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Leadership Lessons From the Head of Global Information Quality at Lonza

Yan Kugel August 18, 2021 258 1

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In this podcast with Kurt In Albon, we will look at the concept of true leadership and its importance in the pharmaceutical industry. Kurt will tell us what essential qualities are required to be a successful leader, what pharma companies should look for when hiring talent, and some valuable tips for people who aspire leadership. 

Who is Kurt In Albon?

Kurt is Global Head of Information Quality at Lonza, one of the biggest CMOs in the world. He has been in the pharmaceutical industry for over 25 years and holds leading-edge expertise in data integrity, pharmaceutical validation, international team management, and computer science.

In this blog post, you will learn:

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What is Leadership and Why it is Important in Pharma Industry:

Leadership is the ability to ‘lead’ people, society, an organization, or any other group through influential solid skills. A leader possesses powerful foresight, and he uses his personality to draw people towards that vision practically. Honesty, selflessness, consistency, courage, and strong management and communication skills are characteristics of a good leader.

Importance of Leadership Skills in the Pharma Industry:

Kurt says that he has been in leadership positions for quite a long time in the industry. First, he was the Head of IT Quality at Lonza. It was more of a conventional role, but his position evolved with time, adding up new and more important responsibilities. Kurt mentioned these three things at the very beginning of our talk:

1) Being in a position where you have a team and a goal and have to make both of them meet, strong leadership skills are necessary for the pharmaceutical industry. Kurt says that he has a team that works purposefully, but he never says that the people work ‘for him or the company. What he says is that the team works ‘with’ him. That is to give a sense of mutual trust and coherence in terms of prospects.

2) Working in the pharmaceutical industry already comes with a lot of responsibilities. And those are certainly increased in magnitude and importance when you are higher up the ranks in a pharma organization or a company. So, if you have an additional stamp of a leadership role, your leadership skills will play a big part. That’s because your performance is linked with the health and wellbeing of humans and the pain of the patients. 

3) Leadership is required to interact with the public and the regulators in a better, productive way. Better leadership will lead to better dialogues with regulatory bodies and will ease off the pressure. And that is, again, ultimately beneficial for the public.

How Is a Leader Different From a Manager?

The main difference between a leader and a manager lies in the vision.  “You have to tell people where you want to go with them and make them want to follow you. And that means doing two things. It means walking in front of them and also walking behind them.” This from Kurt describes things comprehensively. A leader will lead you, i.e. walk in front of you as well, showing the way and giving a dream-like glimpse of the destination that will make you follow him. Vision is what differentiates a leader from a manager. A manager, in its literal meaning, means an administrator. A pure manager will be a pure administrator, and he will manage stuff. He’ll manage time, work, schedules, and property. A leader will also do that, and he will provide the vision as a plus.

Should Every Manager Also Be a Leader?

Kurt says that it’s the other way around. One cannot be a leader without being a good manager or administrator because administrative skills give you an essential tool that helps you progress towards your goal or vision. It is one of the components of leadership. For a company or an organization, it is also necessary to have managers. Because for a goal to be achieved, you have to make the whole process effective and smooth. And good managers do that. But still, for a manager to be a good manager, he has to stick with a vision. The vision may come from the higher authority, and the manager will then follow that. In short, there should be some tint of leadership in a manager too.

What Should Companies Look For in Employees When Hiring?

Yes, we are talking about leadership traits but, how much do they matter? It is never a bad idea, says Kurt. Looking for leadership qualities when hiring people in your organization is crucial. Kurt says that when you’re hiring, look for individuals who can drive a subject matter forward by their passion. Individuals who put subject matter responsibility above personnel responsibility are way more valuable. Now that is synonymous with having a passion for what they are doing and not just doing their job for the sake of doing it—driving a topic, a vision forward. Individuals with this desirable quality, when inducted, will make your departments grow like never before. In the interviews, they look for the fire in their hearts.

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Do Degrees and Qualifications Matter?

