A time for growth: an interview with Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer. Interview by Paul Hemp.Harv Bus Rev. 2004 Jul-Aug; 82(7-8):66-74, 186.HB
Fast growth is a nice problem to have--but a hard one to manage well. In this interview, Kevin Sharer, the CEO of biotech giant Amgen, talks about the special challenges leaders face when their companies are on a roll. Sharer, who was also head of marketing at pre-WorldCom MCI and a division head and a staff assistant to Jack Welch at GE, offers insights drawn from his own experience--and from his own self-proclaimed blunders: "I learned the hard way that you need to become credible and enlist support inside the company before you start trying to be a change agent. If you think you're going to make change happen simply by force of personality or position or intellect, you'd better think again." And change there was: Under Sharer's leadership, Amgen overhauled its management team, altered its culture, and launched a couple of blockbuster products. How do chief executives survive in that kind of dizzying environment? "A CEO must always be switching between different altitudes--tasks of different levels of abstraction and specificity," Sharer says. "You might need to spend time working on a redesign of your organizational structure and then quickly switch to drafting a memo to all employees aimed at reinforcing one of the company's values." Having a supportive and capable top team is also key: "A top management team is the most revealing window into a CEO's style, values, and aspirations.... If you don't have the right top team, you won't have the right tiers below them. [The] A players won't work for B players. Maybe with a company like GE, the reputation of the company is so strong that it can attract top people to work for weaker managers. In a new company like Amgen, that won't happen."