Leading the Charge
Up close and personal with Frank Washenitz of Mylan
Imagine being a freshman at college on a basketball scholarship. You know this scholarship is your ticket out of your small mining town and on to a brighter future. Now imagine being told that you might lose your foot due to a misdiagnosis of an ankle injury.
That is exactly what happened to Frank Washenitz, now VP, Head of Global and NA Sales Enhancement at Mylan. Luckily for Frank, he did not lose that ankle. The experience, however, left him sensitive to the fragility of health, the need for improvement in medicine and a desire to make a difference.
“Looking back, I never really had a plan to be in pharma training, but it all makes sense," says Frank. "My background is in athletics and coaching. Everything I’ve done comes back to building teams centered on a common purpose, teaching, leading and developing others.”
He comes by it naturally. Born and raised in a small coal town in West Virginia he worked for his father, two uncles and grandfather at a young age in their family business. It was do or die, innovate or starve. It took the entire family to make it work. The values were instilled in him that if you want something, you have to work for it. His first cousin is the Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, so perseverance was modeled everywhere he turned.
“Leadership came from my father and one of my close relatives who was the all-time winningest coach in basketball,” he says. “My dad coached me from a very young age all the way through middle school. I still look up to him as a hero. Growing up and having him intimately involved in my athletic career and leading me through life…. his lessons were powerful and always pushed me to do more. There were many long rides home after some of my games, but it taught me that you can always get better."
When he graduated college, he thought, “What will I do now?” Coaching was the answer. He immediately took on a role as graduate assistant and started coaching while he went to grad school. After completing his Master’s degree in Safety and Environmental Health he kept coaching for five more years.
He talks about how challenging it is when you start taking kids from all over and bring them into one locker room with all their different personalities, backgrounds and cultures. He had to learn how to treat them all the same but different. After a few seasons he realized they weren’t all naturally on the same page regarding the goal.“I loved developing kids,” says Frank. “I learned quickly how leadership can play such an important role in someone’s life.”
Some kids, he explains, just wanted a free education, others didn’t believe it was possible. “The key was aligning them on the common focus of our goal to win the national championship.”
Discovering a passion
He found his way into pharma after watching his wife, Terri, a pharma rep, loving her job and the impact she could have on patients.
As he began his search to enter the pharma industry he stumbled upon a company that offered a product for Parkinson’s Disease, a disease that his grandfather lived with for many years. “I can remember growing up not understanding why my grandfather would shake so much or why he couldn’t fully function at times, it was very painful to watch,” he says.
In 2001, he joined that company, Boehringer Ingelheim, where he began his passion to help patients with Parkinson’s Disease potentially live a better quality of life. He quickly moved from a sales rep to a management role where he led others to carry out his passion to help patients. In 2009, he joined the local West-Virginia-based company, Mylan, where he spent the majority of his career in sales-related roles.
Now, in sales training, he feels right at home... back developing people and teams. It’s the same on his team now as it was so many years ago as a coach, however, instead of focusing on winning the national championship, he focusses around their common mission of serving patients. It is his job to help them make the connection between their work and better patient outcomes.
It excites him to build teams and help them create their own internal motivation. “To be successful with any team,” he says, “you really have to understand your players and dig deep to figure out what motivates them.” He asks himself “how am I going to pull them together to reach the one common goal?” He’s learned, he says, “that when we all sing from the same song sheet; when we are all connected to our purpose, only then can we do our best work.” He added in reflection, “and to think that my work eventually impacts patients – well that’s where the juice is.”
I asked Frank a few questions about bringing a patient focus to his organization:
What are the top 3 ways that you established (are establishing) a patient-focused culture?
Regarding our movement to patient centricity, he says: “Healthcare is changing so fast, you don’t have time to sit back and analyze change because by then it’s changed again. You have to jump in with both feet and take it on.”
At Mylan, they have jumped into the movement to patient-centricity with both feet. “Our mission at Mylan is creating better health for a better world, which ultimately produces better patient outcomes. From a training perspective, we focus on three things to create that patient-focused culture:
1. Education – educate reps better than ever on the patients, patient types, disease state, disease management and our products.
2. Access – we can do everything we want to do from standpoint of focussing on a product and understanding patient types but if we don’t have a vehicle to get patients access then we fought a losing battle.
3. Innovation –we need to be open to and looking for and creating ideas to help us focus on patients.
What have sales/marketing teams started and stopped doing?
In the past, the industry was more focused on the product and selling to the doc. Today it’s not so much about the product but rather how can it benefit a patient.
So many things have come and gone. Years ago, reps used to be able to spend a lot of time educating doctors outside of the office. Today, that has all changed and you must have a very good plan that will allow your reps to be clinically prepared to quickly educate physicians on how your products can benefit their patients. All patients are different and we must provide them different options for care.
In training, we must continue to develop our reps’ clinical knowledge and ability to understand the patient’s journey through disease management. As stated, all patients are different which is why fair and balanced clinical information is more critical than ever to ensure the patients are being provided the best options for their care.
What have been the outcomes from creating a patient-focused culture?
For employees – our benefit program is the best I’ve seen yet, focussing on improving health of our people so they can focus on improving health of patients. Being the #2 provider of prescription medications across the US only means that we are providing access to patients, which include our employees and their families.
For our company – every organization wants people who are impassioned with their purpose. Those are the people who are passionate, committed, relentless and unconventional! We do what’s right, not what’s easy.
For HCPs – they know they have a trusted partner in us and our people. We’ve been through a lot over the last couple of years and hold true to our core values and high level of integrity. When our reps walk through their doors, they know we care and have a passion to help patients.
For patients – in the end, it’s about providing an opportunity for patients to live a better life. I think our mission to provide seven billion people access to high quality medications says it all.
What are your next steps for creating a patient-focused culture?
At Mylan, they look at themselves as a healthcare company driven by access, durability and diversification, which is integrated across our value chain to greater impact better health for a better world. That means focusing on the patient to produce greater outcomes
When you look at their mission statement, “it fits well with why I’m here,” says Frank. "It talks about our mission to provide access to seven billion people to access high quality medications. It’s just not words on paper." They know they can’t boil the entire ocean but eventually with each piece it will all come together.
A couple of things on his radar include:
1. Finding more opportunities to provide patients with access to the solutions that will improve their lives.
2. We are working on how to better educate patients and provide more tools and resources so patients can become more empowered to understand their opportunities/options.
Several years ago Frank had an opportunity to visit a small village outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. It was here that he had an incredible full-circle experience.
Being born and raised in West Virginia he had watched Mylan grow. He knew the founder (everyone in his town did) and he watched him give a lot to the community. “He was a great guy,” says Washenitz.
Then, when flying across the world after talking about providing access, he arrived in this small village. “I stood there holding the hand of a small child with HIV and I look down and there’s an empty Mylan HIV medication box sitting there in the dirt. It’s not words on paper. We are changing lives.”
That’s when the penny dropped on how Mylan’s mission ties into his purpose. “I am very proud of our culture and proud to be a part of it,” he emphasized.
We’re glad you are there too, Frank. Thank you for the great work you do for patients with HIV.
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