Building a Magnet for Talent at Sanofi

Having spent my career working across various cultural settings, from headquarters, countries in the Middle East, US, Europe, Latin America, as well as Asia, including some of the key emerging markets such as Brazil and China, I have increasingly become more passionate about developing people, and learned a lot about what are some of the key aspects that lead to the success of developing talent across different cultural and organizational settings. Over the course of more than 20 years of leadership experience, I’ve found that while each country or region is unique and very specific in multiple aspects, many core principles hold constant when it comes to talent development.

Ultimately, I believe that successful business and talent development both rely on building a profoundly diverse workforce, reunited by one common culture in which teams and individuals have the freedom to innovate and are truly empowered to bring their best. This means allowing individuals and teams to meet the needs that they see in the market, and then backing that autonomy up with the support and resources that they need to succeed. Within this kind of environment, open cross-regional and functional collaboration then becomes critical to creating well-rounded individuals and teams that can effectively serve customer needs and achieve the company goals.

A Journey of Growing Business and Talent
Through my career, and from leading business in Europe to Turkey, Brazil and China, I learned what it takes to innovate in overall faster-moving, more ambiguous, and dynamic markets. While science and product innovations represent the foundation of our business, a truly innovation driven business is beyond product innovations alone. Sustainable success will also come through innovation in terms of go-to-market model, the way of working between teams, and the approach of how to put customers and patients better at the center.

Taking Sanofi Brazil as an example, as the origin of innovation stands always with people, we focused on two key drivers of innovation: diversity and collaboration.

At the beginning with an urgency to act, we focused on gender diversity, ultimately achieving a result of 49 % women employees at Sanofi Brazil, with more than 40 % women at management level, increasing 8 % versus before. This was accomplished not through quotas but a clear strategy, effective metrics and tools, such as ensuring a balanced pool of candidates, i.e. at least one female and one male candidate for any role. We also adopted a new way of working with more co-creation principles, with simple and yet meaningful activities such as bringing in two representatives from each business unit or function to co-design the new collaborative office according to their needs – and developing an open office plan for all employees.

Over the course of 3 years, Sanofi Brazil was transformed gradually and became a benchmark company both in health and innovation, one that people started to look up to in terms of innovation, allying with our patients, and developing our people. Sanofi Brazil was selected among the top 150 best companies to work and named as a Top Employer, both three times in a row. This was also translated in the consistently strong performance of the affiliate.

Moving to China at the end of 2018 offered me the great challenge and opportunity of building on the learnings of the past and yet acknowledging the different needs, culture, and priorities of China as a vibrant and dynamic market in order to build a best in class organization. China obviously has its own unique characteristics with a mix between a fully developed market and at the same time with a lot of attributes of an emerging market. China’s incredible market size (2nd largest pharma market in the world), very rapid innovation cycles, strong affinity to digital innovation, as well as dynamic policy changes bear both incredible challenges and opportunities.

In terms of talent, Sanofi China has by all means a very young employee population, with an average age of 32 years, and an average hiring age of 28! Hence, one has to engage virtually 4 generations within the same workforce. The combination of youth and the influence of growing up in such a large and rapidly developing market means that talents are fast to learn and eager to move fast. They are incredibly ambitious as well. Given these characteristics, it is critically important for a company’s talent development and retention to support people as they grow their skills and capabilities. This environment has also led us to making bold decisions with people development succession plans – taking smart risks, on those with strong learning agility and fitting into our Play to Win culture.

Consequently, we have focused on creating a magnet for talent strategy by investing in opportunities that attract and retain the best talents, while at the same time developing a culture, work environment and programs that can nurture their growth.

Investing in Opportunities for Talent
Successful organizations attract talent through enticing development opportunities, and successful talents spur further opportunities for both the company and new employees. We keep increasing investment in China for better health, and a better future – and in doing so we create opportunities for employees to achieve their ambitions and grow together with the company. We have focused on three core areas in direct connection with talents to drive our growth journey: 1. Medicines and product innovation; 2. Digital Acceleration with a profound change on the evolution of the go-to-market model; 3. Building a strong Play to Win culture.

At Sanofi China, we have accelerated innovation with 25+ new products to be introduced to the country by 2025. In 2020 alone, 6 new medicines, of which 3 best in class biologics, were introduced to China, covering major disease areas that are the most relevant for Chinese people, including diabetes, cardiovascular health, and atopic dermatitis. The prospect of working on these must-win priorities for the company helped attract smart and ambitious talent.

To double down on innovation aside of medicines launches, we have started to build stronger R&D capabilities in China, driven by a commitment to advancing science. Strengthening the approach of ‘Global for China’ with a simultaneous program development including China, complemented by a focused ‘In China for China’ bolt on, results in an increased ability to determine the trajectory in this market according to its needs. This ability encompasses the exploration, scouting including partnerships initiatives. As a consequence, the Sanofi Institute for Biomedical Research is going to be opened end of Q1 2021, which will include state of art research capabilities. The increased ambition in Biologics and specialty care also translates into an increased investment in world class manufacturing capability: we recently announced the expansion of capacity in our Beijing manufacturing site with a 20+ M Euro investment.

