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Pharma Alliance Leaders Making Adjustments to a Virtual, Stay-at-Home World

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, April 28, 2020

During the COVID-19 crisis, it’s been heartening to see how many pharmaceutical companies—including a representative number of ASAP members—have stepped up their efforts to work toward vaccines and medicines to treat the virus, including partnering with one another and with government to speed up the processes of research and development, all while trying to keep regular manufacturing and supply operations going so that lifesaving drugs continue to reach patients who need them.

But as is true for all of us, the coronavirus has thrown significant obstacles in pharma companies’ path as well: Almost everyone is working from home, supply chains have been interrupted, sales reps can’t see physicians, and some companies in the biopharma ecosystem are already feeling the pain of financial distress.

So how are pharma alliance management groups coping with COVID? How are their teams communicating internally, reaching out to partners, and moving projects forward in the face of these hurdles?

Different Times, Different Strategies

That was the subject of an April 21 ASAP Netcast Webinar, “Alliance Management Practices in a Virtual World for Pharmaceutical Executives.” The four panelists were among the crème de la crème of big-pharma alliance leaders: Harm-Jan Borgeld, CSAP, PhD, MBA, vice president and head of alliance management for Merck Healthcare KGaA; Mark Coflin, CSAP, MBA, vice president and head of global alliance management at Takeda; David Thompson, CSAP, chief alliance officer at Eli Lilly and Company; and Steve Twait, CSAP, vice president of alliance and integration management at AstraZeneca. The webinar was moderated by Michael Leonetti, CSAP, president and CEO of ASAP.

As Leonetti noted at the outset, “We are in very different times, and different times require different strategies.” Accordingly, the four alliance leaders shared their strategies and thinking in a number of areas, from keeping their teams humming along internally to communicating with partners to monitoring supply chain and manufacturing issues.

Thompson observed that we’re currently living through a “worldwide inflection point,” a phenomenon not seen “since probably the 1930s and ’40s, where the entire world is experiencing something at the same time.” Twait concurred: “This is my 20th year in the alliance management space and I can say I have never seen anything quite like this before. COVID-19 is providing us with challenges I don’t think any of us ever anticipated.”

Buddies, Backups, and Break Times

Borgeld said one of the first things he and his colleagues at Merck in Germany did was to look at what would happen if alliance managers could not fulfill their duties, for whatever reason. So they created “a buddy system, where every alliance manager has a backup—even me. A member of the leadership team is my backup in case I would not be able to function. Also the partners have been informed of this backup system, so they know there’s always someone to contact.”

In this new world, alliance executives and their teams have had to figure out how to hold internal meetings virtually—and how often and for how long—how to carry out alliance governance, and how to interface with partners when everyone is working remotely and none of these activities can be done in person. Some of what they’ve done has changed over time already—going from two meetings a week down to one, for example, having shorter meetings, or making the meetings last only 45 minutes instead of an hour, both to give people a much-needed break that they might have formerly used to walk down the hall and “grab a cup of coffee,” as Twait put it, but also to allow for some “unstructured chat” time, in Thompson’s words.

In addition, half-day or full-day meetings across multiple time zones around the world have in many cases been condensed down to one- or two-hour videoconferences, which allows greater focus and prevents “virtual meeting burnout” while being “respectful of time zones,” as Coflin phrased it—especially important when partners and/or team members may be spread out across the globe.

There’s good and bad in this virtual situation, according to Thompson. “The upside of course is there’s a time savings, the downside is you’re not getting that human interaction,” he said. “You have to be more cognizant of how you’re going to structure your agendas for the meeting to get the most out of it.” Another positive that Twait has observed is that videoconferences today give us a window into each other’s lives—including children, pets, decorations in home offices or other rooms—and these help to build “interpersonal trust” in a way that wasn’t necessarily done pre-COVID.

Borgeld emphasized that while some of the same problems and issues arose before the virus took hold, now it’s even more critical to anticipate and address them, whether it’s coworkers who are trying to multitask and get work done while managing children at home, or partners who may be experiencing financial distress. In the latter case, he recommended, “Seek the dialogue early—it’s not important that you open the books. Focus on the alliance itself: what do we need to do? Come early, discuss it, and try to find a solution.”

