Work Culture at Eli Lilly: Interview

Work Culture at Eli Lilly: Interview main image

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly prides itself on its distinct work culture and diverse customer base, making it a truly global company.

Eli Lilly employs over 43,000 people around the world and markets its products in 146 countries. So how does it reflect the diversity of its customer base in its own management structure and how does this influence the Eli Lilly culture? Adrian Barrett puts the questions to Rafael Fernandez, Vice President of Sales - Primary Care and Sales Capabilities for the company's operations in the USA.

How have you arrived at your current position with Lilly?

I'm a Mexican by birth and was raised and educated in Mexico City. After graduating from university where I studied business, I joined Procter & Gamble as a financial management trainee. After a couple of years with them I moved to Lilly as a financial analyst. Lilly is an organisation that really believes in providing opportunities to move across functions to allow employees to broaden the range of their experience and this allowed me to enter the sales and marketing area after just a year. After two years in Mexico working on sales and market research, I moved to the US to join our international sales manager development programme, which led to me receiving an offer to become country manager for Portugal. I spent three years in Portugal and then transferred to the other end of Europe to become general manager of Lilly in Turkey. Two years later I returned to the US and became area sales director of eight of the western states, based in California. I then came to head office, here in Indianapolis, to head up all the support functions for our sales and marketing operations, such as administration, pricing and market research.

You've obviously moved around a lot during your time with the company. Is it essential to demonstrate this kind of mobility in order to "climb the ladder" at Lilly?

I've never felt forced to make any move - it's always been my choice to take up the opportunities the company can offer. Having said that, we are an organisation that operates on the worldwide stage and gaining international experience is consequently invaluable. You've only got to look at the background of the man at the top of the organisation, Sidney Taurel, our chairman and chief executive. A Spaniard, born in Morocco, he took his first degree in France and an MBA in the US at Columbia and has worked in Latin America, the USA and both Eastern and Western Europe. That sort of international exposure together with the mix of functional experience we encourage, creates managers with a truly global perspective.

How does the company approach the concept of diversity and how does this affect your business?

We're acutely aware that we need to reflect the diversity of our customer base in our own staffing in terms of colour, culture, age and gender. And, for a company like us that operates in 146 countries around the world, it's particularly important to reflect, not just domestic diversity, but diversity on a global scale. Here in the US, one of the ways we address this, is to work with a consortium of other Fortune 500 companies , to provide educational support to potential candidates from minority groups through practical initiatives such as scholarships. We also try to reflect the variety of Lilly people in the recruitment teams that visit major business schools - I, for example, work with a number of Hispanic MBA groups to demonstrate what can be achieved within the company - and we specifically target schools with high proportions of international students to ensure that we're drawing not just from a local, but from an international, pool of MBAs. We have continued to build our management diversity, not just in terms of nationality but also in ethnic mix, at all levels within the company - even among very senior management.

For example, the CFOs of both the US affiliate and global pharmaceuticals are African Americans and the Executive VP of Manufacturing and HR is a Hispanic who went to school in the USA. However we know that we still need to do more and that's why are developing some very aggressive initiatives to redress the balance over the next few years. My personal belief is that our commitment means we are on target to achieve a genuine reflection of our customer base and societies at all levels of the organisation at some point within the next five to ten years. We have one of the most globally diverse senior management teams of any company in the industry.

How would you describe the Eli Lilly culture?

Lilly is a very long-established company, dating back to 1876, and it still retains the strong Mid-Western values of its founder - a commitment to striving for excellence, integrity and taking care of people. This is a very teamoriented culture where we work hard to support individuals and develop talent through opportunity. It's one of the reasons why we've been named one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America for three consecutive years by Fortune magazine. Consequently one of the most important qualities we look for in a prospective new employee is the ability to combine standing on his or her own two feet with playing effectively as a member of a team.

We find that MBAs fit well into this environment and perform very strongly because business school teaches them the value of working in groups of individuals with a wide range of skill-sets and experience. We also look for people who genuinely believe in the products we are creating here and for evidence of ambition, although ambition based on realism - I still interview too many candidates who think that they can become CEO within five years! Lilly is a highly innovative company with one of the best pipelines of new products in the whole pharmaceuticals industry - we launched three new products in the last twelve months alone; something that very few of our competitors can match.

As an organisation we create products that effectively treat such major disorders as depression, schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis. We were the company behind such significant products as Prozac, which revolutionised the treatment of depression, Gemzar, one of the world's best selling oncology agents, Zyprexa, the breakthrough product for schizophrenia, and Humalog, the first commercially available DNA recombinant insulin product. The challenge we now face is how to maximise these new developments while sustaining the effectiveness of our existing business. We want to deliver "Answers that Matter" to our customers and to do this we need to have a diverse company.

As a leader in the healthcare sector we need to continue delivering value to our customers around the world - patients, healthcare providers and payers - and, perhaps equally important, we need to keep getting the message over that our products have a direct beneficial effect on society as a whole. The skills, experience and commitment of MBAs can make all the difference in ensuring that these two goals become a reality.

Source: QS TopMBA Career Guide

Written by QS Blogger

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