Committed to the core

Gerry Proehl is a big believer in his
organization’s core values. As president, CEO and director of Santarus Inc., however, Proehl says core values are
meaningless if not practiced and passed
on by the company’s leadership.

“The most important thing is not that
you put these core values on a plaque or
hang them on the wall, but that the senior
management team actually believes in
them and models them,” Proehl says. “If
they’re not doing it and they’re just saying it, it’s not going to mean anything.”

When Proehl, who joined the San
Diego-based pharmaceutical firm as a
vice president in 1999, sat down with his
management team in the early stages of
the company’s growth, he helped develop and define a set of beliefs that is now
incorporated into everything the company does. And while the leadership
team at Santarus walks the talk, the fact
that annual revenue nearly doubled
from $26.5 million in 2005 to $49 million in 2006 has done its part in encouraging employees to buy in.

Proehl spoke with Smart Business
about building collaboration and the
importance of making good hires.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

I’ve hired some very experienced
folks at the senior level, and I’ve tried
to set up a team environment where
we get good interaction and input,
and we have open discussion, and then we
make decisions. It isn’t a situation where
there’s a unilateral decision-maker. People
have to be able to openly share ideas,
whether they’re similar ideas or whether
they’re ideas in disagreement with what
we’re talking about and feel comfortable
that there’s no retribution if they disagree
with the boss or other folks in management. We try to set up a situation where
there is an open discussion among the senior team so they can raise issues, we
address them and come to a decision that
everybody then is supportive of.

Q: What are the dangers of being a unilateral leader?

It’s one of those things you might be able to get away with when you’re a small company because you’re knowledgeable about
everything going on. The problem is that
type of leadership style is very limiting if
you want to really grow the company.
There’s just no way to be knowledgeable
enough in all areas that we’re involved with
that you can make all the decisions yourself. That’s where your senior team can
really play a major role.

Q: What is the danger of growing too fast?

The most important thing is being able
to maintain the culture as you bring a lot
of people in. We went through that at
one point in 2004 when we scaled up our
commercial organization. We brought in
250 people over a six-month period, and
at the time, the company was only about
50 people.

You can very quickly lose control of your
culture if you’re not careful. You have to
make sure when you’re growing rapidly to
continue to focus on really bringing in high-quality people who match the values system you’re looking for.It’s easy to get
caught in a situation where you’re trying
to hire so many people that you might ignore that and you bring people in
because they’re warm bodies.

Trying to make sure we’re really staying
true to our culture and true to our values is
part of the reason we go through a rigorous
process of interviewing candidates.

Q: How would you describe your interviewing process?

We’ve established five core values that
really define our organization: team-work, ownership, productivity, integrity and quality. When we’re interviewing, it’s something that we always try to
find in new hires.

You can train people and develop
skills they don’t have, but core values
that people bring to an organization are
hard to change. If their values system is
not the same as the values system of the
company, the likelihood is that they’re
not going to fit long term. We spend a lot
of time in the interview process not only
looking at the skills, experience and
knowledge people have, but really trying
to figure out their core values and how
they fit with our organization.

Q: How can a values system be identified
during an interview?

We put people through a cross-functional
interview process, where we’ll have people from all different departments interview somebody. If a candidate is a district
sales manager, they might interview with
somebody from finance, somebody from
commercial and somebody from human

In those interviews, each of those folks
is going to be asking questions to really
try to identify the candidate’s core values. The commercial interviewers are
going to focus all about the skills and the
experience. The people in finance or HR
or manufacturing are more focused on,
‘How’s this person going to fit within the

By doing that, we get a good overview of
whether everybody feels comfortable that
the fit is going to be right with the organization.

HOW TO REACH: Santarus Inc., or (858)