Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
I am Naji, your host today, excited to be joined by Enrique Conterno CEO of Fibrogen.
A native of Peru, Enrique is a mechanical engineering with an MBA from Duke. He joined Eli Lilly in 1992 and spent the next two decades working in the U.S. and internationally across sales, marketing, finance, business development, and general management roles. Enrique became the President of Lilly Diabetes in 2009. In addition to those responsibilities, he took on the role of President of Lilly USA in January 2017 before retiring at the end of 2019 after 27 years of service with the company. I had the privilege and chance to work in Enrique’s teams, learn from his leadership, and grow in the culture he has created.
Enrique – I am so honored to have you with me today!
I would love to learn more about your personal journey? What is in between the line of the incredibly successful leader you are.
Enrique Conterno: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to have these chats with you and matching. Great. Great to see you again.
Naji Gehchan: Great to see you too. I would love Enrique to learn more about your personal story, your personal journey, what is in between those lines of this incredibly successful, uh, career and that either you are today.
Enrique Conterno: Thank you. I’m not sure exactly where to start, but probably I have to start when. I decided to, um, embark on the journey outside of Peru and pursue my education in the United States. At that time, I was a swimmer I think. And, uh, therefore I had the opportunity as a swimmer to get us a scholarship or scholarships in the U S but beyond that, I think.
Uh, what, uh, that, that was the start of something that I believe shaped me throughout my career, which is, um, we have to take chances, personal chances, certain risks. Uh, it was not easy at that time for me to leave Peru, but I decided to do so. Um, and I think throughout my career, I’ve taken a number of, um, personal risks and for the most part, um, I’m delighted that I took those chances.
Not every single one. Worked in the way that I was expecting them, but we do have to take, be thoughtful, take appropriate chances and, and, uh, And then adapt to changing circumstances. But, um, I think in between the lines, I, um, uh, we’re all, I think our product of our experiences, and I think that’s something that has really shaped me is basically taking chances, uh, thinking certain risks and then, uh, uh, manage in the, in the best way possible to produce excellent outcome.
Naji Gehchan: When you’re talking to Enrique about taking chances and tourists, obviously you said you took it personally. I know as a leader also, you’re taught a lot of risks and you gave people opportunities and chances. Uh, how do you, how do you do this? How have you managed to always build successful teams, lead them towards even bigger successes for the organization stats.
Enrique Conterno: Yeah, there’s no question that talent is at the very heart of successful organizations and creating diverse teams, I think is critical to do that. And, um, and I think I always reflect on. As we, uh, build teams and give people chances. And the opportunity to grow one has to reflect the, somebody took the chance on us to take larger responsibilities.
And in some cases, maybe for us to step up in position, the maybe we thought we were not ready to take on and we have to reflect on that as we basically provide opportunities for, uh, others. Um, At the end. I think there’s no formula when it comes to hiring people or building teams. But I do think there are a number of elements that we want us to look for in a culture that one wants to create.
Um, and we can speak a little more about that, but there’s no question that, uh, people and talent are at the very heart of, uh, continued success in, uh, organizations.
Naji Gehchan: Yeah, I would love, I would love to hear about those elements. I’ve, I’ve, you know, I’ve lived that. I think the country, you build a caring culture.
I, you know, I personally call it loving culture, but truly from this shared purpose, the strong values, and then leading your teams to where it’s exceptional execution, uh, to, to deliver on, uh, uh, on this chair and common purpose. I’d love to hear more about the elements you use shared. You shared those, but I’d love to hear more about.
Enrique Conterno: Sure. So, um, and you are absolutely right. I think it’s, um, it’s all about, um, I think centering on our common purpose and, uh, key values and what do we basically expect from all leaders or, uh, employees? Um, all of our colleagues in an organization. Uh, all of that I think is. Part of, uh, starting to create the culture, to the extent that one lives, those values, you start to create those, that culture.
Just try to, uh, uh, not just retain, but attract talent to the, to the organization now it’s, uh, clearly I think, um, there are, um, a number of other elements. Claim to that. Um, I’m a, I’m a huge believer in looking at a track record of success when building teams, uh, not just experiences, but really looking at the track records of, uh, individuals.
And, um, this sometimes can be misunderstood. Um, yes, we look for. The outcomes and outcomes are critical, but it’s also how people dealt in many cases with failures, I think, or, uh, with maybe a, uh, a hand that was not quite perfect. And well, what, what were the actions that the individual then the individual took to improve the situation to, to, uh, make the situation better?
