resonates with me. Leading transformations obliges you to renew yourself with that personal quest for truth.

The other quote comes from Madonna and the expression ‘reinvent yourself’. It’s very simple but relates to being transformational.

You need to always be prepared to reinvent yourself by constantly being ready to learn new things and take on new roles where needed.

What is the best thing about your job?

I would honestly describe my job as the cherry and the cream on the cake!

The best thing about the role is what I would describe as ‘the triangle’ between innovative strategy, finance and people.

I’m not siloed into a specific function. I have the opportunity to lead but also shape new content and thinking.

I thrive when I’m building relationships and my job really gives me the opportunity to align building new concepts for the future of healthcare with personal relationships around the world.

Creating the future of healthcare together. Plus the role is never boring and I love travelling!

If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be and why?

I don’t think I would pick any one particular person.

But I’m acutely aware of the climate crisis facing the planet right now, so I would definitely enjoy being in the shoes of someone with the influence and ability to deliver positive change on climate and conservation.

My current role places a big focus on transformation and it often frustrates me that we’re not seeing similar actions beyond the rhetoric on the environment.

There are so many practices and theories from the world of business that could be applied to the climate crisis and I believe we’re running out of time to tackle the challenges that threaten our existence.

What is the one thing that we are not talking about?

I believe we’re still not talking seriously enough about gender equity.

In a past role, I worked in the public sector and to my pride managed to create a huge transformation in the healthcare financing system.

My current responsibilities included guiding industries and public sector leaders to deliver transformation, and this role was very much at the forefront of that.

I was thriving, but I ultimately chose to move on as I felt there wasn’t support from some sections of male leadership.

We’re still not talking enough about acceptance of female leaders.

We often attach our own stereotypes to strong women and I’ve regularly witnessed female colleagues in previous roles who’ve effectively been stymied and silenced, which holds them back, but is also incredibly counter-productive for an organisation that wants to succeed and embrace a wide range of talent.

One of my close friends is a female politician in the Netherlands, where I live, and she uses a great term to describe the efforts many women have to go to in order to succeed.

She talks about women ‘needing to rise like a phoenix from the flames’. I’d describe myself in that way.

My confidence was dented by deeply entrenched gender inequity, but I ultimately landed my dream role with KPMG International and felt like that phoenix rising.

I’d say to all women to be strong, believe in yourself and be relentless in your ambition.

Would you rather travel 100 years forward or back in time?

Definitely forward!

I don’t know if it would be a fun journey, given the many challenges the world faces right now, but there’s an old Dutch expression:

“With the knowledge of today, you can redesign the future”.

I’d love to go forward and see if we managed to redesign our future and respond proactively to the issues we face today.

Would the world be a dystopia? A utopia?

It might even turn out to be the same old boring world, but I would definitely use that knowledge to return to today and act now for everyone’s future.

What advice would you give to 18-year-old you (and would you have listened to you!)?

I’d actually like to reverse that and take advice from my 18-year-old self!

When I was that age I travelled to Israel and lived in a kibbutz. We were based in the Golan Heights during a period of armed conflict with Syria.

There were troops right outside my door and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t terrifying at times.

If you asked me today to repeat that, I’d probably be risk averse and say no.

With that in mind, I would love to have a conversation with 18-year-old Anna.

She would admit to some naivety but would remind me to dare to do things and dare to always remain inquisitive.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t really have any regrets. Perhaps a small part of the 18-year-old Anna did remain with me.

I believe you have regrets if you fail to act because you don’t think things are possible. I’ve always pushed myself forward and believed in embracing new challenges.

Throughout my career, I juggled work with raising children, but I didn’t let it hold me back.

My advice to others would always be to go for it.

You can learn from mistakes, but it’s better to strive forward and occasionally trip up than to hold back and live a life full of regrets.

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