Headliner: Genentech's Len Kanavy

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Genentech VP, commercial operations, Len Kanavy was surprised, humbled and honored to receive this year's honorable mentor award from Healthcare Businesswomen's Association.

“I just try to do the right things for people and stay honest to my beliefs,” he says.

Kanavy lives by the tenets of servant leadership (detailed in the book by Robert K. Greenleaf), and his mentoring philosophy is rooted in the knowledge that personal and professional lives are inextricably linked.

“If you always put your team success first, everything else will follow,” he says.

Kanavy, who joined Genentech in September 2006, after 18 years at Novartis, has more women leaders (six of seven) on his team than any other team in the company.

“He has taught us not just about management, but about true leadership,” says Elizabeth Jeffords, Genentech director, market planning. “It has been a true blessing to work for him. I have thrived under his tutelage, and he has celebrated my successes.”

Carol Wells, senior director, commercial training

& development, adds, “Len is very big on personal accountability. A leader who doesn't hesitate to take responsibility and accountability is a rarity. You feel like you're in it with him every step of the way. He backs you verbally and emotionally and sets a great example of accountability.”

Kanavy says he strives to create an environment that brings out the best in people. “[I'm] not giving all the answers or pretending I have all the answers,” he says. “One of the best questions I learned was, ‘What do you want to do about that?' It evolves into [employees saying], ‘Here's what's going on, and here's what we want to do.' Nirvana is getting an email that says, ‘Here's what happened, and here's what we did.' It's getting people to feel comfortable with their own abilities and decisions.”

Wells adds, “It's such a positive and empowering environment in which to work, and it really brings out the best in people. He has eliminated trepidation about being the best [we] can be.”

At 17, Kanavy went to work rounding up carts in the parking lot at an IGA grocery store in Taylor, PA. He took over as general store manager in 1986 and stayed until graduating from University of Scranton with a BS in management in 1988. Given the “somewhat limited” career options in the grocery business, Kanavy joined Sandoz as a sales rep (a position his father held for 25 years). His brother and sister were also Sandoz reps, and Kanavy, who had a background in biology, loved being able to combine his love of science and business.

“I enjoyed calling on doctors and getting the sales,” he says. “I tend to be competitive. It was fun to convince a doctor that a product was the best choice for patients.” 

Kanavy earned his MBA and moved up to VP, business analysis and VP, commercial operations, and Sandoz evolved into Novartis. Kanavy's mother had a hand in helping him see the value of standing by employees in times of need. “My mom got very sick and [Sandoz] handled it really well,” Kanavy recalls. “That was very important to my family, and I saw the loyalty that resulted. I take that into the way I handle life situations. It pays huge dividends to handle them with respect for individuals and make short-term adjustments.”

Jeffords cancelled a business trip to New York after her young children became ill. “I didn't feel bad at all,” she says. “Len is very supportive of both [my personal and professional life].”

It's no surprise that Kanavy says there's nothing he'd rather do than watch his children (ages 14 and 19) participate in “whatever interests them.” Of his many business accomplishments, Kanavy is particularly proud of one realized at his Novartis goodbye party. “There [were] hundreds of people, and I could look at every person and remember the project we worked on and also when someone's mom was sick or when someone had nanny problems and needed to leave at 2:00 every day for two months,” he says. “It was very humbling to have that many people say goodbye and to be able to know them at that level.”—Tanya Lewis


Len Kanavy

HBA's 2008 honorable mentor



VP, commercial operations, Genentech



Sales rep to VP, commercial operations, Novartis
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