Mergers are difficult when you conduct them from start to finish. They can be even more challenging if you find yourself in Robert Bazemore’s position.
Bazemore became the president of Centocor Ortho Biotech in March 2010, about a year after the company was formed from the merger of prescription drug developers Centocor and Ortho Biotech. Both companies were primarily driven by one drug line each — Centocor by Remicade, which is used to treat autoimmune disorders, and Ortho by Procrit, which is used to treat anemia in patients with kidney disorders.
The newly combined company was positioning itself to launch a new series of drugs in the immunology and oncology arenas, meaning a more diverse array of products and the subsequent potential for high growth. But it also presented a new problem for Bazemore.
“Our business was changing pretty dramatically, and the organization had changed because we brought these two companies together,” Bazemore says. “We recognized that we needed to define for the future how we were going to continue to sustain the growth of a business that had been growing at double digit rates for the past 13 years.”
In June, Centocor Ortho Biotech — a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson — was renamed Janssen Biotech Inc. and added to Johnson & Johnson’s portfolio of Janssen pharmaceutical companies. The name change has served to underscore the direction in which Bazemore wanted to take the company. He wanted to take steps toward a total unification of all the company’s resources and focus the work force of 1,100 on the welfare of the whole organization.
In short, Bazemore wanted a healthy company, not an underperforming company with healthy product brands.
“I realized it would have been easy, considering we were going through these transitions and launching new brands, to allow our whole company focus to move toward the brands and how to make the brands successful,” he says. “My concern was, if you step back and do that, is anybody looking at the long-term health of the business? We could have gotten to a point where the brands were doing great, the launches are great, but no one is paying attention to the fact that we’re not growing over the long term at the rate we wanted or expanding into the areas where we really had an opportunity.”
Bazemore had to seize control of the situation, making in-flight adjustments to the company’s culture to ensure that the values and goals he and his leadership team wanted to emphasize were the values and goals at the forefront of the company’s collective consciousness.
Lead from the front
Bazemore says a company leader needs to play three roles in piloting their business through a time of transition: You need to define your company’s growth aspiration, you need to shape the company’s business strategy, and you need to define and shape the culture that supports the company’s goals.
“The growth aspiration is the answer to the question of what it is you want to be,” Bazemore says. “What are you holding the organization accountable for? If you don’t set that, you will get to wherever your product takes you, but that might not necessarily be the aspiration you have for the company or the employees. The business strategy, in our case, means therapeutic areas of strategy that we have decided to pursue in both the areas of immunology and oncology. But it doesn’t stop there, because the leader has to be willing to personally champion those ideas and initiatives that are most critical to achieving your strategies.”
The third element — culture — might be the hardest to achieve. A company’s culture needs to be rooted in a long-term philosophy that is designed with less concern for immediate results and more concern for the company’s health over the long haul.
“It is perhaps the most important role of the three,” Bazemore says. “A company’s culture will evolve either intentionally or unintentionally, and it will either strengthen your ability to achieve your goals or damage your ability to achieve your goals. The leader has to be proactive in shaping the culture in a way that supports the vision.”
It’s why, upon taking the job, Bazemore made culture an immediate priority. Bazemore and his leadership team hit the road, performing town-hall-style meetings throughout every region in the company’s footprint. He talked with employees about the company’s finances, future brand growth and some of the other areas of interest and concern for employees.
The meetings were meant to address the surface issues. But Bazemore and his team had a deeper motive. He wanted to create an ongoing dialogue that would help build trust among all levels and geographies in the company, and subsequently aid in refocusing and strengthening the culture.
“This was all about how to build a sustainable culture that would make us a healthy company for the long term,” he says. “We felt like there were parts of the culture that we really needed to build on in order to make the company a success.”
Once the round of town halls were complete, Bazemore and his leadership team gathered all of the information they had accumulated and took it to an off-site management-level meeting, where they analyzed the input and began to structure a series of pillars around which the culture and vision for the company would be constructed moving forward.
The end product was what Bazemore calls the “four big bets.”
“They define four things,” he says. “They define how we’ll select and develop our employees. They define how we’ll serve the needs of our customers. They define how we’ll produce unexpected growth from the two franchises that we work in, and they define how we’ll behave as leaders in the markets where we do work — not follow what other companies do, but actually act and play as a market leader.”
Once the four big bets were organized in rough draft form, Bazemore and his leadership team went back to the employees, holding a series of meetings Bazemore dubbed “quest meetings.” He presented the objectives for the company and the goal each objective was meant to accomplish. Bazemore then listened to round after round of feedback.
