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Management training vital to the success of the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector

Cambridge Judge Business School’s Executive MBA aims to furnish senior executives with the knowledge and skills they need to take up a leading role in their organisations

Stefan Scholtes

The Executive MBA (EMBA) at Cambridge Judge Business School aims to furnish senior executives with the knowledge and skills they need to take up a leading role in their organisations. And to an increasing degree, it’s a programme that is finding favour with professionals in healthcare and the pharmaceutical sector.

Stefan Scholtes, the Dennis Gillings Professor of Health Management and a tutor on the EMBA, believes that the programme is ideal for top executives in these fields. Both sectors are going through a period of turbulent change, with old models of management proving inadequate for the realities of doing business in the 21st century. The EMBA fosters not just business knowledge but the adaptability and soft skills that are now proving essential to success.

More integration needed in health service delivery

In the case of healthcare, Scholtes identifies two particular issues that leaders are having to confront – integration and privatisation. On the former, he says: “A big challenge in health service delivery in hospitals and local healthcare systems is around integration of services. Given the increasing degree of specialisation in medicine, that’s becoming more and more complicated: services have developed away from the patient.”

Coordinating different expertise streams to achieve the best possible patient outcome requires the same leadership skills that are required at management level in any organisation, he believes. “You’ll have an expert in ‘a’, an expert in ‘b’ and an expert in ‘c’. What the patient needs is for all these experts to talk to each other, in a seamless process where everybody knows exactly what they’re responsible for. That’s the integration that needs to happen.”

Private sector participation

The other interesting question relates to the role of the private sector in medical care. “That’s difficult to handle,” he says. “People have ideological stances. What is needed is for professionals to be able to judge when private-sector participation is sensible, and should be embraced because it can drive efficiencies, and where it is dangerous.

What is needed is for professionals to be able to judge when private-sector participation is sensible.”

“As with integration, it’s something you need to think very carefully about. And in order to get an understanding, you need a formal business education. You can’t do these things on the back of an envelope.”

Medical leadership

Ian Abbs

A current student on the EMBA is Ian Abbs, Medical Director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. He has held a broad range of senior clinical and management positions, and joined the trust in 1994 as a consultant renal physician.

He says: “There’s a pretty good correlation between increasing levels of clinical engagement in leadership, and increasing the quality and performance of healthcare organisations. One of the problems, though, is that leadership is a bit of a broad term, and my own feeling is that we need to start to professionalise medical leadership.

“Many doctors have taken on increasing roles of responsibility and leadership but there’s not been the concurrent development of a set of tools or requirements that might qualify that person for the job.”

There’s a pretty good correlation between increasing levels of clinical engagement in leadership, and increasing the quality and performance of healthcare organisations.”

Abbs believes that an Executive MBA provides clinicians with the right skill set to bridge this gap – not just technical skills but “the self-awareness type of skills – the reflective thought – that doesn’t always come with a course in how to understand the balance sheet.”

He adds: “I think EMBA programmes are really powerful, and I chose Judge specifically not only because of the reputation of Cambridge, but for its good track record in delivery of technical and development skills – and its emphasis on reflective thought and management practice.”

Drug approval process needs to change

It’s a similar story with pharmaceuticals, according to Professor Scholtes. He says: “The pharma industry is equally well embedded in science and driven by professionals, and it’s running against a brick wall. The reason is that despite an ever-increasing amount of money going into research, the number of drugs that come out has not been significantly affected. More and more drugs fall off the patent cliff and are not being replaced by new ones that come along.”

Scholtes believes that the industry remains stuck in a mindset where all that mattered was getting regulatory approval – such as from the FDA in the United States – whereupon its development costs would be reimbursed sufficiently to pay for the failures of other drug projects. Today, with buyers seeking to cut costs and demanding ever-more stringent trial evidence, this simple model no longer reflects the reality.

“There’s an enormous pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to get out of this simplistic mode of just engaging with the FDA to get a drug approved,” he says. “You have to be far more savvy with your innovations in the industry now. You need to embrace the patient, the payer and the doctor, to embrace technology that goes beyond pure drug development – plus a lot of other variables that the pharma industry hasn’t woken up to yet.

“Again, I would argue that an exposure of the leaders of the industry to formal management education – and particularly in an environment like Cambridge, where you have all these stakeholders present – provides the right impetus for progress in that industry.”

Shaping scientists into business leaders

Lynne Murray

Lynne Murray would agree. Now Head of Biology at the AstraZeneca subsidiary MedImmune, she began studying on the EMBA in 2011. Previously, she was director of pharmacology at Promedior and a research scientist at Centocor (now Janssen Biotech).

She found the EMBA immediately applicable to her role at MedImmune. “More often than not, the course assignments relate directly to what you’re working on,” she says. “You look at your own company’s business model, look at your own approach to innovation and your marketing angle, which I think is great.

“The EMBA give me a chance to learn the vocabulary and culture of business – which for me, as a specialised scientist, was key.”

You look at your own company’s business model, look at your own approach to innovation and your marketing angle, which I think is great.”

In conclusion, Stefan Scholtes says: “When you look at these two sectors, the pharmaceutical industry and health-service delivery, both are dominated by professionals – scientists in the former case, doctors in the latter. And I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people without a formal grounding in management to cope with the challenges.”