Guillaume ROULAND is an Alliance Management Director R&D within the Oncology Division of Servier since September 1st, 2018. Before that Guillaume, Pharm. D., has acquired a comprehensive experience of 20+ years of pharmaceutical management and partnerships across various positions within the Servier Group, as well as through senior Business Development responsibilities in several fast-growing French pharma businesses.

About the Speaker

Ahead of the 10th Annual Strategic Alliance Management for Pharma conference, we spoke with Guillaume Rouland, Alliance Management Director at Servier

Selecting the right team and allocate the right profile to a project is key in running a successful partnership. Could you explain a bit more which set of skills is needed from the Alliance management function? How can one identify Alliance management skills linked to specific projects’ needs?

All in all, Alliance Management has been put at the forefront of companies’ development tools quite recently. It is for just a little bit more than a decade that the “Partner” of the famous triad well known by CEOs “Build, Buy or Partner” has really been acclaimed as a pivotal tool to developing businesses. Therefore, historically, and still nowadays, doing partnership was/is thought to be possibly accomplished by just anyone who has some business knowledge. In a recent international Alliance Management event, we could hear freaky but persistent feedbacks from the C-suite about Alliance management like: “a dead donkey could do the job”! It is so untrue! Alliance Management is a combination of accurate soft-skills and hard-skills which, put together at subtle dosages, will make Alliances and partnerships successful. 

Allow me to take your question the other way around and to not answer on which set of skills is needed but rather on which skills are not needed and try to sweep out some very common false assumptions:
First wrong assumption: business development will do the job. Yes, it can but likely not in a very successful manner. The reason is simple: in companies, business developers are the soldiers while the Alliance Managers are the diplomats. Business Development Managers have fierce commercial sense and skills to close deals within the best delays with the most favorable terms for their companies. They are under pressure of short-term achievements and once the deal is closed they immediately move to something else and will likely not see their negotiating counterpart anymore. Alliance management is just the opposite. They are working on long-term relationships, of course, they need to have good negotiation skills, but such skills must always be used bearing in mind that the value created by both companies is balanced and can be maintained over time. They are not managing one-shot deals. In most of the cases, they will still be there a few years after the negotiation and will remain accountable for the success or failure of the Alliance. They need to keep a perfect sense of justice and equity and to be sure that the decisions they take will survive over time. Alliances have also this characteristic that there is not a Party controlling the other. There is a governance and processes to follow for decision-making but, usually, no ascendency of one Party over the other. Hence Alliance Managers need to have pretty good administrator skills, I mean the capability to manage in complex situations but always within the framework of clear rules (namely the contract which is the Law of the Parties). They need to have influencing skills and a strong assertiveness or power of conviction as they can manage by influence only. Finally, Alliance is also about trust. So, the probity, integrity, and reliability of Alliance Managers must be exemplary. 

Second wrong assumption: the project manager will do the job. Indeed, especially in most of the small or medium entities or biotechs, project Managers are doing the job because their company cannot afford to have a dedicated Alliance function. Usually, it works but it is never ideal. It is not ideal because project managers are at the same time the judge and the jury! Project managers are evolving in the depth of the project with perfect knowledge of all its aspects and a strong endeavour to coordinate their own project troops. The main assignment of project managers is to make their company project work. Project managers are, by nature, genuinely turned towards the “internal”. Consequently, most of the time, their judgement can be biased by the internal project objectives which sometimes can be contradictory or detrimental to the Alliance objective. On the contrary, Alliance Managers need to have this distance from the project allowing them to have a more critical perception, a birds-eye perspective over the partnership. Their role is not to please their management but, when it’s needed, to provoke the adjustments of the project to catch-up the Alliance joint objectives. Their duty is to have a neutral and objective analysis of the Alliance, to optimize the partnership's efficiency (which their company will benefit from) and not totally and always take the party of the company they work for. Part of the Alliance Manager's job is also to escalate internal insufficiencies at a senior management level. And to be capable of this, Alliance Managers must have, again, high diplomatic skills but they also need to be recognized within their company as trustworthy, for their fair judgement, and they need to have a very good experience in corporate politics! 

Now to the point of having the most adequate profile of Alliance management depending on projects: if your company can afford it and you have a pool of Alliance Managers, it’s simple to get the good dosage of soft skills and hard skills to get the best chemistry with a given partner. For instance, if you need an Alliance Manager for a strategic partnership between two big pharmas you will favor the corporate profile, the one who is used to work in a very processed environment and with high political skills. If you are a big pharma partnering with a biotech you will need the agile one, ideally with some experience in small companies, the one who knows how different the perception of time could be between big corporations and small listed fast-growing biotech companies. If it is about academics partnering, then the scientific background can be an important parameter as it often goes with credibility, for example, vis-à-vis universities. Last but not least the cultural gap is obviously tremendously important to consider: it’s trivial but working with a Japanese company requires personality features which are not the same as when working with mid-east or Asian companies. What we are also more and more seeing are partnerships, like in the oncology field, belonging to the same ecosystem, and evolving like in a network, with different level of inter-independencies among the different Alliances. In such case, it can be judicious to nominate the same AllianceManager to manage this network of Alliances so that to better control the mutual impacts that such Alliances can have on each other (e.g. as per IP obligations or constraints). Finally, when companies cannot afford a dedicated function, part-time AllianceManagers (either coming from BD or Project management) are always better than nothing but one must have in mind all the cons mentioned above and try to mitigate them. 

In what ways can you develop the Alliance management function internally?

