Sales Force…

I was in the UK all week, but I managed to tour the world. I spent time in Asia, Europe, both East and West coasts of the USA, and the mid-west. It was virtual time of course. In each case – and in each location – I was on a telephone call with leaders of our sales force.

My involvement in commercial operations is one of the biggest differences between my role now (nearly three years to the day) and the role I used to do in Pharma. In both worlds our people carry out science in teams to enable progression of new drug candidates to patient clinical trials and ultimately to market. But in Pharma I had a budget to spend. Today I have a budget to earn.

People and science, teamwork and delivery, patients and health, underpin everything in both roles. But for most of my time in Pharma research, the commercial side seemed very distant from my day-to-day work. In my current role, commercial success is essential on a day-to-day basis. And we are all involved all the time in the commercial components of our work.

Our sales force is amazing, but they can’t be successful – and can’t sell work to our partner companies – without our scientists. Our scientists are amazing, but they can’t be successful – and work with our partner companies – without our sales force. There is complete mutual dependency.

And even more importantly, neither our sales force nor our scientists can be successful without our partners. We don’t do our own research and development. We don’t invest in our own projects. We have to win, earn and deserve opportunity to work on the projects and portfolios – the potential new life saving and life-changing drugs – being advanced by our partners.

As a result, interacting with our sales force is as essential and it is energising. I haven’t ever had to sell anything – apart from a summer when I was sixteen selling carpets in a department store – and so any involvement with commercial operations is also as enlightening as it is intriguing.

Some members of the commercial team are extrovert…and some are introvert. Some have come from a science background…and some from business. Some have only worked in pharma…and some have worked in many related industries. But all form great relationships and partnerships quickly. All work hard and with great independence. There is passion and enthusiasm. Drive and determination. Resilience and confidence.

In our industry partnerships and relationships are paramount. A successful sales force advocates for our partner companies inside our organisation…and advocates for our organisation within our partner companies. No simple task. And done well this advocacy can achieve and enable anything and everything…for everyone.

Most every one of our partners knows what they want to achieve and has a plan of how to make it happen. But we have so much experience and so much insight to offer…a small modification to suggest or a big opportunity to highlight. Small or big…the impact is often significant.

And our commercial team make judgements all the time as they interact with our scientists and with our partners. What to suggest and what to ask. When to advise and when to encourage. Partnerships and relationships are built on trust and confidence. We all know it when we see or when we feel it…and when we don’t.

My calls last week were outstanding. I learned so much…again. I thought differently afterwards than I did before. My admiration grew…again, along with my understanding.

Our industry continues to change. Our partnerships continue to evolve. There is expectation on us and opportunity for us. We advance together.



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Past People…

It is the end of another week. A week of calls and conversations; meetings and moments; highs and lows; energy and emotion. In many ways…a typical week. In so many other ways…a unique week. Next week will be different. And the week after. But some weeks stick in the memory more than others. This was a week I will remember. Any week with announcements and ‘short notice’ meetings is the same…I can still remember those weeks from years and years ago…let alone days ago.

In truth, and as is so often the case, what I can really remember is people, what people said, how people responded, how I felt. I can’t quite remember specifics of when…or even why…but I do know where I was, who I was with and where my family was.

And this ‘selective memory’ applies whether unfolding events involve amazing and delightful news, or surprising and disappointing news. Our memories help us…and this is good. Our memories remind us that our friends, our people and our families are as permanent as they are important. I find it rewarding and reassuring that I can remember who I was sitting next to…rather than what year it was.

And I always learn from these weeks. I have learned about myself and about what helps me. I have observed others, I have admired what they do, and I have tried to learn from them.

Ours is an industry where success in any aspect and of any sort cannot be guaranteed…no matter how hard we work or no matter how much we want it. But we can – and should – do everything possible to maximise probability of success. For example, we should continually analyse our own past performance (and that of our industry) to identify activities associated with failure…and we should definitely not do these! And we should continually identify activities that are associated with success…and we should absolutely do these!

And this approach applies to our science, our teams, our partnerships and our people every bit as much as it does to ourselves. We can’t ever change what has happened. We can always change what will happen next.

Any action that any of us take in a particular situation is only ever done with the best intention at that moment. Outcomes can often be what we want, occasionally even better than planned, but sometimes they are not. Each of these outcomes present opportunity to learn. They have to be. What did we think would happen, what did happen, why, and what will we do differently next time.

