Bold Leadership in Uncertain Times
Keynote Address, Indiana Chamber and Butler Business Accelerator ExecConnect Series
Sr. Vice President and President, Diabetes Business Unit — Eli Lilly and Company
June 10, 2015
Thank you, Brian. I’d like to thank the Indiana Chamber, the Butler Business Consulting Group, and all of the sponsors of ExecConnect for the invitation to join you today.
I’m happy to have this opportunity to talk about leadership and decision-making in times of uncertainty. Bold leadership, I believe, can change lives and change communities. And, as you’ll hear today, it can also change the course of history.
First, I will share my personal thoughts on good leadership and what it looks like. Second, I’ll provide a few examples of leadership in action from both past and present. Finally, I’ll suggest a way that we all can practice bold leadership right now for the benefit of our community.
When I started thinking about giving this talk, I made a short list of the qualities I’ve seen and admired in good leaders. I tried to winnow the list down to a single quality, but I ultimately settled on three: passion…determination…and vision. And great leaders, I believe, have a mix of all three.
The best and boldest leaders have a real passion to make a difference. They care deeply about their work and the people it affects … and their sense of caring helps them to make courageous choices when the stakes are high.
Determination is about firmly pursuing our goals and objectives and not easily being discouraged. It’s about tenacity, grit, and oftentimes courage.
And vision is about having a sense of what’s possible. Leaders with vision exude confidence and optimism.
A favorite leadership story of mine includes all three of these qualities. The story comes from our rich, 139-year history at Lilly … and it starts right here in Indianapolis. In fact, it started about four blocks from this very spot.
On Christmas morning of 1921, a Lilly scientist named Alec Clowes left his family to board a train at Indy’s Union Station. The train was bound for New York City, where Clowes would catch another train to New Haven, Connecticut.
What motivated Clowes to take this trip? And to miss Christmas dinner with his wife and two sons? It was a meeting that he felt was too important to pass up.
The meeting, held just a few days after Christmas, would feature a presentation by researchers from the University of Toronto who believed they had found a way to isolate a hormone that eventually would be known as insulin. The team believed this hormone could be used to treat diabetes – which, back then, was usually fatal.
If the team’s findings were valid, Clowes knew that someone needed to manufacture insulin on a large scale. He wanted that someone to be Lilly.
Clowes had learned of the Canadians’ work only a month earlier, and he himself was still a relatively new Lilly employee. So it took no small amount of courage to propose a collaboration between the Toronto researchers and Lilly. But that’s precisely what Clowes did. After hearing the scientists’ presentation, he sent a telegraph back to Lilly headquarters that simply said, “This is it.”
I sometimes wonder what it might have been like to be in Alec Clowes’ place in 1921. What drove him? Was it ambition? Scientific interest? A shrewd business sense? A vision of the possible? Probably all of the above.
But I also believe Clowes was motivated by his humanitarian spirit. He knew that the world desperately needed an effective treatment for diabetes.
At the time, the only way doctors could prolong the lives of people with diabetes – including very young children – was to put them on a starvation diet … and that cruel regimen seldom worked for long.
Clowes himself was no stranger to serious disease and its tragic consequences. Just a few years before he came to Lilly, he and his wife had lost their three-year-old son to leukemia.
So, Alec Clowes had passion on his side when he took that train from Indianapolis on Christmas Day. He had a vision for what Lilly could accomplish by teaming up with the university scientists.
And he certainly needed determination – lots of it – to achieve his mission. The partnership did not come together easily. In fact, Clowes was initially turned down by the Toronto researchers: coming from academia, they were unconvinced about the benefits of partnering with a commercial firm. Lilly was a large, American company while the researchers were from Canada and believed a smaller manufacturer in Toronto could make all the insulin that was needed. In a nutshell, the research team had no reason to trust Lilly. It took Clowes six months to convince the scientists that making a complex medicine that had never been manufactured on a large scale was a process best entrusted to Lilly.
