The Next Generation of Biopharma Talent at Novartis Turkey

I am always excited to explore the depth and diversity of the generations, especially how their ecosystem has shaped their thought process. In my previous articles, I deliberated on the values that bridged Gen X and the Millennials. Here I want to discuss Millennials further, specifically looking at the demographic cohort born between 1981 and 1996. In many ways, Millennials are different from their preceding generation, Gen X. They are born in the era of information ubiquity. They enhance their cognitive abilities as they are part of the highly connected world. The advent of the internet in the late ’80s, growth in aviation in the ’90s, and the explosion of social media around the same time made Millennials global netizens. Their ability to rapidly process data is exponentially more complex than that of their preceding generation at similar stages of upbringing. It is no wonder that they took ownership of their lives, their social ecosystem, their planet and their destiny much earlier than Gen Xs. As we speak, a revolution is happening out there. Millennials have almost taken over corporate leadership and they are bringing a change in the corporate culture at a rapid pace. The good news is that the change of guard is making a positive impact on the society, business and the environment. They are curious, they are inspired and they want the freedom to make decisions. They value equality more than their social status. Equality is their core value. The death of George Floyd shocked the world but it shocked Millennials and Gen Z more. They were able to put aside their differences because at that moment, preventing atrocities against all African-Americans was a cause almost all got behind. They were truly concerned about the social divide and the unrest it created. Millennials are the custodians of diversity and inclusion hence, it is truly exciting to attract and nurture this generation in the corporate world. The Curious, Inspiring and Unbossed culture at Novartis is just the ecosystem Millennials are looking for.

My journey with Millennials
I arrived in Istanbul in October 2017. This was our 7th country in our lives as expatriates and these last 15 years of my expat life have been rich and fulfilling. We built an entirely new organization in Vietnam with the first ever liberated generation of Vietnamese. When I landed in Manila and later in Bangkok, my teams were getting packed with Millennials, who were armed with smart phones and active on social media. Though still a minority, the Millennials in my Malaysia team brought me face-to-face with the generation clash. I was still a proud Gen X manager, full of myself with ‘I know best’ attitude, privileged to sit in the swanky office on the top floor of our office building and sharing stories of struggle and wins in my life. I hardly noticed the raised eyebrows and skewed eyes. Obviously, the first year of my Kuala Lumpur stay was nothing but self-discovery and I spent next two years there learning to be at peace with Millennials. The next assignment was in Basel, Switzerland and it totally flattened my Gen X ego. The regional role exposed me to a plethora of Millennials from Turkey to Australia. I started taking the Millennials seriously. In fact, by the time I arrived on the shores of the Bosporus, I had become an avid explorer of the Millennial mind set. Like many of you, I have a Millennial in my house. He is 22, a late millennial and an early Gen Z. By design or default, no time was lost before we were an unstoppable force and an immovable object in a war of attrition. The credit, however, goes to my Millennial. He made me more curious, open and cleaned my slate to explore the Turkish Millennials. Since then it has been a phenomenal journey getting to know them over the last 3 years. Novartis Turkey is proud home to 50+ % Millennials and Gen Z. More than 90% of our new recruits are Millennials and Gen Z.

Connecting with Millennials in Turkey
The more and more I explore the Millennial thought process, the more I discover how much more I should know. With the transformative innovation, we strongly believe in Novartis that we could bend the curve of life. Our purpose is to reimagine medicine, improve and extend people’s lives, and to do so we have to reimagine how we work. We need inspired associates with curious minds whom we would offer freedom to think, empower to innovate and equip them to lead. To achieve all that, I as the leader of Novartis in Turkey, am prepared to invest and create a conducive work culture. I have recently embarked on an Unboss Leadership Expedition to find my true worth and my true north. Though I have been imbibing all the learning around me, I still need to shed some Gen X inhibitions hindering my leadership journey. I am proud to have a reverse mentor who is a ‘Gen Z’ thought leader. She has been connecting me to her world. She prepares me for networking events, helps me get acquainted with new digital tools, shares aspirations of their generation and keeps me grounded. During the Lunches with Millennials, I actively listen to their sharing. I normally meet them in pairs and these lunches have generated some incredibly thought-provoking ideas, some of which we have actively implemented. One of the ideas was to reverse the decision tree. Hence, we set up an Innovation Board. Our Innovation Board is a free club of Millennial thought leaders who churn out innovative ideas to improve connectivity with our patients and stakeholders. They have rolled out many digital initiatives, one such digital tool being the Gold Circle. It has helped us to expand our reach to practicing doctors thereby bringing the cutting-edge research at their doorstep. Gold Circle is an end-to-end, omni-channel engagement platform that has revolutionized exchange of scientific information in Turkey. We turned the COVID 19 pandemic challenges into an opportunity by being Twice as Curious. Using in-house training and development modules and accessing training content from apps like Coursera each one of us in Novartis Turkey enriched our knowledge base and creativity. As expected, the Millennials took this opportunity with open and wanting hands. Novartis’ commitment of ‘Giving back to the society’ resonates well with Millennials. We are already planning various initiatives to reduce carbon footprint in Turkey and we will achieve our goal of changing our entire car fleet to electric cars by year 2030 or even earlier.

