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Longtime Lilly Alliance Pro Brings “Whit” and Wisdom to Solo Practice

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 2/26/2013

For some, retirement can be more daunting than liberating. Not everyone deals well with the sudden lack of structure, and many are shocked at how hard it is to fill the more than one third of their day that was once allotted for job duties, including getting to and from work.

This isn’t a problem for Sherman Whitfield, CA-AM, who retired on August 31, 2012, after 15 years with Eli Lilly and Company and multiple decades dealing with manufacturing relationships in one form or another in the biopharmaceutical, aerospace, and automotive industries.

“Sherm is a motivator,” said ASAP Midwest chapter president Ann Trampas, CSAP, professional development practice lead at Phoenix Consulting Group.

Whitfield is bringing alliance management skills honed at Lilly to two new solo ventures with his newfound spare time: 1) Whitfield Strategic Alliance Consulting, a consultancy in which he is advising mainly contract manufacturers on how to plan and govern alliances; and 2) Whitfield Motivational Speaking Services, LLC, where Whitfield provides inspiration to employees, students, and board members alike at corporations, schools, community centers, nonprofits, and other entities by helping them identify their special gifts and the “greatness that resides in each of us.”

“My ASAP experience is really paying off,” said Whitfield. “I’m still using processes and tools I learned in Lilly, and of course at ASAP.”

Lilly’s Pioneering Alliance Management Practice Shapes a Career

Indeed, Whitfield left Lilly with a wealth of experience in manufacturing-related partnerships. He began his Lilly tenure in 1997 when he and his wife took positions in the company’s London office; his wife became head of Lilly’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) legal affairs, while Whitfield began a five-year stint handling procurement relationships for a UK-based Lilly manufacturing site. It was in London that Whitfield got a hint of the power of a truly collaborative relationship. When a supplier worked with Whitfield to drastically reduce overall prices and order lead times in exchange for Lilly ordering in higher increments, Whitfield realized “if you work with partners and you sit down and talk about what it is you’re really trying to do, what you want to do, and why…suppliers can help you get to where you want to go.”

Five years later, Whitfield was transferred to Lilly’s budding alliance management practice, which at the time was one of the very rare Big Pharma alliance outfits with the backing of the company’s most senior leadership. According to Whitfield, Lilly’s then-CEO Sydney Taurel had an edict for his alliance management team: “Learn how to work with partnerships and key relationships in a collaborative way.” This was music to Whitfield’s ears.

“It fit who I was,” he said of Taurel’s approach.

Whitfield and the other members of the Lilly alliance group brought Lilly’s own proprietary governance processes, metrics, tools, and processes to their partnerships. Lilly’s Voice-of-the-Alliance (VOA) feedback tool, in particular, always seemed to blow away partners, according to Whitfield.

“‘We can't believe you guys want to have a governance committee and give us a voice,’” Whitfield said, mimicking the surprise of his partner counterparts.

This was a far cry from Whitfield’s previous life in the automotive world, where he spent time in quality control prior to joining Lilly. At that time, U.S. automakers were still behind the curve in adapting collaborative supply chain practices that were becoming standard in Asia.

“That was the culture in the automotive world at that time; forget collaboration. Just beat ’em. Beat ’em up to get everything they’ve got. The philosophy was to work each year to negotiate a new and better price. If the supplier refused, tell them you’ll go somewhere else. It was clearly not a culture of trying to work together,” said Whitfield.

Key Voice in a Growing Professional Association

Just as Whitfield witnessed firsthand the alliance management profession’s advancement in the world of biopharma over the course of the millennium’s first decade, ASAP was simultaneously emerging as the backbone of the alliance management community—and Whitfield was a part of this movement too. He attended many ASAP Global Alliance Summits and served as president of the association’s Midwest chapter, helping to straighten out its books after it had gotten itself into an accounting quagmire.

“Sherm was the most fiscally responsible president we’ve ever had. He got us into great financial shape, which I thank him for over and over again,” said Trampas.

In addition, Whitfield was a member of the very first class of alliance professionals to earn CA-AM certification. ASAP’s certification program was founded in 2007. This first set of certified pros was being formally recognized during the 2008 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, which led to one of Whitfield’s most memorable contributions to ASAP, according to members who knew him.

“Give me a C! Give me an A!” Whitfield began to yell as the event progressed. By the end, he had given birth to the “CA-AM cheer” where everyone in the room chanted “C-A-A-M” in unison. All kidding aside, Whitfield felt the certification program was one of ASAP’s most important initiatives.

“That CA-AM certification legitimized what we do as alliance managers,” he said.

Calling People Out = A New Calling

Looking back, Whitfield credits Lilly with instilling the right values in its approach to alliances, namely empowering its alliance professionals to protect the interests of their partnerships first and foremost—something others might only have been preaching, not practicing, in the early 2000s.

“If you come into one of my governance meetings and you don’t know me, you don’t know who’s who, and you can tell which side I’m on, then I haven't done my job. I’ve gotta be objective in that meeting,” he said. “I’ve called out my Lilly colleagues. I’ve been in meetings where I’ve had to call out my partners. Lilly told us that’s what they wanted. They didn’t need another mouthpiece.”

Today, though his motivational speaking efforts, Whitfield is calling out students and corporate employees alike who have set the bar too low for themselves.

“The world is waiting on you. You’ve got more opportunities to be successful in this world than ever in the history of mankind. So tell me again what’s holding you back?”

When Whitfield was with Lilly, the mantra he used in his alliances was, “It doesn’t matter to me who wins if the patients lose.” Now, he’s working to rid people of all ages of what he calls “excuse-itis.”

To Whitfield, a collaborative approach and a “dose of positive thinking in the morning” is a cure for many ills.

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