Jeff Yordon thrives under intense scrutiny, and helps his team at Sagent Pharmaceuticals do the same

Show the way to prosperity

In 2005, Yordon traveled the world and found a number of small companies that had begun building or had the desire to build facilities and develop products to supply to the U.S. market.

Yordon wanted to help these companies achieve their goals.

He offered them the support they would need to ensure that once they were opened, their facilities would be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We would be in charge of all their regulatory filings,” Yordon says. “You’re sitting in rural India dreaming of putting a submission in to the FDA. How do you do that? Well, we would do that for them and be their regulatory agent. And finally, we would be their exclusive marketer of these products in the U.S. and North America.”

The result was a consortium of 48 different companies in 23 different countries with a total of 38 facilities, all of which have earned FDA approval since connecting with Yordon.
The challenge in creating that consortium was the fact that it was made up of people who weren’t employees of Sagent.

Yordon sold them on the opportunity to be part of something special, something that would make a difference in the world, even if they weren’t technically his employees. Then he asked them to make a formal commitment to making that happen.

“Not only did they sign commercial agreements for sales, development, etc., but they signed quality agreements that assured they would implement our quality systems and work to our quality standards,” Yordon says.

As for his own employees, Yordon asked them to work harder than they had ever worked before. But there would be a payoff.

“Every single person in this company, including the janitor, has stock options,” Yordon says. “To see them have a chance to be facing their retirement years with enough money to enjoy life is an extremely important thing for me.”

That was the goal for his team at Sagent.

The first step to finding quality people who are willing to work with you in an environment where there is no margin for error is to clearly demonstrate that your plan is not about boosting your own ego.

“I have always tried to find the best person that was out there,” Yordon says. “I don’t care about race, color, creed, sex. In fact, I was asked recently why I have so many females in higher management positions. My answer was that I didn’t realize that I did. I just hire people who are the right people. I’ve never been afraid to hire somebody who potentially was good enough to take over my job.”

Another crucial step is to be diligent about connecting with customers to ensure that you are producing something that they want. Yordon says this is an obvious point, but adds that many companies fail to do it.

“If you continue to do things the way you did them when you first started, you will not succeed,” Yordon says. “You have to be willing to change and you have to be willing to listen. Be ready to listen to new ideas. Be willing to say that’s a better idea than I have. Be willing to jettison a plan that you know isn’t working.”

Live by your standards

Yordon bolstered his commitment to excellence by hiring a team of people with “incredible scientific knowledge” who could serve as an added layer of accountability to ensure that Sagent was getting the job done.

“They also had to have knowledge of the business and be able to negotiate,” Yordon says. “Most importantly, when a partner has a problem with the development of a product, we don’t simply just change the date. We solve the problem and stay on track.”

These leaders, known as global alliance managers, would each have five or six companies that they dealt with.

“Their objective is that there will be a certain number of products submitted to the FDA and a certain number of products launched,” Yordon says. “Their job depends on hitting those dates, regardless of what problems arise. So it’s an incredible challenge and it’s worked.”

Yordon says the average competitor of Sagent submits four or five products a year.

“In our first two years of existence, we submitted 85 products,” Yordon says. “That meant we had to hire an incredible regulatory group, put in our own electronic filing software that we created ourselves and be in a position to be able to file these things ourselves independently. But more importantly, to only file submissions that we knew were pristine and would flow through the FDA as quickly as possible.”

Yordon says he is often asked what it’s like to work under such stringent conditions.

“I’m always asked how I handle the pressure between commercialization and all of the quality conflicts that are there constantly,” Yordon says. “The answer is we have no conflicts. We always do the right thing.”

That sounds like a very authoritative way to lead a business and the pharmaceutical business does not leave much room for personal interpretation. But that doesn’t mean Yordon insists that everybody do everything exactly the way he wants it done.

“My management style is that we’ll agree on what the objectives are and then you’re empowered to do your job,” Yordon says. “I can tell you I probably have had experience in almost any facet of this industry. If you want my help, I’ll be happy to help you. If you don’t want my help, do it your way as long as we hit the objective.

“I was able to convince a lot of people in a lot of other companies that had had exposure to me that they believed in the vision. They liked the entrepreneurial feeling of the company. They liked the autonomy. They could live with accountability, and most importantly, they liked being empowered. I don’t look over their shoulder. If I have the right people, which I do, I know they will get the job done.”

The numbers reflect Sagent’s ability to get the job done. The company went public in 2011 and has seen its net revenue increase from $74 million in 2010 to $244.8 million in 2013.

“We’re in a position that we are constantly now being contacted by foreign companies who would love to enter the U.S. and look at us as probably the No. 1 potential company to partner with as they move forward,” Yordon says.

And while Yordon has found effective ways to build Sagent for today, he reiterates his firm belief that those tactics may not work next year.

“I would say 80 percent of what I did that made me successful 10 years ago I don’t do anymore, because that won’t make you successful today.”

Takeaways:

  • Find a way to make a difference.
  • Get the best people you can find.
  • Get comfortable with constant change.