Building a company for the future

March 08, 2021
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usinesses across industries have faced countless challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, but not many have had to maneuver major mergers and acquisitions while navigating these conditions. Bristol Myers Squibb, which completed its acquisition of Celgene two months before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health emergency, was tasked with just that.

In a recent interview, Executive Vice President, Chief Commercialization Officer Christopher Boerner; and Executive Vice President and President, Research and Early Development Rupert Vessey reflected on the unique challenges of building a company during a pandemic, and how a successful integration created a stronger Bristol Myers Squibb ready to realize its potential in addressing the needs of patients.

Executive Vice President, Chief Commercialization Officer Christopher Boerner

Executive Vice President, Chief Commercialization Officer Christopher Boerner

Q: How has the integration built on the strengths of both companies to the benefit of patients?

Chris Boerner (CB): The integration of Celgene makes us an even stronger combined company. Prior to the integration, we knew that we could not be a leader in oncology if we did not have a leadership position within both solid tumor and hematology.  This merger was the culmination of a long-term strategy at Bristol Myers Squibb to combine the reach and resources of an established pharmaceutical company with the agility of a biotech. The integration presented a fresh opportunity to take some of the lessons from our new colleagues about simplifying how we operate and moving with greater speed, and marry them with the scale, resources and centralized capabilities that existed at Bristol Myers Squibb. 

Today, we are leaders in both solid tumor and hematology and our combined company is strongly positioned to discover, develop and deliver more transformational medicines for more patients facing serious diseases; a mission that brings passion and urgency to the work we all do.  Every day, each of us works to improve outcomes for patients fighting serious diseases, and we’re so excited and humbled by the opportunity we have now to help even more patients.  

Executive Vice President and President, Research and Early Development Rupert Vessey

Executive Vice President and President, Research and Early Development Rupert Vessey

Rupert Vessey (RV):  Both companies brought an extremely strong commitment to patients. That’s an important value that drives our people. My team is blended from both organizations, and it’s been fantastic to see how incredibly well they've come together to collaborate, learning how each other has typically done things and, in many cases, coming up with new and better ways than either organization was doing previously. For example, Celgene was at the cutting edge of a new mode of drug discovery that deals with the degradation of specific proteins and cells. We've been able to dramatically accelerate that research through the integration of the two companies thanks to the substantial and incredibly skilled small molecule drug discovery organization that existed at Bristol Myers Squibb. We can run more programs, so we're not leaving opportunities on the table. The same holds true in the more recent acquisition and integration of MyoKardia: Thanks to our expanded capabilities, we can accelerate research and explore the full potential of this promising pipeline of cardiovascular assets, and that’s good news for patients. 

Q: Did the pandemic impact the goals and priorities of the integration?

RV: Some of the goals were related to the overall performance of the company and the progression of the pipeline to make sure we continued to deliver on what’s important for our patients and our business. There were also goals in areas like organizational design, company values and culture. These objectives didn’t change because of the pandemic — we just had to go about accomplishing them differently as we moved to a virtual work environment. I think some of the things we've done virtually this past year we will keep doing virtually even when the pandemic is over because we can be more inclusive. For example, lectures and discussions that only a subset of the organization could have attended in person are now available to everyone online. 

CB: Our ability to adapt to the virtual work environment has been key to our successful integration. It has also sparked innovation that has helped us to deliver for patients. We have launched a number of new products and product indications without the benefit of traditional in-person interactions with our customers. Mastering the technology is just one part of it; the environment of the pandemic made us think differently about how we communicate with our customers and adapt to their needs.

Q: With some of the major milestones of integration now complete and vaccines making headway against the pandemic, what excites you as you look into the future?   

RV: We spent a lot of time setting up our organization, so I'm keen to get it firing on all cylinders. And we're in a good position to do that, building on the solid foundation we've laid. Also, because I manage a lot of sites in different cities around the country, I’m most looking forward to getting out and seeing the scientists, thanking them for the innovation they're bringing forward, and sharing just how highly we value it, as that is something best done in person.

CB: Today we are a leading company with a diversified set of businesses; a growth company focused on science and innovation and a company with an inclusive culture that values diversity as a competitive advantage. 2021 is a year rich with opportunities. Our ability to stay focused on execution, adopt new ways of working, say no to the things that distract us – these will be keys to our success. By leveraging our shared values – passion, innovation, integrity, accountability, urgency and inclusion – together, we will deliver our strongest year yet for one another, for our patients and for our company.