Excerpts from the HBA 2020 Keynote Leadership Panel illuminate the impact of the pandemic of 2020 as it rippled across the biopharmaceutical industry. These visionary leaders look back to learn at a year of unprecedented change and how these challenges became opportunities for transforming their life sciences businesses. HS&M chose questions posed by the moderator, Angela Colon-Maloney, and answers from the panelists, that we deemed most relevant to our readers in sales and marketing. Healthcare Sales & Marketing is grateful to The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) for the opportunity to feature a video and highlights from their leadership conference.
Moderator: I’m honored to be here with three distinguished guests to talk about the theme of “Vision” in a uniquely challenging and unprecedented year as we say; a year that has profoundly effected each of us every single day.
How has 2020 been for your work during the last 10 months?
Dunsire: So the year has been, as you said, unprecedented. When I think back to January, I believed the year was going to evolve normally even though there was a mention of an outbreak of something. Even as late as February we had no concept of how it could affect us. I think we all have learned that our worlds can move out of our control very quickly. And here we are at the end of 10 months. The business has gone reasonably well. Would we be able to supply medicines to the people who need them; would we be able to keep our people in production safe? That’s all gone extremely well. We’ve adopted new tools in all of the different areas from our clinical groups to our commercial groups, interacting with our customers and with our suppliers in different ways. So so we’ve learned a lot, thinking back on these ten months. The accelerated learning curve and the way that we had to move things forward and adapt to an ambiguous situation taught us how do better through the year.
Miller: Joining a company at the helm during a pandemic is definitely a very interesting experience, not one which I thought I would ever have to tackle in my career, but surprisingly, it has come with advantages. Melinta is a small biotech company focused on developing life-saving antibiotics, which is very motivating for me and the team. Our size allows for some uniqueness with the way we’ve been able to approach the onboarding given pandemic. We’ve been able to use technology to really allow for, not just myself, but for the entire leadership team to connect with the organization. I’ve actually had the opportunity throughout this whole time to meet with every person in the company. We’re working on how to reimagine the business and how to unlock potential. Looking specifically at culture, being able to connect with people is a way to unlock potential for the company. So I set up small group sessions and even one-on-ones. It’s actually been really cool. I have one question that I love to ask people where they may get a little stumped, but then they rise to the occasion. I ask them what they would do if they were that CEO. It is so amazing to hear the creativity and the excitement and the energy, even though we’re connecting through Zoom. I’ve actually found the ability to make these personal connections with people very energizing and it’s really helped to propel the business forward. I actually do come to the office even though our office is closed. It’s a bit strange seeing all the offices with the cubicles and people’s things are there, but no people. It has allowed me to realize that our talent can be anywhere. So really when looking at the future about how do we reimagine the company? I’m really thinking differently about how to access talent.
Sheridan: I think I’m just really more amazed at our resiliency and adaptability. I think we’ve all heard, ten years of change in ten weeks. We know what that felt like. Five or six hundred people on a Friday all of a sudden working from home on a Monday, I’m just amazed. It tells you what’s possible. We can adapt and we are resilient, not only as a company but as a country and then globally, too. I’m also amazed at the empathy and sensitivity that employees now share with their co-workers.
I do know that there’s going to be an end to all this and there’s excitement and I just can’t wait till we can come together and celebrate coming back to play offense together because I think there is going be huge opportunity in front of us. You mentioned technology and automation. I mean without that I can’t even imagine where we would be in this world. And it’s only going to accelerate. So that’s to me another silver lining, the whole piece which is how do we think about technology in how we work and livet.
Moderator: Propelling ahead into 2021, talk about your vision.
Miller: The majority of our business is around the hospital ecosystem and this area is really under a lot of pressure, a lot of strain. I really am so grateful to all the healthcare workers that are out there and everything that they’re sacrificing and doing for everyone’s health and safety. However, what I’m expecting is that access to the hospitals will never be the same again. I’m just walking in with that going forward with that assumption. So then what does that mean for the field team, right? How are we going to interact going forward? So we have an amazing field team and they have adapted; they’ve taken things virtually. They have been very creative in being able to connect with customers. We are thinking about how we want to institutionalize more of that in the way we work with customers going forward. How do we create more value for our customers even in a virtual world? So that going forward we can focus more on value-added activities as opposed to just simply doing what we’ve always done. Just in the way we work internally is something we are taking a hard look at. It’s not easy for everyone to work from home. As colleagues and leaders, we need to create as much flexibility as we can for our teams. With that flexibility comes more productivity in my opinion.