Um, as we, uh, I think about that. I think, uh, we need to, um, and we build this culture and you call it a loving culture, um, a caring culture. Although I think all of that is true. I like to think of it as an empowering culture and you’re right. I think the leader in many cases, trying to serve to ensure that people can basically give, uh, Uh, the most, um, um, given their capabilities, the opportunity that they have.
I think all of that I think is very much true. Um, at the end of the day, I think, um, uh, empowerment needs to also come with accountable. And, um, I’m a big believer on, uh, marrying those two, uh, which is, uh, people need to be empowered, but at the end, I think that empowering needs to lead to increased accountability.
And hopefully the organization then works, I think, in a much better way, um, uh, so that everybody can contribute as long as the priorities and the purpose is clear. I think it’s, um, everything tends to work, um, much more effectively and efficiently.
Naji Gehchan: And thanks Enrique. And I know you’re passionate about DNI and you mentioned that try trick twisting at the first team, uh, while building this culture.
Uh, any, any advice, you know, as you are. Bringing those leaders. Uh, many times we, uh, we are faced with some of the inclusion challenges, and I remember something you always talked about remaining yourself, be yourself and continue to be yourself as you’re, uh, leading and, and in the organization. What, what, what do you do to make sure that people, as they join, uh, don’t change to be in the mall, but try to be themselves and being able to deliver to the expectations?
Enrique Conterno: Yeah, a discussion that I will, that I, uh, come, you know, often have, is that the responsibility of both the leaders in the organization, but also. The, um, the, the, uh, employees coming into the organization to ensure that we can build an inclusive culture. Um, It is through, we need to create that type of environment, a leader, but there’s also responsibility on the person coming in, um, to, in some cases to take that person arrest.
To always, um, uh, be able to speak out and quite frankly, not to just, uh, sort of, uh, come in and be just like your organization that are coming into the reason we, um, organizations can benefit so much from new blood, from fresh thinking from new talent, new hire. It’s because of the unique perspective that they bring from the outside.
What a period would it be that the second day coming into an organization that we lose that because they’re trying to fit in. And there’s no question that there is a bit of a compromise trying to fit in. And, but, um, to the extent that those individuals can be true to themselves, who they are, I think we have a best chance of the organization thriving and ensuring that the individual collective.
Uh, growth, uh, uh, benefits the entire organization. So yes, there is a responsibility of the leaders and there’s also a responsibility of the new hires to ensure that this culture can be built.
Naji Gehchan: Pivoting now to, uh, I, I know you, you know, you share it and you did it on leading in crisis even before, you know, if we want to talk about the current pandemic. Uh, but even before that, I read one of the articles you wrote about leading through moments of crisis. Uh, so can you share more about your learning experiences and did anything changed, uh, leading in this global crisis that we’re all
Enrique Conterno: living.
Yeah, I, um, my, uh, sense, I think when you’re living in a crisis, um, uh, one of, one of the key, um, it’s, it’s always, uh, critically important to remain true to your values. And do the purpose and to understand where the north star is for you and for the organization. Um, otherwise one can, uh, get lost, um, whether it’s a crisis or a.
A moment where you’re going to Sage is thriving. I think we have to recognize that there are, um, a few, I, I call it a few critical decisions each year that really shape, uh, the business, uh, outcomes, the people outcomes, the cultural outcomes of the organization and being thoughtful about those decisions, I think is critical.
Um, it’s um, A crisis, um, tends to, um, uh, challenge all of us because maybe it was, uh, an outcome we did not expect, uh, or an uncertainty that got resolved in an unfavorable way or personnel exiting the organization for other opportunities, whatever the crisis might be. I think it’s always good to remember the crisis.
So. Both, uh, opportunities in itself, it becomes reframed in the right way. So it could be a matter of, um, somebody succeeding. It’s the opportunity to, um, promote somebody. You maybe bring new talent in the organization and, uh, how, you know, how welcome we do that. Um, it’s, it may be a matter of refocusing that priority.
So the organization, or for us to think about, um, um, um, what those new priorities are at the end of the day, though, I think one critical thing throughout crisis. Uh, we all need to be grounded. What I call that reality. Of the ground, the real yet, and the relatives of the situation. I think it’s critically important as a leader that we can objectively assess the situation.
