Merck Group’s Internal Management and Leadership Program

Since joining Merck in 2013, I have had a variety of experiences, learnings and development opportunities. Some of them were crucial to gain a better depth in a specific disease area or function, others were incredibly important to widen the range of my knowledge across business sectors, therapeutic areas and functions. As David Epstein describes in his book “Range”, “The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization.”-  I would like to consider myself a generalist and I think that constantly finding the right balance between width and depth in all of our professional experiences is key to enable knowledge transfer between domains and to ultimately drive innovation.  

The unique thing about Merck is that it’s an incredibly diverse company with very different business sectors, customers, products and business models, all united by a common pillar: Cutting Edge Science and Technology and the strong commitment to human progress. The Healthcare business is helping to create, improve and prolong life by researching, developing, manufacturing and commercializing pharmacological treatments. The Life Science business is serving the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries as well as academia with products and services to help them throughout the research, development and manufacturing processes. The Performance Materials business says “It is diverse itself as the colours of the rainbow” and is offering liquid crystals and OLED materials for displays, materials for integrated circuits and effect pigments for coatings, just to name a few applications. Gaining experiences beyond my sector (healthcare) and field (commercial) has been a key element that helped me strengthen my Merck identity, build a strong network and widen my “range” of knowledge across domains. Two particular experiences helped me achieve that: Working in Merck’s internal management consulting unit (Inhouse Consulting) supporting leaders across the entire spectrum of the organization on a variety of topics and participating in Merck’s International Management & Leadership program (IMP). I would like to talk about the latter.

Merck’s IMP exists since nearly 25 years and is a development program designed to increase participants readiness for future leadership roles with expanded scope at mid-term. Around 25 select individuals (HR calls them “talents”) from across Merck business sectors and regions nominated by the business and HR leadership are empowered and embark on a journey to strengthen their core leadership capabilities, to build a cross-divisional understanding and network as well as to create a strategic impact on Merck’s key innovation fields and priorities. The 9 months journey is structured around 3 core modules taking place at different Merck sites and with a dedicated focus. The first module “leading yourself and others” is comprised of learning events around leadership behaviour and team performance and typically takes place at Merck’s US site near Boston or at its Headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. The second module is all about “leading a business” by doing a business simulation showing the impact of strategic decisions and understanding drivers of financial performance and how decisions at different functions impact each other and ultimately the business of Merck. The last module allows the participants to optimally prepare their presentations to the Executive Board of Merck and Senior Leaders of the company on an innovation topic they have been working on since the beginning of the program. I was very humbled and extremely thankful to the senior leadership of the global franchise at that time for the opportunity to participate in the IMP cohort 2018/2019.

The leadership program has been a truly rewarding experience which prepared and helped me to assume increasing responsibilities within the global Cardiovascular, Metabolism and Endocrinology franchise. I would like to highlight 3 areas which expanded my “range” through new cross-divisional exposures and experiences:

Network & identity: In highly diversified companies we all struggle with clearly defining our corporate identity. Am I working for Merck Healthcare? Am I working for the Merck Group? Am I working in one particular Business Unit or Franchise? The IMP was an outstanding ground to make all doubts disappear while strengthening only one single identity: The ONE Merck identity built around the core of Science and Technology. All divisions, functions and geographies, all professional backgrounds from scientists, production, marketing, HR to business development and venture capital were represented in the IMP program. We learnt about each other’s roles, businesses and products. We had a number of conversations with senior leaders, we visited different business sites, manufacturing and laboratory facilities of Merck – we truly learnt to look at all businesses through the lenses of Merck, trough curiosity. But we also learnt what made us similar beyond products and services – Merck’s culture, values and leadership behaviours. I realized that we all share and embrace very similar patterns around curiosity, passion for science, respect and ultimately a strong purpose of contributing to human progress.

This not only has strengthened my identity and network within Merck, it also showed me the innovation potential of our portfolio and the impact we create in the world as curious minds dedicated to human progress.

