Emerging Pharma Leaders 2011

Managing in the Era of Lean
Jun 01, 2011
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Meet 2011's Emerging Pharma Leaders—Can these 30 trendsetters build competitive scale from scarcity?

Pharm Exec's 2011 roster of Emerging Leaders—our fourth to date—is not only a way to recognize a few individuals who've made a difference in their organizations. It also serves as a barometer to track larger changes in the workplace: how work is done; who does it; where, and with what range of skills; and for what outcome or objective. In acknowledgment of our own 30th anniversary as a publication, and with the support of Pharm Exec's Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) and an aggressive Web-based recommendation process, we've selected 30 executives drawn from a range of mission-critical functions, varied geographies, and diverse gender and cultural characteristics. Such backgrounds were unimaginable in the executive ranks of the industry just a few years ago, a fact that suggests Big Pharma today is at least more reflective of the broader sociopolitical environment that has always been crucial to its success.

The 30 profiles written and compiled by our editorial team is reference in itself to the trends and values that will shape strategy in biopharmaceuticals for the remainder of the decade. That, in turn, will help determine the ground rules for individual career progress. We've distilled some of the more interesting insights as follows:

The real meaning of "lean." As companies scale back—this year's leaders are aware that the pace of layoffs in Big Pharma is exceeded only by the government sector—the response is not just to "do more with less." All agree that the change is strategic, not temporary, and relates squarely to the higher long-term risk profile of the business. The optimal response to the lean agenda is to contribute to strengthening the efficiency of business practice and processes; sometimes this requires more resources, not less. Making trust, engagement, and loyalty programs really convincing to employees is another necessary leadership attribute of a lean organization, where the impact of a loss of any productive worker is magnified. This is where overall corporate reputation can make a bottom-line difference.

Information is now borderless, posing a significant management challenge to stronger employee engagement. Rapid improvements in IT are forcing leaders to be more transparent, but this requires in turn a commitment to make information verifiable to employees and team members. Tomorrow's business leaders must be able to certify and validate reams of unsubstantiated information, and for this role the prerequisite is to be seen as someone who is trusted.

The key emotional chord in today's pharma workplace is to convey a sense of urgency. Time and space for action are compressing due to the impact of improvements in technology, accessibility of information, the globalization of competition, and a changing demographic of the market base. Complacency is a trait associated with older forms of organization linked to hierarchical decision-making and a command-and-control leadership style, when the prudent response for anyone with leadership aspirations was to defer and deliberate. That old strategy remains an option—old habits die hard, particularly the bigger the organization is—but fewer of those raised in the Internet age of instant access to information laced with opinion are likely to embrace it.

The talent pipeline is spouting in a different direction. Under previous generations, drug research and other good ideas germinated in "mature" markets, preferably the home office, with production and secondary services devolved to low-income countries. Looking forward, that pattern may well be reversed, which requires the ability to initiate, analyze, and execute around a global approach that can accommodate diverse cultures and perspectives on doing business. Do any of us realize that some Asian languages are lacking a definitive equivalent to the simple word "no?"

The real driver of "human resources" is the power of the personal connection. The tendency in Big Pharma has been to do precisely the opposite, turning the HR function into an information processing service that takes place mainly online. Many of our 30 leaders urged that management restore what is "human" about human resources, through a renewed emphasis on counseling and support for "soft" skills such as leadership training, talent development, and mentoring. One executive even noted that his best source of ideas and talent now comes from his own family, rather than the work peer group. Companies will have to foster new approaches to ensure these connections are incentivized to foster creativity within the ranks. It's preferable to all this collective—and capturable—energy being diverted to networked outside communities, whose numbers are multiplying and threaten to make Big Pharma appear isolated, lumbering, and irrelevant—and certainly not the place to take your new ideas.

The best innovations are often a consequence of a workplace failure. A repeated theme in the interviews is that good organizations impose no sanctions on failure. Making mistakes is "part of the job," and what counts is a willingness to reach beyond a presumed outcome to try something new. Management will need that approach to navigate through changes that are becoming harder to account for in advance.

One thing has not changed: There are few future leaders who can't cite passion as a factor that got them to where they are today. The lucrative pay in pharma is one thing, but if you are not fired up by the potential that working in this space has in improving the state of health for millions of patients, then perhaps a career in accounting is more appropriate.

—William Looney, Editor-in-Chief

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