Headliner: Novartis' Joseph Jimenez

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Joe Jimenez isn't interested in lamenting the state of the industry. He's focused on one thing: adapting Novartis to thrive in a mercurial environment.

“We're not going to complain—we're going to change,” Jimenez says. “Long-term prospects are incredibly positive if you can find a way around short-term negatives, such as regulatory challenges, tougher pricing, shifting customer base, and generic competition. My objective is to position Novartis to win.”

Jimenez took the pharma division helm in Basel, Switzerland, last October, having joined Novartis in April as head of consumer health. He spent 22 years at consumer companies, including H.J. Heinz, as president and CEO of North American and European business; ConAgra, as president of two operating divisions; and The Clorox Co., where he began his career after receiving his MBA from UC Berkeley. Jimenez served as a non-executive director of AstraZeneca, and was an advisor for Blackstone Group before joining Novartis.

“It's great to have someone who grew up in a different industry because he's in no way constrained by the past,” says Mike Nohaile, head of strategic planning, Novartis pharmaceuticals division. “He's interested in where we are now and where we're going.”

Jimenez is driving change in development, sales, productivity and culture. “Historically, development decisions were made in a vacuum,” he says. “They were made functionally as opposed to cross-functionally. Making decisions led by scientific development professionals with cross-functional support will help us bring drugs to market faster and with a greater chance of regulatory success.”

Novartis is “geo tailoring” its sales force to fit particular markets. In “closed markets,” like Minnesota or the UK, sales teams engage payor organizations that dictate what's prescribed. Jimenez's consumer experience helped inform the adaptation. “When the consumer packaged goods industry consolidated, retail players had greater influence on what was purchased,” he explains. “It shifted into key account management as opposed to transaction management.”

 “The old Big Pharma model would be ‘one size fits all,'” Jimenez continues. “Having senior people up against providers in closed markets is a much different job than traditional sales people have done. They're more general managers, and we've found talent internally. Where physicians are making decisions, we'll stick to the traditional model.”

Increasing productivity helps insulate against price pressures, and it frees up more funds for development and marketing. By streamlining and reducing layers teams must go through to execute, he says the company is “not getting stuck in the bureaucracy Big Pharma is famous for.”

Nohaile says Jimenez is good at challenging basic assumptions. “He'll look at things—capital structure, inventory levels, or whatever—and question why we do it that way,” Nohaile explains. “Sometimes we have a good answer. Sometimes we say we do it that way because we've always done it that way. Often, he's able to point out [a better way].”

With FDA approval of Galvus stalled, focus is on a spring EU launch. “We [will] continue to attempt to get the product into the US using data we have from the rest of the world,” he says. “I don't want to engage in a 20,000-patient study that takes three years and hundreds of millions of dollars without the guarantee of getting it into the US. FDA approval is too uncertain to make that kind of investment.”

Jimenez, a collegiate all-American swimmer and team captain at Stanford University, says competitive swimming built inner strength that he still draws upon. “I used to tell exhausted teammates that ‘sometimes the only way out is through,'” he recalls. “We know the way through and just have to execute to the end of the season.”


Joseph Jimenez

Chief executive officer, Novartis Pharma AG



Advisor, Blackstone Group



Non-exec. director, AstraZeneca



President, CEO, NA-Europe, H.J. Heinz Company

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