Summer Reads Part 2: What are Pharma Folk Reading?

In Part 2, we take a look at some more reading recommendations from industry experts.



Kicking off the recommendations is James Weatherall, Executive Director and Head, Advanced Analytics Centre, AstraZeneca, who provides information on a book that challenges the reputation of the pharma industry.

Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, and How We can Fix It

By Ben Goldacre

This book provides a perspective on the pharmaceutical industry, based on Goldacre’s research and opinions.  In particular, it focuses on what he believes is currently ‘broken’ about not just pharma companies, but also other institutions such as regulatory agencies and medical journals. Weatherall says, “I’m a scientist.  Therefore, I believe that to understand something fully you must collect as much data as possible.  That includes perceptions, perspectives, and subjective views.  I found this book refreshing, since I hadn’t read such a ‘view from the other side’ before.”

Reading a ‘view from the other side’ made Weatherall more aware of the external reputation of the industry, as well as some of the specific examples of bad practice that have taken place over the last few decades. “This, in turn, has made me work harder to attempt to reverse those perceptions, and stay ever more vigilant towards upholding high standards when it comes to the conduct of clinical research.”

According to Weatherall, a key take home message from the book is that, “All research results should be published, whether the experiment or trial in question was considered successful or not.”

Would he recommend it to other pharma professionals? “Yes,” he says, “It’s never a bad thing to expose oneself to opposing views and perspectives.  Only after you have done so, can you claim to have a rounded grasp of an issue – in this case the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry.”

David Coleiro, Partner at Strategic North, moves us on to a book about business success.

Good to Great

By Jim Collins

Good to Great is a synthesis of a 5 year study designed to answer the question: “Can a good company become a great company, and how?” The key drivers of a good to great transformation are described and supported by multiple company case demonstrating the factors of success. 

“Unlike many books of this type,” says Coleiro, “Good to Great is based on a robust research analysis of success in the real world, across multiple markets and completely different types of company. By its very nature, the findings and recommendations carried more weight for me and I feel that if these are implemented, there is a greater chance of these being successful.”

“As a leader in our own business, and always looking to learn and develop in that area, reading this book has really helped me think about my authentic leadership style and how I can further improve that for the benefit of Strategic North, our team and our clients,” says Coleiro. “It has made me consider my role both inside and outside of work, my leadership and communication style, and my impact on others. It has been a positive exercise for me.”

So, why might the pharma industry be interested in this book? Coleiro explains, “At Strategic North, our job is to help to build great healthcare brands. Although the book is focused on company rather than brand, many of the learnings are highly relevant to building great brands, especially in terms of leadership: people, vision, honesty of analysis, behavior change and disciplined implementation … I could go on (I did say I liked it!)”.

A key take home message from the book is that good-to-great transformations follow a predictable pattern of development and breakthrough, like pushing a flywheel. A lot of effort is required to get moving and persistent pushing in a consistent direction to build momentum over time – eventually leading to breakthrough.

“In today’s time pressured world, it is a good message to remember,” says Coleiro.“We think of building successful brands in a similar way: they are like large oaks; they start from the small acorns of the single new patient for whom a HCP decides to prescribe. Clarity on the profile of those patients for whom you believe your brand is the best treatment choice, and understanding the needs and motivations of both patient and prescriber, is key.” He adds, “Like transformations of great companies, transformations of great brands requires coherent and disciplined implementation in order for that oak to flourish and grow from that initial beginning.”

Dr Andree Bates, President of Eularis – Pharma Analytics, also invites us to consider a business-related read.

The Lean Enterprise: How Corporations can Innovate like Start-Ups

By Trevor Owens and Obie Fernandez

This book explores how large corporations can leverage lean start-up approaches and drive innovation through internal incubation, acqui–hires, and strategic investment. It provides useful insights on the organizational structures, systems, and processes to maximize success within large corporations.

The industry has to stop and think as we can no longer do what we've always done. The environment has changed, but a big pharma response is simply cost-cutting. The real innovators in pharma appear to be non-traditional players like Google.

Bates says, “What fascinates me is how big pharma are constantly trying to get lean but in very traditional ways - constant rounds of job  cutting and outsourcing until the value proposition of big pharma is diluted significantly. I feel that many pharma execs, especially those in charge of cost cutting and restructuring, could learn some valuable lessons from this book.”

The book influenced Bates both personally and professionally. Personally, “It highlighted that no matter how big you get, you constantly need to innovate and act like a start-up,” says Bates. She adds, “Professionally, it provides insights on management and structure of large corporations that we can actually use in our corporate analytics when we are tasked with doing analytics to define a new go-to market model for clients.”

A key take home message from the book, according to Bates, is that, “The industry has to stop and think as we can no longer do what we've always done. The environment has changed, but a big pharma response is simply cost-cutting. The real innovators in pharma appear to be non-traditional players like Google.” In other words, the pharma industry needs to think more like lean start-ups. 

Michael Stephenson, President CEO at BioSynthesis Pharma Group Limited, says, “I will be the exception as my reading has absolutely nothing to do with pharma or business. Business, in my humble opinion, cannot be learnt from books, although I don’t discount their worth as instructive. Parents aren’t given a book to deal with individual children; it’s about trial and error. This can apply in business as well since each business has its own persona and mentality within.”

So, what was Stephenson’s book of choice?

The Prince

By Nicolo Machiavelli

The Prince is a political treatise by an Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist. For Stephenson, “The Prince has allowed me to understand a little better the art of negotiation and the ability to spot someone believing themselves to be cleverer than they are by utilizing one of the many parts of the Machiavellian process” – Machiavellianism being the use of cunning and duplicity.“The real beauty and art of Machiavelli isn’t to adapt to his methodology but to recognize and combat it,” says Stephenson.

I have found the Machiavellian mindset to be quite prolific in the pharma side of life.

So, why exactly would Stephenson recommend a book so outside the pharma world? “Looking at a situation through other people’s eyes in their writing expands your natural ability to read people and their attitude or intentions,” explains Stephenson. He adds, “I have found the Machiavellian mindset to be quite prolific in the pharma side of life. What makes the Machiavellian personality a troubling yet stimulating thinker is that, in their attempt to draw different conclusions from the commonplace expectations of the audience, they still incorporate important features of precisely the conventions they are challenging.”

Machiavellian leadership doesn’t provide an arena for change, which is a necessary part of the development of pharmaceuticals. “This can be seen in our industry as prolific, with the aversion or even outright refusal to seek natural solutions but relying on chemistry and synthetics, which has become the norm in today’s research,” Stephenson adds.

What will you be reading this summer? Are there any you would recommend?


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