HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year - Pharmaceutical Executive


HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year
Catherine Sohn Guides GSK's Consumer Powerhouse

Pharmaceutical Executive

Catherine Sohn calls a "team huddle" with (from l to r) Greg Westerbeck, Govind Agrawal, and Kevin Foley, all directors of worldwide business development.
Filling the Pipeline Even with antibiotic Augmentin's (amoxicillin/clavulanate) patent already expired and Paxil's patent under challenge, investment banks report that GSK remains a buy.

That's because, according to a Lehman Brothers report, "GSK, by virtue of its sheer size, is becoming more like an industrial conglomerate that just happens to operate in the pharma industry. Its product portfolio neutralizes it from a significant hit from any one product, but by the same token, new products also have little influence on growth."

The Consumer Healthcare Executive Management team rendezvous in the UK. Standing (from l to r): Jack Ziegler, John Clarke, Manfred Scheske, Ray DeRise, Keith Bradford, Bill Slivka, George Quesnelle, Rob Harvey, Ken James. Sitting (l to r): Ian McPherson, Ellie Barger, Catherine Sohn, and Tom Borger.
CH is part of that stabilizing portfolio, with well known consumer brands such as Aquafresh, Sensodyne, Nicoderm CQ, Nicorette (nicotine), and Tums (calcium). "Although it can throw off double-digit profit growth, consumer is a single-digit growth industry," says CH president Jack Ziegler. "But it is very different from pharmaceuticals, which has its own set of opportunities and issues, such as the enormous impact of launches and patent expirations. Some of our businesses are more than 100 years old; there aren't any pharmaceuticals like that." (See "Brands Your Mother Knew Best," page 32.)

Sohn puts it another way: "We're like the bond part of your portfolio-steady Eddie, over the long term, and not as susceptible to patent expiration."

Sohn's cool description belies the frenetic pace she must maintain to build GSKCH's pipeline, and consequently, its future. "Now that we're a $5 billion company," she admits, "one small, new-technology licensing agreement at a time will not generate the kind of growth that we're looking for. We need additional partnerships, global acquisitions, or external Rx-to-OTC switch assets."

For that reason, business development is more important than ever.

To HBA, With Love
"Although our internal research and development resources are important, we are more likely to harness external creativity than to spend billions of dollars developing it on our own," says Ziegler. "From that point of view, business development is a key engine to grow the business, and that's why Cathy and her team are so essential."

HBA's 1999 Woman of the Year, Tamar Howson, then senior vice-president and director of business development for SmithKline Beecham and now senior vice-president of corporate and business development at Bristol Myers-Squibb, says Sohn has the skills necessary to excel in business development. "Cathy possesses the ability to manage complex projects, has knowledge and understanding of almost every function within the company, and she has the interpersonal skills to bring together diverse groups and align them under the same goal. She possesses all those skills to a significant degree, probably because she came to business development from a marketing background at SmithKline Beecham, where she developed good internal relationships with different functions. She moved from pharma to consumer, and that seems to have been a very successful switch."

To promote its prescription asthma therapy to consumers, the Advair product team uses Consumer Health Care's best marketing practices.
But Sohn believes that the secret to her success lies in the relationships she develops: "I help the company, university, or researcher feel comfortable giving their 'baby' to us. GlaxoSmith-Kline Consumer Healthcare is a midsize company and the most important message to convey is that we are big enough to have the research and development, regulatory, sales and marketing infrastructure, yet small enough to treasure each asset that is made part of the business."

Strategic partnerships are increasingly a means for two companies to complement each other's strengths. Sohn's enthusiasm for working with external partners is evident in the way she continues to build on and champion the relationships even after signing the deal. "Our goal is to bring important new medicines to people while driving our business growth. Working in a cooperative way with external companies benefits everyone."

New Rx-to-OTC Environment
Sohn says GSKCH's relationship with Block Drug was instrumental to the acquisition. Since it was Block's product distributor in France for ten years, Sohn understood the connections between the companies' products and corporate philosophies. She was able to gain the executive management team's consensus and submit a bid for the company in October 2000, shortly after it became available. Even more important, those relationships established trust that allowed the acquisition to move forward, despite the fact that the Glaxo Wellcome/SmithKline Beecham merger was still in progress. That $1.24 billion purchase grew the business by more than 20 percent, catapulting it to its place among the top three consumer healthcare companies in the world and to number two in oral healthcare.

Ziegler appointed Sohn integration co-leader-an unusual responsibility for a negotiator-because she had already gained the trust of Block Drug's owners and senior managers.

"Cathy led her team in developing the proposition, helping me sell it to Jean-Paul Garnier and helping us sell it to the board," says Ziegler. "Once the deal was signed, she headed the team that made the objectives we promised to the board happen in terms of timing, sales, and profits."


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