CEO Q&A: Paul Fonteyne, Boehringer Ingelheim

Boehringer Ingelheim president and CEO Paul Fonteyne talks to Brittaney Kiefer about Capitol Hill's priorities and healthcare advancements

What have been some of your key career takeaways since becoming CEO in 2012?
We have 11,000 employees in the US and being named to this position has reinforced to me how committed our employees are to this organization.

It has also reinforced my belief that get-ting the correct people in the right positions is probably the most important thing I have to focus on. How you invest from the time a young person joins the organization to hopefully the time they retire at an advanced age is critical. You need a good balance be-tween young, raw talent that will bring energy and innovation and those who have a bit of grey hair and can say what works based on their experience. Finding that balance is a never-finished business.

My number two affirmation is that the CEO is the communications hub. In this role, you end up being a little more of a brand than in any other executive role because you are the face of the company.

How does your background in marketing help you in your current role? 
There are two things that really help in this job. Number one, think about what the story is for a particular business or audience. How to get the story out is important, but most important is identifying your story. Number two, is the story a problem or is the way you are executing it a problem? You have to be able to dissect whether you have a message problem or an execution problem.

How does the Affordable Care Act affect the company and what is the biggest priority on Capitol Hill this year?
For Boehringer and Americans who don't have the right medical coverage, getting access to affordable, innovative care for a larger number of citizens has to be a good thing. The framework is there, but now it's the busy work of deciding what it's going to look like in each state and in fine-tuning how we deliver care.

In current fiscal talks, the concern is that with the Affordable Care Act, Medicare will become destabilized, particularly Part D. Should this be disrupted, it could have a big impact on our industry and partners. Our message is Part D is working well, so let's not disrupt something that's working for seniors and instead look for other avenues to work on the overall cost of healthcare.

Is the so-called patent cliff and lack of blockbuster drugs in the pharmaceutical pipeline a concern for Boehringer?
We don't feel we have a huge patent cliff problem. There are some products in the pipeline that could become blockbusters, but if not, there are enough of them that we will continue to grow.

Our product portfolio is relatively young and our pipeline seems rich compared to the rest of the industry. We invest a quarter of sales in R&D and that's at the high end in our industry. Our situation is a little different than others because we have so many products that are hopefully going to launch in the next two to three years.

This year we hope to introduce [pending an FDA review] a product for lung cancer that's a targeted therapy. We are planning a launch in diabetes in the beginning of 2014, which will be an important one.

We'll have a second oncology entry hopefully in 2014 and will continue to expand our respiratory portfolio. Hopefully, we will see an entry in hepatitis C.

We don't talk about our research often because we wait for science to be really clear and approval to be certain, but we'll have a lot to talk about in the next two to three years because we have a large number of products that are coming to maturity.

There's been a lot of uncertainty in the pharmaceutical industry about the role of social media. How does Boehringer use it and where do you see this going?
The regulatory environment to do social media in this industry is still unclear, but we were one of the pioneers in social media among pharma companies. We're getting better-than-average participation from stakeholders with these platforms with more than 8,000 followers on our US Twitter handle. We're going to continue to invest in making sure these platforms are a good way of communicating to all constituents who want to know about us and adjust as the regulatory environment becomes clearer.

It's important that you keep an eye on the balance of content you put in these feeds - if it's just about us, it will have a limited appeal. It has to be about a number of topics that our followers are interested in.

What will be taking up a lot of your time in the next six to nine months?
I'm going to spend most of my time on our branded pharma business because it's at a point where it's preparing for a lot of launches and other products in the market. You only have one chance to get a launch right, so that is the most important thing.

There is also a broader portfolio of businesses beyond traditional pharma that must continue to develop and thrive.

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