The starting point is to get an endorsement from the C-suite. If your CEO is a master in M&As and only sees Alliances and Alliance management as a necessary pain because, for example, the cost of money is too high for him to do what he does best (buying other companies) then you are in trouble. The C-suite must have a minimum of faith in what Alliance management can bring to their companies. I would say it is today a no brainer for big pharmas but smaller companies or biotechs may not have this culture yet and would only perceive Alliance Managers as a kind of “messengers for bad news”. It is then a constant battle to sensitize senior management to the fact that leading a partnership to success is to be carried out by professionals. To achieve this, Alliance Managers must work with HR and internal communication, promote the role and function internally, put in place metrics that are sufficiently visible to show to the rest of the company the achievements that have been accomplished, and, above all, not hesitate to “trumpet” the successes! I would also add that there is a quite good momentum those days to reveal the value of Alliance management in companies. Indeed, in some extend, Alliance Managers are the pioneers of modern management. Let me explain: by essence Alliance Managers manage by influence with no authority, they master the art of conflict resolution, they have a high sense of accountability and responsibility, they work in a matricidal environment, they have developed this sensibility of equity and justice which are key to maintain confidence, trust, and long-term commitment from their partners. Isn’t it what HR Managers are trying to obtain from their Managers in most companies at this very moment? Actually, some say that Alliance Management should be an obligatory experience in a General Manager's career.

What does it take to turn an AM Manager into a leader?

Consistently with all my developments before the role of Alliance Managers, it is clear that Alliance Managers are more “low profile” leaders. They are somehow working in the shadow: advising here, influencing there, negotiating amendments that are not always super-strategic.  Their role of orchestrator may not appear so visible because, again, they manage with no hierarchic power but with influence only. However, there are circumstances where Alliance Managers must really show strong leadership skills. Typically, in crisis management, Alliance Managers are the cornerstone of the coordination of the mitigation plans because they are the only ones with such an intimate understanding of the partner’s interests and the knowledge of what is really at stake for him. They need to lead the resolution across all line-functions (internal and external) and remain the main point of contact with the partner throughout the whole crisis. Other situations where Alliance Managers must show leadership are for example termination management or re-launching. When an Alliance terminates, the Alliance Manager must federate all the stakeholders (Legal, IP, manufacturing, commercial…) not only to negotiate the termination terms but also to implement them up to their very details like the IT constraints to manage the transfer of data in a confidentiality manner or the shipping of some remaining products. When the common Alliance goals have drifted too much it could be the time for a re-launching process. When this situation comes up, only the Alliance Manager has the legitimacy and the background knowledge to dig into the underlying issues that have driven to this drift, to propose and make adopt by both partners a new vision, and to coordinate all the tactics to achieve the new goals. I would say those are events where the leadership, which is latent in every and each Alliance Managers, is exacerbated and tested in real life. But besides those “natural” events that reveal the leadership skills, training is of course of utmost importance. Like for specialists of disaster management who all year long are rehearsing and organizing drills to be the best prepared for the moment when a catastrophe does occur, Alliance Managers must constantly train their leadership skills in role-plays, case studies, or training peaks.
Ultimately, with experience and training, Alliance Managers can become Alliance leaders and can manage their Alliances from A to Z. With full responsibility for the Alliance strategy, a mandate for implementing any transformation deemed required, coordination of all stakeholders, and follow-up of results and achievements. But for this ultimate leadership role to be achieved the most important is probably to make sure that the Alliance Manager gets the full support of the C-suite. To be an Alliance leader (actually an influencing leader) Alliance Managers must be fully empowered by their senior Managers, they must have a privileged channel of communication with them, a good knowledge of the corporate strategy, and total mutual trust. Because it is all about the credibility of the Alliance Manager.

What do you expect to get out of the 10th Annual Strategic Alliance Management for Pharma?

As I have tried to explain, Alliance Management is really about dealing with complexity in extremely moving environments where threats and opportunities for the Alliances can come from all the different fronts: the internal, the partner, or the external environment. All situations and geometries of Alliances are different because there are so many parameters to manage in an Alliance: the size of the companies, the type of companies (public, private, listed, not listed…), their nationality, their culture, the resources, the strategy, the type of project, the C-suite priorities etc. We can only improve ourselves by sharing experience, meeting, and debating with our peers. This is the only way to achieve professional excellence. It is also particularly crucial to share good practices that hopefully will become norms or standards based on which it will be even easier to work in partnership in the future. When all Alliance Managers will have the same vocabulary, the same metrics, the same processes, in other words when the Alliance capabilities will be fully “compatible” across companies, then a huge step will be made in the profession! In this context, the 10th Annual Strategic Alliance Pharma event is the perfect forum to reach this objective!

Copyright © 2020 Marcus Evans. All rights reserved.

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Strategic Alliance Management 
for Pharma

15-17 June 2020
Amsterdam, Netherlands 

An interview with Guillaume Rouland, Alliance Management Director at Servier

About the Conference

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Tel.: +357 22 849 404
Fax: +357 22 849 394

This 10th edition marcus evans conference on Strategic Alliance Management for Pharma will focus on demonstrating the value and role of alliance management, strengthening the skills of alliance function, aligning the right resources and projects, integrating into global portfolio strategy. Internally, we will have a closer look at business development functions, integration processes, and third party-procurement involvements; externally, we will focus on adapting quickly to a diversity of partners, new business models, fast processes and multiple challenges that may occur in the life of pharma agreements. Come and join us for the only dedicated Pharma Alliance conference in Europe!

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Guillaume Rouland
Alliance Management Director

10th Annual