Ferring U.S. CEO: Leadership Is A Perpetual Journey

Paul Navarre had top jobs at bigger companies, but the ability to drive change and create a culture that values employees was what attracted him to Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

When Paul Navarre took the top spot at Ferring Pharmaceuticals U.S. two years ago, he knew it would be a very different experience from his previous posts at Procter & Gamble, where he started in consumer goods, and Allergan. For one thing, with around 6,000 employees, Ferring is a much smaller organization, and for another, it’s privately owned. But those differences were what attracted him.

“It’s small enough to be a place where you can really impact the organization and drive change,” says Navarre, a Frenchman who was previously based in Italy, Switzerland, England and France, among other global outposts, before landing at Ferring in Parsippany, N.J.

And being privately held, he can focus on what’s really important. “We have a midterm view much more so than my previous job where you were focusing on the stock level. This [company] is more focused on the midterm and trying to do the right thing for patients, physicians and employees.”

There are also similarities. “P&G was very consumer-focused and Ferring has a very patient-driven approach,” says Navarre. “I’ve been advocating for patient centricity for a long time in our industry, and I’m glad that so many people are talking about it now.”

Navarre is using that patient focus to shore up market share in reproductive medicine and maternal health, while also advancing into new areas, such as urologic oncology. In November, Ferring announced a partnership with Blackstone Life Sciences to create a new Ferring subsidiary called FerGene; the two will invest a combined $570 million in a novel gene therapy for bladder cancer patients. Navarre is quick to note that investment in oncology does not mean Ferring is moving away from women’s health. “Infertility is super important for us,” he says. “What we’re saying is, we plan to do both.”

In addition to focusing on the patient, Navarre is passionate about employees and the challenge of getting—and keeping—the people who can help Ferring innovate past competitors. “It’s all about people, about who you surround yourself with, and the talent you can bring in the organization. That was something that was really in the P&G DNA.”

He sat down with Chief Executive to talk about finding great talent and the long journey of leadership.

Is it harder today to attract top talent than at other points in your career?

Yes, definitely. We’re very fortunate in the U.S—the economy’s positive, it’s very dynamic, there is no unemployment. So attracting, growing and retaining talent is complex. I would say I probably allocate half my time to it, to managing people, recruiting people, but also making sure they are engaged and motivated. So yes, it’s more difficult than it’s ever been. But I think pharma is a very attractive place for young talent.

What’s your strategy for attracting the best of that young talent?

It’s a combination of things, [including] driving innovation. When I started here three years ago, my main focus was on the pipeline. If you have innovation, then it’s fun—and that’s what people want in our industry. They want to make a difference. They want to bring new therapies to patients. So I think if you have a pipeline, if you have innovation, people will be attracted to that.

Then you have to make the place unique. So sometimes I talk about the bringing humanity back into healthcare, but I think this is very linked to with the “people come first” philosophy. People need a purpose. In our industry, people like what they do and they want to make sure that we’re going to do the right thing. Now I am paid to drive shareholder value and all of that. But really people want to make sure that we are true to ourselves and we’re bringing humanity in everything we do on a daily basis. So I think people that work with me, they like that aspect. From a management standpoint, I’m really driving performance by being both caring and demanding. I think I’m a caring manager, but I’m also a demanding manager. I believe in performance. I believe in tough moments. I believe people like to win. And I hope I have a pedigree of winning in our industry. Some people want to join Ferring to win. So you combine the three—bringing humanity back to health care, driving innovation and being focused on the people.

What have you learned in your first two years as CEO of Ferring?

Leadership is a perpetual journey where you have to reinvent yourself as a leader all the time. So I have to admit, I had to adjust to Ferring, which is very different from Allergan or P&G. Also I am based in the U.S. now, and as a leader, I’ve worked in many different countries. So I believe in agility and adaptability for a leader. I have learned the Ferring way, and have modified my DNA to ensure that we develop the right recipe for success for Ferring with me in the company. I’m trying to constantly change my management style and adapt to the new environments and this is what I like the most about my job—changing, evolving, improving. I hope I’m a bit better than [I was] two years ago. I hope I’m a better leader and have adapted to my team as well. I have a very strong management team in Ferring in the U S I have adapted to them and I, uh, I hope that they feel that way as well.

As CEO, how do you ensure that you’re getting all of the information you need, even the really bad news that people have a tendency to want to, uh, keep from the boss?

Right, how do you stay connected when you’re the boss. I’m trying to do that myself. I’m trying to engage myself in getting a tight connection with the employees. I’m trying to create proximity with employees, to create less distance between them and myself. So every two weeks, for instance, employees are invited to a breakfast with me and the discussion are very open. I invite people to be openly critical of the organization and tell me what needs to be done better.

That’s one that I do very often. I’m trying to go on the field with our operations around the country with people. Because I believe when you spend a day with someone, you give them more of a chance to give you true, honest feedback. I’m also trying to talk to employees at least once a month.

Creating a culture where employees feel they can provide feedback is a cultural journey. I’m happy that we’re better than we were two or three years ago, but it’s a journey to create culture where employees feel empowered to give feedback to their manager. I hope I’m authentic and people who know that they can push the door and come to me directly.

But the moment you believe you’re done on that it’s over, you know? The moment you believe you know it, it’s over. You need to constantly leave the window open for feedback and truly take the feedback. A member of my staff gave me honest feedback on Friday about something negative and I really appreciated it. It was a gift to me.

It sounds like you believe humility is really a requirement to be CEO?

Yes. And it’s tough because we are all the same. We all have egos, which is also why we are leaders, but humility is important. I’m not a finished product. I know that I need to constantly improve if I want to be successful and I need my employees to feel that they have a voice on the company’s strategy and feel engaged on the vision and influencing me in driving the organization. So yeah, I’m trying to stay as humble as I can.