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Does Pharma Have the Skills for Consumer Health?


Pharmaceutical Executive

Consumer health, the business of selling health and wellness sustaining-brands in categories as diverse as pain relievers,brain-boosting yogurts.

Michael Winter

Consumer health, the business of selling health and wellness sustaining-brands in categories as diverse as pain relievers, brain-boosting yogurts, sports nutrition, baby food and bone supplement drinks, is poised to take off globally.

With consumers becoming ever more health-aware and knowledgeable, companies from both the pharma and consumer segments are competing hard to get a piece of the action.

Which players will successfully harness the segment’s potential? Whatever the outcome of the battle, talent will be a critical weapon, as interviews with C-suite executives from top food, personal care and OTC drug companies have recently shown.

The war for talent between pharma and consumer players looks set to be intense, with both sides keen - and ever more active - to lure away senior talent from their competitors to plug competence gaps and boost their own executive bench strength. This is easier said than done. Finding, attracting, convincing, and integrating this talent can be tough. It takes courage and vision for companies to move away from familiar territory and recruit a new breed of leader.

Top consumer health leaders tend to display four exceptional competency spikes.

  • The first spike is inclusion, or the ability to inspire a culture of equality in which individuals from backgrounds as diverse as marketing and medical enjoy the same degree of recognition and esteem.

  • Another critical competence is resilience. While the consumer health business may have considerable potential and offer enviable margins, it offers little low-hanging fruit. In many cases it may take time to deliver strong revenues and profits in consumer health, so executives will need to be able to deal with setbacks to stay on course, and achieve results in the long-term.

  • Strategic insight or the ability to quickly connect the dots between the highly technical details of, for example, regulatory strategy and the 30,000 feet game plan is another key competence spike for consumer health leaders.

  • The fourth core skill is what we refer to as consumer-focused stakeholder management. Breaking this down, leaders need to manage a wide variety of interest groups - ranging from regulators, endorsers and the medical community to investors, the media, consumer interest groups and retailers - specialized and mass-market - while making sure that the common denominator still resonates with the ultimate gatekeeper, the consumer, and her needs and preferences.

Finding executives who meet these criteria is an issue facing consumer health businesses. In some cases they may need to take a lateral view of the talent pool, perhaps even looking to other sectors to find high-calibre leaders with the right profile.

Recruiting this kind of leadership talent, however, is merely the first step. Effective onboarding is absolutely essential. This involves companies making a serious commitment to integrating new talent. Only those companies that are truly committed to consumer health, have a clear vision and are ready to make a serious investment will attract outstanding talent that transcends the respective legacies of the pharma and consumer industries.

Michael Winter is a consultant with executive search and advisory firm Egon Zehnder.

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