The fog over Italy had delayed our return flight to Berlin by half an hour, allowing me to reflect on the new project.
Two weeks earlier, I had still been working in sunny California for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. In a team of four, including a senior Catenion partner and two colleagues, we had assessed the governance and organisational structures in our client’s R&D organisation, looking to identify weaknesses that might inhibit innovation. Subsequently, I’d had a week in our Berlin office to prepare for the new project in Italy.
The new project promised to be different in several ways. The client was a niche player in the pharmaceutical industry, specialising in few therapeutic areas. The company was family–owned, rather unlike our usual clients. Despite the comparably small size, the company had established strong relationships with key opinion leaders worldwide and had a strong pipeline of potential new drugs due to an exceptional business model.
The client met my expectations of having a strong, entrepreneurial dynamism right in the kick-off meeting. We met with the owners and the three most senior managers. They, in turn, expected a similar working style from us.
This pharmaceutical company had been unsuccessful in finding an appropriate launch manager for one of its late-stage products. This left launch preparations to be made by several functions in the organisation independently. No one was coordinating launch activities across the company or with its strategic alliance partners outside Italy. That would be my challenge for the following months, with a senior Catenion partner assigned as mentor in the background.
From Day One, all parties in the launch process had to be integrated into a working team. I had to identify and consolidate the required activities and tasks in research, clinical development, regulatory, manufacturing, marketing, etc. In the subsequent team workshops, I would need to lead the team in determining the right chronology of activities and discuss the interdependencies.
In the weeks that followed, our heterogeneous team and tight schedule caused conflicts in this newly formed group. In addition, a former consultant working at the client sometimes gave me a hard time. They weren’t the only challenges, however. Another was straightening out the co–development and marketing rights outside Italy with a licensing partner.
However, my challenges were tempered by regular dinner invitations and the opportunity to better get to know and enjoy the Italian way of living. At one dinner with the head of development, we discussed the recipe and ingredients for a real Italian homemade Sugo. The secret, it seems, is the fresh delivery of tomatoes from the region Campania. On my way out to the airport that Thursday, I was more than pleased to discover that the head of development had left a glass of homemade Sugo on my desk.
After 2 ½ months on the project, our client found a permanent launch manager, and I gradually transferred all tasks to him. Twelve months later, the new drug was approved by regulatory authorities. We were again flown in, this time with a small team to prepare a model showing the cost–effectiveness of the drug for pricing and reimbursement negotiations with health–care payers.
The fog over Italy had become a constant companion, unlike the homemade Sugo which was, unfortunately, gone the first evening.