Global Alumni Profile: Uzair Qadeer

Nathan Rufo
October 12, 2020

This story is the first in a series of profiles on Penn State’s international alumni. This series was created for the Global Penn State Newsletter, which includes updates, information, and stories about Penn State’s global activities. To sign up for the quarterly newsletter, click here: https://global.psu.edu/content/newsletter

Photo of Uzair Qadeer

Uzair Qadeer

IMAGE: Provided by Alexion

For Penn State alumnus Uzair Qadeer, there was never really any question of whether he would lead a global life. From his childhood in Pakistan, to his immigration to America, to his time at Penn State and through his career, Qadeer’s life has always put him in highly global contexts.

Qadeer is currently the chief diversity officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., where he has been employed since February of 2019. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, but has also lived and worked in New York City, Rome, Seattle and London. He is active with the Penn State alumni community. This is his story.

Early life

Qadeer was born in Lahore, Pakistan, in a family that took the values of diversity and inclusion seriously. From a very young age, his parents compelled him to see the world from different perspectives, and at one point even enrolled him in a Catholic school to afford him an early-in-life opportunity to immerse himself into diversity. It was during these formative years that Qadeer learned about challenges faced by Pakistan’s Catholic minority, even though he was not Catholic himself.

“This experience taught me to see the world through the eyes of the minority, to empathize with their struggles, and I credit this experience for fanning the flames of my lifelong passion to see everyone treated justly,” Qadeer explained. “It became clear to me that it is our responsibility, one that we cannot possibly ignore, to exercise our voices in service of those that are left unheard.”

Qadeer’s family immigrated to the United States and settled in the suburbs of Philadelphia. “This was a really interesting time for us – I loved this time, actually,” said Qadeer. “We washed up on the shores of this country and had an opportunity build better lives.”

No immigration story is easy, but for the Qadeers, they came to the country with the backdrop of 9/11 and a pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment. “We definitely faced discrimination,” Qadeer recalled. “We spent years fighting for minority rights in Pakistan and then we became minorities ourselves.”

He said he credits this experience for emboldening his relentless passion for human rights and social justice. He also considers this time a moment of personal transformation and a new beginning in his life. “It was our time in Philadelphia that paved the path for our family to touch and feel the American Dream and build a meaningful life in this new home,” he said.

Education and Penn State experience

Qadeer has deeply passionate and positive reflections of his time at Penn State.

“I completed two majors, three minors, and later received a masters’ degree from Penn State,” he said. “I was involved in all sorts of activities, clubs, and other extracurriculars. It was truly a life-changing experience.”

He received bachelor’s degrees in both industrial engineering and in liberal arts, with minors in business, product realization, and history. He later returned to Penn State for his master's degree from the Smeal College of Business.

“I had the ability to see the University from multiple perspectives,” he said. “Many times students are siloed in their major. I was lucky enough to get a broader, and possibly a more holistic, view.”

In addition to academics, Qadeer also immersed himself in extracurriculars, often taking on leadership positions. He founded and acted as president of the first-ever International Awareness Club, a group of students from dozens of countries who came together and filmed news segments on global issues. He would eventually receive the notable LaMarr Kopp International Student Award for the creation of this club. He was also elected student government president and helped organize the first Diversity Summit at Penn State.

“Having those leadership experiences — they teach you things you don’t realize until later in life,” he said. “For example, because I had to campaign for student government, I got over any qualms I may have had about speaking in front of people. Now, I can attend a news segment, sit down for an interview, or speak in front of a crowd and I’m not nervous in the slightest — I actually love it.”

Despite his already global upbringing, Qadeer credits Penn State for truly opening his eyes to the world.

“It was the first place that I could actually be embedded in such a diverse and global community,” he said. “I went to different religious services, I spoke to people from different backgrounds, I got to learn about different cultures and norms. It was the first place I experienced such a diversity of opinion, and I loved it. I made many lifelong friends from all over the world during my time at Penn State.”

Professional journey

Prior to assuming his current role as chief diversity officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Qadeer served as vice president, head of enterprise partnership, helping Alexion further build transformational capabilities in executive coaching, human resources business partnerships, workforce planning and organizational strategies, while shaping the company’s preliminary diversity, inclusion and belonging (DI&B) strategy.

