Stéphane Thiroloix describes himself as a “reasonable generalist,” having been involved with partnering in multiple ways—from business development, general management, marketing, and sales to R&D and legal affairs. The CEO at Mayoly Spindler, an emerging family-owned, independent French company with a focus on gastroenterology and dermocosmetics, will present a plenary talk on “The View from the C-Suite: Partnering and Alliances Today and Tomorrow,” Thursday morning, Sept. 8, during the 2016 ASAP BioPharma Conference. This year’s conference, “New Faces, Unexpected Places in Partnering: The Foresight to Lead, the Foundation to Succeed,” will be held Sept. 7-9 at the Revere Hotel in Boston. Mayoly Spindler’s revenue originates half in France and half abroad through activities in over 50 countries, mostly via local partnerships. The company’s portfolio strategy is based almost exclusively on partnering. Thiroloix provided this preview of his topic on how alliance management functions can best be viewed and leveraged by company senior leadership.
What are some of the challenges when coordinating the alliance management and C-Suite relationships?
The first challenge is simply understanding the role of alliance management. When you have skilled and proactive alliance managers, it does not take long for the C-Suite to appreciate their work and turn to them constantly. Another challenge is keeping the alliance manager in play at all times, even when a partner is tempted to take a more direct CEO-to-CEO route. While that’s a perfectly legitimate move, it’s then the CEO's responsibility to keep the alliance manager in play, even if it’s transiently unofficial. One interesting challenge is accepting contradictions from the alliance manager as they stand for partner interests. It’s easy to state and posture that the alliance manager is our partner's ambassador in our ExCom [executive committee], but when they make the partner's case in a difficult decision, we may feel a little strain as we remind ourselves that we hired them to do so and should pay attention.
Among your proposed discussion topics is the importance of establishing an alliance management function and its value to the senior executive team. Why has this become increasingly important in the new ecosystem?
The pharma model has become tremendously fragmented. When I started my professional life, large pharma companies were the norm, and they were fully integrated—from fundamental research to sales. Partnerships were the exception rather than the norm, and we relied mostly on our internal dynamics to succeed. Today, not only is there a constellation of small, ultra-specialized players, but even the large pharma players outsource vast quantities of strategic activities, including entire components of their R&D, most of their manufacturing, and frequently their commercial activity. As a result, the way we work today is intrinsically alliance-based. Additionally, it’s not about whether you're big or small. If you are a big, dominant player, there is high risk that you will be overpowering in your partnerships. Partners used to accept this because partnering with big pharma was the grail. That’s no longer the case, so big players need alliance management to maintain a healthy balance in their dealings with smaller players who have a variety of other doors to knock on. If you are a small player, you must be agile, humble, and alliance-focused in order to quickly build a strong partnering track record.
Describe some effective strategies partnering professionals can use to support the C-Suite?
A straight answer may be a little simplistic. The company (and its C-Suite), its partners and the alliance manager themselves, have a specific profile and style that may call for different approaches. The C-Suite requires a difficult balance between boring them with systematic activity reporting and appearing to withhold knowledge that provides an edge—which is unbearable to the C-Suite. What I've seen work well is to use the pace of partnership governance: at ExCom meetings before key alliance governance moments, provide relevant updates and gather C-Suite insight. That way you will not be covering all topics all the time. Make sure you share partner milestones to provide the C-Suite with opportunities to react in a constructive manner. If a partner cleared an FDA hurdle or raised capital, some C-Suite members may want to send a congratulatory note—but if you don’t point it out, they might miss the occasion. The best way to work the C-Suite is unquestionably to work more with their teams than with them. Similarly, make sure the C-Suite's personal assistants know where to find alliance reports, and develop flexibility and opportunities for them to connect with bosses whenever they need to deal with the alliance. Be ready to explain the same things again and again. And never, ever surprise them.