Today, a senior pharmaceutical executive must be the corporate equivalent of a Renaissance Man. Like Leonardo da Vinci, whose work at the dawn of the 16th century married divergent disciplines from painting to mechanics, pharma's next generation of renaissance men and women must foresee connections between the commercial and clinical sides of the business—from global marketing strategy to regulation, R&D, and clinical trials. They must be comfortable with several styles of management and motivated by watching people in far-flung sectors of the company succeed. Unfortunately, today's top performers frequently are confined to one sector of their company. Rising through silos, they manage best by focusing down into their organization instead of up and across the enterprise.
The Talent Gap The next generation of pharmaceutical managers has not just been trained in a narrower range of disciplines—it also is smaller. There just aren't enough good minds to go around. This problem has been a few years in the making. As early as 1997, McKinsey & Company commented on the "war for talent." They reported in 2000 that 20 percent of the corporate officers surveyed agreed they did not have enough talented leaders to pursue their companies' business objectives.
To compound the problem, some senior managers are leaving before they retire, creating even more top vacancies in large pharmaceutical companies. Incumbents flee the politics and impersonal scale of large organizations for small pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Pharma's long tradition of promoting from within magnifies the overall demographic trends. Companies want to promote their own, rather than hiring senior people away from competitors or other industries. But given the narrow backgrounds of the coming generation, where 18 years of experience can sometimes seem like one year of experience 18 times over, fewer and fewer managers have the kind of coordination, foresight, and complex problem-solving ability needed to succeed in a general management job.