Executive recruitment firms in various countries shared their take on the following five key strengths for anyone looking to become a pharma country manager. Click the link after each quote to view the recruitment firm’s full article.


1. Creativity in taking on new challenges

“We need to check if a candidate has (i) demonstrated creativity in addressing strategic challenges; (ii) applied innovation to achieve specific business objectives; (iii) collaborated cross-functionally and globally to build alignment around a vision and plan of action. These competencies are different from increasing the output of a production process or the performance of a sales team.” – Egon Zehnder South Korea


“For candidates taking the internal route to the top job I would advise taking themselves out of their comfort zone. Try to take on different challenges within the company to broaden your skillset and knowledge. A one trick pony is unlikely to win the top job, show your adaptability and become more visible. Demonstrate that you can make effective decisions in different situations. This way you will build support across more key stakeholders who will decide on succession.” –Ardent Search


“I would challenge candidates not to be afraid to take a step back in order to try a different function or gain experience in a field one has no knowledge of versus promotions and larger responsibilities. A few years ago, when Digital was the keyword and corporations were in a rush to hire Chief Digital Officers (CDOs), everyone was focused on bringing in candidates who had the most technical expertise. Now leading companies are asking us to find CDOs who can even be chief human resources officers (CHROs). Transformation involves risk-taking – understanding and being prepared for the extent of change can significantly mitigate risk for both the organization and the executive. The only way to prepare for this is to gain exposure/experience in complex situations, achieving something remarkable as early on and as much as possible in a candidate’s career.” –Egon Zehnder South Korea



2. Commercial and international background

“GMs in the pharma industry usually come from sales and marketing backgrounds with solid overseas experience. Over 90 percent of top GMs have sales and marketing backgrounds and around 70 percent of the GMs have overseas experience, either working or studying. The current emerging trend in China of accelerated new drug launches calls for new product launch experience for successful future GMs.” –Egon Zehnder China


“It is vital that they are sharp professionals and master commercial excellence, as competition has intensified in recent years. It is about leading the design and implementation of effective strategy in all distribution channels throughout the country’s various regions and provinces.” –Cornerstone International


3. Adaptability and global mindset

“Quickly understanding what works and what you need to adapt is important… to be able to manage upwards as much as in-country. The scale of the role is now equal to a regional role and a number of companies are reporting directly to global HQ rather than regional HQ.”  –Ardent Search


“Frontline teams are facing changes at all levels, both internally in terms of raised expectations and matrix working and externally with pilot schemes, new paradigms and often contradictory rules. Organizations…need real leaders who have the capacity to envision what is coming and communicate well and learn from their teams. Motivating in a period of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity is key.” –Cornerstone International


“The leaders required today need to be able to handle multiplicity, diverse cultures and markets. They must be able to deal with extreme complexity and uncertainty. They need to be highly influential across different situations, build high-value networks, cultivate innovation, manage change, think strategically and globally. Above all, they must be able to take ownership and be decisive.” –Ardent Search


4. Leadership and potential

“Country managers have the ultimate responsibility for preparing their organizations in terms of talent management, digitalization and following the new market trends closely to build a sustainable organization. In this respect, demonstrating multi-dimensional leadership, developing empowered teams and corporate cultures based on shared values and accountability will be their key aspects.” –Stanton Chase


“The most frequently selected Leadership competencies by our clients in the pharma industry these days are foresight, managing complexity, results oriented (driving results), problem solving & decision making, and collaborating.” DHR International


“Only looking at experience and competency is not enough as GMs are expected to change business models and drive innovation by leveraging different competency strengths. What sets future leaders apart is actually their potential profile, as their POTENTIAL can predict their competence levels in the future…The four measurable potential predictors – Curiosity, Insight, Engagement and Determination – correlate strongly with future competence development (see below). Understanding executives’ potential profile and measuring different dimensions of potential will provide insights on which competencies an executive will likely develop and to what degree such competencies will reach.” – Egon Zehnder China

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5. People orchestration and communication

“Top achievers tend to be excellent communicators within the affiliate, with peers and authorities and especially with headquarters.” –Cornerstone China


“Being comfortable with technology is a must but orchestrating (rather than commanding) creativity and connecting the people to the organization is KEY…. Instead of directing his or her “troops” to a defined goal like a battlefield commander, the transformative leader needs to act more like an orchestra conductor, assembling people and resources and creating an environment that allows creative interaction to unfold.” –Egon Zehnder South Korea