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Thunderbird at ASU alum to deliver keynote at fall convocation

School to celebrate fall 2023 graduates during convocation ceremony Dec. 12

Portrait of Thunderbird at ASU alum Urmi Prasad Richardson.

Urmi Prasad Richardson, a 1998 graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, will serve as the keynote speaker at the fall 2023 convocation ceremony on Dec. 12. Courtesy photo

November 27, 2023

Urmi Prasad Richardson, president of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Thermo Fisher Scientific and a 1998 graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, will deliver the keynote address at the school's fall 2023 convocation.

As a thoughtful citizen of the world — or as she likes to say, a global immigrant — Richardson was born in India and had already lived in five countries throughout Asia, Europe and the United States by the time she was 16 years old.

“My parents are from two very different parts of India, each of them speaking multiple languages, with the common ones being English and a version of Hindi. We spoke three languages at home,” Richardson said. “I’ve tried to make the best of being Indian, European and American.”

As such, she is fluent in English, French and Hindi, and conversational in Spanish, German and Bengali. 

“As a purpose-driven global and digital leader, Urmi represents the very best of Thunderbird,” said Sanjeev Khagram, director general and dean of the school. “She is a steadfast inspiration who upholds Thunderbird’s mission of advancing sustainable and equitable prosperity worldwide each and every day.”  

With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Richardson is a global executive with vast experience in conception to realization of business plans and commercial operations in the areas of biotechnology and health care. She exhibits leadership experience in strategic planning, business development, product commercialization, building clinical and commercial partnership, and new market expansion throughout EMEA, Asia and South America.

“I’m passionate about science and translating innovation into sustainable clinical use, and in the process aiming to improve global health equity — which, simplified, means providing equitable access to medicines and therapeutics to low- and middle-income countries,” she said.

With a deep interest and background in science, Richardson originally studied pre-med, thinking she would become a doctor, but then transitioned into cancer research. After some time, she decided to leave the research lab to pursue business, working at biotech and pharma companies, and eventually found her way to Thermo Fisher Scientific.

“I was frustrated by the lack of application into real-world use and wanted to make a more meaningful impact in global adoption of therapies and technologies. I also wanted to interact more with humans, so I left the lab. Thunderbird helped me transition out of the lab and to bridge science and business. I went thinking I was getting just a degree, but I learned so much more,” she said. “From Thunderbird, I went to Big Pharma in different therapeutic areas; then into biotech, transfusion medicine and health care; dipped my toe in the tech bubble, lots of infectious diseases and clinical chemistry, part of the pioneering of precision medicine in cancer with next-generation sequencing; did a stint in medical gasses and devices; and now at one of the largest life science and health care companies serving science.”

As president of EMEA at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Richardson's focus is to provide enterprise solutions and strategic partnerships through effective collaboration throughout the region, including driving sustainable growth in emerging markets and sectors. With a mission to enable its customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer, Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. is among the world’s leading organizations in serving science. The company employs over 125,000 individuals around the world working to deliver innovative technologies, accelerate life sciences research, solve complex analytical challenges, increase productivity in laboratories, and improve patient health through diagnostics or the development and manufacture of life-changing therapies through brands such as Applied Biosystems, Invitrogen, Fisher Scientific, Unity Lab Services, Patheon and PPD.

Previously, Richardson served as the global head of health care at Linde Ag and was the vice president international at Foundation Medicine (a Roche company) for several years. Other previous roles include senior positions in business development and strategy for Novartis, Immucor, Chiron and G.D. Searle.

Richardson recalls her time as a T-bird, noting that her foundation at Thunderbird provided her with the knowledge, skills and unique perspectives that have since enabled her to be a successful citizen of the world.

“My time at Thunderbird has paid dividends for 27 years; I didn’t even realize then what I had actually learned. So many latent thoughts and learnings triggered as I went through my career journey — especially from my time in RBE (regional business environment) and cross communication classes,” she said. “As a citizen of the world, it is my responsibility to cascade the awareness and empathy and perspective to those I have an influence over or contact with. I am humbled and proud to have platforms where I can amplify the power of diversity, equity and inclusion. I have experienced countless situations where we may have had all the structure, facts, systems and solutions, but we didn’t have cross-cultural communication skills to arrive at a solution or success. Thunderbird prepared me to excel in these situations.”

With an emphasis on developing a global mindset, Thunderbird prepares students and future global leaders with the ability to develop a set of individual qualities, communication skills and actionable knowledge that empowers them to positively influence multicultural individuals, groups and organizations. 

“It’s part personality, part business savvy, part know-how, and is essential for success in our increasingly interconnected and competitive world,” said Mansour Javidan, Garvin Distinguished Professor and executive director of Najafi Global Mindset Institute at Thunderbird. 

“The world is so much more global than when I graduated from Thunderbird. Globalism has logarithmically grown, and so have the nuances. There is a major difference between international and global — almost every company is operating globally, because most of us are affected by global dynamics. However they are not operating globally, as in being myopic about the impact they have on others,” Richardson said. “At Thunderbird, I truly learned the difference between global and international.

“There needs to be a sensitivity on global levels, which should not lose local flavor, perspective, customs, dynamics. Yet how many people of color have heard from well-intentioned people, ‘I don’t see color?’ This discounts their story and experiences. We have to be global and keenly recognize the local dynamics, people and culture, basically everything that you are trying to have an effect on."

Richardson received a master’s degree in business administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, a Master of Science in biochemical engineering from the University of Houston, and a Bachelor of Arts in biology and French from Rutgers University. She currently serves on the Thunderbird Global Alumni Network (TGAN) Advisory Council.

"Throughout Urmi’s impressive career, she has developed an understanding of global markets, international affairs and driving sustainable growth in the health care sector,” Khagram said. “We are honored to welcome her back at our fall 2023 convocation, where her passion for continuous learning, careful consideration of other cultures, values and people will undoubtedly inspire our students to pursue meaningful careers once they graduate." 

“I am a T-bird; we are creative, innovative, critical thinkers, risk-takers, who desire to understand our impact in the world and be valuable contributors. We have the ability to continue to learn and grow, and help others do the same,” Richardson said. “Empathy allows us to adapt to the ever-transforming world, but it is important not to lose in the process your own character, your culture, your values.”

The fall 2023 class

Thunderbird will recognize over 185 graduates during the fall 2023 convocation ceremony taking place on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 4 p.m. at the Phoenix Convention Center (South Building), located in downtown Phoenix.

One of Thunderbird's most time-honored traditions is the Parade of International Flags, started by students in 1977. This fall, nearly 20 students are set to carry flags from different nations and introduce themselves as they share their statements about their home countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and Zimbabwe.

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