The View from the Helicopter

Posted By: Michael Burke European Alliance Summit, Member Resources,

If you weren’t able to make it to London this week for the ASAP European Alliance Summit—we feel your pain! Sadly, our ASAP editorial staff, too, is there only in spirit—but never fear, because we’re working overtime (and drinking gallons of English breakfast tea to go with our scones, clotted cream, and jam) to keep you in the know on conference happenings. 

And while we’re imagining ourselves sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun, one of the great presentations we’re highlighting on Friday (day two of the conference) is “How to Increase the Value of an Alliance: Think More Strategic and Lead as a General Manager.” The presenters are Ameriga Fanigliulo, CA-AM, PhD, director of alliance management, biopharma, at Sandoz, and Knut Sturmhoefel, CA-AM, PhD, consultant and alliance and collaboration advisor (and ASAP board member).

Sturmhoefel told me that the idea for the presentation arose because “in many organizations the alliance manager is still seen as a glorified project manager, sorting out the relationship with the partner and helping project teams to get their tasks done. Obviously that’s not the best use of their expertise.”

Instead, he said, alliance managers need to make the most of their “helicopter view” of the alliance and of both organizations—and communicate that view and its implications to senior management.

“You have the broadest overview,” he said. “You have the historical view because alliance management often is the one involved the longest, while all other functions change over time when you go through the different development phases. The alliance manager is there for the long term generally and interacts with all the other functions and with management. So it’s knowing about everything, but not doing everything—and being able to connect the dots.”

Guardrails and Governance

Both Fanigliulo and Sturmhoefel have experienced situations where senior management took a very skeptical perspective on a given alliance, he said. “‘Why are we still in it? Why is this so difficult? This isn’t really holding the promise—why are we not getting out of it?’” In that case, it’s up to alliance management to illuminate the broader, big-picture view and say, “‘Hold on, you’re really missing the point here. Yes, there are some changes, but can’t we address that through looking at the deficits and also being creative?’”

Rather than serving merely as a project manager, the alliance manager, according to Sturmhoefel, needs to take an overall “general manager” perspective. That role, he said, has two dimensions: first, “making sure the business results are there, and second, taking strategic leadership. Another important aspect is not getting involved in the day-to-day business, i.e., taking on project management responsibility yourself, but enabling the teams to do their job: making sure that the teams know what guardrails there are, the roles and responsibilities, and making sure also that the right governance is in place—the right communication structure, the right escalation—so teams are really enabled to work efficiently.

“Then the third element is engaging senior management on a regular basis—not allowing [them] to only come in when there’s a crisis and [people are] complaining about the partners, but being consistently involved through updates that you provide, flagging issues early, and highlighting to them where they should get involved.”

Keep Calm and Capture Value

That emphasis on consistent engagement is crucial—keeping communication going regularly and routinely so that senior management is part of an ongoing process and not just called in ad hoc to put out a brushfire.

“The alliance manager has the opportunity to guide the organization,” Sturmhoefel said, “saying, ‘This is what we wanted to achieve—we may not get there, but if we can address other points, we’ll still capture value and increase the value.’”

In the first part of the presentation, Sturmhoefel will lay out the basic principles of using this big-picture, general-manager view in alliance management. Then Fanigliulo will present a case study showing how these principles work in action. The case study, which has been anonymized, was derived from an alliance in the biosimilars space that came to be seen by senior management as underperforming.

“There was a delay in the manufacturing setup, [and] timing is everything,” Sturmhoefel explained. “In biosimilars, generics, whoever’s first gets the best position. So management said, ‘We’re missing our goal. Should we get out of it?’ Basically we’re saying, as an alliance manager, you first have to calm [everyone] down and say, ‘Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater,’ and analyze it. What could we address? What could we change in our control to mitigate an external challenge?

“As long as the fundamental values and purpose of the collaboration are not lost, there may be room for new operational and strategic options. Review the options, bring those options to management and to the partner, and then negotiate internally, and sell with the partner. In some cases, you address some operational issues in order to generate new conditions to generate value. If you get your management and your partner onboard, this allows you to restructure the alliance, and with the adjustment capture new value.”

Solving the Seemingly Insurmountable

In the end, the key to carrying out the alliance management role successfully, Sturmhoefel said, is “making sure that we keep the bigger picture in consideration, and be open to the broader view and adapt to changed conditions when necessary. You also [need to] keep senior management engaged—not just delivering what senior management asks you, but giving [them] a new view, proactively offering possible solutions for the issues they initially see as insurmountable.”

“How to Increase the Value of an Alliance” is just one of many fascinating presentations going on in London at the ASAP European Alliance Summit, Sept. 20–22. If, like us, you can’t be there in person, then please, take our advice: Brew up a big pot of hot tea, lay on the scones—and be sure to stay tuned to the ASAP Blog for more coverage in the days ahead!