The Navigator: Charlotte Sibley - Pharmaceutical Executive

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The Navigator: Charlotte Sibley


Pharmaceutical Executive


The patients, it seems, didn't like the idea of a spray. They said they thought it would feel cold, that it would sting, that they would dread putting it on. Instead, they preferred a cream—it seemed soothing, and applying it would make them feel as if they were doing something to help themselves. Sibley watched the scientists' eyes light up. They understood: "Hearing directly from the patient, the end user, was absolutely revelatory to the R&D people," she said. "And then, of course, as direct-to-consumer came along, we had to start understanding the consumer more. But for most pharma companies, this was a brave new world."

At BMS, Sibley pioneered many industry "firsts." She helped start the first competitive intelligence unit in pharma and championed the use of market research data to design better clinical trials. In particular, she worked with a group that advocated testing their drug against the most popular, most prescribed drug—not just the ones KOLs preferred. Sibley also worked on helping researchers institute health outcomes, both in terms of patient-reported outcomes but also in terms of health value. This is common today, but it was quite revolutionary in the late 1980s. She also conducted the first perceptual mapping of the ACE inhibitor market.

Everything was falling into place—until the fateful Lipitor forecast, after which everything simply fell apart. After Sibley departed, people were worried. A vendor said she had watched Sibley beat her head against the wall for so long that she was afraid there was no way to fix the damage that had been done. Some doubted that she would return to pharma.

For her own part, Sibley says she just felt relief. And before too long, she was ready to start again. She went to work for longtime client Colin Maitland, and built Isis Research's US business from scratch. She was the right person for the job, and just 15 months after starting, the business achieved profitability.

Charlotte's Web

And then, in 1999, along came an opportunity and a pair of kindred spirits, in the form of Fred Hassan and Carrie Cox, who were heading up Pharmacia and shared her ideas about developing customer-focused products. She joined the company as vice president of global business research. "This was a critical position at the company, with products like Detrol, which required the company to create white space out of nothing in the overactive bladder arena," says Richard Vanderveer, group chief executive officer of the GfK US Healthcare Companies. "She was part of the excellent management team at Pharmacia" (which, later on, would gain the nickname "the dream team").

Sibley was handed a $56 million budget and charged with building an information group. At Pharmacia, she was able to talk market research with Fred Hassan in a way that he could understand. She gained buy-in to pioneer a big segmentation project and brokered a shared accountability by tying the bonus of oncology market researchers to the profitability of the oncology group.

There was just one distraction: Six weeks after she joined, Pharmacia merged with Monsanto/Searle, which rearranged the building blocks of the company and the entire industry. Still, Sibley exceeded expectations. She cleaned up the post-merger mess and assembled a new group at breakneck speed, hiring 68 people in 16 months.

For this new group, the chaos unfolded in a positive way. "Pharmacia had this colossal growth with all these new people coming in," says Maitland. "And at the end of that, all these people had done really well and loved her—it was fun working for Charlotte. And they bred another generation of people, who were also enjoyable to work with."

It got Sibley a reputation—and a career path—as a sort of Johnny Appleseed of market research groups that mattered. She built one in Millennium in 2003 and then at Shire in 2005.


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