What Does It Really Take? - Pharmaceutical Executive

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What Does It Really Take?
A military historian once said that a great commander must show himself to his followers only through a mask—a mask that marks him as the leader they need. Today, pharma leaders, behind their masks, must possess a certain substance.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Case in point: Ron Dollens, former CEO of Guidant. As Joe Mandato, managing director of DeNovo Ventures, put it, "Ron made decisions quickly, sometimes with only a modest amount of data. He often went out on a limb, but more often than not, he made the right call." Mandato should know: He formerly was CEO of one of the medical device companies that Dollens spun out from Eli Lilly to create a new entity.

Like all careful risk takers, Dollens believed in data-driven decision making. "He knew more about what was going on in any of the operating units of the company than almost anyone else in management," Mandato says.

Think about risk in terms of two factors: impact and seriousness. A smart risk taker asks, "What do we stand to lose if we don't take this step?" And: "What could go wrong if we do?" "How serious will the consequences be?"

Dollens' calculated risks certainly paid off: The $25 billion paid by Johnson & Johnson for the company is 25 times Guidant's valuation when it went public in 1994.

A good leader also encourages a risk-tolerant culture, which means avoiding the nailing-for-failing mentality. "In Germany, if you have ever worked for a company that went bankrupt, you are stigmatized," says E&Y's Morrison. "Contrast that with Silicon Valley, where if your resume doesn't include at least one failed company, people don't take you seriously."

3. The Agile Reinventer

Think of today's great leader as the ancient Phoenix, capable of rising from its own ashes—not just once, but many times.

Casey McGlynn, chairman of the life sciences practice at Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, points to Robert Reiss, head of Interventional Technology (IVT), as an excellent example of a turn-on-a-dime leader. IVT began as a phacoemulsification company. But when Reiss realized that it wasn't going to succeed as such, he shifted the company's focus to cardiovascular, and eventually turned IVT into a manufacturer of the Barath balloon. He found a way to manufacture this balloon at low cost and high reliability. Eventually, IVT was sold to Boston Scientific for over $600 million.

4. The Focused Innovator


Genomic Health's CEO's vision was contagious. I had to be a part of it; it was like a calling. How could I not help to make individualized treatment planning a reality for cancer patients? Kimberly Popovits
Focus is as important as creativity. Given the need for speed, and the opportunity-rich environment, it's easy to lose sight of the advantages of keeping within the core capabilities of the business. Genentech is a textbook example of a company that hasn't succumbed to the temptation.

As Kimberly Popovits, president and COO of Genomic Health Incorporated and a former senior player at Genentech, points out, "At Genentech, the focus became predominantly oncology, even though there were other therapeutic areas that presented opportunity."

Popovits and her colleagues are applying the insight at her current company. "At Genomic Health, we want to be the best in the world at analyzing tumor tissue and developing genomic-based diagnostic tests for cancer. Even with endless resources, you need to decide on a core competency and not stray from it if you want to become the world leader in your field."


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