Training Exclusive: Novartis Takes the LEAD

Leadership development for transformation and innovation in emerging growth markets.

By Frank Waltmann, Ph.D.

This is the first of a three-part series of articles written exclusively for Trainingmagazine on business challenges and opportunities in Asia and how Swiss-based pharmaceuticals and life sciences company Novartis’ learning and leadership development programs are helping address the myriad issues.

One of the top issues in emerging growth markets (EGMs) is talent management—getting, retaining, and promoting the best. In response, the Novartis LEAD program is a management development initiative for high-potential leaders in emerging market economies. On the macro level, this aligns with Novartis’ desire to cultivate its leadership pipeline from within, believing it is better served by a country’s own people.

The 2012/2013 program marks the second iteration of LEAD. In its first year, the focus was on the so-called BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Because of its success, however, we modified the program and expanded our leadership pipeline development countries to include 16 emerging market nations, many of them in Asia, including South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia.

LEAD participants recently visited Bangkok, Thailand, where they observed an innovative health-care delivery system alongside the challenges of serving those in need. This was just one phase of a 10-month journey where our managers are learning about “innovation” in all its forms and how it relates to themselves, those they lead, their business, and the health-care delivery organizations around them.

The LEAD Journey

The LEAD program runs a full 10 months—thus, it is best categorized as a long-term development “journey.” It is supported at the highest levels of our company, with direct sponsorship by Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez. It was designed specifically for our pharmaceutical business, and is tailored to teach and mentor managers for the health-care market of the future.

As a faculty member of the LEAD program, Dr. Vikas Tibrewala helps guide participants on their journey. “LEAD helps leaders think through key business challenges in their environments now and over the next few years,” he explains. “We have structured LEAD to address challenges participants face in common, and also have included those that are different across markets. Traditional markets are not identical either, of course. They may be similar in terms of maturity, but not in the way they handle health care. As much as possible, LEAD includes all these environmental factors.”

Fellow facilitators Mike Kossler and Ling Yuin Fong Ling believe LEAD emphasizes how strategy and leadership must work in concert together for the success of the company.

“You can have a great business strategy that anticipates opportunities, as well as challenges, in the marketplace, but without the right leadership, the execution of that strategy falls flat,” says Kossler. “Likewise, you can have great leaders, but if they are working with a business strategy that is not on target, they will not be able to respond to opportunities or challenges that may surface in the marketplace. LEAD teaches and incorporates both elements.”

The LEAD Structure

The program is segmented into five phases. In each phase, different areas of leadership skills and business development plans are explored so as to yield “ready-now” leaders who can take on global responsibilities. World-class experts teach participants how to:

  • Foster innovation
  • Adopt new business models
  • Embrace new technologies
  • Embark on socially responsible business practices
  • Partner with health-care organizations in order to build a more effective and sustainable system

Phase I consists of face-to-face exposure with top leaders in the pharmaceutical and health-care domain. In Phase II, participants work on action learning projects with clear deliverables, based on “real-world” business issues culled from current work. Mentoring is continued with top leadership professionals who give lectures, hold training sessions, and conduct workshops.

In Phase III, the group visits an innovative emerging market health-care system in order to foster new ways of thinking about health-care delivery (this year’s location was Bangkok; last year’s location was Kerala, India). Following is Phase IV, where chosen action learning projects continue to evolve, and they receive further executive coaching and just-in-time leadership training updates.

Finally, Phase V concludes the LEAD program with each participant presenting his or her strategy and vision for the organization to the Novartis Executive Committee. Here, they must answer one key question: If you were made head of the country today, what would you do in order to grow the business in a profitable way, while also providing value to the society? Participants answer this question in front of the CEO and other top Novartis leaders.

The Lead Development Journey

While LEAD prepares leaders for tomorrow, it is as much about knowing oneself as it is learning to lead others. With this in mind, some of our Asian participants shared their perspectives about the program while in Bangkok, and where they find themselves on their own development journey.

“Asia is a highly dynamic emerging market, where things happen quickly and talents move quickly, as well,” says General Manager and Country Head of Novartis Taiwan Sandoz Trento Ryu. “Therefore, rapid response, engagement, and support are needed for a competitive advantage. As I look back on my leadership journey so far, I see the mistakes I’ve made, as well as the learning I’ve done, and realize my management skills are evolving. To become a good leader is not an overnight achievement.”

Ryu faces some daunting business challenges, and LEAD is giving him ideas about how to address them. “We’re facing 35 to 40 percent price cuts by the governing health-care administration, which is the largest price cut in the history of Taiwan and the entire Asia region,” he explains. “So, in addition to the volume adjustment we need to make in order to stay in the same place as last year, we also need to achieve superior growth in comparison to our competitors.”

He says LEAD is showing him that what he thought was a large business challenge is really more of a people and team challenge. “Facing such a massive effort, some on the team were demotivated, believing it impossible to deliver the numbers. I realized this was not just a matter of ‘how do we find the growth drivers?’ but it’s also a matter of ‘how do I motivate the team to stay positive in the face of adversity, and to get them to believe in themselves and pull together?’”

General Manager, Alcon - Jakarta, Indonesia David Ahn likens LEAD to a well-prepared buffet. “There are many delicacies, but can I eat them all? Probably not immediately, but people do take what they like; in fact, they are all good foods that will fulfill our hunger. In that aspect, the LEAD II program has fed me well. I am taking away two specific learnings.”

One, he says, is the realization that as a general manager, “it’s my job to make sure my team does their job properly and is supported so they can deliver what we committed to. The communication method I was using was somewhat aggressive and one sided, leaving them few options. During class, one of the LEAD professors said, ‘Deliver the principle, but deliver it in different forms.’ So the first thing I’m doing with my people is to communicate with them a little differently, while still delivering the same principle. I realize that I can better motivate my people to do their job by making myself a better example. In this way, they’ll learn by seeing what I do, not just by hearing my words.”

True Transformation

We know and believe that the talent and intellectual capability in EGMs, and Asia specifically, is abundant. The challenge for executive development, therefore, is: How can we infuse additional skill sets into the existing, positive Asian culture?

Through LEAD, we encourage our Asian and other EGM colleagues and provide them opportunities to constantly challenge the status quo. Rather than accept the present market, customer situation, or competitor challenge as a given, we ask them to question it. As one of our faculty often says, “You should take ‘No’ as a question.”

Ultimately, through LEAD, we teach our future leaders how to be more self aware of their role, both in terms of how they can grow themselves and what they can do for their teams and units. This fosters true transformation and innovation.

Frank Waltmann, Ph.D., is head of Corporate Learning at Novartis, a Swiss-based pharmaceuticals and life sciences company.

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