PharmExec Blog

Pharma Complexity Is Leading to Loss of Profits

It will take far more than factory closures to simplify the pharma industry, write Melvin Jay and Professor Simon Collinson.

When pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced it was likely to close its West Sussex (UK) factory, it came as no surprise to the pharmaceutical industry — as Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Glaxo had done the same. While these closures can be seen as an attempt by these companies to reduce complexity within their operations, it will take far more than this to simplify the pharmaceuticals industry.

The Global Simplicity Index (GSI), which studied the 200 largest companies in the world, demonstrated that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most complex. It also found that geographical diversity is just one of many drivers of complexity. Addressing this form of complexity in isolation will do little to attack the overall problem, and a more rigorous and concerted attack on harmful complexity is needed.

The GSI proved that on average the world’s largest companies are wasting 10.2 per cent of their annual profits (EBITDA) each year due to bad complexity. Developed by the Simplicity Partnership and Warwick Business School, the study found that many companies are now too complex to perform at their best and are becoming slower to react to changing economic and competitive forces.

Complexity can initially benefit a business, as it develops methods for managing people and adds divisions, new processes, products and strategic initiatives. However, if left unchecked, these systems can proliferate and become over-engineered. This is what we call the ‘Complexity Curve’ — an inverted U-shape graph that shows how complexity naturally reaches a tipping point, after which any benefits are outweighed by costs.

With highly technical R&D programmes, strict regulation and sophisticated products it is tempting to argue that complexity is an inevitable consequence of operating in the pharma industry. But if this was true, all pharmaceutical companies would have similar levels of complexity. However, our study shows a wide variation.

Companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis have lower levels of ‘bad’ complexity than their rivals, including Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Roche. Additionally, the GSI identified Bayer as the company within the industry who was struggling the most with excessive complexity.

So why aren’t these companies doing something about it? Perhaps complexity has been placed on the ‘too difficult’ pile. Identifying all of the sources of complexity within a business is not easy — our survey found over 100!

So how should the pharmaceutical industry address this problem?

Firstly managers need to identify and weed out the value destructive complexity in their departments. Benchmarking against competitors can quickly show the company where complexity is highest and most damaging. Once harmful complexity is identified, action plans can be developed to simplify the company.

Secondly the management behaviours that cause complexity need to be addressed. Managers need to see how their decisions create complexity and be trained on how to simplify their businesses.  They should also avoid new sources of complexity from springing up by putting in place an evaluation process to test the complexity impact of new initiatives. Finally, managers should identify and nurture the kinds of complexity that add value.

It is vitally important for pharmaceutical firms to view complexity more holistically. Although closing factories and R&D centres will reduce operating costs, it will not be enough to reduce the stifling levels of complexity within the industry. This requires complexity to be reduced in strategy, organizational structure, process and many other areas of business. Additionally, it requires a change in management behaviours to ensure that complexity does not creep back into the organization.

Melvin Jay (Founder of Simplicity) and Professor Simon Collinson (Professor of International Business and Innovation at Warwick Business School) are co-authors of The Global Simplicity Index.

This entry was posted in Strategy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Allan Mitch
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Complexity does not come out of a vacuum. Oftentimes complexity arises as individual departments attempt to maximize their efficiency. The result process may be good for the department, but bad for the entire work flow through the organization. So managers who own a particular process that results in overall complexity for the organization will not willingly give up. Identifying and weeding out destructive complexity is difficult because one person’s destructive complexity is another process optimizer. Complexity is, well, complex.

  2. Posted June 17, 2011 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    Any aspect of life bears its own complexities.
    Basically it (complexities) is not pertinent to the pharma industry.
    However, since the pharma industry is a fully regulated organization and deals with human life, practically all over the world its complexities have one of the fastest devastating effect other than on their own internal condition.
    In practice, every aspect of life should be on the watch to reduce as much as possible its complexities, lest it goes distinct. In a popular saying : to win survival of the fittest, and not perish by competition or its own stupidities.
    To SOS (Stamp Out Stupidities), every individual manager, starting from supervisors should have the competency to prevent daily stupidities, which form the building block of complexities.
    In brief, we should look for the Root Cause to come up to a good CAPA.
    In one aspect ISO’s Management Representative, a GMP Compliance Manager, a company auditor (including the full-time GMP Auditor) can do the job since this position is an unbiased one.
    Note : I refer to : Business @ the Speed of Stupid, How to avoid Technology Disasters in Business, by
    Dan Burke and alan Morrison, Perseus Publishing,

  3. Tom Chapman
    Posted June 22, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Multinationals can only blame themselves for the current situation where they cannot get new products onto the market at a price and rate at which they can maintain their pipelines.
    It is the companies themselves who have put barriers like complexity into the system to prevent competition from smaller firms but this has removed most of the smaller firms and with it the bottom of the innovator chain (which actually fed the big companies with some of their best ideas.
    Multinations are also guilty on a second count in that they agreed to many unnecesary changes of EU law which put up their costs but also those of their tiny “competitors” again reducing their new idea source for example the CT directive which has had a massive effect on both the amount and cost of research added to this is the massive burden worldwide of putting in pharmacovigilance system which have an efficiency rating of about 5% as each function of the system is repeated millions of times per day by the companies instead of one central agency which could perform it at very low cost for all companies because of this the MHRA is supposed to be the biggest employer of industrial pharmacist in Uk

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Categories

  • Meta