Industry Leaders Speak

by Susan Nemetz, May 2020

Over the past month, Frank Dolan of Arsenal Advisors has interviewed more than 30 leaders and experts in our industry — one each day and still counting!

Among those interviewed were leaders in biopharma companies, industry influencers, digital marketing firms, media figures, and advisors. The conversations were wide-ranging (I listened to nearly all of them), covering leadership, disruption, strategic approaches, interactions with HCPs, digital applications, professional development, and more. I began by asking Frank what drove him to take on this challenge:

As Frank explained:

“As a host to the exclusive Life Science Leader Summit, an onsite event at several Ivy League schools, I felt an obligation to give ambitious leaders a platform to shape and share best practices. By being virtual, we could reach more people. By being daily, it connected our work-from-home peers with something to look forward to and be a part of.”

Summarizing so many rich conversations is an impossible and unenviable task, and I thank Frank for graciously allowing me to put him on the spot. What follows is some of what he shared regarding what he heard, and all of us learned…

Leadership matters in times of crisis or disruption — we are experiencing both.

This is “a moment.” People will remember this time. If you are a leader, do not underestimate the importance and significance of your role. When your people look back years from now and talk about what we all endured, how will they remember the way you behaved?

Leaders need to pivot and adapt. At its simplest, that means things like working from home — we are going to get really good at that. Of course, in terms of the overall business, it’s much bigger:

How do we support the organization through so much decentralization? How do we reinvent, as the nature of value itself has changed? How do we communicate with, influence, and learn from team members, regulators, KOLs, customers, and others, as everything shifts to video? How will the work change — how should it change, and where is the opportunity?

Leaders that can guide the ship through this new reality by putting their arms around its impact and making bold moves accordingly will come away with a strategic advantage that may persist for years.

Digital strategy, engagement, and opportunity are at the core.

Our playbook has always been heavily “face time focused:” conventions, focus groups, advisory boards, displays… we have been running the same game using the same tools for decades. They are all gone for now (maybe much longer).

How do you reinvent?

We are already finding that physicians are preferring some of the virtual visits, even taking more time than they would in an office. Video calls have a different feel; in some ways, they can be more personal and intimate than in-person. How do we train ourselves and our teams to be successful with these new tools?

Flights and highway miles no longer separate us from each other, both inside and outside of the organization. What does that mean for our jobs and our respective businesses? What opportunities may allow us to interact more frequently because we don’t have to coordinate calendars and get to the DFW airport hotel?

Conversely, while removing physical distance saves us travel time, will we lose whatever thin boundary still exists between our work and personal life?

And there may be big, new opportunities for smaller companies to compete, as they look around and find emerging external partners or those service providers that are keen to get into their therapeutic area. Companies with small budgets may benefit the most from all the change, as the standard practice (and associated expense) of physical presence fades.

Commercial expectations will need to be flexible — there will be different conditions, over different periods of time, over different parts of the country, with different providers and salespeople. It seems naïve to believe that we are going back to previous norms regarding numbers of programs, attendees, sales calls, etc.

Overall, there will be delays and differences in “business as usual” that we just haven’t calculated yet, whether that relates to clinical trials, data readouts, launch timing, and even some of the data inputs. Anything that relies on predictive analytics (e.g., market research), well, the math is going to change. People need to be astute to say, “We need to rethink how we look at this,” and be prepared to manage internal, external, and Wall Street expectations accordingly.

Data, data, and more data will drive what we do.

Several guests spoke about data: the data you’re going to need, the data you’re going to have, the data that’s going to define what you communicate, with whom, and when. And whom do you trust to get the right data so you can make decisions?

Consider healthcare — there are a lot of disparate data sources. In the US, the systems are not consolidated or standardized in such a way that all of an individual’s records — their labs, hospital data, payer data, claim data, etc. — fit into one tidy package that you can easily view and say, “Hey, I understand the entirety of this patient’s journey.”

Well, that’s changing; we are going through a revolution. There is an immense opportunity for companies to leverage the data of not just a single patient — but, by connecting all of these information sources, the opportunity for chronic disease or even rare disease is tremendous. If you’re in the C-Suite of any size biotech, pharma, or medtech company, it is critical that you have a sophisticated AI and machine learning strategy vis a vis leveraging healthcare data, to help you predict markets.

Compassion and human connection are more important than ever.

Angie, a senior partner in the talent recruiting space, surprised me in a very warm way when she talked about “giving grace to others.” She described how difficult the sudden shift has been for so many people. We’ve got partners, spouses, kids, pets, etc., all of whom, nearly overnight, have become a part of our daily work life.

Forgiveness and flexibility are needed, whether that means understanding that the doorbell may ring during a presentation, or that a job candidate, who would otherwise be dressed to the nines in your corporate office, is speaking from a cramped third bedroom.

Our previous way of working was not designed for today’s reality. The phrase “giving grace” is so simple, but it really resonated with me, and it’s something I think about often.

Final Thoughts

Thank you, Frank. All I can say is, whew! — so much to understand and digest. I am so appreciative of how you have stepped forward to capture the insights and expectations of such a wide range of people from within our biopharma ecosystem.

In listening to your guest interviews, I felt a kindred spirit with the sentiments of leadership, innovation, willingness to learn — all topics of this e-conversation over the past three years. My overall observation is that there was a feeling of optimism about the future, which I found both surprising and uplifting. People were passionate — not frightened — about the new ways of working and the opportunities that the changes will bring.

Having listened to them, and you, I am too.


Posted in All Categories, Organizational Development and Culture, Other