Dunsire: I think we’re going to be facing this for another six to nine months even with a vaccine. So we need to continue to make better use of all the tools that we adopted in, you know, a heartbeat. Yet, we weren’t very practiced at using a lot of new business technology in our field, such as using virtual platforms with physicians. How do we make them fit for purpose rather than simply digital copies of what we might do in person. So I think there’s a lot of further learning and sophistication that can come and we will keep that virtual slate of tools alongside the normal tools. I think about clinical trials for instance. We’ve been able to do some monitoring virtually and we should never lose that again, right? Clinical trials are one of those ways, but employment is another way to reach out to a more diverse population. If we’re less limited by geography, if we are less limited by a person’s ability to get to a clinical trial site or to an office location, we can get more diversity and inclusiveness. We’ve leapfrogged in terms of our knowledge as organizations in realizing that, yes, people can work flexibly or from different locations. They can work from a home office. They can work from other geographies. And that gives us not only access to diverse talent, but it potentially addresses a trend that has been seen in the pandemic, especially for women, of flexibility. If there’s one message I would emphasize, is that if we capitalize on this it will give us access to more diverse participants and talent.
We don’t want to go back to traveling as much as we did from multiple perspectives: from the efficiency of work, from the wear and tear on people, but also the effect on the climate. Going forward we will be much more selective about travel. Although it is important to be able to move around globally and to foster relationships, we had really taken business travel to an extreme. I think about the impact on climate goals and really showing that we can do without as much as we once thought we needed, even if it may be too little too late.
The Lundbeck organization, which is present in 56 countries, experienced events globally. And of course the globe went through this at different stages you know, everybody faced it differently at different times. The fact that China was coming out of it was incredibly valuable in helping the organization be resilient, to say yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Moving our way through this pandemic, I see that the way connections were made in the beginning maybe took too long. Lundbeck did connect with some of our leaders frequently, and we then held a virtual summit with our top hundred leaders. One of the most valuable things that they said was that they although they weren’t working on Covid or on pandemic response, they worked together with colleagues that they normally wouldn’t have. Reaching out day-to-day to complete functional work was also important. We’re learning how to leverage talent around the world more frequently than we otherwise would have, because we would have met maybe once a year before. Now we meet more often and we actually do work together. So, there’s been multiple aspects of this being a global phenomenon that have been helpful and instructive about new ways of going forward.
Miller: I’d like to build on that with the experience I’ve had so far here at Melinta, which has been fantastic actually. Because of the Covid situation, we’ve been able to think about how we actually put a team together. We didn’t have to worry about geographic considerations. when putting together say, SWAT teams or task forces. Before you would think, “Okay. Well, where’s that team going to meet? We want to fly people here and there this time, how do we do that?” We didn’t have that kind of boundary. So we said, “All right, let’s bring people together with a lot of diverse, technical competencies and skills and bring people together in a different ways.” It has been astounding to see that come to life and the benefits, and what to keep in the future.
Something else you said, Deborah, that really resonated with me is making sure we put tools in place that are fit for purpose for the future. It is so tempting to take what you had in a more of a typical traditional setting and try to put that in a digital context. The opportunity here is really for transformation. And if you’re going to transform, you’re literally saying it’s not the same. You’re trying to be innovative. How many times do you get to be a part of a disruption that you didn’t create, right, but you can take advantage of; and everybody’s going through it at the same time. We have changed and things will continue to change. We really have an opportunity to look at how we transform our businesses; how we take advantage of this opportunity. There’s something good about having a pause forced on you. You can really be perfective and grow from that.
Dunsire: Being in Denmark, we’re in a different situation than many in the U.S., as we’ve been back in the office since June. We found that in coming back in, it’s easier to get new work off the ground and solve complex challenges when you can be physically together. So now that we are having a rise in cases in Denmark, we’re encouraging people to work from home when they’re doing individual work and plan to come together when they need to be creative or problem-solve. So far, we’re balancing about 50% of our office workers working from home without mandates. We’re not forcing the issue, but teams are coming together to do particular work in person, and then doing individual work at home. So I do really understand your point about the whole concept of what is an office and why do you need it is really going to look different in the future?
Sheridan: So recently we’ve been doing a lot of planning, obviously for 2021, and most of it has been done virtually. The team finally said we have to come together. We’re just not going to make the progress we need to make. So they came together safely. To your point, they needed that, they recognized what they needed as a team.
Miller: I think this is about being intentional. We are in a situation where we need to get new office space. We’re actually thinking about what type of work will be done in this space; when does it make sense to come together, and when we should we stay apart. We’re using that to inform how will we design this space. The space should be about collaboration. And we should be intentional about when we bring our teams and our people together to collaborate, especially because we now need to be very conscious of doing that in a safe way.
Sheridan: I’ll just lastly say we talked about this while prepping for this conversation: the celebration we’re going to have when we all come back together. It’s going to be awesome! Just to give you an example, we hired a CFO. He’s been with us six months. So, no one’s met Joe live, okay, but everybody knows Joe. We see him in his basement in Boston. And he’s there, with us 24/7 but we can’t wait to meet him in person.
