Crown ’Em! 2024 ASAP Alliance Excellence Award Winners Revealed

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Alliance Excellence Award, Member Resources,

Last week, it was that time of year where the best and brightest alliances, alliance portfolios, and alliance professionals take center stage. Hosted by Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, professor of management studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s School of Business and Economics, the 2024 ASAP Alliance Excellence Awards ceremony, put the spotlight on two collaborations between American and Japanese companies, an ecosystem built around an enterprise application ISV goliath, a pharma company coping with tremendous growth, an organization that transformed itself into an alliance-driven company over the course of a decade, and a coalition of public, private, and nonprofit entities.


As is the case each with each awards season, the event showcased great innovation and great results—and great times were had by all. Here are the winners and the accomplishments that earned them partnership immortality. 


Individual Alliance Excellence

Winner (Emerging): Jazz Pharmaceuticals–Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals

Winner (Long-standing): Kyowa Kirin–Amgen


Fine-Tuning Cultural Dynamics Helps Strike the Right Chords

Jazz and Sumitomo were intentional about acknowledging, surfacing, and then mitigating cultural differences that inevitably come up between partners based in different continents. The work of bridging cultures starts even before kickoff. 


The two companies held weekly meetings “before the alliance was finalized” in order to “establish whether there were cultural roadblocks, and if there were, to try to deal with them in well in advance,” said Helen Cohen, senior director of alliance management at Jazz Pharmaceuticals. 


In their quest to develop new drugs to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, the two companies aspired to create a third culture that was somewhat of a hybrid of the two organizations’ modus operandi. 


“It was neither one nor the other, but it was a mixture of both [organizational cultures],” said Cohen. 


When it was discovered that the two companies “approached privacy and security very differently,” the partners compromised “and ended up with two joint sharing systems, one run by each company,” Cohen recounted. “It's not ideal, but it avoided that roadblock.”


Perhaps most important, at the heels of the end of the covid-19 pandemic, the alliance teams were able to meet face to face in the early stages of the collaboration. 


“It allowed us to get to know each other in person and deepen our relationship,” said Yoko-San Ishige, director of global business development at Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals. 


Ishige reinforced the notion that each side was painstakingly meticulous about avoiding misinterpretations vis-a-vis culture or language in every written and verbal exchange. 

“Effective communication needs careful planning between a Japanese company and Western company,” she said. “We have avoided misunderstandings by talking to each other frequently, and taking the time to be clear.”

Something Has Been Brewing for Four Decades

The 40-year-old alliance that combined brew master Kyowa Kirin’s fermentation skills with the biotech-turned-pharma-giant Amgen’s drug development capabilities has “always had very proactive and vocal executive champions,” even in the early days “long before alliance management was a well-established functional capability in the biopharma industry,” according to Mio Sekine, Amgen’s executive director of alliance management and business development. 


The Kyowa Kirin–Amgen alliance also benefitted from other alliance staples, such as robust governance and “very clear, well-articulated” decision-making processes. However, it’s the attention paid to the “human element” that has helped maintain continuity amidst regular turnover over the years. 


“The golden rule as it applies to the alliance: think about how we would want to be treated as a company or as an individual, when we engage with our partner,” Sekine summarized. “We understand that you get as much of the alliance as you put into it. And so there's constant recognition of a give and take, and we find that it's really important to make gestures of goodwill.”

“When it's possible, whether it's to cofund a study or a project or it's as simple as sharing technical knowledge or expertise,” said Sekine, “these sorts of investments really help—[they produce] a huge benefit leading to concessions and compromise later on in the alliance.” 

Alliance Program Excellence

Winner: Upsher-Smith Laboratories 


The Tenets of an “Alliance Mindset” 

What made this generics giant’s alliance practice worthy of this honor? The phrase “alliance mindset” came up often during the presentation of this award. 

“Creating an alliance mindset in a company that was generally and traditionally very independent is definitely a cultural shift,” said Jarrod Midboe, CA-AM, director of clinical affairs and vendor and alliance management at Upsher-Smith Laboratories. 


Midboe rattled off several elements of this mindset: understanding mutual objectives and partner organization cultures, educating leadership on the synergies and differences between the company and partner and how each “fits into the strategic thread [of the other] company,” and “a steering committee that can take problems, digest them very quickly, and pivot on a dime and deliver quick decisions.” 

Midboe continued, “Compromise does not mean defeat in a in an alliance mindset. Compromise sometimes means success.” 

