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Inspired by patients. Driven by science.

Jean-Christophe Tellier, CEO of UCB speaks to Paul Simms, eyeforpharma chairman about UCB’s future direction and significance of culture.

Jean-Christophe Tellier spent 18 years at Novartis before joining UCB in 2011 and becoming chief executive officer of the Brussels-based company on January 1st this year. But the former boss of UCB’s BioBrands and Solutions division remembers his roots. “First of all, I’m a physician,” he tells eyeforpharma. “A rheumatologist, trying to create an impact and deliver value for patients. In a sense, I’ve always been there. The physician and the pharma industry are really partners to create value for patients.”

Focused on two key therapy areas—immunology and the central nervous system—UCB has operations in around 40 countries worldwide and saw revenues of €3.3 billion in 2014.

What internal adjustments has UCB made?
UCB has recently made some internal adjustments, expanding its executive committee and creating what it calls Patient Value Units. Tellier uses two phrases to describe the philosophy behind the new approach: "outside in" and "focused integration".

As pharma changes from its traditional "push" business model, Tellier sees companies having to become more outward looking. “The environment is changing; it requires some companies to be much more externally focused, much more connected with the different stakeholders in the environment, and try to listen, to learn, and not to apply a scheme from the past to push for a solution of the past,” he says.

“People need to get outside to understand what is changing, who is influencing who, who is making the key decisions, how the value chain is working, and I think it’s a really significant shift.”

What is changing is that we are now, more than ever, better able to understand the reality of patients’ experiences.

What else are you changing?
The second component of the change is that, rather than having various functions working differently from each other, “organizations will create more value if they are focusing on one value point and are all integrated together.”

Part of his job is to send a message internally that “the value or the success will never be the result of only one function doing exceptionally well but an ability of a cross-functional team to work together.”

But in addition to this structural approach and organizational management, successful companies also create the right culture. “If you don’t have a culture where people feel good and have the motivation and engagement to deliver and go the extra mile then, frankly, you have nothing,” Tellier insists. “As the saying goes, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’”

All of the industry challenges today have an effect on the supply chain! Pharmaceutical companies have less in the pipeline especially when it comes to blockbuster drugs and the duration of clinical trials has increased dramatically. Medicine is becoming more personalized, and pharmaceutical companies are focusing on the services that accompany the medication. The expansion into emerging markets by both pharmaceutical and device manufacturers with untested strategies, new product mixes and limited market insights can make local market penetration unpredictable and expensive. Both sectors face vacillating fuel and commodity prices that complicate logistics. Mergers, acquisitions and divestitures occur frequently and most of all, patient needs are changing.

How important is culture?
Indeed, Tellier believes the culture of UCB is the biggest legacy of his illustrious predecessor, Roch Doliveux. “It’s about building a culture where people feel, listen, engage and respect the course that everybody contributes to,” he suggests. “It’s an important part of every senior leader’s work in the organization because by working on the culture and creating an alignment between the culture, the sense of purpose and the division, you create the space where, in the end, you empower people to create value in a consistent way instead of asking them to do a task.”

Anticipating any excuses from executives at larger companies, Tellier believes that this approach can be replicated at companies far bigger than UCB. “I think it’s possible everywhere,” he says. “We all know in the tech environment of very big companies that have very strong, culturally-aware people. I don’t think size is a unique criteria for success of an engaging culture.”

Describe the pharma landscape today.
As a doctor, Tellier specialized in rheumatology. He has since built a distinguished 25-year career in pharma roles, taking on different global leadership responsibilities in different parts of the world. “It starts with the smallest team for each part of an organization,” he goes on. “If you don’t get people engaged, in an environment of trust where people can respect themselves, I don’t think you will get the results you expect.”

He describes the pharma landscape today with great enthusiasm. “The period that we are living in is really extraordinary because of the maturation of technology, and biotechnology in particular,” he explains. “The molecules and targeted therapies provide tremendous hope that we will be able, in future, to better connect the patient with the science.”

Is there an average patient?
There is no average patient at the end of the day, Tellier asserts. “There are only patients that want to live independently from disease and want to lead the life they have chosen to live.”

This ability to have an impact is also a personal driver for him: “It’s tremendous as a motivation factor when you think that you can change things by helping people and by being able to have an impact and deliver value,” he goes on. “Making people work well together, be engaged, and aligning them around a common sense of purpose and a common vision, it’s tremendously energizing.”

More than once, Tellier talks about how fortunate he has been in his career. “I have been really lucky to be able, across my professional experience, to have the opportunity to make an impact, launching new products, interfacing with science and working as part of a team.”

Read the entire interview here.

Reprinted with permission from eyeforpharma.