Miller: Well Leo. I mentioned to my CFO, I think there’s a thing about CFO’s in their basements. Our CFO, who I’ve never met in person, by the way, is also in his basement when we have meetings.
Sheridan: It’s where they belong…
Dunsire: Angela, you better get us off this topic before we get in trouble.
Moderator (Q & A): Often we’re told to not be self-critical in the workplace. Would you mind discussing the vulnerabilty/showing up strong piece in leadership?
Miller: If you’re self-aware and you can show your self-awareness, I think this is a great sign of a leader. We all have blind spots. This is inevitable. When you can acknowledge that you have something that you’re working on, and you’re able to articulate that and ask for feedback and support by your team, that is actually a great character quality that builds your leadership. I would err on it being solutions-oriented and moving forward rather than bringing yourself down.
Dunsire: Sometimes if you’re in a leadership position you feel you always have to be strong for everybody else and that’s true to a degree. However, people want to know you’re a person. With respect to vulnerability, it’s okay to say I don’t feel great today. Sharing that with my colleagues, on a day where there’s a frown on my face and the wrinkles on my forehead are more pronounced, it might not be because of the work. No TMI. Make sure people know you are a person that also has stressors and it’s not all about the work. If you’re frowning, they probably think you’re cross with them. So, there’s a need to make sure they understand what’s going on within your life to the extent that it’s appropriate to them.
Sheridan: We saw the same thing. Usually we’d start meetings and there’s agendas we just go through. We have now stepped back and said, “you know what, every once in a while, let’s do green, yellow, red. Let’s start a meeting telling us what’s going on personally and professionally, and give you and your life the green, yellow or red (signal). It’s an opportunity for everybody to share “I’m struggling with this. It has not been a great week.”
Miller: Especially because we’re not in all together. Before, you would maybe have a talk at the water cooler or stop by someone’s office and have that personal conversation. Creating the space for that type of discussion is really important.
Moderator: From my vantage point, what you’re describing is that in a leadership position and in the workplace there is strength in vulnerability. Because you’ll find that we’re experiencing very similar things.
Dunsire: Something somebody said to me early on in my career, and I really learned from, is that if you as a leader come over the wrong way, in a way you didn’t mean or had an impact that you didn’t intend, it is very powerful to go back to whoever was the affected person and say, “You know, I could have handled that better; here’s what I wanted to communicate.” It creates a tremendous relationship with that person. It also prevents the legend of the angry person or tyrannical person. It softens that edge. So never feel afraid of apologizing for something that you didn’t handle as best as you could.
We talked about the ability to fail and organizations learning from failure. It’s okay not to get everything exactly right all the time. It frees up the organization to take risks in different ways and to be innovative.
Miller: Yes, I would agree. A part of the self-awareness piece that I mentioned, is focused on trying to be the best human being that I can be. I hope that spills over into my leadership. Being able to communicate like you said, Deborah, around where you have maybe fallen short goes a long way toward relationship building, but also toward developing yourself as a person.
Sheridan: Collaborative culture starts at the top, and to hear these top leaders talk about their own growth and development, their humility, their vulnerability, it permeates through the organization, (is revealing). It’s okay. We’re learning. We’re growing. We’re challenging ourselves. We’re getting better every day. It’s not going to be perfect.
Angela Colon-Mahoney, VP, HR and co-chair D&I Council, Otsuka
Deborah Dunsire, President and CEO ,Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals
Before moving to Denmark in 2018 to head Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals, a global company known for its central nervous system drug therapies, Dr. Dunsire spent 25 years in the U.S. leading pharmaceutical companies, including Millenium Pharmaceutical which became The Takeda Oncology Company. Beginning with the first 17 years of her career she held successive leadership positions with Novartis, culminating with the position of Senior V.P., Oncology for North America.
Miller, President and CEO, Melinta Therapeutics
In middle of the 2020 pandemic, Mueller joined Melinta Therapeutics, Inc. (MLNT) the largest pure-play antibiotics company in the world. After graduating with an MBA from the Stevens Institute of Technology, Mueller’s work focused on transforming company portfolios and launching commercialization for Sandoz and Allergan (formerly Actavis), building on work for Watson Pharmaceuticals and Merck in procurement and purchasing earlier in her career.
Leo Sheridan, CEO, Advanced Group
Leo Sheridan started Advanced Resources when he was in his twenties, and now oversees four companies as the CEO of Advanced Group. One of these businesses, Advanced Clinical, is a mid-size contract resource organization (CRO) that offers all delivery models, including CRO, Functional Service Provider (FSP) and Strategic Resourcing for the drug development space.