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The drama of the couple

If you know of a pharmaceutical or biotech company without a strategic alliance, collaboration agreement, or partnership, they are probably located on Mars. The old business model used to read: “core competencies” and “the rest”. The rest was also called outsourcing and it meant a cheaper pair of hands. That was about a century ago. The new model says: I don’t know where “I” ends and “they” begins. The supply (inside and outside) and the association ‘collaborate-ally’ are part of the furniture. The most famous quote from the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset is: “I am me plus my circumstances.” If Ortega had been a modern CEO, he would have said: “I am myself plus my network of connections.” The new model also involves ‘sleeping with the enemy’ because the roles are imposed by the associations and are not necessarily the ones you would have chosen. The possibility of interactions with others in your industry makes it likely that you are a competitor and a partner all in one, at the same time. Collaboration plus competition has spawned cooperation, a management consulting term that is very clever and very fashionable.

If partnership is now a way of life, the way of life, you would have thought the industry had learned a thing or two about how to do it. The statistics are more pessimistic than that: many associations and alliances fail. The percentage varies depending on the evaluation method, but some people claim that only 10% are really successful, another 20% or 30% more or less, and
the rest fail miserably. Failure is not just a matter of not achieving the expected results. It is often the case that it was surrendered, but then space and time are occupied by two legions of lawyers fighting each other over a gray IP. This is often an incredible war in which legal generals and soldiers from both sides win and go home richer, with a healthier bank account, no matter what.

If you are interested in the nitty-gritty of the association, search on Google. You’ll find more statistics than you can digest and a long litany of reasons for success and failure with their inevitable critical success factors. All those books are worth reading, listening to all the academics (well, a bit), and diligently following the multiple dos and don’ts checklists. Penalty fee. But I think we could take the association as a drama in the Greek sense: like putting on a play.

As a drama, acting as a couple needs three components: a setting, a plot, and characters. The scenario, or the set, houses things like the framework of the deal, the contractual arrangement, the conditions at Company A and Company B, the nature of their relationship, intellectual property, purpose and transaction statements, the rationale for collaboration, all finances, and all intentional and unintentional public relations. The plot is what really happens in the relationship, the dynamics of the deal itself, the chain of events, the life managed by the alliance project, the script generated for internal and external consumption, setbacks, joy, tears and everything. the results. Like any plot, it can contain intrigue, passion, surprises, narrative, tragedy, comedy, and even murder. Finally, the characters are the obvious players, from the main actors:
from the CEOs who head the headlines, to the supporting cast of project managers, scientists, and business people. There may be very few characters involved, or many of them, as troops. As in any play.

During my years of consulting with corporations on the organizational level, as was the case when I was working as a pharmaceutical executive, I have seen every possible combination of setting, plot, and characters unfold in a daily drama of alliances and alliances. The most significant of these combinations have been the following:

oGreat set, good plot, shame about the acting.

The partnership agreement had a good structure, a strong program of activities, and a well-developed and project-managed plan. The alliance was killed by players who didn’t understand each other, became paranoid, and spent all their time fighting, one way or another. Cultural differences, as usual, were blamed and introduced to explain the fiasco, which, however, was clearly due to administrative incompetence. This category of couple drama is, in my experience, very important.

oLow budget set, terrible plot, saved by excellent acting.

The association configuration is minimal or nonexistent. Things feel half-baked despite the stated intentions of the PR folks. It starts off badly, but miraculously continues despite a terrible plot. Tragedy is always at the door. Yet incredible actors seem determined to make it happen. They navigate through all obstacles in great spirit, often recreating both the setting and the plot as they go. The results are delivered by these determined people, not because of, but
despite the original conditions established by their companies.

Unforgettable setting and unknown actors, but boy, what an adrenaline-fueled plot.

In the end, no one really remembers the companies involved, much less the players who never received publicity but who seemed to have done a good job, perhaps. Yet everyone remembers the plot: the exciting and promising data that skyrocketed stocks and tripled market caps in a few days, only to fall off the cliff a month later after unexpected security concerns. The deal is over, no, not yet; forgotten, no, not yet: a phoenix resurrects in the form of an unexpected acquisition that rescues the project. They are angry? Do you know something that we don’t? Stay with us after the interval.

o Luxury setting, Oscar-winning actors, but the plot is impossible.