Another key is to take lessons from your “current partnership and apply it to the next [collaboration] or apply it to future decisions in your current standing alliance,” according to Midboe. “It's very difficult to measure how many things we could have run into if we didn't have [these] tools in place, but those tools ultimately affected the relationship and resulted in success.”


Innovative Best Alliance Practice

Winner: Jazz Pharmaceuticals


Growth Spurt: Alliance Team Fuels, Manages Jazz’s Rise

After finishing runner-up in three categories last year, Jazz struck gold for the second time in 2024 for the “proactive stance that the alliance team of this organization took to ensure that it would be able to cope with expected growth in a number of alliances, and [its] forward-looking orientation in building a program to assign resources to different types of alliances,” said de Man. 

With the market fertile with expansion opportunities, Jazz’s alliance team had the envious problem of having to determine how “to utilize alliances in order to grow the company,” said Karen Berna, CA-AM, senior director of alliance management at Jazz Pharmaceuticals. 

Berna relayed that Jazz, too, placed a heavy emphasis on “cultivating those strategic relationships” with senior leaders and function heads to understand their priorities and get clarity on primary corporate objectives. For example, the alliance team worked hand in hand with the company’s Research and Early Development department to go over “how we are going to operate together when we bring in additional alliances,” she explained. “[New partnerships] are coming in more and more quickly as we speak.” 


Best Ecosystem Solution

Winner: Protiviti-SAP


ERP: Ecosystem Reaps Prizes (for SAP and Protiviti) 

Fortune 500 company SAP built its empire by dominating the enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise application categories. Today, global management consulting firm Protiviti is pulling together a variety of partners to optimize SAP’s solutions. 


AWS’s cloud solutions, NVIDIA’s chips, and the Microsoft Copilot GenAI engine are just some of the innovative products being integrated with SAP’s suite of offerings. 


“It's an ecosystem that is more than just SAP,” said Kyle Swanson, managing director of business platform transformation at Protiviti. 


Of course, forming partnerships for the sake of adding bells and whistles is never the formula for success in tech. Companies like Protiviti and SAP must vigilantly scour the marketplace for solutions that surgically alleviate customer pain points. 


“What other technologies or what other requirements are out there to solve [clients’] most difficult problems?” said Swanson. 

“There are many challenges when you're building an ecosystem around a major platform like SAP, and that is because technology is so dynamic and changing rapidly all the time,” added Claudia Kuzma, CA-AM, managing director and global ecosystem leader at Protiviti. “What was relevant 18 months ago is not as relevant today. 

Kuzma cited two keys to coping with this rapid-paced environment: 1) “fail fast” and 2) “look to unchartered waters to build new solutions and differentiate [yourself.” Success can and will certainly be measured in terms of revenue and innovation, but Kuzma also stressed the importance of tracking customer lifetime value, the cost of sales, and new customer acquisition. 


Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility

Winner: COOP Centraal


Diverse COOP Centraal Partners Stick Together

Alliances in this category tend to have larger ambitions than simply pure revenue growth or product development, and this year was no different. COOP Centraal has grand plans to wean the Dutch off fossil fuels and “speed up that energy transition on a more regional level in the Netherlands,” according to Lieke Schneijdenberg, an alliance manager at COOP Centraal. She called this bold objective the “glue” that bonds all of the players in COOP Centraal’s emerging ecosystem of for-profit companies, banks, insurance companies, educational institutions, governmental agencies, and energy cooperatives. 

It's a lot of work to harmonize the perspectives of so many parties—“what do we agree on but also what definitely don't we agree on?” said Schneijdenberg—but the coalition has taken measures to do so. 

It starts with a network of “boards” that in essence serve as steering and functional committees. Each partner organization is represented on these bodies and “every vote counts as much as the others,” said Schneijdenberg. Under the boards are a series of working groups “that focus on special activities.” 


The alliance manager regularly communicates with the working group leaders to identify synergies, keep every facet of the alliance in harmony, and “make sure that everything works together nicely,” according to Schneijdenberg. 


Ahead of the Landscape and in Front of the C-Suite

As the chair of ASAP’s awards committee, de Man identified a couple of themes running across these winning submissions. First, he noted the proactive, forward-looking approach of these highly successful partnerships and programs. 

“[The winners] looked ahead to identify changes in their business environment in order to be ahead of those changes and adjust their alliances not after things have changed, but already before the change occurred,” he said. 

Second, those days of alliance leaders feverishly waving their arms to get company leadership’s attention are a thing of the past. 


“The C-level really understands that if you want to learn about strategy, where your business is going, then you really also need to talk to the alliance managers,” he said.