Life Sciences

Sanofi transforms to attract talent as Biologics takes off

Laura-Katrin Seitz has only been in her current role as global head of HR for biologics at Sanofi for nine months, and she has hit the ground running from day one. In its first year of operations the biologics platform has filled 100 senior roles, with half of those requiring external recruitment.

Interviewee: Laura-Katrin Seitz, Vice President, Global Head of Human Resources for Biologics, Sanofi

Sanofi is looking for a step-change in Biologics, and is strengthening its biologics platform to deliver a range of new products over the coming years. Biologics is the most promising growth area in modern medicine. Conventional pharma products are expected to see declining market share by 2020, whereas biologics are predicted to almost double in sales over the same time frame and to account for more than half of the top 100 drug products.

For Seitz, the recruitment challenge is to raise the profile of Sanofi in a nascent market for the brand. She says:

“When people think about a career in biologics, they probably don’t think about Sanofi. We are now starting our efforts to get the word out about the exciting pipeline of products we are developing, and the opportunities there are here to really make an impact. Someone can make such a visible difference so quickly if they come to Sanofi with the right experience in the biologics space.” “

The company plans to launch a range of new products over the coming years.

For Seitz, the role is the latest in a number of HR leadership positions in the healthcare industry, most recently at Roche, where she spent nearly a decade.  She held responsibilities as Global Head of HR for Pharma Development, Research, Technical Operations and Finance/IT/ HR/ Legal & Communications at Roche/Genentech before taking on her current post, and in the past spent three years she was the regional head of HR responsible for Asia, Africa and Australia at Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-headquartered privately-owned pharma company.

She says: “I have seen the whole value chain within Pharma/Biotech, and I’m probably done with any other industry now. I’m passionate about our business and for the way it makes an impact on people’s lives. It’s that purpose, along with the people I work with, that gives me a kick and makes me work hard.”

Despite a background in the industry, though, she has found there has been a steep learning curve to climb: “In HR, you always want to better understand the products,” says Seitz. “What makes these therapeutic antibodies so complex? And what are the pathways within the human body? I always strive to be close to my colleagues to understand the products, but it is certainly a challenge.”

It’s not the only challenge, as the newly created Biologics division is still to build its brand and recruit talent. Of the 100 posts filled so far, around 35 have been senior roles in manufacturing and supply chain in one of Sanofi’s Biologics hub sites around the globe. “In the biologics space, whether you are talking about manufacturing, quality or supply chain, talent is scarce and everybody wants the best and most talented people,” says Laura. “There is acute demand in the labour market for certain profiles, not only the more senior, but also for many of the more junior roles. Everyone is now jumping on biologics, which will be more and more important in the future.

The plan foresees continued hiring into bio-specific fields, so the immediate challenge is to raise the profile of the company and its biologics platform. Attracting the right people is hardest in the Northeast of the United States, Seitz says, but not easy anywhere.

The good news is that the stars of biologics tend to be happy to relocate: “At the senior level, most of the talent is highly mobile. We are recruiting them globally, so many are relocating around the world, either within Europe or across oceans,” says Seitz. “We offer quite a lot of flexibility, so people can choose whether they would rather be in Frankfurt, locations in France, or Boston. If you give people choices, that helps you address individual needs and attract good people.”

After nine months heavily focused on the sourcing and attraction of biologics talent, the next step for the Sanofi HR team is to shift in to talent management and development, in order to build a leadership bench and help employees develop careers that span more than one function in the company.

Diversity is a big topic on Seitz’s agenda: “For me, it’s key to innovation,” she says. “Our business is built on innovation, and we all know that diversity of the workforce is an important driver of that, so we want to get better at it.”

Getting better means more than simply improving the gender balance of the organisation – Seitz and her team are looking closely at diversity of cultural backgrounds, education, experiences, work styles and personalities. “It is about diversity in the very broadest sense of the word,” she says.

In her view, there are two levers that can be used to make a difference: the first is about embedding diversity & inclusion into all people practices, and the second is mind-set. On the first, more thought needs to be given to who is asked to join leadership development programmes, who gets opportunities for senior leadership team exposure, and how flexible working can be used to address individual needs. Changing the mind-set can be more difficult, and centres around self-reflection and awareness about the biases we all have – most often unconsciously. Laura says: “All shortlists for our key openings need to show a diverse mix of candidates, and we don’t always achieve that ambition. We are always clear that the best candidate will get the job at the end of the day, but our commitment to diversity will help to gradually shift the paradigm.”

She says there is nothing that keeps her awake at night, despite the challenges of her role, and concludes: “One thing I really reflect a lot about is the huge potential of our product pipeline, with major launches coming over the next years, and our ambition to become one of the top players in Biologics. All this requires a huge sense of urgency. We are part of Sanofi, a company of over 110,000 employees, and as we make our way into a strengthening the Biologics platform, we need to move very quickly, so that we can launch those products at the times we promised our patients.”

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