Client Story

Case Study: Bringing two different pharmaceutical organizations together through shared mindset and values achieves extraordinary performance


Result: Mindset, beliefs and values re-aligned, genuine collaboration and a step up in business performance as a $1 billion product now surpasses $5 billion 

The Client

Pfizer is one of the world’s premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies, discovering, developing and providing over 160 different medicines, vaccines and consumer healthcare products to help improve the lives of millions of people around the world every year. Their purpose is grounded in their belief that all people deserve to live healthy lives. This drives their desire to provide medicines that are safe and effective.

Pfizer partnered with another global pharmaceutical company to develop a new anticoagulant drug to treat heart and stroke patients.

Aligning disconnected cultures

Researching and developing new medicines is extremely expensive, and highly risky. The development costs run into billions, with no guarantee that a drug will work or be approved. So when Pfizer was approached by another pharmaceutical company proposing they form an alliance to develop a new drug, Pfizer agreed.

“Pfizer had decided to form the alliance in the development stage so that we could share the cost, and the rewards. It was a complementary approach in terms of the commercialization of that asset,” explains Tolga Tanguler, now President of Rare Diseases, Pfizer North America.

The new drug had been on the market for a number of years but was failing to meet its expected market share. Tanguler was brought in to identify why the product was under-performing. “It quickly became clear to me that there was a disconnect between – and within – our two organizations’ leadership. Everybody expected this product to do well, but there was a complete misalignment about how to get there. Not only between the two companies, but even between individuals who were part of that team,” says Tanguler. It was at this point that Pfizer contacted Open Water.

Building consensus across organizations and functions

Pfizer worked with Open Water initially focusing on their own leadership team. “Pfizer itself didn’t really think that this was our brand even though we were sharing 50% of the cost and revenue. So we started on that: to fix the Pfizer mindset before expanding to the full alliance team,” explains Tanguler. Together, Open Water and Pfizer designed a two-day leadership workshop aimed at:
• Developing a clear roadmap for the product,
• Agreeing a stream-lined governance model for the alliance, and
• Developing trust, to support long term collaboration.

The Open Water approach

A critical component of Open Water’s methodology is to conduct detailed diagnostics and analysis to truly understand the root of a challenge. Early on Open Water carried out confidential interviews with all the members of the alliance business team to capture what each of them thought the main issue was. This provided both the detail and the high-level perspective. It became apparent to Open Water that while there were external challenges – the product had been the third to market and was having to compete with other established products – the biggest issue was that the alliance business team was not working.
Open Water started by coaching the two senior leaders from the partner businesses, as it was crucial that they came across as fully in-tune. Next, Open Water designed a workshop program to systematically progress the alliance team leaders through the challenges towards collaborative working. The first task was to break down the team’s preconceptions and build trust among the group, and so the workshop opened with a “disruptive” exercise. The aim was to knock individuals out of their day-to-day mindset and open them up to creative and alternative solutions. This was followed by tailored exercises to help them learn how to work together and trust each other.

Beliefs and mindset

A big challenge to the success of the product was the internal perception about its potential. “We recognized that neither organization really believed the new product could be the number one anticoagulant on the market. If you don’t believe in your product then you won’t become the number one choice for doctors and patients. It’s as simple as that. We knew the benefits of our product, but the positioning and messages were too convoluted,” says Tanguler.

At the workshop there was a facilitated discussion about the genuine potential for the product, and what the barriers to success were. The leaders agreed that a staged approach would simplify the message, so a roadmap was developed that followed a “Secure & Go” approach. They would target cardiologists first, and once they were number one with cardiologists they would move onto the Primary Care sector, and so on.

Another aspect uncovered by the diagnostics was the need for the leadership team to work on their collaborative approach. Leaders had to be able to identify with the alliance team over and above their own legacy organisations. This meant having laser-like focus on how the product would ultimately benefit patients and clinicians in order to move away from any competitive conflict-driven by-partisan, legacy organizational issues.

A step change in performance

Cultural alignment: the members of the alliance leadership team have moved away from a culture of blame, and learnt to appreciate each other’s differences and strengths. There is now a focus on shared values.
Roadmap with staged actions: collaboration and a creative process allowed them to develop a very targeted and impactful roadmap, which was a key outcome of the project.
Winning mindset: by discussing beliefs and values in an open and honest forum, they have changed the alliance business team’s mindset to believe they can be the number one drug. And they have achieved this.
Significant step up in product sales: the roadmap, collaboration and clear governance structure have enabled the alliance leadership team to turn around the product’s performance. What was previously a $1 billion product is now $5 billion +.


“For me it was that cultural shift – the leadership team talking to each other – so that people started trusting each other and were able to build the culture of winning. The same people who launched the brand were the ones who also made the changes. We created an environment of trust and openness that meant the team could take these steps with confidence. The rest is history,” says Tanguler.

The product has far exceeded expectation and now the alliance is able to streamline and further develop the brand, which they would not be able to do if the brand was underperforming. Open Water has helped take the product to the next level.

“Open Water brings a wealth of knowledge of these issues: culture, team dynamics, and purpose-driven organizations. That is their differentiator. And they can react and adapt as situations change, while still keeping the top priority in mind so we stay on course and achieve what we need to.”
Tolga Tanguler, President of Rare Diseases, Pfizer North America.


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