Our work place is inspired by Millennials
The entire leadership team in Novartis Turkey is the custodian of inspiring, curious and unboss culture. We have an open office with lots of open recreational areas. Before COVID, the entire office staff would congregate at our cafeteria for breakfast, lunches, snacks etc. This was a great opportunity for all senior leaders to meet the Millennials. Even though we worked-from-home on every Wednesday, during COVID, despite all the precautionary measures at office, we encouraged our colleagues to work more from home. As a part of Choice and Responsibility initiative, most of our colleagues may choose to work from home even after COVID. Millennials don’t like monotony. They like freedom of choice and yet they are very conscious and responsible generation. Though they would love to work from Starbucks, they would infuse the same intensity as they would work in the office. Soon we will have Activity Based Working (ABS) environment to break down barriers and flatten the organization further. ABS will give us an opportunity to create more recreational and open spaces in the office. We also dress for occasion. The day-to-day attire is casual with a zest of business, if needed. For last three years, we have focused on creating a winning, engaging and inspiring culture. We have been recognized and accredited as The Best Place to Work, The Top Employer of Turkey and Europe, The Best Place to work for Women and many more.

Attracting Millennials to Novartis
I have learned through my interaction with Millennials that they get energized by innovation, collaboration and freedom. They value equality and inclusion. They not only care for inclusive culture but they actively contribute to it. Our Millennial programs are designed to attract, retain and develop the best talents in Turkey. The Millennial Discovery initiative is a yearlong program where senior university students or post-graduates work on projects that involve training, coaching, mentoring and functional rotation. We conduct campus interviews every year in the top universities in Turkey to select these aspirants and we offer them full time or part time job opportunities if they wish to continue with us post project submission. If a Millennial continues to work with us for couple of years, they qualify for many deep engagement programs like Reverse mentoring, Innovation board, Executive meetings etc. As I said before, one such Millennial is my reverse mentor. Some of the high potential Millennials may qualify to enter the flagship talent development program ‘Fingerprint Club’. Fingerprint club is an award winning comprehensive talent development program designed by Novartis in Turkey. It has developed many talents who made their mark globally in Novartis. Since last year, Fingerprint club is also enrolling Novartis millennial talents from other countries like Australia, S. Africa, Morocco and now 60% of Novartis’ senior leadership team in Turkey are products of the Fingerprint Club. In our endeavor to return back to the society, we have launched Next Generation Women Leadership Program in 2020. The program has been developed in partnership with top universities to train and develop new generation female leaders. These various initiatives are steps of one broad objective which is to provide a comprehensive and career long leadership development frame work to Millennials and Gen Z.

Future of Biopharma with Millennials
Millennial talents are a rich pool of authentic and responsible young individuals who are already taking over business leadership from us. Many millennials have already proved their worth and they are making a significant impact on the Biopharma and Pharmaceutical industry worldwide. Biopharma industry is also going through a radical change. With the ever-increasing cost pressure, pricing challenges, regulatory and access hurdles and now COVID-19, it seems to be a bumpy ride ahead. But technology revolution powered by AI, augmented reality, block chain, neural networks and deep learning has opened new frontiers. AI is already helping us save time and cost at both ends of Biopharma operations viz. basic clinical research and operational efficiencies in sales and marketing. Being technology native does not mean using Iphones and laptops. My Millennial son has been giving me seminars on augmented reality and sending me congratulatory notes in Python whereas my 10 year old nephew has been selected by Oxford to learn AI coding under Mr. Ken Kahn. They are just symbolic representation of their generations. This is what the future of Biopharma needs. A Millennial or Gen Z is a package equipped with technological, social, environmental, psychological, cultural agility and acuity. All they need is the exposure and opportunity to deliver the impact.

I am excited for the future of Millennials in Biopharma and I am sure, we haven’t yet grasped the impact that the winning combination of this innovative industry and ignited minds would create for saving and extending millions of lives on this planet.

About the author

Avinash Potnis

Avinash Potnis

Novartis, Managing Director, Turkey

Avinash has been leading Novartis Pharma Turkey as Managing Director since 2017. He has 25 years of broad, multi-national experience in pharmaceuticals and he progressed through roles of increasing responsibility across different geographies mostly
within Novartis.

Avinash assumed the General Manager role in Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand and also regional role as Head of Ophthalmology Business Franchise in Basel, Switzerland. Avinash built diverse leadership teams and focused on global talent development. Through his career, he pursued critical global projects in competitive readiness and launch excellence.

Avinash is currently Vice-chairman of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Association (AIFD) and Board member of Swiss Chamber of Commerce.

He had been recognized as Top 12 Global Pharma Leader 2012 by Pharma Executive, USA.

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