“We wanted feedback on whether we had gotten this right,” Bazemore says. “Were these the four things that would be really critical to the success of Janssen Biotech? The response back was overwhelming. I think, first of all, people were really delighted that we had created the four areas of focus. With a company as large and complex as ours, focus is very important. If you don’t find three or four things that you want to focus on, you really don’t have much of a focus at all. You have to narrow it down. But I think people also agreed that those four areas were the right four areas to focus.”
Leadership frequently checks in on the organization’s progress with regard to the four big bets. Bazemore and his team review the objectives and what has been accomplished relative to them. It is an opportunity for the Janssen Biotech leadership to take a snapshot of the company as a whole, and learn on the job.
“We’ll check in and ask ourselves what we have learned along the way, because these objectives are still relatively new for us as a company,” Bazemore says. “We’ll talk about where we’ve been successful, what those successes have yielded and what we want to accomplish for the rest of the year. They’re very open conversations that we have as a leadership team, and about how we’re doing against those objectives. We come back to the fact that the four big bets aren’t a short-term initiative for us. We recognize that in some cases, it’s going to take a longer term for us to fully realize the vision.
“The other thing that is big about this is now, since we are a part of the Janssen family, these four big bets are also tied directly into the strategic imperatives for Janssen Pharmaceuticals. So we create absolutely no confusion about what the priorities are.”
Build from within
As the leader of the company, you set the wheels in motion regarding the future direction of the organization. But you can only generate so much momentum by yourself. Which is why, on top of promoting and reviewing the cultural imperatives himself, Bazemore also emphasizes the need to hire and groom more cultural change agents throughout the managerial ranks of the Janssen Biotech system.
“One of the things I’ve learned as a leader is that one of the most important decisions you will make is regarding the people you select to help run your business,” Bazemore says. “It is one of the most important areas in which you can spend time, because your people will set the direction for their teams and they are the ones responsible for hiring the leaders that will run the individual parts of the business.”
Bazemore has hired about 60 percent of his managerial-level team members, which has given him an opportunity to construct a team of people who embody the traits that he wants emphasized in the Janssen Biotech culture.
“I look for, in terms of criteria in hiring new members of my leadership team, diverse business experience,” he says. “The U.S. health care environment is changing faster than I’ve ever seen, and some of the issues I’ve never dealt with before. That’s why I’ve seen the value in hiring people who have experience that is complementary to those who are already on my team.”
To find the candidates with which you’ll be able to build the best possible leadership team, you need to not only find the best possible resumes, but also ask the best possible questions in the interview process.
“When I’m asking questions in an interview, I’m not only looking for results, I’m looking for how they got to those results,” Bazemore says. “I’m looking for the process they followed. That tells me about their judgment, their process for thinking through things, for putting together lots and lots of information to get to a decision. Do they have a standard way of sifting through lots of complex information and quickly get to a point where they feel comfortable making a decision?”
Bazemore’s cultural principles, and his largely self-constructed leadership team, have helped Janssen Biotech remain a key cog in the Johnson & Johnson machine, rolling out an assortment of new drugs in the immunology and oncology fields. However, building a leadership team that can sustain and promote a culture isn’t a one-time task. Even a reliable leadership team of self-starters needs maintenance — and some people will inevitably depart for other positions, so you will need to find replacements.
Bazemore says you need to make your leadership team an area of focus from your first day on the job, and always continue to make it a priority.
“It has to be an area of focus for any leader,” Bazemore says. “You can’t short-change yourself on that. One of the key things I’ve learned is that no leader, no matter how well-intentioned they are, can run an organization by themselves, and expect to remain healthy and growing. You need a leadership team around you that shares your vision and your passion, and has the skills and abilities to run that business. Because if you’re not there and key decisions still need to be made, you want to know those decisions will be made in a way that will benefit the business.”
How to reach: Janssen Biotech Inc., (800) 526-7736 or www.janssenbiotech.com
The Bazemore file
Born: Savannah, Ga.
Education: B.S. in biochemistry, University of Georgia; MBA, Tulane University
First job: I grew up on a farm, so my first job was everything that goes along with working on a family farm.
What is the best business lesson you have learned?
That a leader has to have a vision and passion for what they do, and the trust of the people around them. With all of that, you can accomplish amazing things.
What traits or skills are essential for a leader?
After having gone through selecting a number of team members, I’ve found that the ability to develop a good alliance with other team members is critical. Those alliances will help you get through the worst crises. You also have to have integrity. There is simply no substitute for your integrity, and it will follow you no matter the circumstance.
What is your definition of success?
For me, it’s the ability to have a noticeable, positive impact while doing something you enjoy.