Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive


From Information to Insight


Julie Schiffman, VP, Portfolio & Decision Analysis, Pfizer
At the most basic level, good leaders are distinguished from bad ones by the decisions they make. Sometimes what seems like the right decision at the time turns out to be the wrong one, as more facts come in, or the situation changes. There's a degree of luck involved, but the most successful leaders make good decisions on a consistent basis. At Pfizer, where decision-making is saddled with the weight of billion dollar implications, Julie Schiffman, VP, Portfolio & Decision Analysis, and her group of 40 "decision scientists," are connecting the company's vast intellectual asset—its people—to provide the clearest possible assessment lens for Pfizer's deciders to peer through.

Like many other leaders in the pharma space, Schiffman was more or less channeled in the direction of industry; she didn't choose it based on a conscious interest in drugs. "Ironically, my father owned a pharmacy, so I grew up in a pharmacy my whole life...but I didn't intend to actually go into pharmaceuticals," says Schiffman.

After undergrad at Brown University, Schiffman landed at Cambridge Associates, doing investment consulting for non-profit, endowed institutions. She left to go to business school at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, thinking she'd resume similar work upon graduating. Instead, Schiffman wound up with a summer associate position at Deloitte, which exposed her to a variety of businesses, notably Pfizer, where she worked with internal teams on new product development and commercial strategy. One of her clients at Pfizer was Laurie Olson, currently Pfizer's EVP, strategy, portfolio management and global commercial operations. Schiffman joined Pfizer 10 years ago this year, and Olson, aside from being Schiffman's current manager, "has been a great mentor as well," she says.

Schiffman initially left Deloitte to become a senior manager in the new product development group at Pfizer. After three years, she was promoted to director, a role focused on supporting the development of commercial strategies for products approaching Phase III in the clinic. Toward the end of 2008, Schiffman was promoted to team leader in Pfizer's Portfolio & Decision Analysis group, supporting emerging markets, established products, and specialty care. She was promoted to vice president of that group two and half years ago. In her current role, she reports to Olson, who reports to Ian Read, Pfizer's CEO.

Working at Deloitte was instructive for Schiffman; her current group is essentially an internal consultancy. Her group's task, says Schiffman, is to "enable objective investment decisions in support of near-, mid-, and long-term strategic goals." "Objective" is the operative word. Schiffman's group sits outside of Pfizer's business units, so that it can be "transparent about the risk, the cost, the timing, and the value of different opportunities," which helps Pfizer's deciders "make the most informed decision, whether it's about an asset, a therapeutic area, or about the portfolio."

Despite a general industry emphasis on quantitative risk assessment, Schiffman says "numbers are only half the story." Qualitative assessment, and the judgment of management, must also be considered. The core strength of Schiffman's group, she says, is its ability to "assemble a cross-functional team of experts across Pfizer to explore and provide input on several different development opportunities." Strong communication skills are key. "The thirst for information at Pfizer has increased significantly over the past couple of years," says Schiffman. "We've brought much greater transparency to the end-to-end portfolio, not only from an actual asset standpoint, but also from a budget standpoint."

Schiffman manages a group of 40, and her group is sometimes the bearer of bad news. That makes the job challenging, "particularly when a team may believe that its asset is a great opportunity, and should be moved forward." As a group manager, Schiffman says she tries not to "ask people to do things that I wouldn't be willing to do myself—I understand the pressure. I think you have to create a rewarding environment where people feel valued for the work they do for the benefit of Pfizer and for the individual teams."

Pfizer is putting a new system in place for the purposes of integrating information to deliver better analysis and insight. Schiffman says the "Holy Grail" of portfolio management is "being able to link your budget information with your milestone information and your value information in order to inform portfolio decisions." Delivering the right information to the right place at the right time is what keeps Schiffman up at night.

Her current work is "very intellectually challenging and stimulating, and there are always opportunities for continuous improvement," says Schiffman, adding that she's uncomfortable outlining her career development path and future goals for Pharm Exec readers. That says more about Pfizer than Schiffman, probably, but facilitating communication across an organization, and integrating individual opinions, quantitative data, and qualitative analysis into the process to deliver insight to decision-makers, is not likely to be a skill diminished by technology or big data anytime soon.

—Ben Comer


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