A Tailor-Made Programme for Developing All-Round Leaders at Pfizer

Benjamin Beeckmans, Director of Company-Specific Programs at SBS-EM 25/06/2019

A little more than a year ago, Pfizer came to us with a very specific demand. They wanted the Solvay Brussels School to develop a one-week training programme for their business unit leaders and their successors. Their aim? To provide them with the necessary skills to develop their business acumen and make them better leaders in a changing business environment. 

The Pfizer Brussels Headquarters and the Solvay Brussels School (SBS) are almost neighbours, and there is a longstanding relationship between us, as the SBS is one of Pfizer’s recruiting pools.

When Serge Premer, who is the Senior Director Commercial Operations West EU, came to see us with Helene Arrhult, who is Training Team Lead for Pfizer’s Global Commercial Operations, they presented us with a very interesting challenge: they wanted to co-create a training programme

Fostering business acumen

“As a global organisation, we have strong internal training teams,” Serge Premer explains. However, we felt there was a gap: we needed to develop all-round leaders, capable of meeting head-on the challenges our industry is facing. The idea was to provide them with a kind of 'MBA essentials' training, but we did not want it to be an off-the-shelf programme. We wanted a programme that was at the same time grounded in the Pfizer universe and capable of helping our managers to broaden their vision and reflect on how to incorporate business insights from other industries in their thinking.”  

For Helene Arrhult, this meant adapting the courses to follow the Pfizer terminology. “For example, the finance professor uses our balance sheets in his course, so that the audience can really relate to the content. But he uses a Pfizer term, DME, when he talks about marketing expenses, and so on. This means we are really involved in the design of every course, and we spend quite a lot of time coordinating with the professors involved.” 

Learning from the best

For other aspects of the programme, Pfizer wanted to make sure the cases the participants would be working on were coming from other industries. For Serge Premer, “Being an industry leader means that we are likely going to learn less from cases that present challenges similar to the ones we face. On the other hand, pharma is a very closed world, with a business model that can be quite old-fashioned. Of course, we are heavily regulated, and that makes it difficult for us to be as inventive as companies from the FMCG sector. But our world has grown volatile and uncertain: we already see business leaders such as Google and Facebook challenging the traditional industries. What if tomorrow, a company like Amazon decides to take on pharmaceutical distribution? We need to be prepared. Which is why it is very important for our future leaders to draw insights from other industries. We need to help them broaden their horizons and dare to think outside the box, to face the challenges of the near future." 

A business game to break down silos

On the 4th day of this one-week course, students participate in a business game designed by Solvay Brussels School academics.

“We were very interested in that business game,”  Serge Premer explains. “It is quite unique, and it is a very powerful tool. The participants are asked to make broad management decisions, and to understand how they can affect a company as a whole. With more than 96,000 employees worldwide, Pfizer is a large company. The downside is that we have a lot of managers who are very specialized and focused on one topic only. This game helps them understand how management choices impact other divisions and have an effect on operations. It is a very powerful way to break down silos and foster a more global approach to management decisions.” 

Investing in tomorrow’s leaders

The 4th edition of the programme had just ended, and Pfizer already has a 5th edition scheduled for September 2019.

We are still tinkering with the formula, using the feedback of teachers and participants to make it better with each edition. For the participants, it is a sizeable investment: they need to spend a whole week away from their business unit and travel to Belgium. So we want to make sure to pack a lot of added value! In that respect, combining theory with real-life experiences from other industries is a magical formula for participant inspiration and satisfaction… And indeed, the programme generates a lot of traction at Pfizer: our September 2019 edition is already fully sold-out and 2020 planning has already started!

Would you like Solvay Brussels School to create a training for your company? Request a tailor-made programme!

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