Emerging Pharma Leaders 2010

Jun 25, 2010

Pharm Exec's 2010 roster of Emerging Leaders are the incoming landlords of a building in receivership, riddled with more dents and pockmarks than the Parthenon. P& L margins are down, only government workers are being laid off at a higher rate, public trust remains an unmet ethical need, and the odds from investing in R&D are certainly not on the house.

Nevertheless, our 25 up-and-coming leaders know well to cast their gaze in the right direction—down to the foundation—and to adjust the mortar mix around new ingredients—the basic sand and water multipliers of institutional credibility and strength.

Tomorrow's biopharma business will be built around two pillars: people and perceptions. One cannot stand without the other. No industry focused on the commercialization of intangibles like scientific knowledge can thrive unless it has an engaged and motivated work force. Nor will there be a market for that knowledge if the world outside has no confidence in the industry business model or its reputational imprint on society.

There is no fixed course to putting these two pillars in place—it's not a teachable moment. This is why few of our profiled leaders emphasize the conventional resume points of length of service, where they went to school, or who they trained with. Our interviews with the group indicate that leadership will depend less on mastery of the "quant" topics like finance and marketing than on the "soft" disciplines like human resources, ethics and governance, enterprise diversity, leadership development, and community/stakeholder relations.

Management wags call it a change in mindset, from the "era of expertise," where tenure and technical skills drove performance, to the "era of behavior," where intuition and people skills are prized assets. If the world provides no clear direction, then leadership is less about commanding ship than in being first to identify trends, spot problems and shape better questions that at least help define what needs to be done. A focus on behavior also means that interdependence and collaboration are key drivers of process, while ethics has to be treated as an element of business performance rather than a legal or public relations sidebar.

The interviews have produced some additional insights in tagging biopharma's drivers of leadership success.

First, diversity is not just a human resources construct—a measure of ethnic or gender equality—but a source of competitive advantage. From an enterprise perspective, diversity generates ideas. It facilitates the contributions of cross-functional teams and thus leverages all the advantages of a more global work force. Most important, diversity is critical to the innovation process because the more promising work in medical research today occurs at the intersection of different fields—for example, nanotechnology, where biology and engineering are combining to create novel delivery vehicles for complex medicines.

A second theme is the central task of good leadership: keeping talented people motivated in a world where there are zero expectations about job security. Pay and perks count for something, but the larger challenge for leaders is harnessing their people's discretionary energies—what management experts dub the vast "cognitive surplus" created through our individual day-to-day experiences and insights. Traditional carrots and sticks work less in this environment than does creating a mission that marks every participant as wanting to contribute to a community to which they really want to belong.

Of course, the added value provided by a motivated employee will matter more as Big Pharma gets "lean" and scales down—this is the first leadership generation that can no longer count on a surplus of resources to get things done.

Third is the emphasis on a new style of communicating, which paradoxically must cultivate the capacity to listen. To reach out to the masses effectively, the communicator must begin by framing a highly individual question, as in "How would I explain this to a patient?" It is the quality of the conversation that counts, as this is fundamental to establishing trust.

Finally, even in this new business environment, company culture remains a key fault line in managers' success or failure. Says organizational consultant Marilyn Nyman: "Culture is still destiny for leaders today. The ability to discern that culture at work is a critical skill. Can I jump three levels in the organization to get the answers I need or is that viewed as doing an 'end run'? Flawless execution—the precise area where future leaders will be expected to excel—is impossible if you bungle the culture challenge."

All of this suggests that our 2010 leaders will still need unprecedented reserves of old fashioned toughness to prevail in the years ahead. Hard choices must be made, and simple life experience will throw some unexpected curves. As our cover tag notes, even this under 45 generation favors a monochrome wardrobe of black. But the real fabric of the workplace is decidedly shaded in gray.

—William Looney, Editor in Chief

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