Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Six Million Dollar Minds
Getting six of Canada’s top pharma executives together for a PMCQ meeting was years in the making. It had been tried many times. You can imagine all the things that have to fall into place to make this kind of event happen. “Like trying to herd kittens,” quipped one PMCQ board member. Scheduling conflicts, lack of time, lack of interest, you name it… Yet, on May 13, 2008, the planets aligned, the clouds parted, and there they were: Pfizer Vice-president of Marketing Guy Lallemand, Schering-Plough President Carlos Dourado, Lundbeck President Patrick Cashman, Merck Frosst President Dawn Graham, along with Novartis President David Meek and Bristol-Myers Squibb President Wayne Quigley.
The next challenge: would these captains of industry, keepers of the pharma flame be forthcoming? For the overflow crowd of more than 300 captivated pharmaceutical professionals the answer was a resounding “yes, and then some.”
With PMCQ president Greg Buie ably and courageously handling the moderator hot seat, the evening kicked off with a question about pharma’s biggest challenges in today’s market. Pfizer’s Guy Lallemand broke the ice with, “… when you come to commercialise the product, there are still a lot of challenges in the marketplace in terms of accessing physicians… there’s a level of scepticism now as a result of some of the newer products that we may not have delivered on their initial promise.” Novartis president David Meek commented, “… the issue we‘re struggling with is a fundamental lack of trust between health authorities and industry, and between the payers and industry. We’ve got to fix that.” To which Lundbeck president Patrick Cashman added, “We’ve also lost trust with patients. We’ve become the bad guys and there have been some studies that show we rank just above the tobacco industry. We’ve got a serious credibility gap with patients out there.”
Refreshing, candid, outspoken, honest and, at times, even a little angry, these six esteemed guests spoke from their hearts and minds in ways that surprised a number of pharma veterans who’ve been around the blockbusters a few times. They explained the problems of Health Canada and praised the value of RX&D. In particular, Schering-Plough’s Carlos Dourado said, “In 2006, RX&D published a little booklet on the benefits of the pharmaceutical industry to Canada. I liked it so much I sent it to every employee in the company… I venture to say that 2% of my own organisation read the book. This is a tremendous tool that has all the arguments there in terms of benefits of the pharmaceutical industry...”
They explored the differences between global marketplaces and gave us a peek at how Canada is viewed by the rest of the world. They talked about the ever-expanding customer base. They complained about how pharmaceutical marketing had gotten boring. And they talked about innovation.
For BMS’s Wayne Quigley, innovation is something the industry both excels in and lacks: “I think our research is innovative. I think our medicines are innovative. I think we lag in figuring out where this market’s headed in innovating around the customer model. I don’t think we’ve innovated enough about how we’re integrating our medical science people with our marketing people with our salespeople to really drive these marketplaces.”
Notably, they all talked about the need for change. David Meek said, “… We’ve been a massively successful industry over time. So, when you tell people we need to change… we probably haven’t done a good enough job of communicating why. Because they’ll look back and say, ‘Hey boss, we’ve been successful, look at our numbers…’ But we do need to change… right now we are sort of turning the Titanic… And if we don’t adapt and change, and shape the new world, then we’re going to be a victim like many other companies have in the past.”
For Dawn Graham, it’s not all about the strategy: “Culture eats strategy for lunch. You can have the best strategy in the world. You can have the best technical expertise in the world. But if you don’t change your culture, you’re toast. I really believe that in the next five years or so, there will be real winners in our industry and real losers. And the winners will be the ones who have innovated but have also managed to change their culture.”
Despite the dire wording and dark predictions, the six executives remained positive about the future. Guy Lallemand got the last word and summed it up best: “The solutions and opportunities are clearly within our grasp. It’s really going to be up to us to take a hold of this, forget about the past, move forward, work more closely with our field forces… about how they can become more relevant with their customers. And it’s got nothing to do with our brands but about solutions to healthcare challenges and healthcare issues.”