Problems, Solutions, and Opportunities

Solutions can be hard to come by, especially where coronavirus is concerned, but more than one of the panelists mentioned the resourceful, flexible cooperation and collaboration between various biopharma organizations, leading to more partnerships and, hopefully, effective treatments and vaccines down the road.

“One of the things that’s very encouraging is the number of partnerships that are springing up all over,” said Twait. “Not just between pharma and pharma—we’re all working together, and many of those interests are around COVID. I’m seeing pharma to biotech, pharma to academia, pharma and others to nonprofits—partnerships of all types.”

Coflin backed up that assessment: “In this current environment where we’re looking for solutions on an urgent basis for humanity, there’s a lot of external innovations and partnerships that are rapidly forming, amongst companies, together with regulatory authorities, NIH, you name it. Everybody’s pulling together to find some solutions.”

Twait emphasized viewing the crisis as a chance to potentially change how things are being done for the better. “I try to look for the opportunities that are coming out of this, and it feels like now is the perfect time,” he explained. “What COVID is allowing us to do is to ask the question: Can we move faster, and are there ways to accelerate? It’s a great opportunity to use this burning platform and the urgency that we have to really challenge inefficiencies and change some of those internal and external processes.”

Shining Examples

Thompson advised looking at alliances with an eye toward contractual obligations, as well as the risks that may be triggered if those are left unfulfilled. “I would really recommend to everybody,” he said, “to do a thorough read of each contract: to go back through and with the lens of the business, human, and legal uncertainties and risks, foresee what’s in the contract, identify and begin to engage with the partners in a discussion now. To me that has been one of the most helpful exercises we’ve done, and also has allowed us to engage in productive discussions, because we’re identifying early the things that the contracts are pointing to. Regardless if you’re in or out of our industry, anybody who’s got a contractual relationship with anybody, that is worth doing.”

Coflin also mentioned being aware of potential supply issues, which can be dicey at a time like this. “The supply continuity is critical to the patient,” he acknowledged. “These are lifesaving medicines in some cases. So we look very carefully at the supply chain, and have since the very beginning of COVID-19, looking not only at the current inventory but also…where it’s sourced from—in some cases China, [or] Italy, and others where we’ve run into a very challenging situation with logistics. The amount of flights is less than it used to be, including cargo, so it is something that requires constant evaluation of risk and constant discussion with our partners.”

Asked for final thoughts, Borgeld gave this exhortation: “Focus on your team. Make [it] so that they can shine in this difficult environment. It’s an environment where there are challenges, and that has to be recognized. Focus on the team, make sure that the team feels that [its] needs are addressed.”

After the four panelists had answered a number of questions, both from Leonetti and the large audience sitting in on the webinar, Leonetti thanked them for sharing their insights and experiences. “You are a shining example of our community, our willingness to collaborate with each other, and our willingness to help share best practices that ultimately make us better partners and better future partners,” he said. “I can’t thank you all enough for bringing this forward and helping to keep our ASAP community alive during these virtual times.”

Tags:  academia  Alliance Leaders  alliance manager  AstraZeneca  best practices  biotech  COVID-19  David Thompson  Eli Lilly and Company  Harm-Jan Borgeld  manufacturing  Mark Coflin  Merck Healthcare KGaA  partnerships  Pharma  Pharmaceutical Executives  Steve Twait  supply chain  Takeda  virtual 

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“Conductor of the Orchestra”: How Alliance Managers Harmonize Organizational Complexity

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, November 14, 2019

In “matrix organizations”—those working on multiple, complex, often large-scale projects with at least two chains of command—building and maintaining the alliance function “all comes down to leadership.” That was one of the key observations made by Lucinda Warren, who delivered the opening day keynote address at the ASAP European Alliance Summit on Nov. 14 in Amsterdam.

            Warren, vice president of business development, neuroscience, Janssen Business Development at Johnson & Johnson Innovation and also an alliance management veteran, called her talk “Leadership and Skills in Managing an Alliance in a Matrix Organization.” In an enterprise running multiple projects across multiple functions—and with multiple partners—who will tie it all together? Who will serve as the voice of the alliance and be the advocate for the partner, as needed?