And at the end, uh, provide the direction for the business on the enterprise. Our people, um, sometimes in a crisis is one, one vents to maybe color how things might be. It’s just critically important that we don’t have those roads with rose-colored glasses and we’re able to tackle, I think the challenges.
Naji Gehchan: That’s great. You talked about being true to the values, right? To your personal values. You started with this, uh, around the common and shared purpose. Um, looking at it from an opportunity standpoint, are there things to do to refocus and then ending on a objective objectively, always assessing the situation?
The communication I imagine you mean in this is super important, right? Like giving hope, but at the same time being realistic to what we’re going through. Uh, is key,
Enrique Conterno: right? It is, I think, without being realistic, I think it’s, um, the changes not very lasting because. You lose credibility over time. Um, and at the end of the day, people can kind of objective, really assess what the situation is as well.
Um, so it is, uh, I think it is critically important than, uh, that the organization or the other days align and needs to be aligned on those. In, uh, a grounded view of what the realities are, uh, because I think then I think the priorities are better. Understood. Uh, demonization can be best aligned. And at the end of the thing, then I think, uh, um, that, that grace, a certain.
Um, build trust and trust is critical. I think, to be able to execute with agility and speed.
Naji Gehchan: Yeah, definitely. Uh, Enrique talked about failure. Uh, we, we, we, we look at you, we see huge successes all over even, uh, you know, we we’ve seen you in your, in the different leadership role that you had taking things and making them happen, right.
Like, Challenging pieces, giving again through a vision and taking all the organizations to amazing, huge successes. How do you do this? Like, and did you ha did you have some moments of doubt you started in the beginning saying sometimes you have to take jobs, even doubting that you can, even to them, what, like, do you have a story that you can tell us, uh, around this and how you manage to, uh, to build all that you’ve been building throughout the.
Enrique Conterno: Yeah, I, I, there are there, there are probably many that I can share, but I think we can start. I think, uh, you were mentioning, we both worked together in, uh, diabetes. You were, I recall when you were working in, in France and I really wanted to show that you could come to the U S. In, uh, and I was delighted that you were able to come in and so that we were able to work together.
But, um, uh, 1, 1, 1 piece, I think. Maybe people don’t realize is that those, those first few years in diabetes, while everybody looks a little bit diabetes today, and it’s an incredibly growing successful business, the first few years were challenging. Um, um, it, they were challenging because, um, we were having a number of setbacks.
We had, uh, uh, uh, we’re losing market share with some of our key products. Um, we, our pipeline was not where we wanted it to be. And we had some setbacks in our pipeline. And at the end of the day, I think we needed to. Take stock of really where we were at at that time and make some, um, some pretty big decisions.
Right. Um, um, all of that did not change overnight. Um, it was a matter of basically building, you know, starting, you know, uh, at one point in time, we entered into Alliance with Boehringer Ingelheim, um, with. That today, of course, highly successful. Um, but at that time there was, you know, um, those, those, uh, uh, products were, uh, promises, if you wish.
Um, we were trying to build, uh, GLP one pipeline. And, um, you know, we’ve had some, uh, also a challenging, uh, collaboration at that time, uh, with, uh, with another party. So all in all, I think it w we were looking at a business, the what challenge, but had potential. And if there was, uh, There was something that I can, um, maybe look back it’s I’m, I’m glad that we felt, you know, um, the, we were committed to our strategy and we allowed for the strategy to play out over time.
It took a little bit of. Patients, um, net, net and, um, vision was needed at that point in time, because I think for Lilly, uh, overall I think, uh, the situation was a challenge, but it was not just for diabetes. Um, but we saw the potential, um, while, um, we, we, we didn’t have what I’m going to call it the perfect plan or the perfect roadmap.
Um, we saw what were the key levers to try to.
We followed those I’ll be honest too. We had overtime, we had some good breaks and some people say we took advantage of them. That’s true. Uh, but some of the journey and some of these strategic initiatives took several years to develop anything from that collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim that is highly successful in everything from developing the pipeline and the new products.
Uh, from, um, being much more cost efficient or, uh, our cost structure. Those were the, your projects. And over time, I think, um, we, uh, we were able to build that thing. Together with a great team, I think, um, um, a great organization, but it, it took time and I keep in mind that I was in that job for what is it?
