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View of Alliance Management from Ipsen’s Exec Suite Is Sunny

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 11/21/2013

The 2013 ASAP BioPharma Conference’s opening plenary rolled on with the plainly but appropriately named presentation “The View from the Executive Suite: Expectations of Alliance Management in the Current Industry Environment” delivered by Christophe R. Jean, executive vice president of strategy and business development at Ipsen.

Ipsen’s alliance practice, which was profiled in the inaugural issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine in 2011, has always “baked in” alliances into its company strategy rather than “bolting them on,” as the old saying goes.

Jean himself characterized himself, and by extension his peers at Ipsen’s C-Suite, as “always a very strong supporter” of alliance management. Its practice has helped the company with its larger strategy shift from being focused on the French market in a few disease areas to one with high growth in emerging markets such as China and Russia and a significant presence in specialty care, which accounts for 75 percent of Ipsen’s sales.

Since that Strategic Alliance Magazine profile, Ipsen has changed its organization model a bit. Central to its strategy: “Produce as many relevant proof of concepts as possible,” said Jean. Alliance management is aligned across the company’s therapeutic areas—endocrinology, oncology, and primary care. As is becoming more and more common in biopharma alliance management, Ipsen has implemented a Center of Excellence to provide alliance support to the employees from the other functions of the company who may not be familiar with the discipline’s tools, practices, and thinking.

Ipsen’s finance department plays an active role in its alliance success, helping align everyone in the organization with the “same set of data and KPIs” for alliance performance, according to Jean. “Umbrella teams” help get the inevitable few executives that are not engaged in the alliance’s affairs involved and up to speed. A “business sponsor” is appointed to serve as a champion for each alliance and to eliminate the mentality that issues that arise in an alliance are “just the problem of the alliance manager” within the rest of the organization.

The Tough Act of Stabilizing an Alliance

Stability is difficult to achieve—and fleeting when you achieve it.

“Take a picture of that moment, frame it, because I’m sure it won’t last very long,” said Jean, speaking of instants in which you find relative steadiness.

Jean outlined a few principles Ipsen tries to embody in its alliance practice, including:
  • Internal alignment – the company “speaks with one voice to the partner,” said Jean. “There is nothing worse than giving [the partner] different messages.”
  • Constructive communication – don’t point to the problem. Solve the problem.
  • Help the organization understand the partnership – Jean acknowledged this can be difficult at times for alliance managers. Sometimes management interprets the representation of the partner’s point of view as negotiating on the partner’s behalf. It “makes the job [of alliance management] interesting,” said Jean.
In addition to these values, building partner intimacy and trust is also a core component of steering through the turbulence that comes with an alliance over time. To do this, your organization has to detect what Jean called “weak signals”—whether they are hard metrics, such as disappointing sales, or “soft” characteristics. Providing an example of the latter, Jean recounted how one partner viewed Ipsen’s operating style as “very French.” The alliance team had to figure out what that meant and surface the partner’s underlying assumptions implied by such a comment. Failure to nip these “weak signals” in the bud, and mistrust can fester.

“Creating trust is a long process. Destroying trust is an immediate process,” said Jean.

Growing the Professionalism of Alliance Management

Implementing the Center of Excellence to help spread alliance management principles throughout the organization is one piece of evidence of the growing professionalism of the profession. More significant, according to Jean, alliance training will be incorporated into core management education in the near future; every business manager will need a grasp of alliance concepts to achieve the organization’s daily desired results, according to Jean.

Judging from Jean’s talk, this is one of the reasons alliance management will earn more respect in the business world. The competencies of alliance management are skills that usually make people successful in “higher managerial roles,” he said. Alliance professionals have a “transversal and thorough view” of a lot of aspects of a company’s business, he added.

There is more good news for the future. The trend towards multiparty alliances, coupled with the move to integrate alliances more downstream in the organization are resulting in the dissolution of the “not-invented-here” syndrome and spurring more and more collaborative innovation.

“The Area of alliance management is a good place to be today,” Jean concluded.

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