Decency as a Driver of Excellence
Dr Nicola Davies speaks to Mette Aagaard Hertz, Corporate Vice President at Novo Nordisk and Head of Human Resources in Research and Development, about pharma’s responsibility to maintain high standards in the fight against global health problems.
Nicola Davies: Tell me about your background and how you started working in pharma?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: I worked first in communications, with a focus on organizational change, strategy implementation and change leadership in a huge corporation, then in an agency, and finally running my own business for five years. Novo Nordisk became my client in 2000 and a major change process led them to ask me to join, which I did in 2004. In 2014, I was promoted to Corporate Vice President (CVP) and Head of HR in R&D.
Nicola Davies: What was it about Novo Nordisk that attracted you?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: My first encounter with Novo Nordisk was when they approached me about doing business together. I was struck by the professionalism, decency, and the number of highly skilled people within the organization. The reason I joined Novo Nordisk and the reason I have stayed for 10 years is that I can completely relate to our shared values and as such, I feel like I’m part of a journey that serves a higher purpose.
We're not doing it just to be nice - we believe fundamentally that balancing the financial goals with global health (both people and planet) is the right approach for sustainable business. The Triple Bottom Line approach has served us well for decades and we believe it will continue to be instrumental in delivering long-term growth for our business".
Nicola Davies: Is the Triple Bottom Line business principle, where Novo Nordisk strives to conduct its activities in a financially, environmentally and socially responsible way, fundamental to the success of Novo?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: Certainly it is. We're not doing it just to be nice - we believe fundamentally that balancing the financial goals with global health (both people and planet) is the right approach for sustainable business. The Triple Bottom Line approach has served us well for decades and we believe it will continue to be instrumental in delivering long-term growth for our business.
Nicola Davies: What personal attributes do you feel have contributed to your success?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: With each promotion, I was building on something that I have always had – an ability to thrive on change and navigate in chaos. I’m good at seeing the bigger picture. One of the key factors I took from running my own business is to stop worrying too much about the future. If I focus on making a positive contribution now and keep an open mind, then other interesting things will emerge as I go along. I have never made a business plan, but instead have always worked with what interests me and played to my strengths. This is one aspect of what has led me to where I am now. It has been a step-by-step development. So, it isn’t being a CVP that is new – it’s more working in R&D, the heart of the business.
Nicola Davies: And what does the heart of the business look like?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: Busy and dedicated. There are about 4,500 scientists who are passionate about proteins and the chronic diseases we are tackling. It’s a buzzing and very exciting place to be. It is also very focused and the people are truly dedicated to their work - no matter whether they are trying to develop a high standard for ethical testing, at the early stages of research or in the clinical trials.
Nicola Davies: What motivates and inspires you about the pharma industry?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: The patients. The fact that we save the lives of millions of people every day is my key motivator. Also, new medicines are developed by the industry, holding hope for millions more in the future. My driving force and passion is passion itself. I am personally driven by a desire to make a positive difference. Ambition is also important. That's where I thrive.
They (employees) then live as a person with diabetes for 3 days. They have diabetes nurses teaching them how to inject themselves or live with eyesight problems. We want them to understand not only the physical implications of living with chronic disease, but also the psychosocial aspects".
Nicola Davies: What role does patient-centricity have in pharma success?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: We are here for the patients. If we aren’t making a positive contribution to the lives of the patients, we have no raison d’etre. At Novo Nordisk, patient centricity is paramount. We have a fantastic internal program, developing certified patient ambassadors called ‘The Patient First program,’ which aims to train employees to have a better and more elaborate understanding of what it is like to live with a chronic disease. The role of these ambassadors is to work with the department heads to convey this message to other employees.
Nicola Davies: Can you explain how the Patient First Program enhances patient centricity?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: There is the risk with 40,000+ employees of becoming detached from the patient, but patient ambassadors prevent this. It’s a 3 day program, which involves a lot of reading and preparation beforehand, learning about the disease and understanding what we do. They then live as a person with diabetes for 3 days. They have diabetes nurses teaching them how to inject themselves or live with eyesight problems. We want them to understand not only the physical implications of living with chronic disease, but also the psychosocial aspects.
Nicola Davies: Is transparency related to patient centricity?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: It is important that we never lose sight of who we are here for. And with that comes decency and transparency, in that order. There is a huge responsibility of working in a field where people have serious diseases. It compels everyone in the pharma industry to have very high standards. Transparency means we are in a position where we can say that we aren’t working with a hidden agenda. It’s about putting the patient above all, including patient safety. This is why I like the fact that people are checking that we do what we say. Transparency is a value we cherish.
Nicola Davies: What do you see as being the next big challenge for pharma?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: To continue fostering true innovation - not just minor improvements for the patient. Another big challenge is to convince the population that we are part of the solution, not the problem, for solving global healthcare. That requires that we are seen as demonstrating our ability to be a partner, not just pushing drugs on healthcare providers. We do a lot of great things in this area, but we still have a long way to go, and we can’t do it alone. However, pharma has a responsibility for playing a larger role in solving global health problems.
Nicola Davies: How is Novo Nordisk tackling the challenge of fostering an innovation-friendly culture?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: While we are a Scandinavian company, we need to continue to globalize if we are to promote innovation. We need to consider the world as our playground, so to speak. We have been doing this for a number of years and while it sounds easy and clichéd, it isn’t. We are very focused and only want to attract the best within our area of expertise. We also stay true to our core values – accountability, ambition, responsibility, and interaction with stakeholders. We have more than 90 years of demonstrating our ability to do incremental innovation based on our core values. History tells us that if we stick to our core values, then our chances of innovation are big.
Nicola Davies: It these core values work for you, does that mean there is no need to change?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: As the world changes, we need to change too. If we only repeat what we did yesterday, we wouldn’t be successful tomorrow. We need to continue challenging our way of thinking. We have to liaise with partners and ensure we employ people who challenge our model of the world. We need to accept the fact that not every new idea will lead to a new medicine. All of this is a challenge when you get bigger, and we are organically growing so there is a huge risk of becoming complacent and thinking you can walk on water. We constantly remind each other of the importance of being challenged and getting inspiration from outside the company too. True innovation emerges when you add competencies and new perspectives.
Nicola Davies: Novo Nordisk have produced Women in Leadership programs and I am wondering if (and how) such programs have helped you in your role?
Mette Aagaard Hertz: I don't believe they have made a difference for me personally as I already had a senior position when we embarked more explicitly on promoting diversity in our management teams. However, I do believe that when considering the 'female career path', we need to understand that not everyone starts shining at, say 32. I didn't get a formal leadership role until I was 40. I'm now 50 and I haven't peaked yet. If you want a diverse approach to leadership development that encourages women leaders, you need to accept diverse ages. It is the responsibility of every employee to recognize they have talented women and to accept that age-related factors mean they might check into leadership roles at a later stage. We could get better access to a lot more talent with a more diverse recruitment strategy.