Succinctly Shire: CEO Flemming Ornskov - Pharmaceutical Executive


Succinctly Shire: CEO Flemming Ornskov

Pharmaceutical Executive

PE: In addition to being CEO, you are a physician. Are you finding this an asset as you adjust to your new role?

Ornskov: It has always been an asset. Throughout my career, I have relied heavily on a network of physicians to offer advice on strategic and operational issues facing the business. Being a physician helps retain those essential links to the customer. It's the way I keep myself updated. As an example, my specialization in neonatal care helped inform our due diligence in deciding to acquire Premacure's drug for retinopathy in premature infants. I could see from my experience in intensive care that there was a real need for this indication—that the clinical benefits outweighed the investment risk. I can recall the joy of parents in the successful delivery of a premature baby, only to fade when they find that the child will still be a special needs case because of the blindness or impaired eyesight.

PE: Are you a believer in corporate culture as a driver of success? If so, what do you intend to do to put your own stamp on Shire's culture?

Ornskov: Shire has a distinct culture that has been critical to our success. Each of my CEO predecessors have contributed to the strengthening of this culture. I intend to continue doing the same, as I believe that the fate of any company is ultimately determined at the water cooler. If people at the operations level feel good about their work, if there is broad understanding of what the company stands for and where it is going, then you will retain the productivity and alignment necessary to advance in the marketplace.

What we have to do now is to build on the legacy of growth over the past 10 years. We've come to a stage where, as we get bigger, it becomes harder to retain that entrepreneurial spirit, the organizational flexibility, which allows us to grab the best opportunities—quickly. I will challenge the Shire organization to make sure we don't become sclerotic, or too slow in decision-making, or too bureaucratic, with excessive layers of decision-making. We must continue to take a balanced approach to risks, so that we stay ahead of the curve of science and keep the focus on what works best for patients.

This sentiment is reflected in the new strategic plan, where we have metrics to show we are shortening time to action, retaining a flat organization structure, delegating responsibility to the level closest to the customer, rooting out mental fatigue by ingesting new ideas, and not being afraid to take risk in our business development and pipeline decisions. Shire is a company that will continue to take big bets on innovation. I intend to speak out widely, within and outside the company, to relay this message: Shire will only grow if we continue to innovate. If we stay with innovation, then we avoid the negative side-effects of bigness. I have no plans to stay holed up in a corner office. In fact, I don't have one. Though I am based in Lexington, MA, I am a globe trotter. Shire is many years away from a culture of corner offices.

PE: What is the biggest external threat to Shire and the industry over the next few years?

Ornskov: It's the loss of innovative capacity that preoccupies me, from the instant my work day begins to the moment it ends. If we run out of innovation, we also cede our right to exist; society will sever the implicit contract that allows us to perform as a profitable enterprise. In my role at Shire, I have to continue to deliver on innovation—I am first and foremost the company's Chief Innovation Officer. I worry less about the issue that many experts raise—that innovation lacks a reproducible formula and is thus not understood by those who regulate us. To me, innovation is like good design. You can consult the academic experts or write books in an attempt to define it, but in the end innovation is entirely intuitive: those who need it, know it.

PE: Are you pleased with the management transition thus far? There has been some turnover in senior line positions.

Ornskov: After more than a decade of success, and with the departure of an outstanding CEO like Angus Russell, some turnover is to be expected; some people felt it was time to bank on that success and consider other opportunities. I'd call that a simple coincidence in time, not a coincidence of causality.

PE: Finally, how will you define success for you and Shire in three years' time?

Ornskov: I can cite three. First, that we maintain a strong and distinct organizational culture, attracting great talent. Second, that our in-house pipeline and licensed business development assets execute well in delivering at least several new approved innovative drugs to patients who need them. Third, that all our key constituencies—shareholders, customers, patients, and regulators—will rate Shire as one of the top specialty drug companies.

William Looney is Pharm Exec's Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at


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