Chip Rouse, VP of US communications at Sanofi-Aventis, has not only proven adept at managing the myriad PR challenges of mergers - he's been through plenty - but he truly enjoys them.
Sanofi-Synthelabo's $65 billion purchase of Aventis Pharmaceuticals last year created the world's third largest pharmaceutical company, but Charles "Chip" Rouse was ready. After all, this was the fourth merger of his career.
Constant rebuilding and restaffing might seem daunting to some, but Rouse insists that mergers can be fun.
"Mergers affect everyone because you become family with someone new," he says. "You feel good when you build a team. It can be very frustrating, but also very rewarding."
As the two companies finalized their deal last year, the new executives chose Rouse, who was heading PR at Aventis, to serve as VP of US communications.
Rouse reports to North American CEO Timothy Rothwell and also serves on the US executive committee. He oversees internal communications, media relations, multimedia, product and scientific communications, corporate giving, and image management.
But, for the moment, Rouse calls 2005 the "getting-back-to-basics year. You essentially start over. It's like working for a different company."
In essence, Rouse has been at the forefront of PR for five companies - even though, strictly speaking, he never left Marion Laboratories, where he joined as manager of internal communications in 1980.
Marion merged with Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1989.
Lori Moore, who joined Rouse's team in 1993 and worked with him until last year, emphasizes his "staying power and longevity."
Every merger brings some degree of culture clash, she notes, but Rouse has always been able to meld different philosophies.
"The first thing that comes to mind is his adaptability to change in the pharma industry," says Moore, who now heads PR at Novo Nordisk.
Tom Heapes, who also managed PR at Marion Merrell Dow, recalls that Rouse's team launched NicoDerm, the first nicotine skin patch, and also led the crisis effort when antihistamine Seldane was recalled because of heart risks.
"At the time, there were a lot of balls in the air," says Heapes, now SVP at Boasberg/Wheeler Communications. "But Chip is cool under fire."
Hoechst purchased the drug company in 1995, creating Hoechst Marion Roussel. Four years later, the merger of Hoechst and Rh?ne-Poulenc created Aventis Pharmaceuticals.
Aventis chose Bridgewater, NJ, as its base, closing the two former headquarters in Kansas City, MO, and Collegeville, PA. Only a quarter of the staff chose to move with the company.
"We had an organization that was in need of 1,200 people, and we only had 300," Rouse recalls.
Fortunately, says Lisa Kennedy, who heads US product and scientific communications at Sanofi-Aventis, Rouse is just the person for a major restaffing. "[Chip is] a good person. He cares about his team," she says. "There's always a note of encouragement, support, and acknowledgment of solid work."
What distinguished the Sanofi-Aventis merger was its size, Rouse notes. He describes the new PR team as larger than the previous Sanofi team, but smaller than the previous Aventis team.
"Having gone through four mega-mergers, and two significant staff reductions ... watching people grow, develop, and become very good at what they do is what's most memorable," he says.
Ironically, Rouse never pictured himself in either healthcare or PR. In fact, he fully intended to be a sports reporter. Even in high school, he would bring a tape recorder to sporting events, writing articles that would never be published.
After college in 1969, he was hired as a sports announcer at WIBW-TV in Topeka, KS. The following year, he was exposed to PR for the first time, in the Army. But after his 1973 discharge, he returned to journalism, this time as the managing editor of Boxoffice, a trade title for the motion-picture industry.
"It gave me a chance to be all things on the job," he says. "Although I loved what I was doing, I wasn't sure it would be lucrative enough for the long run."
He left the magazine to take a sales position at Deluxe Check Printers, returning to Boxoffice five years later to accept the editor-in-chief post. When the title was sold to another publisher, though, he took another look at PR.
"It dawned on me that I didn't want to do any of those jobs by itself - I wanted to do all of them," he says.
Rouse's journalism background proved instrumental, Heapes notes.
"Chip knows the media really well and understands the balance between a company and the news media," he says.
Rouse is now focused on telling the story of Sanofi-Aventis.
Kennedy notes that the company must communicate about its expanded product portfolio and pipeline. "At the same time, the newly integrated company had to move quickly from integration to operations," she says. "Chip led the group through this transition with a calm and focused management style."
Sanofi-Aventis also faces many of the challenges that have dogged the entire pharma industry - such as backlash over drug costs and access. Rouse also leads reputation efforts, taking part in speaking engagements and roundtables.
"It's not a cost issue; it's a value issue. We haven't done that well at explaining what the cost-value equation is," he says. "There are too many stakeholders that need to hear continual messaging."
To that end, Rouse stresses strategy over tactics. "More times than not, corporate communications is thought of as a tactical function," he says, adding that when the PR team has a role in strategy, "it creates a better organization."
Rouse admits that he was interested in several industries, but he doesn't regret choosing the healthcare field.
"In one way or another, your work helps save someone's life," he says. "The reward and self-gratification ... is that you're helping change quality of life."
Sanofi-Aventis, VP of US communications
Aventis Pharmaceuticals, VP, North America comms and corporate relations
Hoechst Marion Roussel, director, US comms
Hoechst Marion Roussel/Marion Merrell Dow, director of external comms
Marion Merrell Dow/Marion Laboratories, manager of internal comms, media relations, and product comms
Deluxe Check Printers, various sales and marketing jobs
'Boxoffice,' managing editor, editor-in-chief