Angus Russell: Bravura Performer

Oct 01, 2011

Angus Russell
As chief executive of a trim, mid-size pharma player with a distinctive portfolio franchise, Angus Russell has made his reputation as an iconoclast—the antagonist of bloat. "When I see a company organization chart that includes an 'Office of the CEO' my expectations about engagement with them drops precipitously," Russell says. "A big problem in this industry is how process trumps productivity."

Shire is famous for coining the word "brave" as an expression of its mission to patients and society. Going forward, Russell says the touch point might well be "intimacy," in better understanding what the customer expects as part of any partnership and then removing internal barriers to making that happen.

As a result, strategic and operational flexibility is for Shire a key driver of competitive differentiation. In a business climate marked by enormous market churn, it pays to minimize the fixed commitments that bind and pursue opportunities where you find them. "We make investments in costly infrastructure only where it is necessary to prove our value to the customer." The model is to collaborate with others to lower these costs and maintain a free hand to move quickly when a new opportunity presents. As an example, Shire relied on a web of specialty stakeholders to create a tightly focused US sales force of only 18 people to launch Firazyr, the only orphan drug for adult hereditary angiodema that can be self-administered by the patient, whose estimated peak sales are expected to top $200 million.

Russell contends this frugal refusal to overextend encourages fresh thinking, particularly in avoiding the tendency for organizations to be guided by past decisions that entailed permanent, ongoing resource commitments. "I am less interested in presenting a blueprint for therapeutic leadership—one that rejects the purgatory of being anything less than first in class—than in creating something that provides a real solution for the customer. Today, it's all about the value argument."

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