Huge amounts of money have been invested and the PR people are billing heavily. This is the equivalent of another Disney blockbuster with Elton John playing the piano. The stakes are high. Suddenly, months later, rude members of the audience start yelling that the emperor has no clothes, that the plot is impossible, and that it would take a miracle to show significant results, unless one is prepared to endure ten years of clinical trials. , involving a few hundred thousand patients, which, incidentally, no epidemiological study has shown actually exists. Why the heck did they start that company becomes a good question. The impossible plot only makes sense from the perspective of the corporate and personal egos that are ultimately analyzed. At that time, the audience has left the auditorium.

o Poor set, amateur actors, ends in tragedy.

This is, along with my first category, another big one. Anything that can go wrong goes wrong here because, among other things, no one in the drama has a clue how to deal with relationships. The deal originated one day on a golf course between two not-too-busy CEOs.
The performance ends in tears. In one case that I remember well, the setting was exactly as described. The deal was ordered with due diligence as minimal as the number of toxin studies ‘the seller’ had conducted. I would have thought the play was short because of the murders at the beginning of the first act, but trust me, it continued to accumulate potential for tragedy for a long time. The power of amateur mediocrity is enormous.

Greek tragedies often involved the presence of “the choir”, which apparently began as a soloist singing about some kind of hero and then evolved into a company of singers joining in and singing with each other. Then a proper dialogue was injected and a ‘tragedy’ was born, the Greek version.

There are associations and alliances that resemble the Greek choir. Bits and pieces are added all the time and new players – commercials for example – come in and elevate the association to an ever-increasing level of complexity. Suddenly everything is a chorus, everyone is singing, responsibilities begin to fade and it feels like “a big deal” regardless of the original plot. Greek tragedies did not always have a predetermined script. The actors improvised as they went.
At some point, they would spawn a progressively impossible and implausible plot, full of loose ends, unfinished subplots, and, frankly, what you and I would call ‘a good mess’. Solution? Of course. The deus ex machina (this is the Latin version) was born. A mechanical crane would deliver ‘gods’ on stage to solve the plots by decree and end the unlikely journey towards total incoherence and chaos. In our strategic agreements and partnerships we have our equivalent of deus ex machina.

As in the Greek drama, I am not sure who decides when to lower the crane and send the gods. Perhaps a god of gods? – which is what in business we call “the market”. When our plots get very, very messy, incredibly messy, God’s Market sends a merger and acquisition, an acquisition, a boardroom coup and the firing of CEOs, a Stock Exchange Commission investigation, and US Securities, an insider with perhaps a timely leak. of scientific data, or a really nasty challenge to intellectual property rights. Believe me, as bad as they all may seem, sometimes it’s the only way out of the mess and at least save up appearances a bit. After all, actors no longer follow any script, if there ever was one, and are simply hostages of fortune, that is, trapped by “the market.” I have always understood the term ‘market forces’ as a combination of intense hurricane force winds, very dark skies, and a colossal bearded god pointing a finger at us with an ‘I told you so’ look. So maybe I’m not that out of place with the similarities between Greek drama and trade deals.

Of the three factors of couple drama (setting, plot, and characters), I lean educationally toward the importance of the latter. I do know that good actors can save the day and that, at times, we may have to settle for the statistically greater presence of mediocre plots and more or less acceptable sets. But actors can make a difference. The virtual nonexistence of a
‘acting school’ for our strategic alliances, alliances and collaborations never ceases to amaze me. Our scientists and technicians are often sent out to “do the deal” with high scientific and technical knowledge and a very poor understanding of anything else. They often know little about negotiation, the psychology of dealing, the differences between people in dimensions like the way we make decisions and use information, team management, people management, conflict management, management of relationships and, dare I say, plot management. At best, and in larger companies, there may be some kind of “training” involved. But relationship management has less to do with training than it does with skill development. Our couple drama could be so much better if we focus on the characters and support them with all the tools and education necessary to master collaboration. Mastering collaboration is today’s competitive advantage, not worrying 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or fighting the competition. But we treat it intuitively. As one prominent pharmaceutical executive stated at a recent prominent pharmaceutical conference on partnerships: “We create the deal and then we pray, or we send the lawyers, or both.” I do not see differences with Olympia. No wonder the Greeks used to say “nothing new under the sun”.

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