Emerging Pharma Leaders 2012 - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Emerging Pharma Leaders 2012


Pharmaceutical Executive


Rick Fair

Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Oral Oncolytics, Genentech



Rick Fair began his marketing career at PepsiCo, first as an analyst and then in corporate strategic planning. During the latter part of his tenure at PepsiCo, Fair's grandmother died.

"She had a rash of medical issues, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease. She was a bit of train wreck, medically," says Fair. The loss led to what Fair calls his "early mid-life crisis," and a reflection on his career and goals. "I didn't think I could spend the next 30 years selling snack chips and soft drinks, and I thought that maybe there was something I could do in business that would be more meaningful," says Fair. "My mother had been a nurse, and I had a great appreciation for the healthcare world, so I decided that I would try that out."

After a search, Fair landed a job with J&J, where he bounced around several of J&J's operating companies in various managed care and marketing roles, before leaving to join Genentech in 2006. Since then, Fair has climbed upward, from director to senior director of sales and marketing, to his current position as vice president, sales and marketing, oral oncolytics.

Much has been made about the gap between what marketers do in consumer package goods versus what they do (or don't do) in pharmaceutical marketing, in terms of engaging customers, but Fair says that's because there's a fundamental difference between a pill and a popsicle. "You're dealing, without being dramatic, in life or death when you're talking about drugs. You're not when you're talking about Doritos."

In his current role, Fair leads the commercial organization for Genentech's oral oncolytics franchise, which includes four currently marketed products and several others in the pipeline. His responsibility is to launch and commercialize those products in the United States, leading a team of a couple hundred sales and marketing people, and working with cross-functional partners within the commercial organization.

Roche acquired Genentech in 2009, and Fair says the merger and cultural integration has exceeded his expectations, and has also provided an important learning experience. Despite stylistic differences between the organizations, both are committed to science, ethical behavior with respect to patients, and investing for the long term, says Fair. The leadership lessons have come from dealing with the "normal human reaction to change," which required Fair to become "a student of how to lead through change." People cope with change at their own pace, and as a leader, "you have to help them along and encourage them to look to the past and say goodbye, and look toward the future, but you can't force that to happen immediately."

Fair says he's learned that "you have to assume positive intent," and stay away from an "us versus them" mentality. "I have a phrase that I use with my team a lot: 'They is us.' In any sort of change, there's a real temptation to hunker down and say, 'We do it this way and they do it that way, and that's not good.' The collective 'we' need to figure out how we're going to move forward and do things in the future."

Another skill Fair emphasizes with his team has to do with sustaining focus and alignment. In leading large groups, "it's easy for people to try and do many things and to love every new, good idea, and to explore lots of opportunities. All are well intentioned, but a lot of what we do is successful...maintaining focus and alignment on that front is a key challenge for me."

Fair says he's attracted to leadership roles that come with an opportunity to help others develop and grow. Asked about the most important leadership skills of tomorrow, Fair says strategic and critical thinking skills are at the top of the list.

"The industry, with the rate of change in the science, is very dynamic," says Fair. "Being able to think forward and think in terms of scenarios, and to plan, and to explore options and then be decisive in spite of all the ambiguity, is really tied to how great of a strategic and critical thinker you are."

—Ben Comer


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