By Irene Silber, journalist and communications strategist
Photo credit: LinkedIn
Jamie Heath is Managing Director in Deutsche Bank’s Global Healthcare investment Banking group, providing strategic and financial advisory services to Life Sciences clients. He has 20+ years of M&A and financing transaction experience across large cap pharma, specialty and generics and diagnostics.
Ken founded and leads The Vanguard Network, which works directly with CEOs and develops senior executives through Vanguard Forums. In advance of the next Forum for Healthcare Leaders on November 28 and 29 in New York City, where Jamie was on the faculty, they discussed the critical role of leadership in building the company brand and transforming organizations.
Describe your ideal, “investible” CEO – one who can drive change and create value.
Jamie: There’s no secret sauce and no substitute for long-term exposure to an individual and company. But we look for flexibility and willingness to listen to others. A great CEO creates a culture around her, listens to the right voices. She’s prepared to look inward into the organization and ask, “how do I, as a leader, bring it out of them?” Creating that culture is a signal of incredible management.
Ken: First is having courage, and this is different than being dogmatic. It means facing the unknown. Second, being willing to dive deep in the organization and listen. Third, go outside, and not just to investors. What are customers saying? What’s going on in other companies? CEOs are not encouraged to do that because there’s no time. But the best ones make sure they are in touch with the real world.
Jamie: The concept of the echo chamber is incredibly important. Unfortunately, it’s often attached to alpha male behavior: “Come on team, embrace the agenda, fall in line.”
Today, changes and challenges are coming more rapidly from unforeseen directions. Leaders are not prepared for them by education or even work experience. They can’t just follow the orthodoxy that corporations are often set up to provide. They need to bring the outside in and listen to unfiltered feedback. That’s even more important now because of the rapid technological and political changes. It’s like the biology of evolution: as the environment changes, we must adapt.
How do you read between the lines of reports and conference calls to find such a person?
Jamie: There are no shortcuts on this. In order to understand an investible opportunity, mirror what hedge funds are doing. They go exceptionally deep into the heart of a company. It’s the only way to find a winner. There’s no clear set of signals, but there are clues within the reshaping of management teams and announcements of strategy.
Leadership is something that plays out culturally, over time. You can get a good impression quite rapidly one-on-one or in a small group. Are they listening – actually hearing – or just giving you the message that they want you to have?
Ken: You can learn a lot in even 10 or 15 minutes with a senior leadership team. Listen and watch them. See how the CEO handles having others in the room. Does he like to show how smart he is? Does he motor on, or bring in the others? Look at the non-verbals. EQ as well as IQ is a huge plus. Seeing mainly IQ and bravado should be a warning sign.
From your perspective, what are the ‘do’s of great leadership? What are the don’ts?
Jamie: Willingness to listen to others is an absolute prerequisite. You are not listening when you are talking. Assemble the right team around you. That is the single, most telling indicator. In order to achieve true leadership, bring those voices together so they can be heard.
Comes a point when you need to nail your convictions. You must have the courage to do that at the right time. This requires both instinct and judgment.
Ken: Strength of character and humility are essential. Don’t become seduced by the position. You will be surrounded by sycophants. People inside the company will laugh at your jokes. Break through what surrounds you. When you are new to a senior role, it’s really easy to believe you are right all the time.
What’s an example of great leadership creating great value?
Jamie: Value is created when the CEO has set up a team whose perspectives can be heard and can be challenged. Shoot something down. Say no. Know if your team is too internalized.
It’s an ongoing process of creating value every day in every decision. In M&A, you are spending a lot of money to buy a business and you don’t know what the outcome will be. That’s when the value is created – months and years in advance. Don’t put the chips down on the table unless you know the odds when you walk into the casino.
In our sector, we’ve seen deals that were heavily criticized at the time. The transactions didn’t make sense then but turned out to yield fantastic results. Sometimes leaders have to take decisions that fly in face of conventional wisdom. They have to stick it out, embrace controversy, and be prepared for criticism. Sometimes they have look critics in the eye and stand firm.
Ken: I recently had an interesting conversation with a CEO who said he spends the majority of his time asking what his team things, suggesting who they might talk with. He said: “I make only major decisions -- about three or four a year. The rest of the time, I try to stay out of the way. It takes a lot of discipline.”