Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive


Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive

Culture Counts

These and other achievements secured to date rest in large part on a deliberate, personal effort by George to change the Sandoz culture. "I decided culture should not be an unconscious artifact—something that is just there—but rather a tool for creating change, something that we had to make a deliberate effort to shape."

One of the first things George did was convene an internal team to decide what Sandoz wanted to be. That review led to the definition of three pillars to define a new Sandoz culture. These are: recognizing people as the company's single greatest asset, recruiting and retaining the best; ensuring high-performance behaviors, always acting with a sense of urgency to drive results for patients, shareholders, and fellow employees; and keeping a constant focus on the customer, through an outward-looking perspective receptive to new ideas. George leads by example, spending over half his time on the road, visiting 20 to 25 countries a year on average, meeting customers and other stakeholders.

Another hallmark is the range of new people George has brought into the organization, revitalizing what was once a more monolithic demographic. "There are nine different nationalities represented on my Sandoz leadership team. So I've seen firsthand the clear positive link between diversity and the capacity to innovate."

Buttressing all three pillars is a personal commitment by George to build a culture that celebrates success. "One of the things I look for in people I hire is the ability to recognize the contributions of others. Given all that companies today ask for and expect from their employees, it's critical that managers learn it doesn't take much energy to say 'thank you.'" George spends a good chunk of his time handing out colleague performance awards—in fact, it's done systematically, every business quarter. "The goodwill it brings has an enormous ripple effect on trust and morale, values that are critical to successful execution down the line."

Pharm Exec asked George what leadership skills and capabilities will be entry-level requirements for the next generation of industry leaders. The way he defines it, it's a mix—of mainstays that remain constant over time and the fresh, standout qualities that provide an edge as the commercial model adapts to disruptive market changes.

"What is constant is the ability to define a mission for the enterprise and then build a vision around it that everyone in the organization can understand. Central to this task is establishing a real sense of value differentiation—what makes us unique and will persuade our customers to choose us over the competition?" The second follows naturally. "It's about people. Developing talent and building a great team. I spend more time on people than anything else. "

George references Novartis's former chairman for one of the most essential new skills: cementing the link between big picture strategy and excellence in operational execution. "Dan Vasella called it the ability to 'zoom in and zoom out,' a combination of big-picture, conceptual thinking and analytical and operational depth you rarely find in one person. The norm is that leaders tend to be stronger in one than the other. Tomorrow's leaders must cultivate both."

The other new skill is what George refers to as simple learning agility, in its various forms—mental agility, results agility, change agility, and people agility. "It's also key to have an innate drive to succeed. I find this is the character type most suited to thriving in a climate of flux and uncertainty, where people have to work across different cultures or functions less familiar to them, and to cope with business conditions that range from growth to turnarounds to entrepreneurial startups." His final bit of advice: strive to be self-aware, always with an eye to making a positive impact on others (George notes he probably says 'thank you' 20 times a day); manage your energy by staying centered (George meditates every morning); try to listen first (something he has long worked on); and—most of all—be ready. "The pace of change in the industry is a constant; thinking and acting fast are a prerequisite for success."

—William Looney


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