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
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
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
"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."