PharmExec Blog

Q&A With Renee Tannenbaum

One major theme at the HBA leadership conference may be simple for industry to understand but difficult to accept: change or drown. But for Renee Tannenbaum, it was change that worked toward her advantage. And change, combined with her desire to drive improvement in patient care and meet unmet needs, is what led her to Elan five months ago. Today, she’s steering commercialization for the small biopharmaceutical company with a big vision in mind.

Pharm Exec: Tell me about your new role at Elan, and what the company’s expectations are for you?

RT: They asked me to come in and do something different with a vision: How can we build an organization that could learn from what pharma does well, but not replicate what is broken in the system, while taking advantage of new technologies and new approaches to reach customers and change behaviors. I didn’t have to tear anything down or tweak it; I could just start from scratch.

I can take the best of what has worked for other companies. That’s what makes it difficult for Big Pharma to change—they have it already build in the core infrastructure, so it’s hard to change mindset. It’s complex, but that’s what intrigued me about going to Elan. I could see what I wanted to change and now I had the opportunity to try.

Pharm Exec: What are the biggest challenges you must deal with?

RT: To bring in the right talent with deep functional expertise and breath of experience, and share a vision of creating a new virtual type of organization. How do I partner strategically with other organizations to do the work? I want to own the strategic thinking and decision-making, and then work with research companies and agencies to have them do the execution. So it’s mostly getting the right people.

Elan is a strong R&D company that understands the importance of commercialization. When I got here, they welcomed me and said “we need your help.” The challenge has been how do I cut myself in enough pieces to get involved to do everything that I want to do? If you come from a Big Pharma organization, not everyone can make that transition, so I need people who can do that and have the right mindset and flexibility to be innovative, while realizing that you don’t have to be perfect—80 percent or maybe even 70 percent might be good enough. When you don’t have enough resources, you can’t strive for perfection, so you have to make sure you answer the most critical issues; you must prioritize.

Pharm Exec: What advice do you have for emerging leaders? If you knew then what you know now about leadership you would…

RT: I would have taken more time to develop myself versus just trying to do a good job. It’s a problem that most women have. It’s easy to tell other people what to do. I give good advice to other people, but I didn’t have anybody to give me advice in the past. For women who are young and now have the opportunity to be part of the HBA, it’s incredibly powerful. You’re not alone in how you feel and have people you can talk to outside of work in a safe environment.

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