Over 10 years. Um, so I had a chance to see the cycles of it. Um, and yeah, I’m, I’m, uh, very proud of what we built, but, uh, yeah, it’s. Everything else. It wasn’t all always roses. There were, you know, what’s a little bit of a rollercoaster in particular in the.
Naji Gehchan: Yeah, but it’s the, the millions of patients around the word help through, uh, what you’ve built and, and the value that your breath is just, is just immense.
Um, you, one of the things, you know, we always talk in strategy. Uh, and I’d love your take on this that you said you had to be patient, try to build this strategy. You believed in it. We all believed, believed in it, and then you have to be patient. And we here on the opposite side. So now being, uh, see, oh, um, in a, in a different company and in biotech, we hear a lot about agility, changing the gap, making sure that we understand what’s going on and change if needed.
Any, any thoughts about this when to change strategy and when not to change and be persistent on it?
Enrique Conterno: I think it’s, um, clearly the circumstances, um, um, the, the fine, what the strategies should be. Uh, the strategies should be able to overcome setbacks, but I think sometimes that’s easier said than done. And I, uh, Depending on, you know, the, uh, resources, the size of the company.
And, and so for some of his strategies might be more valuable than others. And I think we need to reassess and adjust the strategy as circumstances change. Right. Um, uh, you mentioned, um, I draw a lot from, um, some of the challenges when we’re building the diabetes business, as I think about five region where we are right now, uh, the fact that we have, um, yeah, we had a pretty significant setback, uh, when it comes to a complete response letter in the U S at the same time we’d been approved.
China Europe, Japan, uh, to be able to commercialize rocks, reduce that. Um, so to me, I think it’s, um, um, clearly, uh, uh, as I’ve mentioned, I, uh, drawing on all of those experiences and thinking about how do we ground ourselves in and the realities of the situation. How do we adjust our priorities? Uh, how do we basically think about greatest, significant value for our shareholders, their patients?
How do we keep our purpose, uh, in front of us? And, um, and once again, honestly, assessing where, where we are and, and, um, and what is it that we have to focus on right now? So, Uh, as leaders, I think, um, we have to keep in mind that all of these experiences serve to ground us, right. They give us confidence for the path ahead and the ability that we can have to be able to, uh, basically for job, a very successful future.
Naji Gehchan: Thanks Enrique. I would love to get your first reaction to a couple of words out. I will, I will be saying, uh, and the word, the first one is leadership. What would it be? The first,
Enrique Conterno: first thoughts on, on leadership is change agents. Um,
Bias for action and, uh, working doors, um, working towards, uh, outcomes, uh, aligning or, uh, organizations.
Naji Gehchan: about mentorship?
Enrique Conterno: Uh, And, um, and mentors should have been a bit different from sponsorship. Uh, but men mentorship is basically, um, providing, uh, the advice and, uh, they use sites. At the personal and professional level for, for talent to be, um, uh, you know, as successful as they can be and different from and sponsorship because sponsorship, in addition to all of that, I believe it also includes advocacy and a real action from the leader in terms of.
Um, you know, uh, taking a, had done, um, basically allowing for that individual to, uh, take additional jobs or, uh, responsibilities as they basically grow.
Naji Gehchan: And I know you’ve, uh, you believe in reverse mentorship, I think too, right at where it got it. Any thoughts on this too?
Enrique Conterno: All of us to make sure that we are truly at the other, they connect it to what’s going on and receive informal feedback. I’ve I’ve had reverse mentioned mentorship one-on-one and also multiple in one meeting, just being able to hear people. And I, um, to do that, I think curiosity is incredibly important, uh, and openness, the ability to really.
Um, uh, here and try to understand as opposed to try to justify. You know, uh, why sort of things are what they are. So that’s, that’s a thing, the, uh, the power of it, but, uh, mentorship is a, um, you said is, um, dual way street. And anytime one is mentoring somebody in the way that I mentioned one can be mentored as well.
One is open to that.
Naji Gehchan: Yeah. I totally agree. Um, vacation.
And I’m asking this because you wrote about it. Yeah. It’s um,
Enrique Conterno: I’m a big believer on, um, uh, working hard and playing hard as well. Um, uh, Uh, I believe all of us need to take that diamond space, you know, to refresh and replenish ourselves. And to do that. Sometimes we do have to disconnect from our daily work.