            The alliance manager, of course.

            Some of the challenges, issues, and important insights that come with matrix organizations and their increased partnering complexity, Warren said, include:

  • “Alliances are not projects,” and thus alliance managers are not project managers, although the roles are often confused.
  •  Alliance managers create value; project managers deliver value.
  • Alliance management is critical throughout the product or asset life cycle; project management is critical at certain specific points.
  • When resources are stretched, alliance functions don’t always solve for it.
  • Alliance management is one function, but real collaboration requires the coordination and participation of multiple experts from various functions.
  • Who are the decision makers going to be? This question must be looked at from both internal and external perspectives.
  • Alliance management proactively identifies potential risks and seeks to mitigate them.

Warren further noted that having an alliance creates a sort of alliance “tax” on organizations—since all decisions and most information must be shared with the partner, it can double or even triple the time it takes to perform many actions, which can increase costs. Alliance managers need to help navigate these activities and act as the “conductor of the orchestra”: being familiar with all the instruments that are playing and making sure that each one—and all of them together—is “tuned perfectly for the ear.” They don’t know how to do each job, but (to switch to an electrical metaphor) they know which circuits need to be reset.

            They need to navigate not only their own organization but also the partner’s—otherwise they (and others) will be operating in a “black box” in which the partner’s challenges and motivations may remain unknown and/or misunderstood. Communication is thus imperative—about timelines, how decisions are made, how governance is to be conducted, etc.

            Which brings us to the critical role of leadership. As Warren said, “The value of the alliance function needs to be woven into the fabric of the organization.” Thus alliances and alliance management must be integrated into business strategy and operations—with full senior leadership backing and engagement. With increasing reliance by matrix organizations on partnering, everything that is done influences future collaborations and thus should be tilted toward attracting more partners going forward. Benchmarks must be established, with the goal of being a more successful partner.

            Warren said that alliance management is “more important than ever before,” and that the alliance manager is often “the CEO’s right-hand man,” the one who knows everything that’s happening, internally across functions and at the partner organization. Since these functions—and partners—typically speak different languages, the alliance manager’s job is to bridge divides for a common goal, bring everyone together in an unbiased and objective way, and not take sides.

            Or not take sides, except as the advocate for and representative of the alliance itself. “If we’re successful, people forget there’s a collaboration,” Warren concluded. “No fires are burning, nobody’s getting sued. It’s a thankless job, but [when done well] people seek you out as an expert who can triage. You’re the driver of organizational capability enhancement.”

Tags:  Alliance manager  alliances  CEO  Cindy Warren  collaboration  creating value  leadership  life cycle  matrix organization  mitigate risk 

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An Inside Job: Building Alliance Management Culture

Posted By Michael J. Burke , Friday, September 27, 2019

      “We see at the highest levels of business and government what happens when we don’t maintain and preserve alliances.” Such was the plain, blunt statement of Rob Bazemore, president and CEO of Epizyme, Inc., Tuesday’s keynote speaker at the 2019 ASAP BioPharma Conference, going on Sept. 23–25 in Boston. While many biopharma alliance professionals might almost reflexively agree with that statement, it’s still surprising how recent—and how limited—many alliance management practices are—even in biopharma.

       But the thrust of Bazemore’s talk was the burning need for more than simply the establishment of an alliance management function—rather, the title of his keynote address was “Building an Alliance Management Culture, Not an Alliance Management Function.”

       While Bazemore acknowledged that he is not himself an alliance manager, his conviction that an alliance management culture is indispensable comes from both personal and professional experience. Several years ago, Bazemore was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The news was “life-changing,” as he put it. “Cancer is a fight you don’t want to have alone.” He went through chemotherapy and other treatments at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and also benefited from support by family, friends, prayer chains, and even support from strangers. A whole network of alliances, you might say.

       Accordingly, the mission of his company, Epizyme, is “rewriting the treatments for people with cancer,” particularly in terms of alternatives to chemotherapy. Its drug Tazemetostat, an EZH2 inhibitor, is nearing the commercialization stage, and is currently targeted at epithelioid sarcoma and follicular lymphoma.