Before joining Alexion in February 2019, Qadeer worked in roles of increasing responsibility in Deloitte’s Human Capital consulting practice where he advised clients across industries and geographies on forward-looking human-capital topics, spanning talent management, organizational development and design, human resources management, and DI&B. Prior to that, Qadeer worked at Bristol Myers Squibb Company, expatriating to Rome, Italy, to deliver global work while gaining insights around diversity and inclusion in an international context. Additionally, Qadeer served as an adjunct MBA professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

While he has lived across the country and internationally, expatriating to Rome, Italy, with Bristol Myers Squibb is one of his fondest experiences.

“Rome taught me that home isn’t where you’re born or where you live, it’s where your soul comes alive,” he said. The Italian penchant for extroversion — “Did you know there’s really no word for privacy in traditional Italian?” he remarked – fit perfectly with Qadeer’s own curiosity, extroversion and thirst for human connection.

Throughout this career journey, it became clearer and clearer to Qadeer that his passion rested with helping other people.

“My life is governed by my unique purpose of setting people free,” he said. “When you’re free, you trust, you innovate, you think clearly. When you’re free, anything is possible.”

Thought leadership

Qadeer spends a significant amount of time working with and coaching c-suite and top leaders. When speaking to leaders, Qadeer explained that he always talks about three areas: style elasticity, nonconformism and purpose-discovery.

Style elasticity is about discovering your own leadership style, but also about recognizing the work style of others, and building the ability to meet them where they are. Nonconformism is about “breaking bad rules,” Qadeer said. This was a central theme in his keynote speech to Penn State’s Global Careers Institute in early March — one of the last pre-COVID events held at the University. In that presentation, Qadeer gave the example of an Italian train station.

“In southern Italy, people often don’t form a line at the train station,” Qadeer said. “Lines and queues are accepted realities here in the USA — you are served in the order in which you arrive. It’s a social norm.”

In Italy, however, the context of buying a ticket for the train becomes much more dynamic. People walk in front of each other and jockey for positions. Instead of autopiloting into standing in a line, people must constantly decide how they are going to engage with the process.

“Do I have two minutes? Okay, I need to try to shove my way in front of some people to get my ticket on time,” he recounted. “Or maybe I have 10 and I can take a stroll first. It’s a small example, but it illustrates the idea of looking at the same situation through a new lens every single day.”

When you do this, Qadeer said, “you engage in an act of constantly seeing commonplace situations from disruptive angles."

“In a few years, no one is going to care whether you can code a program or process data or make a website. All of that is going to be automated. So what I think we should all be interested in is – what can humans do that computers, robots, and AI can’t?" he said. "And those are the skills that we need to cultivate — soft skills, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills. The future is about nonconformism. We’ll have reimagine common activities and use dramatically different skills to succeed. Once we can start seeing things as not how they have been but how they can be, we can change the world.”

Vision for the future

Qadeer is a man of many thoughts. He feels his life experiences, both personally and professionally, have given him a unique perspective on the world, and considerable expertise on the subject of human capital.

“The only constant is change,” he said. “It’s cliché but it’s true. In our interconnected world, change is inevitable. The onus is on you, me, all of us to decide — are we going to take a role in shaping the change, or are we going to sit on the sidelines while it happens?”

“The greatest thing about Penn State is the collective power of its massive alumni network," said Qadeer. "To name a few things, Penn State had the first-ever industrial engineering program, developed the first surgically implantable heart pump; it is responsible for many scientific advances across the world, and to be a part of such a fantastic institution is humbling.

“I feel a sense of pride but also a sense of responsibility to carry on that legacy of making positive impacts on the world, to add to the collective change that the Penn State community has made and continues to make," he said.

One of Qadeer's favorite quotes is from former U.S. President John F. Kennedy — “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

“That’s the soul of being a Penn Stater, to me,” said Qadeer. “Any of us can make a positive difference, and all of us can try. And with the mammoth size of our alumni network, when we liberate ourselves to do so, we build a better tomorrow.”

Last Updated October 13, 2020