It may be the scientist in me. It may just be what I have learned. But asking and understanding. Seeking information and background. Trying to appreciate what was decided…and done…and said…and why. I know it helps me to understand. I want it to help me to learn and to improve. I need to avoid past mistakes and I have to encourage future opportunity.

Sometimes I ask. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I just sit and think. I always find people I trust – in and out of work – to check my learning and to get different views. What have I missed? What have I mistaken? I ask and I listen and I reflect. This approach doesn’t always works – or at least it isn’t always obvious how much it works. But this approach always helps me. And it never harms.

So whilst I accept our past performance as individuals, as teams or even as an industry, does not predict future success; I am certain that learning from our past performance, and applying that learning, will always predict greater future success



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Risky Value…

My son stayed with me last week. He was off school and is well into revising for his summer exams. Spending the week with me was a change of scenery for him and welcome company for me. We drove up on Monday and back on Friday. Well over two hundred miles each way.

It was the same route I always travel. But it was more fun and more social whilst also less speed and less risk. Fun and social I expected…slower and risk averse was a surprise.

We chatted all the way. We talked school and university, family and friends, sport and cinema. We planned where to eat and what supplies to buy. The journey felt shorter. But when I checked my dashboard, our average speed was lower than when I travel by myself, and time was longer. The roads were clear. It was bright and sunny. I realised I was just driving slower. I recognised I was taking fewer risks.

It’s all relative of course. I know the speed limits and I know the traffic flow. I am neither reckless nor illegal when I drive. But nevertheless, having my son (who is also learning to drive by the way) with me in the car clearly had an impact. At some level I knew the value of the time we were having together and there was I was knew I was driving with decreased risk.

On and off during the week, I found myself considering risk and value. We use both words frequently. We work on projects to ‘increase value’ and sometimes to ‘mitigate risk’.

Increasing value feels empowering and rewarding. For example, home owners carry out work to add to value of their property…a new bathroom; a loft conversion. Project teams advance to clinical trials and in doing so they add value to their compound. Adding value feels good. There is a tangible sense of achievement and satisfaction.

But what about mitigating risk? Risk can appear uncertain. Risk is possibility – the possibility of suffering harm or loss…at home, in work, and when driving! Home owners have to consider risks and how to mitigate. We repair things that are broken. A leaky rook becomes a good roof. We insure against risk. Risks with only low probabilities of occurring – fire, wind, water….and none of us like it. Anything to do with risk mitigation feels unrewarding…burdensome…enforced.

It doesn’t have to be though. Potential loss due to risk is quantifiable – we always insure our cars, but seldom our bicycles – as is level of exposure to risk. Sending a text message whilst driving is riskier than singing to your favourite CD.

In our industry, many believe that projects (and companies) who are truly successful – those who don’t just achieve milestones but rather those who impact their target market – are those who identify and address key issues in a project early to mitigate risk. Projects where a negative result that can subsequently be overcome is every bit as much beneficial as a positive result that allows a project to move forward.

How clear are we – or our partners – about highest risks faced by a project? How often do our planned experiments or studies focus on mitigating that risk? I am not convinced. We have all found ourselves – me especially – doing experiments because they increase value rather than because they are answering a key hypothesis on our projects?

Perhaps we should consider activities more explicitly in terms of how they mitigate risk and how they increase value. And assign more effort to high risk mitigation and high value added actions…like I did (implicitly) when driving with my son.



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Little Things…

I was on site in the UK all week. It was a short week mind you…Friday was a Public Holiday in the UK…as is Monday. Spring is here. The days are getting longer. The Sun shines more. It’s getting warmer. No one thing makes Spring seem better; but better it is. I even took the snow shovel out of my car and put it away in the garage – its April after all…and yes I know…justifiable confidence or tempting fate.

It’s a busy time. When isn’t of course. Lots of things going on – lots of work; lots of family. It’s always busy. We work full time and our friends and family are always there for us, but also need us to be there for them.

It’s good to be busy. I am better when I am busy than when I am bored. And when I am busy I try to focus on the big picture and on the little things. And on people.

The people aspect is easy; I have long since realised how much energy I get from talking to people. No matter how much or how little they may get from me, anyone I interact with gives me so much. Ideas, inspiration, a different perception, a different situation. So when I am busy I work very hard to keep people in my calendar. In person, on the phone, video or instant messages. They all work and they all help. I hope I help some people…some of the time…but I know how much these discussion help me.

