The Friendly Persuasion — An Interview with Fred Hassan - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Friendly Persuasion — An Interview with Fred Hassan

Pharmaceutical Executive

Moving beyond organizational dynamics like culture, what in your experience are the characteristics that determine individual success in pharma today?

Nothing has changed. Attitude is key. I am often asked if my background growing up in Pakistan and studying in the United Kingdom helped me succeed in the United States. My answer is only partially—what really mattered is that, in moving from a very distinctive culture like Pakistan to the West, I was forced to work outside my comfort zone. I had to adapt on the fly rather than just move along at cruising speed. This had an impact on my attitude toward work. At periodic stages of my career, I was always ready to try something different. I had a built in corrective from my life experiences that prevented me from assuming that something could not be done, just because I was not familiar with it. Attitude is also about being positive. Over the years, I have seen that people who simply point out problems without suggesting a solution rarely gain traction. No matter how dire the circumstances, your personal brand is burnished when you stay constructive and avoid tearing others down.

What insights about our industry have you uncovered in your current role as non-executive Chairman of Avon Products? Is it true that consumer goods companies have a much better grasp of what the customer wants?

As a heavily regulated industry, pharmaceuticals are characterized by a strong process discipline. Getting the details right is the pre-condition for our license to operate. Companies like Avon are more focused on a continuing brand identity as the guarantor of a strong market position. In pharmaceuticals the right to exclusivity tends to make that a given; once a patent expires, brand identity tends to fade due to the intense generic competition. We can learn from Avon how valuable a good branding strategy is to stretching out the lifecycle of a product and keeping our customers loyal and engaged. Avon has also much to teach us about building share in the emerging country markets, which it treats with a distinct attitude and where it has been active for decades. For new medicines, the United States will continue to dominate, but the BRIC countries and others are going to be critical in giving a second wind to our mature brands. These markets are also sources of reverse innovation and thus a good way to keep tabs on future competition. For these reasons, when I was CEO of Schering-Plough, I was directly involved in concurring with the selection of almost all our country managers in the emerging regions.

Finally, Avon has taught me to look at the field force in a new way. All their sales people are independent vendors and the company looks at them as their first line of customers—you must win their hearts to succeed in selling to the masses. In our industry, sales people are paid mainly through a base salary, plus a bonus usually weighted against the performance of others in the group. It is interesting how the mindset changes when you treat each rep as accountable and trusted ambassadors for the brand. If you look at them as the first line of customers, their results in the marketplace will be quickened and their feedback link to marketing will be sharper.

What's needed to invigorate the drug pipelines of the major pharma companies?

There is no single answer and in many ways it depends on the imponderables of organization dynamics. In the late '80s, I was at Sandoz (now Novartis) when oncology was our next gleam in the eye after our successful reinvention into immunology with the launch of the transplantation drug Cyclosporia. Novartis has now succeeded in creating a successful franchise in oncology over a 20-year period. From the beginning, there was a commitment to working in small groups around specific projects based on a clear medical need and potentially enriched populations from genetic science and biomarkers. They also mix people very easily, so that there is less disconnect between the researchers and commercial development teams. The premise has always been to lead with the science; if the science is good, the market will follow. The Novartis story suggests you can build a big business around small opportunities, without having to chase after the premise that every success means a blockbuster. Small bets can add up, and spread through multiple indications.


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Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
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