Clowes had some convincing to do inside Lilly as well. He worked to persuade the company’s management to bet on what originally was a limited, short-term partnership with the Toronto researchers. This was no easy task. Lilly was just emerging from a recession following World War I. There was no guarantee that a one-year commitment would generate much business success, and the full potential of treating humans with insulin was still relatively unknown. But Clowes – and his passion for this new medical innovation – was able to convince Lilly’s leaders to move forward.
Thanks to his tenacity – and his courage – Lilly became the first company to make insulin commercially available to a desperately waiting world in 1923. And we’re still doing it today.
More than 90 years later, I am honored to lead Lilly’s diabetes business, which has helped millions of people with this disease. Even now, our top-selling medicine is an improved, faster-acting version of the insulin we introduced in 1923 … and it’s now used in more than 100 countries.
Lilly is a major player in the diabetes space. In addition to our insulin family of medicines, we’ve had six new treatments approved by regulators over the past 12 months. We aspire to be the world’s leading diabetes company … and, in fact, we’ve set the goal of becoming the industry leader by 2020. Our passion for making a difference continues to inspire us as we move toward this goal.
Sometimes, people talk about the discovery of medicine as an abstract idea that evolves from a scientific challenge. But improving and saving the lives of people with diabetes is embedded in our heritage at Lilly and, in fact, is a fire in the belly for thousands of our employees around the world. Far from abstract, treating diabetes is very real and tangible to us. In fact, the names of more than two dozen people who have used Lilly insulin for at least 75 years are inscribed on a treasured monument at our downtown campus.
This motivates us. It affects us deeply. Patients give us our passion and a sense of purpose—and that goes for every Lilly scientist, manufacturing specialist, marketer and salesperson. Making life better for people with diabetes – and, in many cases, helping them to live – drives our sense of purpose even when the going gets tough.
I don’t have to look back very far in our history for a keen example of this, because the past four years … from 2010 through 2014 … were the most challenging period in Lilly’s history.
During this time, Lilly lost one-third of our total revenues due to patent expirations for some of our most important medicines. It is no exaggeration to say that the losses were severe enough to put our survival as an independent company at risk.
Our plan for navigating through this period was another example of leadership in action. Our objectives were to keep our independence…to ride out the toughest years … and to return to a path of growth by 2015. Most important, our plan was to stay focused and to remain a company that uses scientific discovery to make life better for people everywhere.
Executing the plan was not easy. The past four years have been filled with difficult decisions and tradeoffs. But with an eye toward the future, we managed to maintain our commitment to innovation and keep our R&D programs moving. Between early 2014 and today, Lilly has seen seven new medicines approved in major markets for cancer and diabetes. We’re launching many of those medicines right now. And, our late-stage pipeline today is one of the strongest in our history.
And our diabetes business continues to grow. Today we have the broadest and most comprehensive diabetes-care portfolio in the industry … and we are literally investing billions of dollars into our business. That includes nearly $500 million in newer manufacturing investments right here in Indianapolis. With more than 380 million people worldwide estimated to have diabetes – a number that is expected to jump to 600 million people over the next two decades – this expansion is critical to our business and the people we serve.
As I said, executing our plan to get where we are today was painful at times. It required our leaders to take some calculated risks, to demonstrate courage, and to have a vision for a better future. It called on employees to make sacrifices. Earlier I used the word ‘grit,’ and I certainly saw a lot of grit and determination from my colleagues. What I saw, in fact, made me extremely proud to be part of Lilly.
Now, I’ll shift gears somewhat and end my remarks by talking about leadership that benefits our community … including the role each of you can play in this critical area.
So far I’ve talked mostly about Lilly and the business of making medicines. I’ve shared examples of how bold leadership – and, specifically, the qualities of passion, determination, and vision -- have helped us succeed in uncertain times.
But our identity goes beyond the medicines we make. Alec Clowes knew that, and today the Clowes name is synonymous with the arts and culture here in Indianapolis. Clowes understood – and, of course, the Lilly family did as well – that a company like ours has an obligation to lead in the community.
Our long tradition of giving back to the places where we live and work is part of who we are. Today, we are going about this tradition in a very dynamic way.
