Editor’s Note - Sanat Chattopadhyay is the subject of Life Science Leader’s August 2017 cover feature. The president of Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD) sat down with us to share stories that shaped him as a leader and prepared him for his current transformational turnaround challenge of reshaping MMD to be ready for its biological manufacturing future. The following all-access article was put together as a prequel to the upcoming feature. If you like what you read here in our Beyond The Printed page section, you may want to become a subscriber, which you can do here at a special summer 2017 rate of $49 (U.S. only). In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this free bonus content.
While it is a little early in the Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD) transformation to determine what, if anything, he would have done differently, it is likely Sanat Chattopadhyay will explore this exercise in the near future. “Every time I complete an assignment, whether a transformation or consolidation, I reflect on what was done and realize that there are always some missteps,” shares Chattopadhyay, the president of MMD. “For example, when I was in India, I did the transformation from internal to external manufacturing too fast. Sometime I could benefit from right-sizing my own ambition,” he says with a smile.
A second learning he has experienced during reflection involves talent management. “From a leadership perspective, it is very difficult to find the balance of when it is appropriate to replace an individual with a better version. If you have grown with an individual, you create a loyalty that can be difficult to overcome, resulting in lost objectivity.” To overcome this, Chattopadhyay tries surrounding himself with a group of leaders who help him remain objective on critical senior talent-management positions.
“If I don’t understand the products well, I can’t lead manufacturing well.” This is a statement he made after pondering a third area of reflection. “I’ve always been pretty good at bringing an outside-in understanding to my roles. But sometimes, even today, I can get caught up in ‘firefighting’ mode and fail to spend enough time with R&D and marketing — critical areas that help me better execute my job.”
But there are other learnings. “One of the first things I learned early in my career is the importance of creating a vision before embarking on a transformation,” he explains. “Then, you need to focus on the critical few things that are necessary to achieve the mission.”
Chattopadhyay also believes organizations always respond best when they know what and how to prioritize to drive flawless execution of a strategic roadmap. In addition, he feels it is best to be a high-demand, high-support leader. “It is okay to be demanding when leading, but you also have to be supportive and empathetic,” he states. “You have to care about your employees, for those are the ones who make things happen every day.” High demand and high support go hand in hand to get the best out of an organization.
Finally, it should go without saying that Chattopadhyay learns a lot from the leaders he surrounds himself with. “I have always tried to recruit leaders who are better than me in areas where I have gaps,” he says. “It may sound cliché, but having people who know more than you, working for you, forces one to up their game every day.” But beyond this, Chattopadhyay says he doesn’t try to necessarily recruit just leaders, but rather, leadership teams. “When you are recruiting/building a team, if you want to get the best out of them, you need to not only compensate for the weaknesses, but have folks who can operate well collectively.”
But you won’t be successful at doing any of these things if you don’t first take the time to understand yourself as a leader. “Great leaders are like a conductor of a complex orchestra. They can’t play any instrument better than its members, but they know how to compose and create an environment that gets the best out of them at the right times,” he concludes.