Podcast interview with Dr. John Hohneker of Novartis Oncology (transcript)

This is the transcript of my recent podcast interview with Dr. John Hohneker.

David Williams: This is David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business Blog.  I’m speaking today with Dr. John Hohneker.  He is Senior Vice President of U.S. Clinical Development and Medical Affairs at Novartis Oncology.

Dr. Hohneker, thanks for speaking with me today.

Dr. John Hohneker: It’s a pleasure.

Williams: I understand that Novartis Oncology has quite a few positions to fill.  Why so many openings?

Hohneker: Well as you know Novartis Oncology has one of the largest and most exciting product pipelines in the industry. To advance those projects through the development process we continue to require human resources so that we can meet the needs of our customers and get our promising compounds to patients who need them.

Williams: What sort of roles are you mainly hiring for? Is it in particular areas or is it across the board?

Hohneker: In 2009 and beyond, we’re looking to grow our staff in locations around the world. We are filling positions that serve a variety of functions. We have locations in the U.S., Switzerland, Russia, China, Latin America, India, Japan and even Australia.  The functions are pretty broad-ranging including: clinical development, medical affairs, marketing, finance, compliance, human resources, IT, and sales.

Williams: So it’s broad not just in terms of functions, but also in terms of geographic areas.

Hohneker: Yes.

Williams: I’m sure it varies by country and role, but what are the main ways that you have been finding new recruits?

Hohneker: That’s a good question.  We’re open to growing our talent pipeline from a variety of sources, but clearly employee referrals is our preferred vehicle.  That’s why we are launching our Open Generation campaign; we want to share those unique employee stories and videos with potential candidates in the hopes of attracting top talent to meet our growth goals.

Williams: Are there differences from country to country in how you might deploy employees in this kind of a campaign? Is it U.S.-specific or is it something that works around the world?

Hohneker: The Open Employee Generation campaign is really a global campaign.  We pride ourselves on being an open company and culture. By letting employees do the talking, we feel that that will add value to the experience of being here in this company.  So we want to be able to celebrate those stories by creating a vehicle in which people can do that around the world, basically uniting our global employee community.

Employees have this opportunity to submit videos that share their stories about who they are, what they do, and hopefully those will inspire others to either move into different career modes or to join the company.  We think that this campaign, which is global, will unite us as a global community and will also help attract the best talent that exists out there.

Williams: Is the Open Employee Generation campaign a formalization of something that was going on informally on a smaller scale or is it sort of a Big Bang project?

Hohneker: I would say it’s a Big Bang project.  There are various other forms of virtual communities like Facebook and LinkedIn, but we wanted our own kind of community where people could participate.  So this is really a new approach for us.

Williams: What kind of impact are you seeing already and what sort of impact would you expect it to have?

Hohneker: So far the impact has been pretty impressive from our internal results.  We have an employee base of approximately 5,000 worldwide and we’ve had about 130 video testimonials since we launched a couple months ago. Early in the campaign we had a little contest, letting employees choose which video they thought was the most inspiring. We had 1,541 votes cast during that part.  We continue to get comments.  Currently we’re running around the high 300’s in terms of comments and we’ve had about 7,000 site visits so far.

Williams: I knew there was an external face to this, but the internal part I hadn’t realized was also fairly important.   What are you seeing from other parts of Novartis?  Is there any envy or people wanting to come over to the oncology side?

Hohneker: As people look at their careers they’re always looking for new opportunities. Certainly we think that the work that we do at Novartis Oncology is important for patients. Obviously in cancer there is a long way to go before we find the solutions there.

Williams: I think it’s great to have employees that are stepping up and saying what they want about the company, but I wonder: is there any potential downside to the approach? Maybe somebody might say something that’s less than positive or it might come across as being sort of corporate speak and not being seen as objective?

Hohneker: Part of being an open company, you have to recognize that those things can happen, but we really believe that it’s a winning strategy that will help motivate our existing employees and attract new ones.

Williams: It’s nice that you have all this growth.  It sounds like the outlook is very strong, driven by the strong pipeline that you have in oncology and the success that you’ve had to date.  I’m wondering: will health reform or other external factors have an impact?

Hohneker: Well there are definitely many trends that are supporting the future of our business.  Obviously there continues to be significant unmet medical needs out there for patients suffering from cancer.  Recently I was reading about obesity being linked to cancer and there is certainly a problem with that.  In addition with some of the new technologies in science, I think we have a growing understanding of the genetic causes of cancer and through that an understanding of its biology. That should lead to a lot of potentially significant breakthroughs in the not so distant future.

Williams: I’ve been speaking today with Dr. John Hohneker.  He is Senior Vice President of U.S. Clinical Development and Medical Affairs at Novartis Oncology.  Dr. Hohneker, thanks so much for your time today.

Hohneker: Thank you

November 11, 2009

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