Global pharmaceutical AstraZeneca is passionate about helping their leaders think differently to prepare for the future by challenging their assumptions and worldview. Designed with Duke Corporate Education (Duke CE), the Leading Business experience is a 12-week learning experience preparing senior leaders with the cutting-edge knowledge, skills and mindset to meet the business challenges of today while preparing for the opportunities of the future.


Leading Business was designed for a target group of 2,700 leaders globally in a three to four- month learning experience, with up to 100 per cohort. Through a dynamic learning ecosystem focused on ambidextrous leadership, Leading Business is designed to embed a mindset to exploit and explore, while leaders apply practical ideas for innovation. The content, context and learning experiences are focused on digital disruption, patient centricity, as well as inclusive and sustainable leadership, which are carefully integrated to help leaders acquire new knowledge, behaviors and mindsets.

Designed to scale and create networking opportunities across the business, the learning ecosystem for this program blends online and social learning, with face-to-face events and coaching. Duke CE Regional Managing Director Beth Ahlering shared, “This program was originally designed to accelerate innovative change through a very large and influential population of leaders in AstraZeneca. When we first designed the program, we focused on three things. First, we collaborated to co-create an engaging platform to support the online learning journey, which would both promote connections across the organisation and stimulate participants to develop their knowledge around innovation leadership. Second, we brought together large numbers of people for a high-energy face-to-face experience that was both intimate and immersive, in order to shift mindsets, accelerate collaboration and allow practice of new skills. And third, we created the support frameworks and gamified elements of the virtual and F2F journey to encourage participants to apply what they learned in the organisation.”

Internal engagement surveys reflect leaders who participate in the program are also more engaged at work. Leaders report that the program has helped them step out of their comfort zone and take risks. As one leader reflects, “Leading Business has been a phenomenal immersive experience. It has taught me how to manage the present and future, how to lead more inclusively and it has also introduced me to so many other incredible people in the firm who are faced with similar leadership challenges to me.”

The onset of the global pandemic has led the joint design team to completely refresh and fully virtualize the Leading Business curriculum, maintaining focus on AZ’s strategic priorities whilst recognizing the changing context and challenges presented by COVID-19. AstraZeneca and Duke CE have fully digitized the experience, facilitating online access. One notable example of virtualization was the creation of a virtual immersive experience centered around ethical decision making under pressure, and the virtual journey content has been refreshed to fully recognize the context now and begin to prepare leaders for a post-pandemic era. The first pilot of this bespoke session was delivered in May to enthusiastic participant reactions. Leading Business runs through 2021 and is expected to remain flexibly deliverable in either virtual or face to face formats.

Nimisha Jadeja

Read about the experience of Leading Business Program Alumnae Nimisha Jadeja, Head, Medical Innovation at AstraZeneca in the Financial Times.