Glaxo Smith Kline Hoping To Become More Elastic

GSK is one of the biggest drugs companies in the world and like all big pharmas faces paradigm completion. That is to say their R&D paradigms have nowhere to go in a world where cost reduction is the overwhelming priority.

The company took a big chance a couple of years back by appointing a 40 something CEO, Andrew Witty. Witty has brought a little humility to GSK. Like GE’s leadership, he is now saying, publicly, that some of the problems of medicine are too big for a company to solve.

Witty’s recent activity has been to develop a series of new partnerships, the most intriguing of which is with Formula 1 specialist McLaren. We’ve written here before about McLaren and its attempts to adapt its Formula 1 tracking technology to telemedicine. As yet there are no outputs from the GSK-McLaren partnership but at a recent ISPIM conference, Paul Isherwood, their innovation guru, said that the two companies now have teams active on specific projects.

Witty has also got his people thinking about frugal innovation and what they call “fusion”, combining elements from different business lines, but which we would call radical adjacencies. They have also helped set up the bioscience catalyst project in Stevenage, UK and are participants in the Big Innovation Centre at Lancaster University. And of course McLaren’s entry to telemedicine is a classic radical adjacency.

These are all ways of trying to bring GSK into more partnerships with more companies that might disrupt some part of its business. In an elastic world, however it is important to scale partnerships. A few really don’t give you strategic options and we believe strategic options management is the link concept that will allow senior executives to bring coherence to all this type of activity and to build responsiveness in an on-demand market.

Nonetheless, GSK is a giant and Witty is in some metaphoric sense cutting it down to human size, a first step in making it partner and ecosystem-worthy. It is becoming elastic in a very visible way but it is at the start of the journey. To accelerate, they need to look for ways to scale these partner activities. It is amazing that large companies don’t go for partnerships at scale, largely because they believe they already do scale in a different way. It’s not easy to see a way to scaled partnerships, necessarily, but finding new ways to build wealth is what leadership is all about.

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