       Another source of Bazemore’s vital interest in alliance management culture stems from his past experiences at other companies, where sometimes “we didn’t trust alliance managers enough to deal with problems.” This led, for example to regularly scheduled mandatory escalation meetings with senior leadership—“not a best practice,” he confirmed.

       When he took the reins at Epizyme a few years ago, he inherited a “challenging collaboration” and decided to meet with the partner’s alliance manager, rather than its CEO. He found that the contract hadn’t been set up for success so the intended goals couldn’t be achieved. “There’s no magic wand for that,” he admitted.

       As a small company, Epizyme needed to partner, and needed to form new partnerships, so Bazemore knew that they had to change their approach. As part of Vision 2020, the company’s five-year strategic plan launched in 2015, alliance management had to become central to the company, its operations, and its strategic vision.

      To get where it wanted to go, Epizyme decided on the overarching goal of becoming a partner of choice. That was simply on one level a “pragmatic” decision, according to Bazemore, given its need to partner. But it had a poor track record of collaborating in the past and clearly had to approach deals differently—not just focusing on the financial aspects, but working on becoming the company others wanted to partner with.

       Now Bazemore feels that alliance management has become one of the most important functions within Epizyme—though not just a function, but a culture, which has to start with signals and actions from the top. Both senior leadership and organization structure have to encourage, nurture, and support this culture, and it must be done internally. “Alliance management is an inside job,” Bazemore said.

       Alliance managers must be allowed and encouraged to have appropriate and necessary conversations and to challenge both sides, getting the CEO involved as needed. This also means that sometimes they’ll stand up to a partner, and sometimes stand up for a partner—even at the risk of drawing the ire of their senior leadership from time to time, according to Bazemore. Making alliance culture important and central is not just paying lip service to an ideal, either, he said. It has to be real, and not just the theme for this year or a policy dependent on the presence of one alliance manager—who might move on to another company at any time.

      Epizyme is growing, with many new people coming in and alliance management expanding. Moving forward into the next decade will require being selective about which alliances the company enters into—they don’t want to get into alliances that sap the organization’s energy or end up wasting time and not delivering the desired results, Bazemore said. And he emphasized that these alliances will be about “relationships, not just deals.”

      And more important than simply measuring alliance management as a function at the company is figuring out how Epizyme’s “partner of choice imperative” is actually working. So far so good, it seems, but the company’s next five-year plan is already being envisioned: Epizyme 2.0. Whatever shape that takes, it’s sure to build in a leadership-enabled and -supported alliance management culture.

Tags:  alliance alliance management practices  alliance manager  biopharma  culture  Epizyme  partner  partner of choice  Rob Bazemore  strategic vision 

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Playing with Blocks—and Teams: How to Build Together for Alliance Success

Posted By John M. DeWitt, Monday, April 1, 2019

Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, kicked off her preconference session at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by dividing the attendees into teams of two and three per table, instructing them to do something that you usually won’t find people doing in a professional setting: play with blocks. Her instructions were simple: Build the tallest tower, with the smallest number of blocks. With that said, McDermott set them to work.

Given that this occurred at a conference dedicated to business collaboration, one might think that a fair number of the teams would begin to work together to win the challenge at hand. However, nobody decided to collaborate. Several groups did discuss the possibility of collaboration, but all ultimately decided against it, for various reasons. Fifteen minutes later, two teams stood at the top of the leaderboard, tied for first. That is unimportant, though, because the key here is in the lesson learned.

McDermott specifically asked, once the toys were put away, if any groups had elected to collaborate. When everyone answered no, she revealed that she was not surprised in the slightest by that answer. In fact, she explained, she has done this same exercise with the blocks all around the world, and just about every group refused to collaborate. This, she continued, was no fault of ours. “Collaboration,” she said, “is not a natural instinct.” This, then, makes the work of alliance management even more meritorious than one might ordinarily think. The simple fact that forcing people to work together goes against our natural instincts makes the work that alliance managers accomplish all the more noteworthy. And it helps to underscore the non-collaborative behaviors faced by collaboration leaders and teams every day.