For the past four years, we’ve focused less on traditional philanthropy and more on aligning our capabilities with urgent social needs. Using the concept of shared value, we’re working to affect social good through smart business practices. We’re lifting communities by using all of our skills and resources: from charitable giving … to volunteering … to providing valuable services to nonprofit groups.
Sometimes the concept of shared value requires us to take a stand on important issues. Any of you who remember the Lilly of 20 or even 15 years ago knows that this is a big change for our company. We used to do all we could to stay out of the spotlight. But one area where I believe we’ve been visible and constructive is in working to make Indianapolis and Central Indiana a more inclusive, welcoming, and fundamentally stronger community.
Our business agenda here is pretty transparent. Our employees are citizens, too. They care deeply about our schools, crime, and other quality-of-life issues. We want our employees – and our business partners, our neighbors, and our customers – to have the best possible opportunities to live fulfilling, productive lives.
So, in March, it was important for us to take a stand on RFRA – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the legislation, but the bill clearly created an environment that was bad for the community, and bad for business – including our ability to recruit and retain global talent. We advocated fixing the legislation, and we were glad to see subsequent actions by the state legislature that began to re-establish Indiana's identity as a welcoming place.
In our statement on RFRA, we noted that the act diverted attention from important issues such as economic development and education. I especially regretted the loss of focus on education because, in my opinion, nothing is more basic to a community’s strength than children who are safe, secure, and thriving.
For Lilly to thrive, the community has to thrive. The Lilly family recognized this early on, and today we put our weight behind important issues when we believe we can help the community.
For instance, the Lilly Foundation has long supported efforts to strengthen public education in Indianapolis through the Indiana Science Initiative and nonprofit groups like The Mind Trust. Last year, however, we took our commitment a step further with a major investment in early childhood education.
Decades of research show that quality pre-K education drives long-term benefits such as stronger school performance, reduced crime, and higher college enrollment. In fact, an investment in high-quality preschool can yield a return of $16 for every dollar spent.
So when Mayor Ballard last year proposed a plan to provide free preschool education to children from low-income families in Marion County, Lilly mobilized. We committed $10 million to support the program if the mayor’s plan passed – $2 million of our own, and another $8 million that we would raise from the business community.
We then worked with the United Way of Central Indiana and other community and business leaders to gain passage of the plan … again taking an active and visible role that, only a few years ago, would have been difficult to imagine.
Now, thanks to bipartisan action by the City-County Council, more than 1,000 preschoolers from at-risk neighborhoods will have the chance to participate in pre-K this fall. They’ll gain social and academic skills that can set them up for long-term success. In years to follow, more and more children will benefit from this program.
If you have not done so already, I urge you to join the many businesses that are getting in on the ground floor to support the Indy Preschool Scholarship Program. Fundraising has gone well, but we still need to raise about $3.5 million from the business community to meet our targets. Your involvement, in any amount, is greatly appreciated… and I’m glad to put you in touch with the right people if you are ready to act.
Helping our youngest citizens to get a good start in life is a wise investment. It’s about as visionary as you can get. Your leadership in this critical area can be one more validation that Indiana is a forward-thinking state … and a great place to live and work.
If Alec Clowes had not boarded that train on Christmas Day in 1921 … if he had not made it to New Haven and seen the incredible opportunity that lay ahead … and if he had not persuaded a group of academic researchers that Lilly was the right partner at the right time …. it’s hard to say how things might have turned out.
I’m certain that the world would still have insulin today, and I know that another company would have been quite happy to bring it to market. But if Clowes and Lilly had not been part of the story … things would be different today for Indianapolis, and for Lilly. In fact, without Alec Clowes, I wonder if Lilly even would exist today – at least as we know it.
So I think it’s fair to say that a leader like Alec Clowes, a leader with passion, dedication, and vision, can change history. That’s pretty impressive.
With that in mind, I encourage each of you to aim high. Lead boldly. Use your mind, your heart, and all of your skills. You absolutely can make a positive difference in the world. And that’s certainly something worth aiming for. Thank you.
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