Amgen CEO imparts leadership advice to Babcock students

4.17.2009 Leadership, News Release, School News

Books about leadership and good business practices are easy to find, Amgen Chairman and CEO Kevin Sharer says. “They could fill this room,” he told a group of students, faculty and staff who gathered in a classroom at the Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management on Thursday, April 16.

But the keys to success aren’t always found on type-filled pages. Rather, the map to success is developed and nurtured by creative leaders and team members who have a shared vision and a common set of goals – a social architecture, he calls it.

“If you don’t like the social architecture, you won’t fit (at Amgen), you won’t do well. The mission to serve patients is very real, and it’s motivational, and we act on that,” Sharer said.
Amgen is a leading human therapeutics company in the biotechnology industry. The company, which started in 1980, taps the power of scientific discovery and innovation to advance the practice of medicine, its Web site says. Amgen has pioneered the development of products based on advances in recombinant DNA and molecular biology and launched the biotechnology industry’s first blockbuster medicines.

What began with a relatively small investment from two individuals has become a Fortune 500 company that spends $3 billion annually on research and development, serving millions of patients. Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Amgen employs about 17,000 people worldwide. The company reported revenues of $15 billion in 2008 and has eight principal products currently on the market. “Think of it as eight businesses,” Sharer said.

Sharer is particularly excited about a potential new product, which would be used to treat osteoporosis. The treatment, in development for 15 years, has the potential to generate some $6 billion in revenue, he said. It is currently waiting approval by the Federal Drug Administation, but the clinical results, Sharer said, “have been quite encouraging." "It’s the hottest drug in the world right now.”

Sharer, a Navy veteran who served as chief engineer on a Los Angeles class submarine, has been Amgen’s CEO since 2000 and chairman of the board of directors since 2001.

Amgen’s social architecture, which includes six core principles, is the foundation of the company, Sharer said. “It didn’t come from a book. We didn’t pay a consultant … it’s all organic. If we’re going to be a great company, we have to make people believe what it means to be part of Amgen.” The components of the architecture, which he displayed for the group, are aspiration, mission, values, strategy, leadership and corporate goals. “Leadership,” he said, “is about behavior, not charisma.”

Leaders are coaches and they are only as good as the team that surrounds them. “No leader can overcome a mediocre team. There is no subsitution for having the best team.” He advised the students to leave their comfort zones and to seek balance in all they do. “If you are comfortable,” he said, “you are not growing, and you should be concerned.”

New professionals may believe that 12-hours days and working weekends are not only necessary in getting ahead but expected as a means to advance and to achieve. That’s not necessarily the case, Sharer said. “Living a balanced life is important,” he said, emphasizing the need to focus on family and personal interests outside of work.

Sharer closed the lecture with a question-and-answer session. “This is a free shot,” he said. “Part of the skill you need to develop as burgeoning executives is to learn to ask questions in an artful manner.”

Tori Peterson, a first-year Babcock student and a member of the Health Care Club, got the chance to meet with Sharer in a roundtable discussion prior to his April 16 presentation. She was impressed that such as successful CEO would travel across the country to speak at Wake Forest.

“Not everyone is interested in health care, but we’re all interested in becoming leaders,” she said. “It was a great opportunity.”