Meanwhile, innovation in the digital space is expected to be profound in the coming years, worldwide, and in particularly in China, where already the highest number of new unicorns are created. As we aspire to become the most digitalized healthcare company globally, we have started in China to be actively cooperating with leading technology companies and startups, to jointly embrace the new era of digital transformation, and become a leader in digital innovation in China’s healthcare industry. It’s also about unlearning of old habits, and embracing a more agile, fully customer-oriented culture. Having set up our innovation hub and organized 3 full scale hackathons represented a very rich and engaging experience for all our cross-functional teams.

Creating an engaging Play to Win Culture that Nurtures Talent
While opportunities and freedom to innovate help attract talent, culture and support structure help develop talent. Our talent development at Sanofi is built upon the foundation of a solid company culture that encourages employees to stretch to go beyond the level we have operated to date; to take action instead of being told what to do; to act always in the interest of our patients and customers, and to foster at its base a collaborative approach by putting the interests of the organization first.

Strong diversity in the workplace can be an additional multiplier in addition to culture that leads to more success for both people and business. At Sanofi China, we have 54% of senior managerial roles occupied by women, a result of a longstanding effort in gender diversity. At the same time, we have also focused on accelerating the development of our internal best talents, and as a consequence, our internal promotion rate has been increased significantly, indicating to talents that Sanofi is a place where they can grow, and that managers have grown within our company culture, making that culture even stronger throughout the organization.

In terms of developing well-rounded talent for a modern, global economy, we tried to complement the local approach together with a truly global approach with the initiative of “Ten in, Ten out”. This talent exchange program between China and global markets is key to long-term success, while supporting people to broaden their career paths. It ensures that people with China experience and strong knowledge of the China market can support to work out strategies and programs that drive China growth. Meanwhile, it ensures that key Chinese employees can gain rapidly a global perspective, with learnings from other markets to support the overall Sanofi objectives, and grow further.

The “Ten in, Ten out” program is an initiative that ties together many of my personal experiences overtime linked to talent development. My personal work experience across 3 continents has forged the conviction that exposure to different cultures and ways of working enhances tolerance on one hand, and stimulates innovation on the other, while bringing incredibly rewarding and eye-opening experience for the individual.

What is also important is to realize that career does not only mean upwards trajectories and promotions. Often, lateral moves and career steps across different functions, disease areas, and geographies can create better experiences that prepare key leadership roles than simply “climbing the ladder.” These experiences compound upon each other in such a way that an individual with diverse experiences can fill a role that is both critical to the success of a company, and one that is satisfying for his or her life.

Reflecting on my experiences, I truly believe in driving innovations in the broadest sense, including innovations in science, medicines but also the way we do business and serve our customers. And all these are only possible when we know how to effectively build a magnet for talent and develop people.


About the author

Pius S. Hornstein MSc PhD

Pius S. Hornstein MSc PhD

Sanofi, General Manager & Country Lead

Since March 2019, Pius leads the Sanofi China operation, the second largest market of Sanofi in the world with over 8`000 associates. Pius and his team are fully dedicated to introducing innovative medicines to China across a broad range of therapeutic areas including Immunology, Oncology, Cardiovascular, Diabetes and Vaccines. Aside of building an innovative portfolio, the entire organization works hard every day to better serve China’s fast-growing healthcare needs through driving a best-in-class digital innovation transformation. Pius and his management team are committed to developing people while fostering a company culture of diversity, respect and integrity, and making Sanofi China the real magnet for talents. He is also an active Board Member of the RDPAC (R&D-based Pharmaceutical Association Committee) of China, and among others, a speaker at the WEF Chapter China in 2019. 

Before leading the China operation, Pius was the Country Chair of Sanofi Brazil. During his tenure in Brazil, he built with the Brazilian team a high-performance organization with great diversity and gender balance, and implemented the highest ethical and integrity standards. Sanofi Brazil was selected among the top 150 best companies to work and named as a Top Employer, both three times in a row.

Pius has extensive experience in the healthcare industry. He joined Sanofi in 1998 and held a variety of key positions, including marketing, sales management and other strategic global managerial positions. He has successfully launched several major medicines and led the global team for the anticoagulant that is part of the World Health Organization list of essential medicines. He was Global Marketing Head Cardiology, General Manager in Switzerland, Vice President of Operations Support & Strategic Initiatives for Emerging Markets, and Vice President for the Turkey and Middle East Zone encompassing direct P&L responsibility for 17 countries. 

Pius started his career in the healthcare industry at the Cardiology Department of the University of Basel in a research collaboration with Novartis in Switzerland. He also worked at Servier, France.

Pius has a master`s degree in pharmacy and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Basel, Switzerland, with a PhD degree in medical research. He is also an alumnus of INSEAD and Singularity University. He speaks fluent German, English, French, and Portuguese. Pius is a Swiss national and is based in Shanghai.

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