Roch Doliveux : Heads or Hearts. Which Will It Be?

rochSpecial report contributed by. Kerry-Jane Lowery, Writer, Photographer & Journalist

GENEVA, 02.05.13. It is a Wednesday evening and Dr Roch Doliveux (INSEAD MBA ’81), Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Executive Committee of UCB (pictured left), a leading global biopharmaceutical company with its headquarters in Belgium, is at the Hôtel Métropole in Geneva to share his views on how companies can contribute and deal with society at a higher level and lead the animated discussion that follows.

“It took me twenty years to realise something really quite simple, ” Doliveux owns up to his audience from INSEAD, IMD and the Harvard Business School, “Just how important the societal contribution of any corporation is to its own success and to its role in society.”

In the past eight years under the leadership of this Doctor in Veterinarian Medicine with numerous awards and positions on the boards of multiple corporations and associations across the world, UCB has transformed itself from a diversified group to a focused patient-centric biopharmaceutical leader recognised for its attractive growth prospects and rich pipeline.

A Soft Spot For Descartes

Doliveux goes on to ask which course impacted the audience most at INSEAD, with the majority agreeing on Organisational Behaviour with its focus on performance. The speaker acknowledges this, albeit putting the emphasis elsewhere too. “The key factor for long-term performance is somewhere else that covers both the heart and science,” he explains. “Corporations with strong societal values have a better chance of performing over the long term in a sustainable way and superior fashion than their competitors.” So this ‘soft’ point leads paradoxically to very Cartesian results and a measurably superior performance.

Are You engaging With This?

According to a 2012 Gallup Survey, only 19% of Americans have ‘some’ confidence in corporations…. politicians fare worse with only 10%. Given this, it is left to business leaders to comprehensively address this fundamental issue. One of the ways forward is acknowledging that high performance companies have engaged employees, but given that only 1 in 5 employees around the world is engaged according to a study by Towers Watson, this lack of purpose reflects directly on the company’s sustainability. “86% like their job, but only 1 in 5 is engaged… this is appalling,” Doliveux exclaims. “What must we do to engage our workforce, which is one of the best predictors of sustainability?” The way we communicate as companies reflects this lack of sense of purpose. Where’s the passion?

Are You Inspired By This?

“Who inspires you?” Doliveux asks the room. “What is the one word that best describes that person?” Passion wins and with it the acknowledgment of the need for business leaders to determine the sense of purpose of their companies and businesses. Did you come up with Passion too?

The turning point for Doliveux came when Michael Porter talked about the societal value of companies and demonstrated through a study that those with a strong sense of purpose had a superior stock evaluation and fewer stock variations over time. “The key is that every element of your strategy, of your decision making process and of your talent management has to fit this sense of purpose,” he explains.

Then Walk the Talk!

For UCB the key defining moment was when people really believed that they were serious about being patient centric. “If you deliver superior performance to your patients you do so to your shareholders too,” Doliveux says. ‘It’s simple really.” UCB demonstrated its commitment to being patient-centric by walking away from an opportunity that would have brought €30 million to the company, which really needed it at the time. But that one decision could have destroyed the company’s reputation, its sense of purpose would have been questioned and years of work to build up this trust would have been washed away.

Within nine months of joining UCB Doliveux agreed with the board on this notion of patient-centricity, which the board did not really understand. But they did understand that the company was going to focus on selected serious diseases in which UCB had a competitive advantage and that all decisions were going to be driven by the question: Does it deliver superior value for our patients and if not then we will not do it?

The company works very closely with the patient in terms of making them the starting point as opposed to beginning with a blackboard. “Always start with the patient, always,” he says. The physical contact with the patient or the family is the first step but it is important to realise that it means different things to different parts of the company. Patient centric in research has a lot to do with genomics, in manufacturing it has to do with designing medical utensils, like syringes, that patients can use despite their limited movement. Understanding the patient needs from a different angle takes time but is very rewarding for all involved. All these different elements make the company patient-centric.

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