PM360 asks John Thero, CEO, Amarin what motivates him in the face of challenge.

I love a good challenge. I became President and CEO of Amarin Corporation in 2014, after working my way up through leadership roles, starting as CFO in 2009, then CFO and President. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that progression—but the timing of my journey made it unique.

The Challenge

In 2013, the year before I was appointed CEO, the FDA withheld approval for expanded use of Vascepa®, our flagship medication. This led to the organization going through a 50% reduction in staff.

For many leaders, this would be good cause to run away from the corner office. That’s just not the way I think. As I said, I love a good challenge. Knowing that guaranteed victory awaited me would have taken away a good deal of the fun. The fun comes from working with great people to get things on track.

Since 2014, our team has moved the organization forward, and our employees have been at the forefront of that turnaround. Here’s why: We’re on a mission to do good. At a time when skepticism is the rule, doing right by patients is the glue that binds us.

When I started here, we had 15 people. Today, we’re on track to reach 500 by year’s end. Finding the right people and helping them to work together is critical. So far, we’ve been successful, with revenues projected to be $180 million in 2017. We did that while announcing REDUCE-IT—a huge, six-year, 8,000-patient, outcomes study for our first-of-its-kind drug, Vascepa. It’s the sort of thing typically taken on by much larger companies—but we raised the $300 million needed to make this study a reality.

The Turnaround

Cardiovascular disease still kills one person every 38 seconds. That’s a public health crisis. Our company’s turnaround occurred when we saw this as an opportunity to save lives; and secondarily, to be part of a responsible business community.

For pharma leaders facing a big test, I’ll share my three go-to priorities:

  1. When it comes to team building, remember your ABCs: Look for employees with the right Attitude, Brains, and Competence. Experience is good, but ABC is key to achieving your goals: If you’re innovative and doing something meaningful, people will rally.
  2. Emphasize core values: Make sure values are understood. Integrity, ethics, good communication, transparency, and teamwork all matter. Being good to customers and investors are hallmarks of a responsible company. Being attractive to the people who will make you great creates a culture of responsible, motivated people.
  3. Work for the greater good: Working to benefit the tens of millions with cardiovascular disease is inspiring. It’s inspiring to be part of a first-of-a-kind innovative product. It’s a huge motivator to be taking on a disease by generating game-changing science—and this spurs our business success, as well.

All of our people know that one out of every three deaths in the U.S. is due to cardiovascular disease; they know that many of those 800,000 deaths are preventable. Each of us understands the end result of the work we do—helping to improve patient lives. Remembering that driving mission behind our business and our product helped me face the dark moments. And now it’s key to our success.

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