Emerging Leaders 2016: Lessons from the Front Bench

Sep 22, 2016
Volume 36, Issue 9

Pharm Exec sits down with the top representative of a leading pharma service provider, UBC President Patrick Lindsay, to provide some real-world context around our 2016 feature profile of 16 Emerging Leaders in biopharma.  

Patrick Lindsay

Patrick Lindsay, who came to the US from Jamaica to forge a career as one the life science industry’s most senior minority executives, is an astute observer of the importance of diversity in human capital in managing an unprecedented era of disruptive change in the healthcare system. Here he outlines a new initiative of UBC to recognize the many unheralded colleagues in this industry who really make the trains run—and deliver the science of medicines discovery to patients in a manner so faultlessly predictable it is no longer noticed. 

PE:  UBC recently launched a “Pharma Heroes” recognition campaign in print and online media to put the spotlight on standout, meritorious performance among individuals and groups working in the life sciences sector.  This is not your typical marketing activity – can you describe the program and what motivated UBC to launch it?

Lindsay:  Pharma Heroes is decidedly not a marketing or image-burnishing effort for UBC.  In fact, it came about as a spontaneous, collective movement by numerous UBC colleagues.  Many of the internal town meetings I’ve participated in sparked debate on why work that the industry does on a day-to-day basis is unheralded and frankly taken for granted.  Colleagues would get up and talk about a firsthand experience in dealing with patients with cancer or other life threatening conditions. These exchanges always led back to the idea that there is something special about this industry – that there is more to our work than bidding successfully for the next consulting project.  Yet we hear more often about the negative portrayal of the industry on issues like pricing and promotion.  Our people were frustrated that so little attention is paid to the small miracles that occur every day, with great medicines that hit the target with lives saved or extended. 

When my colleagues brought the Pharma Heroes plan forward, one thing that appealed to me was its focus on the people behind the science.  In a complex knowledge sector like life sciences, success has many contributors. But in nearly all cases it’s the star scientists and the CEO who get the credit.  What about the contributions of the project managers, the data analysts, clinical researchers, process engineers, chemists and lab technicians and all those physicians, pharmacists and skilled nursing staff who help make vital programs work so seamlessly?  These roles extend to all corners of the industry, from drug companies to provider networks to service providers like UBC.  Such value deserves to be brought forward and catalogued.  And we have done that, with more than 100 Pharma Heroes recognized since we launched the program on January 1.  

UBC had much more than itself in mind in initiating Pharma Heroes.  We welcome others in the life sciences to join us or to launch their own version of a recognition program.  We see this as an ongoing, industry-wide educational tool geared to seeding a “culture of appreciation” for the routine work that creates miracles for patients.   

Surely there must be an additional motive beyond simply helping people feel good.  Isn’t there a connection to the need to keep upgrading UBC’s assets of human capital in an era of rapid technological change?

There is no doubt that Pharma Heroes helps position UBC as a company that cares about people. We are always refining and adjusting the attributes of the people we wish to recruit. The program allows us to survey the landscape, to “test for the best.” UBC’s business model is structured around a single overriding objective:  to speed the path to therapy for patients. You can’t do that without making it safe for colleagues and customers to ask is there a way to do it better? We want our new hires to bring past learnings to the table, to pose provocative questions to management, take prudent risks in expanding the business in new areas, and to contribute to a workplace culture of inclusion marked by mutual respect. I think you see these characteristics embedded in each of our Pharma Heroes. In that sense, those individuals recognized help identify, in the clearest human terms, who UBC is, as an organization. This is true even though virtually all who we have singled out are not affiliated with UBC.

What are the results of the Pharma Heroes program thus far?

I think we have accomplished something new in turning a spotlight on the everyday people who deliver results for the patient. The selections show that every individual in this industry has a bearing on our success as a socially responsible enterprise as well as a driver of prosperity for our employees and the companies and patients that benefit from UBC’s suite of service innovations. In addition, the program has reinforced UBC’s internal alignment around the mission of helping our customers help their patients. I’ve said many times that a failure of purpose is not going to be a problem for any organization that takes its cue from the patient.

Finally, I’d also point to the success of the three charitable partnerships we have forged through the donations we make on behalf of the Pharma Hero nominees put forward to date. The three are Cancer Support Community, a provider of advisory care and social services for cancer patients; Global Genes, an advocate for patients with rare diseases; and International Medical Corps, which coordinates relief services to address public health emergencies in 70 countries.    

As one of the most senior minority executives in life sciences today, how is the US biopharmaceutical industry faring on the issue of building a more diverse workforce?  Is diversity in big Pharma still a work in progress?

Undoubtedly, there has been great progress. We’ve come a long way since 1980, the year I discovered that my much younger self was one of the only minority individuals registered to attend that year’s annual meeting of the Drug Information Association (DIA). What must be avoided is complacency in the midst of that progress, which has to be monitored consistently, from the top, and from a critical perspective—are we actually doing all that we can to foster inclusion in the ranks? 

Appreciation of diversity must be embedded in decisions on every important issue we face. It can’t be approached artificially, as a silo initiative. Support should be allowed to build out through the organization in a natural way, through talent acquisition and retention and career development paths that offer real choices to people from diverse backgrounds. As the business model in biopharmaceuticals transforms, layoffs have been averaging some 10,000 workers per year. Let’s make the most of this overhaul—necessitated by the market disruptions induced by new science and technology—with practices that foster a greater C-suite commitment to diversity, not just with African-Americans but among all minorities and women. The evidence shows that greater diversity of backgrounds leads to more grounded decisions and better outcomes.  

Pharm Exec has just issued its ninth annual roster of emerging leaders in the biopharmaceutical industry—16 in all.  How, in your view, can these men and women best contribute to making a difference in the spaces you occupy, as a leader today?

Everyone who manages a large organization in our sector today is preoccupied by the prospect of disruptive innovations – actions by competitors, known or unknown, with the potential to usurp the business model that our employees, customers and shareholders rely on to deliver successful results. For UBC, that disruption would come if we fail to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology, especially data analytics and other information-based services that biopharma requires to cope with complex regulations and manage their operations efficiently, at progressively lower cost. 

Hence, the kind of leaders we seek are those who can think ahead—and sideways—in seizing opportunity before our customers even know they need it. A good example is how UBC decided back in 2008 to invest in a new value demonstration group, even though the health care system was then not prepared to operate outside the traditional parameters of a fee-for-service model. Today, we are a global leader in assisting our drug industry clients manage reimbursements tied to outcomes. This is now more important than ever as the industry moves from volume to value. We occupied the future before it was the future.  It was the investment in our people, working together and in close proximity to the external environment, which led to this result.   

The manager’s required skill set for this future?  It consists of soft management skills like the ability to absorb, sift and clarify endless streams of information; agility in learning; to be self-aware; but above all to approach a business challenge from a position of what I call “mutual respect.”  This is an under-recognized attribute of true leadership.  I spend my days in meetings, sitting across from people of very different backgrounds, from the safety scientist to the community pharmacist and physician. My job is to listen to them; assess their assets, vulnerabilities and expectations; and then bring those variable perspectives together in a pitch for that elusive common ground. Literally, in this coming clash of business civilizations, there is no other alternative. 

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