The big picture is good. Vague but good. Well not really vague…more ‘multi-component. At times when I am very busy…times when I am being asked to work on multiple opportunities, or help solve multiple problems…I find it essential to have my own agenda. What is it that I really want to achieve, or want to achieve with my team? What is our agenda? When I am being asked – and rightly so – to work on other people’s agenda…I have to be able to balance this with working on our own agenda.

I have an agenda at work. And an agenda out of work. Only good…nothing conspiratorial…all aligned. Just ideas, possibilities, objectives, options that I want to explore and to achieve. I know that if I make progress on my own agenda that these achievements energise me for everything else I do, and I am also certain that these achievements directly help what we do at work, and what we do at home.

The challenge is not so much having my own agenda – the challenge is finding time to work on what I want to achieve whilst ensuring I contribute to important activities I am rightly asked to work on, or that I have to work on to help resolve urgently.

And the little things matter enormously. Especially when we are so busy. A smile here. A word of thanks there. An act of kindness. An acknowledgement. An unexpected call.

Sometimes when we so much going on we can miss these little things. We miss out on giving and we miss out on receiving. I know I do on both. I work hard to remember…to remind myself. I take a moment to look around. I give myself time to acknowledge. I shake hands and even hug. I smile more at work…and even when driving. I put more pictures in my emails. I tell my wife, my children and my family.

I listen harder for stories – to appreciate and to share – and look harder for moments and people – to appreciate and to thank.

Thank you.


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Time Traveller…

I always watch films on long distance flights. I know it’s a bit of a habit, but it passes time and allows me to catch up with movies we missed at the cinema…either by design or by default. One such movie from last year was Interstellar. We missed it by design at the cinema – 2 hours 49 minutes is a great deal of family time to give up over a weekend!

The movie first appeared on the in-flight list some 3 months or so ago. But I have known for about 6 months that I had this trip to Southern California coming up, and I was deliberately saving Interstellar for this trip…11 hours 30 minutes on a plane is also a long time.

My tactics worked. I enjoyed the film and it helped pass nearly 3 hours. I would definitely recommend Interstellar as a film for a long plane ride! I would not advocate thinking about it all too much. It is science fiction after all. It encompasses both space travel and time travel. Good news for enthusiasts of science fiction. Bad news for enthusiasts of science fact.

California is a long way from the UK. This month it was a 7 hour time difference as well as some 5000 miles away. But it’s that time difference that inevitably impacts everything. Indeed I felt at times that I was embedded in that film…although I was never quite sure if that was some jet-lagged induced dream state, or some caffeine and alcohol induced mental aberration. Either way it was a hectic week.

I woke each morning between 1:00 and 2:00am. Sometimes naturally. Sometimes after hearing that dreaded ‘good night’ being call down the corridor. And sometimes because every time that trolley tram went past my hotel the barrier gate bells rang out loud…and long!

The end result is a feeling that I had already done a full day’s work before the California work day started. Jet lag? Time travel? Either way it’s a strange moment receiving a text message from home wishing me a ‘good night’ just as I am starting my second meeting of the afternoon.

I was in California for our annual industry meeting. Some 7000 scientists, analysts and specialists. It was an excellent meeting. Certainly the best I have attended. There seemed to be renewed enthusiasm. Definitely increased interest. I met colleagues from existing important clients, potential new clients and some old clients who may want to come back again. We had a great showing – the right people talking about the right things. The focus and interests of our industry continually adapt and develop. We have to adapt and develop at least as quickly to thrive…the right people talking about the right things at the right time.

I sat in on some great discussions. I heard some outstanding debates. I even contributed the odd word or two here or there. Teamwork was a big emphasis of the meeting. Cancer-immunotherapy was very popular (and very promising). Partnership – very easy to say but essential to deliver – a big theme. Science underpinned everything. Whilst quality and continuity both received honourable and frequent air time.

Somehow during the week, I also managed to meet up with old – and very good friends – who I hadn’t seen for nearly 5 years. And I managed to have my haircut! The latter being an outcome of that ‘day’s work before the day starts’ effect. The former being a benefit of having very good friends.

I arrived home Friday late afternoon. I knew I had been a long way. I felt I had been away for a long time. Family time.



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Routine Visitor…

Routine is an unusual concept. Routine as a thing rather than as a description. I have a routine. I like my routine. I need a routine. I realised this week I have a routine. When it was broken.

I also realised that my routine of significance is daily or weekly. When I am at work, I have meetings scheduled all the time, and yet all sorts of other moments arise and we respond and handle as appropriate. Part of our daily routine is to address unexpected events when, or if, they appear amongst everything else we have planned.

