SMARTPEOPLE: Simon White
Simon White is head of learning and development at Janssen. He almost gave it all up once to be a dive instructor
Getting up isn’t a problem, so my day starts between 5.45am and 6am. I usually have a bowl of porridge and then set off on my 35-minute country commute to Janssen’s office in High Wycombe. Two days a week I head to the pool early: I like to get 2-3km done if I have no early meetings. I arrive at the office around 7.30am-8.15am, having grabbed a Costa coffee from the on-site shop.
Our organisational culture at Janssen is very collaborative and we have an increasingly matrix structure, which means lots of conversations to find what’s going well in the business and trying to ensure that gets shared, and diagnosing ways to further develop the current and future organisational effectiveness of Janssen UK/IRE against our organisational priorities. At the heart of this is providing performance consulting partnership and L&D expertise to our business leaders.
So my days are varied and busy. I’m often involved in projects, so there could be workshops or meetings to develop, contribute to, lead or facilitate. I have meetings with my own team or team members to discuss their own business partner priorities. There’s always an ongoing project to manage, and communication to be developed. And I try to plan in enough ‘redundant time’ to allow for the unplanned and often unforeseen work that emerges, requiring impromptu advice, coaching, sharing, innovation, and continuous improvement.
I always make time to snack strategically to keep my energy levels up, and ensure I get away from my office or meeting rooms to grab a sandwich from the coffee shop. I tend to eat it at one of our pit stops while skim reading The Independent or Twitter, and talking to anyone passing who stops for a chat. I also drink several cups of mint tea during the afternoon.
Essentially, I see my job as ensuring Janssen has an effective L&D department partnering the business. This means all our activities need to be fully aligned with the issues that are of strategic importance to the business. At the same time, the work we do, and the influence it has, needs to further generate a culture of learning and sharing and contribute to our organisational culture and values, marking the company as a great place to work. I also think that some of the ‘good’ we do in L&D is in holding a space at leadership team meetings for the kind of thinking, questions and discussions that bring stronger people and a development focus to the issues under discussion. It’s not that such conversations wouldn’t happen in our absence, it’s just that in our busy, time-poor business world, they can get squeezed out. It was gratifying when one of our commercial leads said to me recently: “We couldn’t do what we do without L&D.”
But we still have much to achieve. I’d love to see greater proactive sharing across the organisation through the business tools we now have. That would mean more efficient and effective communication, far greater learning, agility, and enablement of the matrix organisation around customer and business priorities. Mandating this stuff is not empowering, nor does it engage people. It’s the nature of change that some people embrace it earlier than others, and once the personal and business benefits are more commonly recognised and realised, it will be like email or the internet, you wonder what you’d have done without it.
I love working with my team, a group of dedicated and professional L&D people who stretch me on a weekly basis. It’s true that you should always strive to recruit people better and smarter than yourself, and who can offer something that you can’t. I think I have. I love the challenging yet mutually respectful culture we have, and I love that I can be surprised by the unexpected most days. μ
Simon White is also the former co-chair of the PharmaTimes Sales Awards. For more information or to book tickets for the ceremony on 9 July go to: www.pharmatimes.com/salesawards
How do you spend your evenings?
On a good day I get home at around 6pm, so I spend the evening reading stories with my daughters – we’re working our way through Harry Potter – and my wife and I try to ensure we eat together and catch up on our respective days. I also like to read, and watch some TV.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve only ever done what I wanted to do and what felt like the right opportunity at the time; typically choices where I thought I’d learn a lot and be able to share some kind of expertise, both of which are high values for me. I think success is only sustainable through strong networks and good relationships. It’s not usually something you can easily achieve on your own; it takes the right environment, great teams, peers, mentors and role models and I’ve had several along the way.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. There was no plan, and there’s no specific role. Perhaps it doesn’t exist yet!
If you had to swap jobs, what would you do?
I almost gave it all up to be a dive instructor once.
Who is your role model?
There have been several people I have worked with and for, but who might be embarrassed to be called out by name. But I would mention my amazing sister for her determination and vision building her own business when she had literally nothing.
What is the best career advice you have ever been given?
You’d make a great medical sales rep.
What is the worst career advice you have ever been given?
Don’t go into pharma.
What is your tip for a good work/life balance or meeting your career goals?
I suggest three:
Get clear on who you are and what you’re here to do (what’s important to you) and do work related to that. It helps to ask others what they value about you and your work, so ask for and expect quality feedback often.
Eat well, exercise often and spend your energy on the first point
Don’t take yourself seriously (unless that’s really important to you)
What qualifications/personal skills do you need for your job?
Business experience with a strong understanding of learning theory and practice, performance consulting skills, and a coaching ideology.
Why should someone join the “industry”?
If you like change, challenge and the opportunity to be part of an industry that can truly make a transformational difference to society… do it.
Life guard (USA)
Market stall (Northamptonshire)
English teacher (France)
Director of studies (Japan & Cambridge)
Pharma sales (Organon & Bayer)
Training & development manager (Organon) RBM (Organon/Schering-Plough) Head of L&D (Janssen)
This article was published in the April issue of PharmaTimes Magazine. You can read the full magazine here.