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PROFILE: Tuomo Pätsi describes Celgene's evolution and the emotional fallout of M&A

This article was originally published in Scrip

Executive Summary

Tuomo Pätsi, current president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region at Celgene International Sàrl, believes the business unit is on a steady path of "humble" growth within the pharma industry.

Tuomo Pätsi

In 2014 Celgene tied with Roche for the highest number of drug approvals in the EU. In the past four months the company has received approval in Europe for Abraxane (paclitaxel formulated as albumin-bound nanoparticles, or nab-paclitaxel) in combination with carboplatin for the first-line treatment of non-small cell lung cancer; Revlimid (lenalidomide) for the treatment of adult patients with previously untreated multiple myeloma who are not eligible for transplant; and for selective PDE4 inhibitor Otezla (apremilast) as a treatment for moderate-to-severe chronic plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Prior to his current position Mr Pätsi, who is based at Celgene's Boudry site in Switzerland, was corporate vice-president for the South Europe region. He was also previously a European vice-president at Benlysta (belimumab; for treatment of lupus) developer Human Genome Sciences.

In this latest edition of our executive profile series he talks to Scrip about growing up with a strong work ethic, the importance of flexibility and how it can be hard to let go when your company is acquired.

Scrip: What aspects of you personality have got you to where you are today?

Tuomo Pätsi: There are many aspects but I suppose the main ones are being a hard worker – I have worked to build a solid background knowledge in my field and continued to move up from there – and then being able to focus. There are so many things that I want to do, but I know how to focus on certain things and do them well rather than spreading myself too thinly. Teamed with this focus is the ability to prioritize what's important. Strong prioritization is a key element.

Scrip: What are the key things that shaped you when growing up?

TP: My parents owned their own small business, so that definitely sent a message. When you run a small business it is dependent on your efforts and capabilities, and I saw that. It also gave me the opportunity very early on to be engaged in business activities. I worked there from a very young – what nowadays might be considered child labor (I kid) – but growing up I always had something to do.

Scrip: Who was your biggest influence, and why?

TP: My father influenced me a lot – don't tell my mother that. But both my parents as business owners influenced my thoughts on success and how you achieve it.

Within the industry there isn't one specific person, but I think it's important to recognize that you can absorb information from both good and bad leaders. Good leaders might help you develop but bad leaders provide you opportunities to see problems and learn from them.

Scrip: What are your long term aspirations?

TP: I am very pleased with where I am now and I enjoy what I do. Also I know my work serves a good purpose. I wouldn't want to be a guy promoting chewing gum or other things; I have to have a meaning. When you put so much effort in to your work you have to know it ultimately affects a person – and I get that at Celgene.

Scrip: If you were starting over what's the best bit of advice you would want to give to your younger self?

TP: Interestingly my son has chosen the same educational path as I did. I never advised him to do that because obviously he would have elected to do the opposite. But I never advised him against it and I am very pleased he has chosen to study pharmacy.

I don't regret my decisions but I thought I would become a scientist, a pharmacologist, and it didn't work out exactly as I hoped it would. I did become a scientist but I realized it wasn't for me. So the advice I would give is that you cannot predict your career when you are a teenager. The key is to stay flexible, to be open to opportunities when they arise. Some call it luck how people progress, but I think it's more about how you react in the face of new opportunity.

Scrip: What has your proudest moment been?

TP: I am very proud of what we have achieved this year at Celgene. I think under "biggest achievement" I would put the success of this company. We have achieved success in a very humble way in Switzerland. We started on simple premises here in Neuchâtel and we have grown.

Scrip: And what about your most difficult moment?

TP: I did work for another company, Human Genome Sciences, which was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline, and it was difficult in the sense that you put so much effort into it and then let it go. I asked many other people to join the company and then it was acquired by another firm. So it was hard as I felt responsible for the people who had joined with me. Ultimately it turned out well but I think it was difficult emotionally for many.

[Ed: In September 2012 Human Genome Sciences, after closing its acquisition deal with GSK, announced plans to lay off 114 staff members. It later added another 100 positions to its total job cuts.]

Scrip: Tell us one myth about the industry that you'd like to set straight.

TP: I am always worried about our reputation. We are proud of the work we do and it serves a good purpose. There is a perception that we are not serving the common good and that worries me. I wouldn't have the motivation do to this job just for the money.

There are unfortunate events that have contributed to this opinion, but it has been generalized. One of the key things for us is that we need to communicate the good things better. It's not that there has never been anything wrong – there has been – but it isn't everyone at all times and we have evolved as an industry.

Scrip: If you weren't a pharma executive, what would you be?

TP: A mountain guide probably. But I should have started much earlier and maybe be a bit more comfortable with heights. It would be something outdoors – though actually that is more what I like to do for fun not for work. I think it's important that you have hobbies that balance out your work, just something completely different.

Scrip: What are your hobbies then?

TP: Cross-country skiing, hiking in the summer, those kinds of outdoors activities. I like to do some of these on my own too, having quiet time in a very different environment to what I experience during working hours.

Scrip: What was your favorite subject at school?

TP: Biology, it's the understanding of the elements of life. Chemistry is supportive but I was never as excited about it as I am about biology.

What are you reading at the moment?

TP: I drive to work and I listen to audio books; at the moment I have the BBC's A History of the World in 100 objects. It looks at 100 objects starting in the prehistoric era and it describes what each object does and what the world looked like at that time.

The last book I actually read was about a Finnish pop musician/writer called Juice Leskinen [Juhani Juice Leskinen]. He died in 2006. I like a lot of his songs. He was very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Scrip: Do you have a lucky charm?

TP: I don’t. I do believe in luck but not in a mystical sense.

Scrip: Tell us about one change you effected in your organization that you believe was invaluable?

TP: I wanted to create a drive from within but I didn't want us to become overly complex and unable to be ourselves. That's the kind of culture we have, 'I can be myself here.'

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