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Oevlisen, 49, became co-CEO of Novo Nordisk in 1989, when Novo Industri, with $650 million in annual sales, merged with Nordisk Gentofte, with $160 million in sales, headed up by Henry Brennurn, 59. Novo Nordisk had 1988 revenues of $810 million. Oevlisen says it’s too early to tell how the marriage is working out, but for the first three quarters of 1989, revenues were $846 million.
Oevlisen is enthusiastic about the joint venture, though. His passion comes from what he says drives his firm: innovation. “It’s important to use your imagination…you are expected to experiment in our business,” he says.
With just 8,000 employees, Novo Nordisk has found its niche in the marketplace. Although its pharmaceutical division makes everything from oral contraceptives to blood coagulates, Novo Nordisk is primarily known for its insulin products, which account for 34 percent of market sales to the monitored industrial world, and about 81 percent of the company’s total pharmaceutical sales.
Adding to the company’s innovative image is the recent development of the Novo Pen, an insulin injection system that has been a boost for the company’s sales.
“The fact that I’ve been able to pull that pen out of my pocket at employee meetings and tell them we gained 11.5 percentage points in ‘this market and that market’ last month due to this pen, really ignites a lot of energy in this company.”
Oevlisen sparks energy in his employees in other ways, too. He rotates employees throughout the firm to upgrade their skills and to give them the opportunity to get a sense of how the whole firm works. “We try to remove obstacles to the development and expression of employee productivity,” says Oevlisen, contrasting his management style with that of some U.S. CEOs. “The organizational structure of the traditional American company,” he continues, “is often hierarchical, and it is characterized by ‘you are supposed to do this or that,’ and it can fence people in.”
The very nature of Novo Nordisk as a pharmaceutical and bio-industrial company has confused some analysts. Besides being a pharmaceutical company, it is the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes. “I think we are a type of company that you will see coming on the stage increasingly in the 1990s,” Oevlisen says. He tells inquiring analysts, “the company is a biotechnology-based firm that draws on one technology to serve widely different markets.”