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Roche's Digital Health Chief Puts Teamwork Over Technology

Analysis  |  By Robin Robinson  
   February 22, 2024

Stephen Ranjan believes teamwork is just as crucial as technology in building successful digital healthcare solutions in the pharma space

Stephen Ranjan learned how to be innovative while growing up in India.

"Living in India, you learn to be resourceful," the global head of digital health at Roche Pharma recalls. "You don't have access to everything, and yet you still find ways to solve the challenges that you encounter. I brought that attitude with me when I came to the U.S."

When Ranjan moved to America to attend college, he found a market for his skills, and a career was born. 

"In the U.S., if you can help people solve problems, they will give you opportunities to do so,” he says. “I ended up working at the help desk of my university. I built software that allowed the help desk to track student loaner laptops. This job paid for my college."

At his first job at Epic Systems, Ranjan was introduced to how software can enable efficiency in healthcare. He says he wanted to introduce those technology solutions to the pharma industry, where there were plenty of problems to be solved.

He's had plenty of opportunities. Prior to joining Roche, Ranjan held positions at Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson. He says he has seen digital health technology advance, but it still has many more opportunities to improve the patient's health journey.

"About 15 years ago, the industry was just beginning to dabble with technology in the form of websites, social media, and those types of things," he says. "But over the years,  pharma  has gone through a transformation. The uptake at first started on the sales and marketing side, but in the last 10 years, there has been more investments in the R&D side, especially right now with AI. That has been a huge, huge transformation."

Ranjan says most of the advancements in patient care have been made in cardiovascular, metabolic disease, and mental health, where technologies like continuous glucose monitors are helping patients self-manage their care.

A Lifetime of Experience

Today, Ranjan is using his years of experience to steer the company toward more digital health innovations that improve patient health management. Before he became global head at Roche, he was responsible for the Roche Diabetes Care Digital Health business, where he was instrumental in the growth of engaged users on mySugr and the Roche Diabetes Care Platform. 

Ranjan says one of his biggest achievements happened in 2017, while he was working at Merck. He and his team collaborated with the Alexa team at Amazon and Luminary Labs to create an open innovation challenge in diabetes. The task for contestants was to discover a way to use voice technology to help diabetes patients manage their disease. 

The challenge generated an increased focus on voice technology worldwide and spurred more companies to develop their technologies to become more healthcare-compatible.

"We're seeing a lot more voice applications being developed," Ranjan says. "The highlight for me from running a challenge like this was to see the impact ripple across the globe and motivate the market to think more about solving some of these problems."

Teamwork Over Technology

Ranjan has focused often on building new teams that can carry out the mission of the company.

"I've learned a lot about how to build teams," he says. "I don't invest in ideas. I invest in teams who are solving complex problems."

He believes his approach to building teams has influenced their success. And although the technology they use is an important part in reaching goals, he says building teams that can work together well to create solutions is a bigger priority.

Building a strong team, Ranjan says, requires hiring people who are equipped to bump up against a brick wall and still persevere, and to get creative and find other ways to make things work.

"Great team members are willing to learn new things and adjust to the new learnings,” he says, “because [in] this area [that] we're in, there's never a straightforward answer.”

"You have to be willing to try and experiment and maybe even fail,” he adds, “but [you] learn from it so that you can get better at making decisions the next time around.”

According to Ranjan, team members need to possess the potential and willingness to learn and grow as they face problems within the business or other challenges in an organization. Tolerance for failure and moving on are also important.

 "The last bit for me, personally, has been patience," he says. "This is a long game. If we really want to impact patient lives and use technology to impact them, you can't rush through these things.”

Staying on the Path to Innovation

Ranjan sees a bright future ahead.

“For me, this is such an exciting space,” he says. “We are working to empower patients to manage their disease and live a better life, and that's the vision that I'm excited about--watching  our teams push and innovate. We will have some successes, but we will also have a lot of learnings. And that's going to become all part of the innovation."

Ranjan and his family recently moved to Switzerland, where he's taking advantage of the Alpine scenery and climate, as well as the cycling culture.

"I'm not quite as good at cycling as people here [in Switzerland]," he says. "But I'm embracing it and I'm enjoying bike rides with my boys. My other hobby is I love to take photos of birds in flight. There's something about the way birds fly and how they move that's fascinating to me, and I love capturing those moments."

Ranjan's long-term vision is to continue using digital health to overcome obstacles and better the lives of those dealing with chronic diseases.

"We, as an industry, still have a long ways to go in digital health and I'm hoping that I can continue to lead teams to figure out new ways to meet the needs of patients,” he says. “Because at the end of the day, what motivates me is knowing that we are resolving problems for patients, but potentially also for someone we know. We are really in the service of helping people."

Robin Robinson is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders. 


Stephen Ranjan learned how to innovate while growing up in India and found his passion for digital health while in college

With more than 15 years' experience in the pharma industry, he has become adept at building teams that bring digital health solutions to fruition

Ranjan says teamwork is just as crucial to success as the technology they use

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