Yes, they do. But no, not on the top of the priority list. What is it then at the top? What else, other than those PhDs and M.Phils? Passion, as simple as that. But Kurt believes that a combination is what makes the whole thing as good as it can be. Even plain passion will be vague without sufficient knowledge and experience. When Yan asked Kurt what he thinks about the degree requirements for certain posts or positions in companies, he said that he knows that this criterion is widespread. But when he does external hiring, he doesn’t focus on titles, qualifications, or degrees. Kurt says that three of the strongest people in his team don’t have any PhDs. They just have bachelor’s degrees. And in two cases, not even a bachelor’s degree in the area he was hiring for. That shows the power of enthusiasm. A degree holder will probably get the work done, but passion will give that work a direction.

Situational Leadership in Pharmaceutical Industry: Does That Work?

The concept of situational leadership is effective in several places, including the pharmaceutical industry. Everyone has got a leadership style that might often remain unrevealed. Thus, it means that everybody can be a leader, but in different situations. If given appropriate conditions, the previously unknown leader will arise from within. This concept is highly applicable in the pharma industry and is quite an effective style of leadership here. A leader who adapts to situations will change his style of leading according to the people, circumstances, and needs.  We discussed the example of Winston Churchill in our talk about how he became such a powerful leader during the world war but did not do well in times of peace. That is an excellent example of how an individual can have exceptional leadership attributes in one situation and fail in another. But in this world of health, pharma, and business, you need to have a very flexible style that allows you to switch your leadership styles according to different needs and situations. You need to have good emotional intelligence. An adept leader in the pharmaceutical industry would be an individual who can step up during any crisis and make people look upon him for directions.

How Can You Become a Good Leader in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Kurt amazingly described the process of becoming a leader or adapting leadership roles by sharing his personal experiences. You should definitely see the podcast for that fascinating discussion. Here are some handy tips that Kurt would give regarding becoming a leader: Don’t Strive for the title: “If you think you deserve it, you’re already on the wrong path”, says Kurt. Having this thought is a clear indication of what are a person’s primary objectives. The seat of leadership requires honesty and dedication towards your cause. So, if you think that you deserve it, rethink. Dig through the roots of your thoughts and come up with some restructured ideas. Work for the people, work for their welfare, and flourish your constructive ideologies, not for the title.

Comfortable being Uncomfortable:

Being comfortable while being uncomfortable has to be learned, especially for a leader. When you are in the process of taking up more and more responsibilities, it is never easy. It takes a load of hard work and consistency. Leaders have to make decisions, and some can be very uncomfortable at times. These roller coasters are never comfortable. Learn to handle such situations, as handling them with comfort is a norm for a good leader.

Look for Mentorship:

Aspiring leaders should search for mentors who have been excellent leaders. Mentorship is a great thing to have because it cuts down on your learning curve- People who have spent years and years making mistakes, gathering valuable experience, sharing with you their methods. A good mentor can save you years of mistakes and experiments.

Be Difficult When it Counts:

Be a pain in the neck when you need to be. Kurt is in favor of the statement. He says that it is an inept manager’s wine to say that he has no resources. Why? Because this is just an excuse in its nature of a lack of problem-solving ability. When you don’t have it, you have to get it. For example, if you have to get a particular project done but don’t have enough resources, you should present a plan and ask for them until you get them in your hands. Be difficult when it counts for your vision.

Practice Collegial Style of Leadership:

Instead of a dictatorial style, you have to adapt collegial leadership to be a successful leader in the pharmaceutical industry. People who are working with you don’t want to be dictated, as simple as that. But apart from that, you have a responsibility to take them along with you, to guide them and show them the way in the most mutual manner. Tell them you’re not their boss, but you are a coworker with extended responsibilities. Instead of trying to enforce, try to become an influential figure. Things will follow you.


After all, leadership is fundamental to the progress of the pharma industry. It creates new ways of serving humans better and sets a purpose for everything that an organization does. If you have to strive to become a leader, do so. But strive to become a leader in making lives better, promoting value, and bringing benefits to the people. And most importantly, have fun. A leader simply cannot exist without passion.



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