Great Advice from Great Minds: Success Secrets from Michael Tremblay, President of Astellas Pharma Canada


Michael shares why he has such a big smileBy Jill Donahue, Principal, Engage Rx

What were you doing in 1975? Maybe you were still just a twinkle in your father’s eye! Or maybe you, like Michael Tremblay, were wearing bellbottoms and rockin’ it out to Captain and Tennille! 1975 is when Michael started carrying the bag. Quick math, that’s 42 years that he has been contributing to the health of millions of people.

Enjoy the wisdom that comes from a look back at an esteemed career culminating with leading Astellas Pharma Canada as President and chairing Innovative Medicines Canada (similar to PhRMA in US). And find out why this was his best year yet!


The penny dropped the first time he met patients and heard their before and after stories. After that, everything he did referenced back to the patient. Not only did it help him create great results for patients and his companies, it made him really enjoy what he was doing! And it just kept getting better!


Michael said that at Astellas Pharma Canada, they are on the verge of something very unique; helping more of their people understand their purpose. And that is incredibly rewarding.

About three years ago he started a customer centricity initiative at Astellas. He brought in companies like Four Seasons, IBM and boutique companies with outstanding performance vs. larger competitors, to tell their success stories. This morphed into their patient strategy.

When they looked back at what they had been doing to be successful (they have had steady growth every year for 18 years!), they realized that they did something differently. This difference was rooted in their core value of patient focus.

They added Customer Centricity to their strategic core initiatives which were owned by leadership team. They did surveys and brought in patient groups. At the same time, US colleagues, unbeknownst to Michael, had independently converged on the same strategy. When they realized this, they began working together to co-develop their approach.


Everyone is talking about being patient centric but not everyone is achieving the success that Michael is seeing. We asked him what is it that they are doing differently. He said that as much as this initiative was top-down driven to start, the strategies were built from their people up. Michael firmly believes that people must buy into customer centricity.

“When it comes to patient centricity, this isn’t an initiative, it’s a cultural shift,” says Michael.

It must be embedded within the organization. Building patient centricity as a cultural tenet has allowed it to flourish. As a testament to the success of embedding it in their culture, Michael reports that the number one thing we hear our people love is our focus on the patient.


“Absolutely!” says Michael, “it’s one of our key long-term strategies. It also pays dividends in the short term as it’s a major driver of employee engagement at Astellas.”

This resonated with me. Just last month a top pharma rep said to me “You likely don’t remember but six months ago I was in your ‘Power of Purpose’ session at our NSM.” She went on to admit to me that, at the time, she was planning on leaving her organization. She had felt her patient-centric values were not in sync with her company’s values.

When she realized her company was putting their actions behind their words by helping the team connect to their purpose, she stayed. She was happy to report that she is now happier, more engaged and, not surprisingly, top sales rep in her region.


Michael thinks that while the cultural shift to patient/customer centricity must be supported and modeled by leadership, it needs to be built by the people. When you empower your people around their purpose/the patient, great things happen. You can’t tell them to focus on the patient and what specific actions they should take to achieve that. Much better and more long-lasting ideas will be created by them once they connect with their purpose. Everything they do, in office or in field, has some impact on patients and they need to connect with that.

“It’s not up to me to tell them their connection to their purpose. They need to identify it. Once they have identified that, then all the great ideas should be generated. I can’t do that for them,” says Tremblay.

He suggests you look at how to get people involved. Good news, he says, is that they are going to love it because it changes how they think about their work. Isn’t that what we are all seeking… to make a difference?

“The goal is that we would like all of our employees—every employee—to understand what they do to impact the patient and how they individually can help patients.”

To keep it alive, we need ideas generated from all the levels of the organization. If all our people are thinking about ideas, they WILL be generated. Empowering people around their purpose is the key to success.


He narrowed it down to three things:

  1. Short term wins are that employees will jump all over this initiative and find their stronger purpose. They will be even more engaged.
  2. Creative ideas that we never thought possible will be generated and acted upon.
  3. Patients will trust that Astellas is with them on their journey and a new relationship will evolve.

Mike Tremblay Interview—EngageRx


Nearing the end of his career, Michael wanted to make sure he left not only Astellas in great shape but he felt a duty to give back to the industry that had served him and his family so well. He stepped up to chair Innovative Medicines Canada.

The single biggest thing he was excited about was the initiative they undertook over the past year. With the help of Ernst and Young, they embarked on a project to quantify the value that innovative medicines and the companies that develop them make, from an economic perspective. For the very first time they had a set of data that illustrates the economic footprint that member companies have on our country. Michael said:

“We were shocked—in a very good way—by the substantive contribution we are making to the Canadian economy.”

“Now that we know the impact our industry has on the economy of Canada, we can work with patients, healthcare providers and government to create an environment which serves patients and society optimally. This piece of the equation had always been missing. The hope is that this data will change the conversation.”

Michael will be retiring early in 2018. We would like to acknowledge and thank him for his incredible impact on our industry and his contribution to so many people both inside and outside our industry. Like a light from a bright star, the impact of Michael’s work will be seen for years to come!

Jill Donahue

Principal, Excellerate

Author, Engage Rx: The 3 Keys to Patient-focused Growth

Co–founder, The Aurora Project

Jill, HBa, MAdEd, is a keynote speaker, author and thought leader who has authored two books on Influencing in patientfocused ways and cofounded The Aurora Project, a global patientcentricity group. She also serves as Associate Editor of Healthcare Sales &

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