The IESE MBA Is Preparing Young People for High Management

Novartis CFO welcomes focus on entrepreneurship and agility in change at 50th anniversary event in Basel

10/06/2016 Basel

Harry Kirsch (Novartis)

Harry Kirsch, CFO Novartis: “You need to love change to win in business.” / Photo: Mathias Leemann

Professional progress is contingent on a sense of purpose. And it’s the soft skills – the ability to manage yourself as well as others – when aligned with a real purpose and passion – that deliver significant impact.”

Harry Kirsch, CFO of Novartis, recently addressed IESE alumni in Basel, Switzerland, to mark the 50th anniversary of the IESE MBA – a celebration that dovetails with the pharma multinational’s own 20 years in global healthcare.

“Careers are marathons and they are sprints,” said Kirsch, making reference to the central tenets of the IESE MBA. “Change – and the ability to manage it – are key requirements.”

"You need to love change to win in business."

And change has certainly defined Novartis strategy over the last three years.

You Need to Love Change

A top down overhaul of the organization has seen the multinational streamline its portfolio into three business lines: pharmaceuticals, eye care and generics. Businesses that are today supported by a centralized services group.

“We were very division-focused before the review, with each division managing its own accounting, development functions and supply chain. We’ve embraced change to keep divisions focused on customer and patients, while leveraging the large size of our company in manufacturing, development and shared services to boost efficiencies and productivity.”

And it’s a move that has paid off, says Kirsch. Despite the generic version of its massively successful cancer drug Gleevec hitting markets in January, Novartis is still showing sales growth of one percent in constant currencies in Q1 of 2016, while the new structure is expected to generate an additional savings of $1 billion by 2020.

“The portfolio transformation took us from six to three divisions” says Kirsch, referring to the “precision M&A” deal with GSK, Eli Lilly and CSL. “(...) a move that increased the focus of Novartis on innovative medicines, eye care and generics.”

“In business you need to love change, because change is permanent. Innovation cycles in healthcare are five to 15 years. And 2016 is a transition year for us.”

Successfully navigating change, says Kirsch, means having a governing sense of purpose, or mission.

Being a Trusted Leader

“We work in an interesting space, where changing life expectancy and population represent a huge societal challenge. Our strategy is built on going after the unmet medical needs and developing differentiated products that have clear healthcare and patient outcomes,” says Kirsch.

“Being a trusted leader, and having solid values are very important to us. We have a clear mission to discover new ways to improve and extend people’s lives.”

Novartis CFO Harry Kirsch

The concept of business as a service was echoed by Professor Franz Heukamp, associate dean of the IESE MBA programs, who co-hosted the evening with Kirsch in the Novartis global HQ and campus.

“One of the central tenets of the IESE MBA, and across our portfolio of executive education programs, is a humanistic view of business – business as something done by and for people. That to be successful in business means managing yourself as well as others, generating trust and safeguarding your integrity and the integrity of your organization.”

Embracing Entrepreneurial Thinking

Heukamp outlined a number of key developments in the MBA program designed to equip graduates with the tools to manage globalization, adopt a general management perspective of business to improve multi-dimensional problem-solving skills, and a long-term sense of business and their own careers.

“This year we have strengthened our offerings in innovation, team management, self-management and entrepreneurship. It’s our aim to prepare young leaders to take action, to see business problems from different angles and to have confidence in their decision making and judgement in a complex, global context,” says Heukamp.

Kirsch welcomed this approach and stressed the need for young business leaders to embrace entrepreneurial thinking.

“Agility in terms of change, managing yourself and others, passion for leadership and people development, that will take people from mid-level to senior management.”