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CAO Panel Reflects on Global Summit Opening Plenary

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/5/2013

Although the speakers at the earlier sessions of the 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit’s opening plenary represented vastly different industries and walks of life, a few common threads seemed to emerge across each presentation—changing ecosystems, disruption, and foresight, among others. This was noted in the final portion of the plenary, a roundtable titled, “Dialogue with the CAOs: Provocative Ideas for Elevating Leadership, Performance, and Value” moderated by ASAP Vice Chairman Jack Pearson, CSAP, managing director and chief alliance officer for Alliance Development International.

When asked what struck her the most of the ideas presented throughout the morning, Laura McCluer, director or partnerships and alliances at ANCILE Solutions, said she would heed the advice of keynote Alex Counts, head of the Grameen Foundation, not to “underestimate your capabilities.” She was also moved to issue herself and every other attendee in the IT industry to occasionally take a step back and try think through strategy more deliberately, so that you can “look for what you don’t see.” She explained that folks in IT are constantly in a hurry and that pace moves increasingly fast as executives move up the corporate ladder making it easy to miss opportunities and threats.

Posed with the same question, Harm-Jan Borgeld, head of alliance management at Merck Serono, took to heart Counts’ recommendation not to wait on an ideal prospective partner if they are not seeing the opportunity, a reference to the initial rejections from big banks that led the Grameen Foundation to lend to impoverished populations themselves on a larger scale. Of the plenary’s second speaker Steve Steinhilber, vice president of emerging solutions ecosystems at Cisco, Borgeld said he “could have been one of the nominees” for the Oscars because his performance was so impressive. He echoed the sentiment that companies need to be thinking five to ten years down the road, and added that “sometimes we also need to look 20, 30, 40 years out.”

Struck by Steinhilber’s illustration of the fall of former major giants like the big five record labels that ruled the recording industry for much of the last century until Apple’s innovations eroded their market caps, McCluer took to heart the message not to get too attached to your current partners, even ones with which you have worked hard to form strong bonds.

“You have to be flexible and look at other ways to create value,” she said.

McCluer also realized she had been mistakenly thinking of sustainability as its own industry until Christopher Turner, director of Rio+20 for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and director of state and local government at PricewaterhouseCoopers, showed the audience that everybody is affected by the need for sustainable business. Borgeld, too, noted that we need to look to the past to solve some of the issues related to sustainability, citing the example of Tokyo 150 years ago which had no waste management issues.

As someone who has made a career in the biopharma industry in which agreements are sealed with thousands of pages of contracts, Borgeld was incredulous that a handshake was all that was needed to hatch some of Grameen’s partnerships. His takeaway: “How can we simplify the work we are doing?”

The audience then met in groups to discuss the lessons they learned. One attendee noted that ASAP has to have an eye towards expansion of its membership to include the new players in this cross-boundary/cross-industry model. This new model needs to engage people, particularly senior level executives who need to understand the new ecosystem as it multiplies.

Another asked, “To what extent do alliance managers in organizations have strategic impact?” Since alliance managers often cannot bring new partners in completely on their own, how does an alliance pro assist senior leaders with this process?

“The light is shining on alliance management to take that leadership [in strategic thinking],” the attendee said.

When asked to offer closing thoughts, McCluer told the audience that the new alliance management professional needed to be a creative thinker who can work with new business models—a far cry from the days when alliance management was where “folks went to go when they didn’t know where to go.”

Borgeld recounted several lessons learned from his peers at an invitation-only CAO Roundtable the previous day. His Ipsen colleagues had business development and alliance management functions in equal standing reporting to one level of senior management. At Astellas, the CEO gets involved in committee disputes. Eli Lilly involves alliance management earlier in the contract negotiation process than he was accustomed to seeing. Novartis is always assessing the financial value alliance managers bring. Takeda drove home the notion that alliances will run much smoother if the proper groundwork is laid.

“If you do the first 100 days correctly, the other 200 or 2,000 days will be easier,” he said.

On that note, the plenary closed with perhaps the value proposition that was front-of-mind to most attendees by the end of the morning: lunch.

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