Given the undeniably challenging and dynamic China market, most industry stakeholders would agree that the paramount factor behind the success of multinationals’ China affiliates is talent – not only at the top leadership level but throughout the organization. A few country managers share their talent strategies, as well as the importance of cultivating talent flows between the local and global operations in order to build the next generation of international pharma leaders.


High Industry Turnover Rate

Asgar Rangoonwala, president of Xian Janssen enthuses, “the talent pool in China is amazing: very educated, very internationalized, and it would be a colossal missed opportunity for Janssen to not leverage this.” How then, as a GM, should he grapple with the high turnover rate? He outlines, “competition for talent is not unique to China but it is far stronger here. It is no longer just MNCs competing with other MNCs but also the emerging local biotechs. Across all functions from R&D to medical affairs to commercial, people move quickly.” As a Janssen veteran, having spent nearly 20 years with the company, he admits, “I sometimes struggle with this but as general manager, you do need to accept this as a market characteristic, to some extent.”

Competition for talent is not unique to China but it is far stronger here

Asgar Rangoowala, Xian Janssen

Rangoonwala shares some strategies to manage this. First and foremost, he articulates, “what we try to do is to give people a home at Janssen. We focus on offering many opportunities for career development, not just in China but also globally, and across the different business divisions at J&J, not just in Janssen [since] we usually prefer to promote internally.” Another focus is placed on a healthy work environment through their ’Healthiest Workforce 2020’ strategy, which focuses on building a better work-life balance, maintaining strong relationships within the workplace and at home, and maintaining physical health to benefit our people and our company.

Ultimately, as a true Johnson & Johnson executive, he underscores, “we are also guided by the Johnson & Johnson Credo and our duty to serve. For every business, large or small, employees are the key ingredient to success. We need a culture of engagement where people from diverse backgrounds feel valued, supported, included and connected to the business.” Nevertheless, he points out pragmatically, “we strongly believe that we work for the best company in the world. But we must expect that people will make different choices. In any case, even with the double-digit attrition rate in the industry in China, companies still manage to run successful operations!”


Bringing Local Talent Abroad

Novartis Pharmaceuticals China President Ingrid Zhang is an apt spokesperson on the topic. She shares, “I grew up in China, did my education in the US, and then worked in the US starting with McKinsey before moving to Italy, with some time spent in Central and Eastern Europe [with other Big Pharma companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca], before returning to China. This has really broadened my perspective and was an incredible experience for my personal growth.”

We have a great track record of bringing people to China and helping them achieve success and looking ahead, we want to further take China talents out on the global stage

Ingrid Zhang, Novartis

Now as GM of the China affiliate herself, she hopes to expose her team to similar experiences. She explains, “from a Novartis perspective, we are trying to help individual talents find the right pathways.” However, she warns, “this can be more complicated than it seems because mobility also comes with some costs. We are learning that short-term assignments help, as well as starting early in one’s career, along with initiatives like paternity leave. Also, having different geographic experiences is one thing but some people are also interested in having different functional experience. We see it as building blocks for the individual’s development.” She proclaims, “we have a great track record of bringing people to China and helping them achieve success and looking ahead, we want to further take China talents out on the global stage. Today, people with that China experience are running one of our global brands, a cluster of countries and so on – all great examples of the mobility within the Novartis organization.”

pius-hornsteinSanofi China Country Chair Pius Hornstein supplements, “this is also important because as exciting as the China market is, the leaders working here have only experienced the extraordinary period of continuous growth and investment that occurred over the past ten years. As the industry has dynamic cycles, it is also important to experience and learn how to manage these ups and downs.

Some of the top talents here in China [want to] have a global career [but] are not necessarily excited to go overseas

Pius Hornstein, Sanofi China

He highlights an interesting conundrum, however. “20 years ago, many people wanted to move out of China to have a global career. However, I have noticed that some of the top talents here in China [want to] have a global career [but] are not necessarily excited to go overseas. To them, the show is happening in China! We need to consider if we can give top talents in China that global career and global exposure!”


Integrating China Talent into Global

Novartis’ Zhang reveals, “not only do we work to send our people abroad, we also bring in expats. I have expats on my team currently and we benefit from their global perspectives. I also hope that they will bring their China perspectives back with them when they move on to a different role. As China becomes more important, people with China backgrounds and China experience will also become critically important.”

Sanofi’s Hornstein agrees emphatically. “global pharma companies will increasingly need to have management with China experience. If not the CEO, then others in the management team. Otherwise, it is difficult to have the necessary insights to set the global strategic priorities,” pointing out, “until a couple of decades ago, European pharma companies often did not have Americans on their management teams or boards. The situation today is the same with people from China and/or with China experience. [But] we cannot ignore 20 percent of the world’s population.”

Operationally, this is more complex than it sounds. Hornstein suggests, “it is not necessarily about bringing senior executives into China to lead business units but also about importing young talents a few levels below senior management to experience China for a couple of years.” Based on this, he created the ‘Ten In, Ten Out’ to export ten Chinese talents globally and to import ten global talents into China.” He states, “one of my indicators of success is to see how many people we can take through that talent cycle and how diverse a culture and environment we can cultivate here in China over the next few years.” He is driven by his own personal experience with Sanofi too, sharing that “having been with Sanofi for many years, I am very passionate about working at Sanofi. I firmly believe that a company is only as good as you want to make it and in my time with Sanofi, I have been blessed to change physical locations eight times, across different countries, continents, cultures and roles, experiencing different challenges and new horizons” – a valuable experience he clearly hopes to offer to the next generation of leaders at Sanofi.