PM360 2018 Trailblazer Awards Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Sander Flaum

Sander Flaum, Principal, Flaum Navigators

When Mead Johnson (which would become Bristol-Myers Squibb) was preparing to launch the anxiolytic Buspar (buspirone), they had a problem. The drug often took two-and-a-half weeks for patients to feel the full effect. The solution: Sander Flaum. They created an 800 number for new patients to call a doctor who would explain that if patients were taking another anti-anxiety medication concomitantly, they should continue to take it along with Buspar for two weeks until they felt its full effect. The first persistency program was born.

When Searle was trying to break into the market with antihypertension medication Calan SR (verapamil hydrochloride), Sander established another industry first—the patient guarantee program. If the doctor wasn’t satisfied with a patient’s blood pressure reductions, Searle would take back the product and pay for one month of the patient’s next antihypertension medication.

What about the concept of reps leaving behind extra samples for doctors to give to patients who could not afford to pay for their prescriptions? That was Sander, too. Today, this is a common practice, but it was Sander who introduced the first indigent patient program and helped make it a company-wide initiative for Searle.

And, if you have ever participated in a “War Game” in which you simulate facing off against the competition in order to see how they could defeat you, then you have Sander to thank. He took his experience serving in the U.S. Army, where he went to War Games College, and brought that tactic into the pharmaceutical industry.

Sander is responsible for innovation after innovation after innovation in this industry. And this all comes from a man who was told early in his career that he didn’t get the big promotion he wanted at Lederle Laboratories because he was a stutterer and one person there felt that stuttering was a manifestation of mental illness. What did Sander do? All of the above and so much more.

Smarter Than the Competition

“I had a great mentor in my mom, Rose, who told me, ‘You’re a stutterer and when you interview with two fluent people, you’re not going to get the job,’” explains Sander. “Her advice: Work harder and be smarter than your competitors.”

When Sander started at Lederle, which eventually merged into Wyeth and then Pfizer, he began in the public affairs department. He hated it. Using the GI Bill, he got his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson, where he graduated as the valedictorian, and moved into marketing and sales. In his 18 years at the company, he helped build the biggest vaccine division in the world. (And yes, he did it with an innovative idea: Getting small refrigerators for the pharmacies they did business with so physicians could just call the pharmacy and have the vaccine delivered to them.) He also had success in the dermatology division, bringing Aristocort to No. 1 in the market and launched the Generics Division. But, when he was passed over for Director of Marketing, it was time to move on.

Sander joined Robert A. Becker Agency, which became Euro RSCG Becker (and now Havas Life). He became CEO and led a worldwide team of marketing strategists in introducing six blockbuster $2 billion healthcare brands. And, eventually, the agency grew to number two in the world—without a single acquisition.

“The key to our success at Euro RSCG Becker—surrounding myself with people as smart or smarter than I am,” offers Sander. “For instance, my life has always been about innovation, but I’m not great at operations, so I developed a great operations person. That’s because real leaders are listeners. Keep your mouth shut. Listen to what your people have to say. And then you talk.”

Real Leaders Make New Leaders

The people-first philosophy also had a profound impact on the people who worked with Sander.

“While he is iconic for marketing innovation, Beckerites were privy to his visionary leadership in turning a failing 50-person Rx mash-up into a marketing powerhouse,” explains Deb Stevens, who was SVP, Global Human Resources for Euro RSCG Life and now runs her own recruitment firm specializing in the pharmaceutical industry. “Sander had 350 people striving for A+ work, every day—an achievement few CEOs can claim.”

Part of that leadership were the Becker Values. These were more than just words—they were the foundation for the culture Sander created. The values included the mantra “Growth Is Survival” and encouraged every employee to show up early, speak up at meetings, come prepared, add value, work harder than your competition, learn something new every day, and much more.

“When Sander first came onboard, I was an office manager,” says Terry Wachalter. “Sander became my mentor, and still is to this day. He guided me and helped me see that I was able to rise far above that role, and he ended up making me his Chief Operating Officer. He was always very charitable to his employees and he’s a very warm, caring human being—even though people say he’s tough. To be as successful as he is, you have to be tough.”

The Innovation Doesn’t End

In 2004, Sander decided to leave Euro RSCG Becker and he took Wachalter with him as they started Flaum Partners, which became Flaum Navigators when Wachalter retired in 2010. But, Sander is still going strong as he continues to run Flaum Navigators where he encourages and coaches his clients to embrace disruptive innovation in marketing, sales, and leadership. His chief strategic officer is Lisa Ebert, former President of Medicus.

Sander has also shared his leadership philosophies with the world via four best-selling books, including his most recent, Boost Your Career, which is for rising stars. Additionally, he serves on the boards of The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences (where he is very much involved with the speech and hearing clinic), The John Glenn College of Public Affairs (who was a close personal friend), Fisher College of Business, and the American Institute for Stuttering.

“For Sander, integrity was priceless,” Stevens says. “Thanks to him, our industry now has so many great leaders. I think it’s his proudest achievement.”


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