Pharm Exec:  30 Years,  30 Leaders

Oct 01, 2011

William Looney
THIS MONTH'S PHARMACEUTICAL EXECUTIVE is a celebration of our 30th year in providing timely, comprehensive coverage of the issues, trends, and people that shape this endlessly inventive—and profitable—industry. It is not a profile of record. Our focus is idiosyncratic, opinionated, and decidedly non-idolatory about what the industry and its leaders have accomplished—and where it has fallen short. And in contrast to many other commemorative reviews, we bend toward what has been in order to furnish insight on the future.

A contradiction? Not in any way. Memory is the pantry of mindful replenishment; it should speak to us every day. At work, it serves as the prerequisite for experience, informing the present, and setting a baseline for what is to come. The hard part is combining all this with spirit, wisdom, and context—traits of character that true leaders seem to carry in their DNA.

Speaking of leadership, front and center in this issue are profiles of 30 individuals who by their life stories have, in Pharm Exec's view, contributed to making the biopharma industry what it is today. Most of our leaders have stoked the engine of success, but there are also a few skeptics who have relentlessly pushed the industry to change. Operating at the margins of the power grid, their example shows that adversity and a poverty of resources can serve as the mother of invention. This is a lesson that Big Pharma may now have to learn too, as companies adjust to a new era of lean.

A sift through the profiles finds some common strands that readers may find useful in navigating a complex and strategically unpredictable business environment. One early indicator of change: Not one CEO mentioned golf as a driver of "competitive differentiation." Allergan CEO David Pyott notes, "Thirty years ago that must have been fun, but as a Scotsman, it's embarrassing to say I just haven't had the time to learn to play. The only exercise I get today is riding the product cycle."

A distinctive quality found in nearly all the profiles is confidence, which is best exhibited by the ability to admit you don't know all the answers. In fact, what often determines leadership success is being able to ask the good question—and then to listen carefully to the response. In other words, curiosity is the antidote to hubris, particularly when leadership is formally recognized and bureaucracy intervenes under the guise of saving an executive's time for what is "essential."

It follows that in shaping the contours of an entire industry, people skills are paramount. We see in many of the profiles that the grand ideas that launched entire segments of the industry, including the CRO business model, were hatched literally at the kitchen table, by a handful of people who had no office to report to, carried no thoughts of hierarchy, and never communicated through PowerPoint.

Memories relayed provide grist for the future. The conclusion I draw from these portraits is the advice they contain for an industry whose most critical oncoming challenge is scaling down its cost profile, producing good science at a price that society can continue to afford to pay. Innovation must be turned on its face, from a focus on high-margin products and therapies to process improvement, where the emphasis is finding cheaper ways to make that long transition from the bench to the bedside. A culture of relentless productivity, at all stages of the product cycle, but especially toward the end, will be the defining requisite of future growth. Getting beyond the pill is part of this. So too is the capacity to leverage lessons from the emerging countries. As noted in the forward-looking feature written by Martin Reeves and colleagues (page 54) of the Boston Consulting Group, their profitability potential rests on how well Big Pharma serves low- and middle-income populations by creating the "cheapening technologies" that deliver better access at prices that more people in these nations can afford.

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