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Your Move: Changing Jobs in Biopharma Alliance Management

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2019

A perennial topic of interest in the ASAP biopharma community—and alliance management in general—revolves around plotting one’s career path and changing jobs, whether that means moving to a new company or shifting to a new job in one’s current organization. And who better to learn from on this subject than three senior alliance leaders who’ve all made significant job changes?

            Such was the setup for a session at the just-concluded ASAP BioPharma Conference 2019, held Sept. 23–25 in Boston. Titled “Alliance Management: What’s Your Next Move?,” the session was led by Steve Twait, CSAP, vice president of alliance and integration management at AstraZeneca, and copresenters Karen Denton, CA-AM, head of alliance management at Experion, and Nancy Griffin, CA-AM, vice president of alliance management at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

            Twait spent 26 years at Eli Lilly, then left the Indianapolis pharma company for UK-based AstraZeneca, where he has spent the last five years. Griffin described herself as a “serial alliance manager,” with stints at Bayer and Novartis before taking a new job five months ago at Vertex. Denton’s experience, meanwhile, was primarily in commercialization and marketing. She wanted to get into business development but instead became an alliance manager at Bayer—due to Griffin’s influence at the time—before eventually heading to Experion.

            A large pharma company may offer many opportunities to grow an alliance management career, said Twait. The centralized alliance management function at Lilly meant that Twait was able to move relatively seamlessly into different areas and roles. A smaller company may not provide that chance, but wearing many hats there may present other types of enriching experience.

            Griffin noted that personal and family concerns often weigh as heavily as professional considerations—if not more so—and can affect the timing of any move when children are young and in school, for example. If there’s a merger or acquisition involving your company, she added, it can take some of the control away when you’re trying to forge your own destiny. Determining when you can afford to take the risk and try something new is key.

            Denton agreed with Twait that “boredom is never associated with alliance management,” and that the field creates many opportunities for both professional and personal growth. Twait added that just making the leap from Indianapolis to Cambridge, England, was important for his own growth as an individual. Denton said that in her own career move she essentially decided to “set fire to the cockpit and go.”

            The copresenters presented a structure for thinking about making your next job change that consisted of three categories: “Know Before You Go,” “Early Learnings,” and “Begin the Build.” Among the things to find out when plotting a job move, they said, are:

  • Why did this company go outside the organization to make the hire?
  • What is the prospective company’s business development strategy?
  • How can you add value in that strategy?

      Among the “Early Learnings,” the trio cited these questions to ponder:

  • Who are the key stakeholders and who are your best sources of information?
  • How can you get some quick early wins and what are the pressure points in the new organization?
  • Select the right diagnostic: How will you get the information you need to begin to build?
  • How can you establish your value—and credibility—early on?

      Within the first hundred days at a new company, the three presenters recommended taking the following steps internally:

  • Find out who are the “friends and family” of alliance management
  • Get 20 people and 20 processes described as soon as possible
  • Hold one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders
  • Begin ongoing mentoring efforts
  • Shadow department projects

      Externally, they had additional recommendations:

  • Make contact with your alliance management counterparts at the partner
  • Going through one to two cycles of governance should help with the learning curve
  • Collect performance data on the alliance
  •  Do an informal alliance health check with your alliance management counterpart

      Twait described these steps in total as “like an onboarding tool—it’s your own onboarding plan.” Another big question: Where are the key risks in your new company’s alliances in the next 30 days? They can appear in any number of areas:

  • Communication—especially with “unique personalities” who require special handling
  • Where the money is going, with any attendant budget constraints
  • IP issues
  • Public disclosure issues
  • Presence or lack of processes
  • History of conflict within or around the alliance

       Given that all job changes can be challenging, and that learning a new company from a cross-functional area such as alliance management can be hard, audience members in the session had some other pieces of good advice for those making alliance career moves. These included:

  • Ask good questions and don’t be afraid to sound “dumb”—the new company may use different language from your old one
  • Communication is key—face-to-face conversations and “hallway meetings” can help a lot, especially in a small company
  • Understand the essentials of the alliances you’ve taken on—get a summary of the key aspects of the contract in each alliance you’re responsible for
  • The alliance management role may be poorly understood at your new company and not have a true mandate—so you’ll have to earn your credibility
  • The new company may expect miracles—so manage expectations, then deliver
  • The new company wants to reap the benefits of your expertise and to hear your war stories—but don’t compare the new and old companies

      What’s your next move? Whether it’s to a new company or even a new country, or just into a new role in your current organization, there’s a lot to think about and a lot to do as you bring your own experience and alliance know-how into a new situation with fresh challenges. 

Tags:  alliance management  alliances  AstraZeneca  biopharma community  CA-AM  career path  Communication  conflict  CSAP  Experion  IP  Karen Denton  mentoring  Nancy Griffin  senior alliance leaders  stakeholders  Steve Twait  Vertex Pharmaceuticals 

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