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Mylan exec builds culture of leadership

Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson | March 9, 2016
Former CIO Michael Smith focused on succession when transforming Mylan’s IT organization. It worked — and it could continue to pay dividends.

In December 2012, when Michael Smith arrived at Mylan, company leaders were plotting a new three-year strategy to fuel continued growth. The $9.8 billion generic pharmaceutical maker had already come a long way from its humble beginnings as a West Virginia-based drug distributor, but there was much more to come, including some aggressive M&A plans.

But Smith knew the IT organization was not on the right footing to execute on the assertive strategy. He had to retool the team. He had to build brand-new capabilities. He had to essentially rebuild the department’s culture from the bottom up.

One other important priority: Find his own successor.

That might sound a little crazy to some. Leaders talk about the importance of succession planning, but far too few actually put coherent plans in place (while many others, obviously, have no say in their successor). Smith did so while building his senior team and transforming the company’s IT operation — and in the process, he started a leadership development cadence that could yield Mylan’s IT leaders for years to come.

“Succession planning is obviously a big part of what I stand for. It’s a moral obligation to the corporation to have great succession planning,” Smith said. “It’s a moral obligation to your team — to let them know where they stand, to be open and transparent, to remove politics, and help explain why people get certain assignments.”

As he began settling into the role, Smith, a 22-year veteran of Nike’s IT organization, assessed his new responsibilities and quickly recognized he needed some new blood in the senior ranks. To oversee day-to-day responsibilities for his key areas — IT, global business services and information security—he was able to recruit senior executives from AIG, Amazon, Aviva, Costco, Estee Lauder, Nike and Ranbaxy, one of Mylan’s biggest competitors.

At the same time, he made a commitment to Heather Bresch, Mylan’s CEO, that his team would stand up new capabilities that would prove pivotal to executing on her three-year strategy. With even more key additions to his team, Smith built up operations in architecture, digital, innovation, enterprise business analytics and more.

The culture issue was a little trickier. A few years before Smith arrived, Mylan made two acquisitions that helped catapult its growth: India-based Matrix Labs in 2006, and Merck’s generic drug division in 2007. When he assumed the CIO role, Smith saw plenty of the overall Mylan culture — “relentless” and “passionate,” in his words — in IT, but he also found two subcultures. One existed among the many workers who had been with Mylan since before the acquisitions; the other, in the new talent brought in following the transactions. The incumbent group was more change averse, while the newer workers, who had spent their initial time at the company heads-down on integrations, tended to be more reactive.


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