Insight to Execution — Alexander Hardy, Genentech
Would Americans rather see their most talented graduate
students go to work for Big Finance, or Big Pharma? Twenty-one years ago, Alexander Hardy, a
Genentech SVP and head of the company's HER2 oncology franchise, was at the University of
Michigan "doing my MBA and thinking that I was going to work in something like the World
Bank." Instead, Eli Lilly unearthed his resume and convinced him to do an internship in
Indianapolis. After a summer in the drug business, Hardy, an Englishman, was intrigued. On top
of the usual business challenges, pharma dealt with "much longer time scales, a heavy
element of social responsibility, ethical challenges, complex products, and a more sophisticated
customer base than any other industry," says Hardy. "I thought, this is going to be a
fascinating place to have a career."
Alexander Hardy, Senior Vice President,
Commercial Affairs, Genentech
After graduation, Hardy joined SmithKline Beecham as the
inaugural member of a new management development program. The program was designed to provide
MBAs with hands-on business experience, and to stock the future leadership pipeline. Hardy began
in finance, at the London office, but was soon offered a sales position in the states. "I
cut my teeth in Newark," says Hardy. After New Jersey, it was back to the UK. Hardy recalls
sitting in a leaky west London office building (a protected example of British architecture) off
the elevated M4 motorway. "It was a gray, miserable October day in the UK, and the phone
rang, and they said, 'We've got a position in Sacramento, California, to be the
Hardy took a look at his office on the outskirts of London,
where rain was trickling from the ceiling into buckets on his desk, and accepted the job on the
spot. After a few years in Sacramento, he moved to SmithKline Beecham headquarters in
Philadelphia to work first in managed care, and then in primary care marketing. But Hardy tired
of the "reach and frequency" model that defined primary care sales, and he left
SmithKline Beecham for PathoGenesis, a Seattle-based biotech and developer of Tobi, a cystic
fibrosis treatment. As marketing manager, Hardy oversaw the launch and commercialization of
Tobi, a memorable experience. (Chiron acquired PathoGenesis in 2000, and Novartis acquired
Chiron six years later).
Now married, Hardy began looking for a route back to Europe.
A SmithKline Beecham colleague, Argeris Karabelas, had become head of worldwide pharmaceuticals
at Novartis. Karabelas was "very positive about me joining Novartis, and there was an
opening in the UK on the management team," says Hardy. Back in the UK, Hardy managed
business development and licensing, planning and pricing, and new product commercialization for
the Novartis UK affiliate, before moving over to neuroscience—the largest business
unit—where he led sales and marketing from a clinical position.
That job led to the achievement of Hardy's
"medium-term career goal," which was to become a country manager. At age 34, Novartis
handed responsibilities for Denmark and Iceland to Hardy. These countries weren't critical
to the organization's bottom line—Lamisil, for toe fungus, was Novartis's
largest product in Denmark at the time—but the businesses were foundering, and had lost
market share after the Novartis merger. Hardy was given an opportunity to shake things up, and
he started by importing consumer-oriented market research from the United States to Denmark.
"We took the US creative, stripped out the branding, dubbed it into Danish, and went for it
with a full media activity of TV, radio, and print, and it did extremely well," says Hardy.
The strategy was then exported to other European markets. Boosted revenues from Lamisil allowed
Novartis to reinvest in neuroscience products in Denmark, and Hardy was able to stem the very
high employment turnover he'd inherited.
But Novartis couldn't seem to catch Roche. After a close
look at Roche's portfolio, Hardy noticed the "products were all footnoted,
'licensed from Genentech.' I thought, what's this company Genentech? And a year
later, I was here." Interestingly, Genentech had no name recognition in Europe, but based
on its product offering, Hardy recognized it as a scientific leader.
Hardy maintains an active network of friends and former
colleagues, two of which had joined Genentech. Hardy made inquiries, got an invitation to visit,
and took a side trip out to Genentech during a family vacation in the United States. After
meeting with Genentech for a day, Hardy saw how excited and fulfilled his former SmithKline
Beecham and Novartis colleagues seemed, and phoned his wife to say, "if they want me, then
I think we need to move across the world to be a part of this."
For the last eight years, Hardy has been at Genentech,
working first on managed care and reimbursement. But he worried about being typecast, following
the Roche acquisition. Hardy realized he needed to "make sure I'm very clear that my
value proposition is more in general management on the commercial side, not only managed
care." Incidentally, Roche decided to close down a facility in Nutley, New Jersey, and
relocate jobs to San Francisco. Hardy says the lead person on Tamiflu decided not to relocate,
and Hardy became VP, anti-infectives, just before the 2009 influenza pandemic struck.
After that, Hardy moved into oncology, where he had the
chance to "launch two drugs in breast cancer"—Perjeta and
Kadcyla—"which is what our industry is all about...that has been incredibly rewarding
from a patient impact perspective." Hardy currently heads Genentech's
'IMPACT' business unit, to which several therapy areas report, including the
company's growth franchise, the thrombolytic franchise, the transplant franchise, the
Tamiflu franchise, and the hepatitis C franchise, in addition to the HER2 oncologics. New
products in neuroscience, cardiometabolism, and infectious disease also report up to Hardy.
It's a big job, requiring strong management skills.
Hardy likes to give people space and autonomy, to let them shape what they're doing. He
puts a big emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. Colleagues have come to expect clear and
transparent decision-making, and consistency, from Hardy. "I have a reputation as somebody
who is good at listening and is willing to be open to people's point of view, and
respectful of people's opinions," he says, adding that it's important to explain
why decisions are made, to foster trust and strong relationships between individuals across the
The benefit of collaboration and teamwork isn't only to
drive efficiency, but also to generate new ideas. While working on the HER2 oncology drugs,
Hardy's team realized that screening for the HER2 genetic mutation often led to false
positive or negatives, and other process related issues. Given the specificity of breast cancer
treatment, the stakes are very high for women at diagnosis. Frustrated by screening
inaccuracies, Genentech launched a "pathology-focused team calling on the central reference
laboratories and labs that do the vast majority of HER2 testing, to educate them from a process
standpoint and to improve and facilitate communication between pathologists and
oncologists," says Hardy. He didn't think of this idea himself, but someone on his
team did. "We piloted it, saw that it was making a difference, and now the team is doubling
in size," says Hardy. The program is now supporting BRAF and EGFR mutational testing, as
well. "We've created an asset that will support the future portfolio of personalized
medicines at Genentech."
Future leaders in the pharmaceutical industry will
increasingly require a breadth of experience and perspective, "because the industry is only
becoming more complex," says Hardy. The ability to understand and interact with multiple
stakeholders, internally and externally, is critical; future leaders "need to be very
adaptable and flexible, and good at leading their organizations through change," says
Hardy. As for his own plans, Hardy says he wants "a chance to shape the future from a
therapeutic and a business model standpoint," and to work toward "bringing
personalized medicines into other therapeutic areas, where there's significant unmet