August 2012 | 

Custom Executive Development Program Earns International Recognition


The economic downturn that began in late 2008 was just one of the many challenges facing Merck, and the pharmaceutical industry, in 2009. New health care models, an uncertain political and policy climate, globalization and the increasing influence of emerging markets, consolidations taking place within the industry, shrinking margins and increased pricing pressures, patents reaching maturity, and rising competition from generics represented significant, even game-changing, market shifts.

For Merck, these challenges signaled an opportunity to establish a comprehensive Executive Development Program. Nancy Singer, Executive Director of Merck Enterprise Learning, explains, "Merck sought a partner who would work with us to help develop skills critical for general management positions, use world-renowned professors to stimulate and challenge our thinking, and assist us in the application of tools and models to make key business decisions supporting Merck's strategy. We found that partner in Wharton, who shared our vision and worked collaboratively with us to make it a reality. We've created a unique learning experience together that has had a powerful personal impact on our leaders and overall very positive organizational impact."

Merck's goals for its program included:

  • Improving leaders' capabilities in eight key competency areas: building talent, business acumen, customer centricity, driving transformational change, entrepreneurial mindset, global perspective, relationship building and influence, and strategic thinking.
  • Generating a significant ROI (return on investment) from action learning projects, as measured by clear metrics such as revenue growth from projects implemented, expansion into emerging markets, or savings realized due to process enhancements.
  • Developing senior leader talent to increase succession planning bench strength.

Janeen Pesiridis, Wharton's Lead Director of the initiative, explains, "Merck had its strategic priorities mapped out, so the program was developed to align specifically with them. Our academic content was designed to develop key capabilities utilizing transformational learning experiences that included a global immersion journey and application and reflection sessions that allowed participants to apply knowledge to Merck's leadership challenges. Merck also identified strategic projects for participants to work on during the program. Small project teams were paired with Wharton faculty coaches, who were matched to them based on their area of expertise."

Pesiridis continues, "But the real test comes when participants go back to their teams. The knowledge, tools, and frameworks these leaders gained was put to immediate use back in their organization to achieve the ultimate goal: significant business impact."

In fact, initial feedback was so favorable that Merck gave the go-ahead for a second cohort well before the completion of the first program. To date, two cohorts have completed the program. The third cohort is underway, and the program has been expanded to include a selection of senior leaders from all divisions.  For Merck, the program has accelerated the development of strategic and leadership capabilities, generated additional revenue streams, furthered their growth strategy, and achieved valuable business results. In addition, over 60 percent of participants have advanced into new leadership positions.

Jay Galeota, a Merck Program Executive Sponsor and President, Hospital & Specialty Care, notes,"The participants in this program play a critical role in leading and achieving Merck's vision and strategy, now and in the future. Based on my own observations and the outcomes reported, I'm confident that this program is and will continue to be an important component to help equip our leaders for success."

But it wasn't just Merck who noticed the results. The program was recognized by the Belgium-based European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), which recently announced its 2012 Excellence in Practice awards. A win in the Executive Development category marks the second consecutive year that Wharton has received an EFMD Award, and it is the only North American business school to win an EFMD Award in 2012.

"We're excited to receive the recognition from EFMD, but the real reward is results," notes Pesiridis. 'We're helping Merck to achieve its strategic aims. Our goal is a continued partnership, and the opportunity to provide custom learning experiences based on actionable knowledge and practical application."

For more information about Wharton Custom Programs, please contact Sean Brophy at customprograms@wharton.upenn.edu.