McDermott then went on to describe three categories, or “buckets,” as she called them, of alliance performance. These are the framework of the alliance, the team dynamics within the alliance, and how lean and agile the alliance is. She then asked the attendees to fill out a survey, with several questions relating to each of the three buckets. These questions were meant to assess areas such as communication, commitment, conflict resolution, and company culture. The idea behind surveys like this, she explained, is to gauge how an alliance is doing and identify how their performance can be improved. Once everybody had filled out the survey, she asked them to share their answers and wrote them down. While all of the questions yielded more positive answers than negative ones, the lowest numbers of positive answers (it was a simple yes or no survey) were all in the “framework” category.

She closed out the session by stressing that an alliance manager is more than just a mere manager. An alliance manager is “a teacher and a coach.” She explained that it cannot be assumed that everybody engaged in an alliance knows how to live productively in an alliance team. Therefore, one must incorporate training and learning into the alliance lifestyle, and encourage people to learn by doing.

See more of the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit on the ASAP blog and in Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  alliance management  alliance manager  collaboration  communication  company culture  conflict resolution  EquiPro International  framework  Lynda McDermott  team dynamics 

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The Virtuous Cycle in Alliance Management—a Summit Spotlight Exclusive (Part 2)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2019

“The alliance manager’s role is to understand the importance of timing,” advises Christine Carberry, CSAP, in Part One of ASAP Media’s interview with the seasoned alliance manager and former chief operating officer of Keryx Biopharmaceuticals (now a subsidiary of Akebia Therapeutics). Carberry, who also previously served as chair of the ASAP board of directors, will be providing a leadership spotlight plenary session, “Collaborate-Create: The Value of the Virtuous Cycle,” at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Agile Partnering in Today’s Collaborative Ecosystem,” March 10-13 at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. ASAP Media’s conversation with Carberry continues below.

Carberry’s role for six months of her year working for Keryx was as co-leader of integration planning with counterpart Akebia. Early on, she realized that her role wouldn’t continue with the new organization. She is philosophical about it. “You are working on trying to have everybody see the value of the merger—employees in the companies, investors, and shareholders. Yet people know you are not going to be part of it,” she explains of the challenge. “It’s about taking the time, if you can, to explore and not think that you have to jump right back into doing exactly what you were doing. Each experience leads to another.”

Alliance mangers are seekers of “the high road” trying to rise above conflict and egos, and keeping everyone focused on the common goal.  “You’re really a navigator,” she adds. “One of the criticisms that we’ve heard is alliance managers need to think of themselves much more broadly. And think of themselves as the people always looking for a portfolio of alliances and expanding value, not just be within the confines of agreements that you have today. That’s the challenge I want to give to the audience [at the Summit] in thinking about how we can have a greater impact by making better, stronger connections between ideas and resources, creating better conditions for collaboration. Your alliance portfolio is dynamic, and I think that alliance managers can create more value by really understanding that one alliance is one piece of a company portfolio and needs to align with company strategy.”

Before her one-year stint with Keryx, Carberry spent three and a half years with FORUM Pharmaceuticals (formerly EnVivo Pharmaceuticals) and 26 years with Biogen, where she stated out in an entry-level position during a time when genetic engineering was “scary science.” Biogen was a Fortune 500 international company that brought several drugs to patients “that changed their lives,” she adds. 

Despite being in transition between jobs, Carberry has “a very full plate.” In addition to her spotlight plenary session, as chairman emerita of ASAP, she will attend the Summit board and advisory meetings and will lead a roundtable about alliance management in a crisis situation. “It’s similar to what I’ve done in other transitional periods. It allows me to increase involvement in leadership roles,” she says.

Learn about Carberry’s talk and other leadership sessions and register for the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit at http://asapsummit.org. See the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive before, during, and after coverage of the 2019 Summit in Strategic Alliance publications and on the ASAP blog.  

Tags:  Akebia Therapeutics  Alliance Excellence Award  alliance manager  Christine Carberry  conflict  digital  expanding value  Keryx Biopharmaceuticals  partnership  Patheon  strategic partner  technology  Thermo Fisher 

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