New frontiers of science: Merck’s businesses might serve different customers through different products and services, but oftentimes these are built around common science and technologies and fall into one overarching innovation field. My team and I had the privilege to deep dive into the wide space of synthetic biology, more precisely looking at one of the most promising fields in the life science industry: Cell & Gene Therapies. We were asked to connect the dots, look at this through the eyes of Merck as opposed to one single division and come up with concept and business models how cross-divisional collaboration could result in better serving of our customers and the life science community altogether. The project made us talk to a dozen of leaders across the business to find out what we are already doing today, what needs to be improved and in what areas we would need to acquire new and potentially external capabilities. I was for instance not aware that Merck is a pioneer within the area of gene editing with its portfolio for CRISPR genome “scissors” which plays a key role in helping to develop new therapies.  I also was impressed to find out that we are already manufacturing gene therapies, more precisely the so-called viral vectors that help to deliver the genetic payload into patient cells to produce a therapeutic effect. Other teams focused on 3D printing, broader access approaches to Fertility treatments and many other exciting fields and challenges the world is facing.

The experience has helped me personally learn an entirely new field (expanding my range), deepen my understanding of Merck’s unique capabilities in Cell & Gene therapies and surprised me once again how incredibly broad positioned we are. Following our final presentation to Merck’s Executive Board, I am still in contact with many colleagues from the company to understand the progress we are making in this field, despite not directly working there.

Leadership: Every one of us has its own way and preference of how to act as a leader, how to influence people and colleagues, how to unite a team behind a strong purpose.But I think leadership styles are to some degree influenced by the culture and the history of each company and one of the areas we explored during the IMP is: What leadership behaviours Merck believes in and what kind of leadership behaviours does it want its leader to embrace. Why is it important? What does “putting science at our core” really mean? The self-reflection and engagement with my colleagues have helped me to connect my personality traits with Merck’ leadership behaviours and sharpen the way I want to lead or to be led. Also, it made me realize how fortunate I have been with the leaders I already worked with and how empowering they have been towards me.

The IMP program has been instrumental to help shape our careers. Already during or shortly after the completion of the program, some of our colleagues/peers have assumed new roles with substantially more responsibilities and it was incredibly interesting to see the diversity of career pathways we all took on. One colleague from my team moved on to lead the entire Controlling APAC team for the largest business unit in the Life Science division, another became Head of Communications for all the commercial operations and country affiliates in Healthcare. Shortly after completing the program I assumed additional responsibilities within my previous unit/franchise co-leading a major go-to-market transformation initiative in Europe, driving the global strategy for a portfolio of legacy brands and ultimately pioneering Digital Health within our therapeutic franchise. Today, I work and lead in a more consciousness way, embracing the values and behaviours of Merck, I try to collaborate much more and truly leverage the network and expertise of Merck as a company often reaching out to colleagues from completely different businesses and sectors. I can think of a number of examples where this has led to new ideas and concepts, especially when it comes to the field of Digital Health and customer engagement.  As a cohort of the IMP, we still stay closely in touch and try to meet as often as we can.

I try to stay curious and constantly expand my “range”.

About the author

Lev Goldin

Lev Goldin

Merck Group, Director, Global Cardiovascular, Metabolism & Endocrinology Franchasie

Lev Goldin is currently a Director in the Strategy & Portfolio Expansion team of the global Cardiovacular, Metabolism and Endocrinology franchise of Merck. In his role Lev is leading the go-to-market model transformation in Europe, pioneering Digital Health and driving strategic decisions for the legacy portfolio of General Medicine Classics.

Lev joined Merck Inhouse Consulting in 2014 and has worked on a number of consulting assignments across Healthcare and Life Science businesses, spending also a portion of his time in the US to support the commercial launch of an anti-PD-L1 immunotherapy in a rare type of skin cancer.

Since 2016, Lev is with the global CM&E franchise where he first worked on an expansion initiative in the fields of Diabetes and Cardiovascular therapeutic areas and assumed later additional responsibilities in the areas of Digital Health, Customer Engagement and strategy for a portfolio of legacy brands.

Lev studied Political Science/International Relations in Germany and Spain and earned a Masters/MBA from EADA Business School in Barcelona and the University of Edinburgh Business School in the UK.

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