‘The Key Challenges: Life Sciences and Healthcare 2020’ is the latest report from Cornerstone International Group based on a global survey of stakeholders from across the life sciences healthcare (LSH) industry. The following is an extract on leadership. Click here to read the full report.
The first impression listening to CEOs and leaders was their humility. Almost one quarter did not answer or comment about leadership related questions. Some felt they were too young in their position. Maybe it is due to the length of the product cycle and the fact that the results of their work will be for their successor. Leaders’ tenures are often shorter than product cycles. “I needed two years just to understand our business”, records the head of a big medical device company.
Another explanation might be the intrinsic difficulty of making decisions in an environment controlled on one side by scientific experts and on the other by Government officials. Leadership in this business, said one French executive, must be ego-free.
Four soft skills of efficient leadership were widely cited across responses:
Understand science and technology
Cross specialty and cross expertise are nowadays required by the leader, explains the CEO of a start-up:
“In my field, a pharma leader that does not understand digital, biology & diagnostics will be lost. We are at the junction of these fields. Everything is inter-connected now. You can no longer just do phase 1, phase 2, phase 3 and then launch (…) Everything is opening up… Even in pharmaceutical, you now have to focus on Chemistry, Manufacturing and Control (CMC) at the same time… It has to be mastered by the leader”.
This is true for “noble products” like pharmaceuticals, but also for basics such as surfactants, added the COO of a European group. The customers (hospitals) care about the environmental impact:
“Breakthrough innovations are expected even for wipes. How to target specific germs in hospitals and prevent nosocomial diseases? How to prevent flooding with chemicals? How to recycle them?”
Leadership in LSH is linked to the complexity of sciences and market access. Most often products or services in LSH are reimbursed in different ways and reimbursement processes are complex to master. They are very country specific, and, being at the core of public decision-making, swing according to political situations. In the words of one US CEO, it is about
“catching what escapes higher-order thinking, making connections between different dots”.
Another set of concepts used by interviewees to describe leadership soft skills included “change”, “be agile”, and “be reactive”. The CEO of a Healthcare IT company put it in a poetic way:
“I cannot change the direction of the wind, but I can change the sail.”
Act with integrity
Another suite of attributes concerned what it takes to deliver on such concepts as “courage”, “risk taking”, “determination” and “integrity”. We were impressed not only by the level of energy needed to guide transformation itself but also by the strong ethics required to do this for the good of the patient. A seasoned head of a global organization observed:
“Ethics and compliance have changed everything for us. It started one decade ago and is continuing. Compliance is about how you interact with prescribers but also how you interact with academics and scientists. We launch one initiative every few months. It makes our life more complex and bureaucratic, but it is for the good”.