So, uh, uh, allowing for the space and time to be able to do that, I think it’s, um, critical. Um, so I’m, I’m a big believer in, uh, Ensuring that, um, that, uh, balances is going to be there. Sometimes people ask me to quantify what that balance should be, but I think that balance is very personal. It’s like people say, well, define for me with a work-life balance is how many hours I think it’s different for.
Different people. And each one of us needs to understand our own personal boundaries. And what is it that allows us to basically be as effective, you know, at work. Um, and we have to be self aware to be able to assess and evaluate that, right. Maybe somebody is able to work many more hours than somebody else and we need.
Naji Gehchan: We’ll be able to
Enrique Conterno: respect those, those boundaries and what we at the other day should look for is, um, what are the outcomes? Um, um, and how are the, uh, how, um, how effective is each one of us, uh, being in the positions that we have. So no hard rules, but, uh, finding that personal balance is incredibly important and the organization cannot find this balance for you.
You have to find it for yourself. Yeah,
Naji Gehchan: totally agree. And I think you shared it at the beginning. You’re a swimmer. I’m not sure if you. Uh, continued to spend, but I know for a while, that was also because I’m thinking about how every day, not only taking vacations, but even everyday how to disconnect, try to refresh our minds as leaders super important for not only us, but our teams, our families, uh, as I know, for, for a while, swimming was part of this for you, but definitely it’s important.
I imagine to disconnect daily, to.
Enrique Conterno: Yeah. I, I, I, I, uh, whether it’s swimmer swimming on a different exercise, I think it’s good to be, uh, active and, uh, and I’m pretty big believer for awhile was swimming every day. Um, Maybe between, uh, you know, when I was in my mid forties to my maybe early fifties, I was swimming every day and even competing in masters competition.
Uh, um, and I, uh, I got a lot from it. Um, but I wasn’t doing it just to be active, you know? And, um, but it’s, it’s fun, you know, because you can see your progress and you are getting in shape. Uh, so yeah, I need, it’s fine to compete. So I, I it’s, uh, I got a lot of satisfaction from that. I’m not swimming today, but I’m doing, uh, I do go to the gym at least four times a week.
Um, and I do spend about an hour. Um, so it’s, it’s, it’s something that I believe in that I think is critical. I think it’s as part of, at least my personal balance.
Naji Gehchan: Yeah, that’s, that’s great. And it’s great to hear because many times we have those idea. No, you cannot, you know, work, be successful, be have your family, your network, and then do also train.
But another amazing example, uh, your, your setting here, Andrew, uh, the last word I’d love your reaction is spread love and organizations.
Enrique Conterno: Yeah. It’s um, That’s, that’s probably an easier one, uh, from the, uh, questions, I think aside, um, as you work, I think in the organizations you, uh, closely with people and when you align on, on, on purpose and objectives and when you’re committed to, uh, to a cause or, uh, an objective.
You, you tend to spend a lot of time with, uh, with each one of our colleagues. And of course, as part of that, you, um, you develop a certain closeness and you, I think all of us care for the people that are all of our colleagues that are working with us, um, And I think though the way that I think about spreading to this is your quote spreading love through the organization is, um, is caring, truly caring for four people and demonstrating that in a number of different ways.
There, there are a number of, uh, maybe axioms or. Uh, truth that one has to abide one, uh, uh, abide by one of them is to really be, uh, completely truthful to people and not just for people to hear what they want to hear, but truly what they should be hearing. And I know that sometimes people say, well, that’s hard.
Love it is really not. It is just truly caring about the person. Why would you want to say some person that is not really helping them, uh, maybe make that interaction easier, but at the end, I think longer term, I think we’re not, uh, the person is not going to grow. So when it comes to, um, uh, spreading love or care, I think it starts with, uh, the intent having the right intent and, uh, having a transparent, honest relationship, uh, with, uh, uh, with, with your colleagues.
I think that’s the basis, uh, for that.
Naji Gehchan: I love it and I will definitely keep it in mind. It’s not tough love. It’s true love, which is definitely true. Any final word of wisdom for the leaders around the.
Enrique Conterno: No, thank you very much for, uh, you taking this initiative, uh, with this, uh, set of, uh, podcasts. Uh, it’s exciting to see you again, and, um, I’m glad that you’re doing well.
And once again, thank you for the opportunity to share some of these thoughts with you. Naji Gehchan: Uh, thank you. Thank you for being here and sharing a part of your story and amazing advice. And for this inspiring, genuine discussion.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.