Emerging Pharma Leaders 2012 - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Emerging Pharma Leaders 2012


Pharmaceutical Executive


Ryan Cohlhepp

Director, Drug Development Management, Millennium, the Takeda Oncology Company



An interest in health is ingrained in all aspects of Ryan Cohlhepp's life. Watching his father suffer through a heart attack and subsequent triple-bypass surgery at age 44 had a deep impact on Cohlhepp, and influenced his decision to work in a health-related field. He also carries a passion for health into his personal life, where he competes regularly in triathlons and is currently training for a half-Iron Man event. "As a nave 17-year-old, I thought I was going to go to pharmacy school and, ultimately, go on from there into medical school," he says. Ultimately, though, he decided that pharma was a better fit, with a business focus and the opportunity to help patients.

Cohlhepp did indeed receive his Doctorate of Pharmacy (PharmD), from Purdue University. But a leadership development program at Roche where he "slipped through the cracks" as one of the only associates without an MBA set the direction of Cohlhepp's career. He started in Roche in market research, and eventually transitioned to the field. "I thought there was a lot of value in getting out there, getting a perspective on what it's like to be face-to-face with the physicians and the customers," he recalls. From there, it was a job in US Marketing and Global Strategic Marketing for Roche, and eventually a jump to Takeda, which acquired Millennium—entirely focused on oncology development and commercialization—in 2008.

Cohlhepp is now director of drug development management at Millennium, where he's currently global team leader on the development side for a Phase III prostate cancer compound. When asked about the most important characteristics and leadership skills he uses every day, Cohlhepp immediately and naturally jumps into talk about the career mentors in his life who've made the biggest impact—Chris Schroll, who Cohlhepp reports to currently at Millennium, and Dennis Burns, who mentored him during his time at Roche. "When I came out of my PharmD program as a young 20-something, these busy executives were spending so much time with me, and even now, as I advance my career, I continue to have people around me who are willing to coach me and spend time with me," he says. "But it's not just their willingness to coach—both of them are also constantly in the learning process, and a key thing I've taken away is that you're never so far in your career that you're no longer a student."

When it comes to leading a team, "One of the absolute essentials is being able to build and establish a foundation of trust, and I think doing so is a valuable investment in time," Cohlhepp says. "And if you don't make that investment, you're going to pay for it in the end. Anytime you are dealing with a complex business like ours, you're bound to have curveballs. And a good leader is committed to proactively developing that trust, being open, being transparent, and making that investment prior to getting into difficult situations."

Cohlhepp hopes that going forward, the industry will continue to learn the finer points of the art of collaboration. "There are a lot of good companies and academic institutions out there doing great science in oncology. We're all looking to do the same thing—to find cures and extend cancer patients' lives," he says. "And to be able to leverage the work that we're doing with one another, rather than always competing—I really hope we figure out how to do that."

In terms of growing his own skill set in the future, Cohlhepp says, "I've seen leaders who've got such an astute sense of the business that it seems like it's natural for them to know when to put the foot on the accelerator versus when to put on the break, or even just slow down. Getting a greater sense of those business drivers and what makes the car react are definitely skills I'm looking forward to honing. Becoming one of those leaders who understands how to modify what your team is doing in a timely way is one of the traits that separates great leaders."

—Jennifer Ringler


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