The Road to Alliance Excellence: Upsher-Smith’s Journey

When a company relies heavily on partners and partnering for its success, it’s natural to assume some sort of “intelligent design”—i.e., that an intentional, coherent plan or program has been or is being put in place to promote and maintain alliance management and further that company’s strategic objectives via partnering. But what should such a program look like? How do you get an initiative like that off the ground? And how do you achieve executive buy-in to ensure that the alliance management program is nurtured and supported, rather than left orphaned and floundering?

These and other questions will form the subject of a keynote presentation by Rusty Field, president and CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC, called “Fostering Organizational Excellence in Alliance Management: The Upsher-Smith Vision Brought to Life,” at this month’s first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference, to be held September 14–16, 2020. His address will take place on the first morning of the conference and will be immediately followed by a panel discussion with some of Field’s Upsher-Smith colleagues involved in alliance management.

Upsher-Smith is a midsize pharma company based in Maple Grove, Minn., part of Japan-based Sawai Pharmaceutical. Its products include both generic and branded medications used to treat seizures, migraines, and other conditions. Like other companies of its size—and many throughout the biopharma ecosystem—Upsher-Smith more than gets by with a little help from its friends. In fact it depends on “the strength, depth, and daily execution of partnerships” to fulfill its goals, according to its website.

C-Suite Support of Alliances: “There Is No Other Way”

So what’s the formula? How does such an organization operate its alliances at a high level and achieve its objectives?

“Operational excellence in alliance management begins with the creation of strong working relationships with all of our partners, at every level of the organization,” Field explained. “From the start, leadership and team members need to understand and be sensitive to different work cultures and ways of doing work while at the same time developing a road map to leverage these differences to create new synergies. Measurably strong, collaboratively driven relationships ensure that we have the trust, transparency, and shared commitment required to achieve short- and long-term goals.”

In order to make that happen, getting senior executive buy-in and backing is a must, Field acknowledged.

“An organization-wide alliance management initiative absolutely requires the support of C-suite members in order to flourish,” he said. “There is no other way. As president and CEO, I believe that providing support to our executive team is critical, so that they will feel empowered to establish and grow a company-wide commitment to creating and capitalizing on synergies with key partners.”

The Appropriate People with the Appropriate Mindset

Alliances, of course, can look different depending on what type of partnership we’re talking about and what the objectives are. As they say, if you’ve seen one alliance, you’ve seen one alliance. In biopharma this diversity can include research and development, quality assurance, supply chain or manufacturing alliances, commercialization alliances, and more. So how does a company—or does a company—establish a uniform alliance management program that cuts across different functions and types of alliances?

“Every function in our organization stands to benefit from the principles of alliance management, including our commercial, technical, and supply chain areas,” Field said. “That’s why Upsher-Smith didn’t establish a new department for alliance management. Our approach instead involves creating and nurturing an organization-wide mindset that ensures the appropriate involvement of the appropriate people at the appropriate stages within the initiation, development, and commercialization phases of our alliances. The particulars of how this plays out may vary, but the underlying principles remain the same.”

The Collaborative Journey and the Road Ahead

As most alliance professionals know, the road to alliance management excellence and the solid and successful establishment of such a collaborative mindset can be a long one, full of detours and speed bumps along the way. But Field feels confident that he and Upsher-Smith are on the right path in their alliance management journey.

“It truly is a journey, and we are always building upon our experience and key learnings,” he said. “I am extremely proud of how committed our team is to the alliance management initiative, and how it has become a part of the culture here at Upsher-Smith. Going forward, our mission will be to continue to strengthen our global partnerships and to optimize programs critical to the company’s growth.”

As noted, immediately following Field’s presentation will be a panel discussion featuring Field and four of his Upsher-Smith colleagues:

  • Blake Boston, manager of procurement and sourcing
  • Mike McBride, CA-AM, vice president of partner relations
  • Gary Mackinnon, ASQ CQIA, CQPA, CQA, CPGP, and CMQ/OE, director of external quality
  • Jarrod Midboe, PMP, CCRC, director of clinical affairs and vendor/alliance management

If you haven’t already, be sure to register for the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, Sept. 14–16. Registration entitles you to view any and all of the three days of livestream programming as they occur, as well as the half dozen on-demand sessions at any time. This year, our Virtual Coffee Cafés, Virtual Hallway Discussions, and Conference Roundtable Discussions promise to make the conference as interactive as it can be short of an in-person event. So we’ll see you there!