No, I realised last week that I have a bigger routine – my day, each day, at work before my weekends. My days are interjected by coffee, by my exercise bike, by my time at work, by eating, by talking to my family, and by sleep. But each week day is essentially the same.

I get up, drink coffee, exercise, go to work, come home, exercise, eat, talk to my family and then work before I go to bed. I am engaged and inspired by my days. And above all by the people I work with during those days; what we do together and what we aspire to achieve together.

And then my daughter came to stay. My routine dissolved and dissipated. My days during her visit were as beautiful and spontaneous as she is. I did not know I had so many towels, or so little food. I did not know I could run out of hot water, nor mugs for coffee and tea.

I had no time to exercise at all during her visit. I was late to work and early to home. I ate much better and worked much less. I still managed to achieve my daily coffee quota, but I also managed to sleep longer (and better).

We talked and we sat. We told stories and we laughed. I introduced her to friends at work (who we met in a restaurant) and I pointed her in the direction of the best shops.

Whilst she was with me I was in that moment. Enjoying her company and answering her questions. Many of which were about me, and us, and what we are doing. The Big Deal and our new colleagues. She listened intently. She advised me, praised me and helped me. I made her breakfast and tea. I bought her dinner. She broke my daily routine. She gave me love and affection.

And as soon as she left the reality hit me. That moment was gone. She was gone. I knew my feeling was one of loss, but I also knew the only way I could have avoided that loss would have been for her not to have come. It took me a while to put everything away and to dry the towels. I was trying to get back into my routine. I was trying to get back to being comfortable.

So instead I decided to change my routine and stay uncomfortable. I deliberately did some things differently for the remainder of the week and I also did some different things. In and out of work. I felt better. I found I had something else to think about. I also found I thought differently about things.

I know I like routines. I like the consistency and I like not having to think differently about aspects of what I do. I am sure I am not unique in that. But I also wonder that sometimes us changing simple aspects of our routines – self-induced change – could be fun. Would be different. And who knows what it could lead to…



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Great Days…

It’s a long way to the mid-west of the USA from the UK. I always fly to Chicago and make an onwards connection from there. I really like Chicago airport as a place – there’s a lot going on with lots of people rushing to lots of places, but there are also lots of cafes, and bars and restaurants. If you ever sit or stand anywhere for more than a few minutes someone will talk to you, or ask you, about something.

Spring is the best time to travel through Chicago. But as with a lot of US states, spring in Illinois can sometimes come and go in the blink of an eye. It can switch from freezing cold and deep snow, to warm sun and longer days in a matter of weeks or even days.

Summer travel through Chicago is at risk from thunder storms. Winter travel through Chicago is at risk from snow and ice storms. Autumn can be complex mix of late thunder and early snow. Spring is definitely the time to travel through Chicago.

And I did. On Monday. Daylight Savings started in the US on the Sunday. Summer time in the UK does not start until the end of March. But it definitely felt like summer had arrived in Chicago. My flight arrived on time. My transfer was smooth. My onward connection left on time. I arrived at my hotel early. The sun shone. Jokes were told. People smiled. It was a great day to travel.

I was on site in the mid-west for three days. The first I met people and groups. I dialled into calls and I met friends and colleagues in their offices. There were lots of other visitors on site. Some I knew well and others I met for the first time. There are always many new people to meet after a Big Deal. Meeting old and new people. Building relationships and renewing friendships is good. New ideas; new opportunities; new connections; new networks is very good. It was a great day on site.

My main purpose for the week as a leadership team meeting. Most of the team, plus a couple of delegates were in the room. We had remote connections and special guests by video and telephone. I always feel accountable for the meeting, and our time. I know the team feel they have to come because it is my meeting. I want them to come because we do good work and they get high value. I want them to leave looking forward to the next time.

My meeting agenda are a similar format. We see data and opportunity together. We work on owning and solving together. It can be intense. It is frequently inspiring. It is always engaging. I leave each day optimized. I depart the meeting energised. Both days were great days.

Some team members were at their first meeting of this team. One guest was at their last. We welcomed and we wished well. Everyone participated and everyone contributed. There were tears and laughter. Emotion and passion. Agreement and disagreement. Innovation and consternation.

Science is a social activity. Research is a social activity. Life is a social activity. Days and times I enjoy most are always with other people. People I love and people I appreciate.

Some of what we discussed last week will inevitably not change anything…I know that. But I also know for sure that some of what we discussed will change everything we do.

I was given three great days at work last week. I value my great days. They sustain me. And energise me. They stay with me.



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