Disease Studies

Chairman Q&A: from Pepsi to PrecisionLife

A Q&A with PrecisionLife Executive Chairman Ray Pawlicki reflecting on a senior leadership career that moved from Pepsico, to healthcare via speciality chemicals, big pharma and digital health and AI startups.

At PrecisionLife we think of Ray as the man who put the fizz into pharma.

PrecisionLife Chairman Q&A

Career Overview

Just as the role of Chief Information Officer (CIO) emerged in the mid-nineties – as the Worldwide Web started to impact business –  Ray Pawlicki had achieved the role of second in command of Informatics at Pepsi. As Director, Operational Systems at Pepsi, Ray embedded IT in the company’s business operations – enabling data to drive best practise across sales, distribution, logistics, and manufacturing systems for the Pepsi-Cola International network of 600 bottling facilities. Following Pepsi, Ray became the Global leader of Information Technology for a Fortune 800 specialty chemicals company before being appointed as CIO of Novartis’ US subsidiary in 2000, Global CIO of Novartis in 2004 and then CIO of Biogen in 2008 before building an extensive portfolio career and joining the boards of healthcare organisations Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and UMass Memorial Healthcare together with start-ups including RockStep Solutions, MedRythms and Nanowear.

What's the biggest change that you have seen?

The pharma industry has changed fundamentally since you first joined the healthcare sector in 2000. As CIO at Novartis and Biogen what would you say has been the biggest change you have seen?

“When I joined pharma, the industry was not known for innovating with IT and in fact IT was thought of as an infrastructure service existing in the background. By the time I was Global CIO of Novartis, IT was leading cultural change within the business, and then when I was at Biogen informatics technology was a pillar of the corporate strategy driving innovation in partnership with the business to create competitive advantage. That progress was achieved through a relentless focus on change and culture.

Today in board rooms the discussion is where technology can take us next. Boards are asking “What are we doing to embrace technology change, innovation and deliver better healthcare outcomes? Data and Analytics are now front and centre as drivers of both competitive advantage and, more importantly better patient care.”

Driving through culture change...

You say that driving digital transformation through culture change has been the biggest change – that is interesting for a ‘tech guy’ – can you explain how you did this and why it worked?

“It was fundamental to my ability to contribute at Novartis and Biogen. At Pepsi, our focus was on really understanding marketing campaigns, logistics and having technology make an impact. At Cytec (speciality chemicals) I took that background with me of ‘that is just how you do things – you get underneath the business, and you really understand what is important and once you identify the high leverage points that is where you apply technology’.

When I moved to Novartis, I brought my toolbox with me and realised that the IT culture which had been autocratic had to change if we were to be relevant to the business. I spent a ton of time with the exec team at Novartis really understanding what was important and not being bashful about the scale of impact that technology could make.

We focussed on how to listen to the business, how to take a stand for what you really believe in and being committed to your work and what you believe. We changed the whole culture in IT to say we are here to partner with the business, to make a difference to the business whether it is with a pencil or with the latest technology it really does not matter. Once in the Global CIO role in Basel, I saw that the culture needed to change there too. We moved to Open Space meetings, embraced by Novartis at a global level.  The CEO mandated that all functions would hold an Open Space meeting driven off what we had done in IT. At that point IT was leading the change in Novartis to operating a more collaborative business approach and I think they still use the Open Space approach 15 years later so that worked – and we used Open Space at Biogen too!

When I returned to the US, I landed at Biogen, and again the story was there was not really seeing technology as a function to move the needle. Fortunately, two years into working at Biogen a new CEO, George Scangos, arrived and he really got it. He was really ahead of his time.  He insisted that I reported directly to him with an active role on the executive committee with a technology pillar in the overall strategy. George is now CEO of Vir Biotechnology in San Francisco.

Again, culture and embedding IT in the business was critical – all my direct reports had dual reporting lines one into me and one into one of the business functions and that made a difference because they felt that they ‘had their guy or gal in IT’ not just Ray’s person in their team. A true partnership. Interestingly the impact on culture led to me being head of HR for year along with my CIO role.

When I stepped down from Biogen to do the Board work, I wanted to focus on making a difference in delivery to patients, across the full spectrum.

When looking at board roles my antenna is up when I talk to the CEO – I am listening and asking myself “Do they get it or not?”. PrecisionLife gets it.

So, in this role with PrecisionLife it is the same pattern as most of my career. You make sure you have the fundamentals of strategy in place, you create the plan, and you work the plan.  That is just half of it. The other half of it is to be focused on the future, and what is next and being innovative taking chances.  In my experience is that most people focus on one or the other – but the trick is to do both and find the balance and know when one is more important to focus on than the other.”

Making a fundamental difference...

Can you give any examples where tech has made a fundamental difference?

“Reflecting on the period when human genome was being sequenced, the Cloud established and, Next generation sequencing were transforming what was possible: during this period Pharma R&D moved from something that happened on a bench to huge instrumentation factories churning out data. That change happened not only in R&D, but in clinical trials and at product launch. If we had not moved pharma IT from a background service to the heart of the business, industry could not have benefitted from those advances.  Arguing for technology to be embraced and create competitive advantage through partnership was key.  And doing whatever it took to drive the model through – talking to the CEO, developing staff, and building teams that ‘got it’”.

Importance of people, culture, collaboration

Where do you think the technology bedfellows are now in pharma?

“The key learning was understanding the importance of people, culture, collaboration, being open and of taking a stand and not being bashful about what you think is right is the way to move the needle and I think that culture is now starting to take hold in the industry vs the old autocratic cultures in IT. If you look at the modern leaders Vas (Vasant Narasimhan) at Novartis and George at Biogen* these are guys are and they insist on that.

Those leaders are prioritising technology partnerships inside and outside the business. Pharma and Healthcare are prioritising innovation to gain competitive advantage.  They are investing in and actively seeking partnerships around technologies.”

*George Scangos’ current role is CEO of Vir Biotechnology, Inc

Looking forward

And where do to think tech is going – how do you see the next 18 years, and what difference do you hope PrecisionLife will make?

“Similarly to the way we changed how technology is embraced by pharma, as the business moved onto the cloud, I would love to see precision medicine embraced by the healthcare community of providers and payers to really change the way healthcare is delivered and the impact it has. In that context, I hope to see PrecisionLife a leader (if not the leader) in enabling genuine change in how we deliver healthcare – the goal being to capture markers and stratify patients well in advance so that we can intervene precisely and prevent disease rather than treat it.”

Career as a tag line

Summing up your career in a tag line  – what would it be?

“We were on the cutting edge of changing the way organisations would work together to leverage technology as a team.  That was my biggest needle mover and that was what people talk about, not the individual projects.

I was an agent of change”.

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