The ABCs of Corporate Turnarounds

Do you know leaders who, no matter where in the world their career takes them, they always seem to succeed? I know a couple. They seem to will their way in and out situations, almost magically. Managing Partner at Warburg Pincus, who also worked with Valeant to purchase Bausch + Lomb, Fred Hassan’s Reinvent (Jossey-Bass, 2013) portrays the story of a master turnaround artist—but make no mistake about it, it’s not magic. Although after reading the book, it’s easy to see that there’s something special about Hassan. Jim Cramer, host of Mad Money on CNBC, referred to Hassan’s skills in a TV interview this way: “You’ve done many turnarounds, which is why I bank with you first and then I bank with the company that you’re with.” Marshall Goldsmith, recognized among the world’s top 50 influential leadership thinkers states, “I have had the honor of working with many of the world’s greatest leaders. I rank Fred Hassan as one of the top five.”

In many ways, Reinvent is his autobiography. It is full of real life stories, with real people—six who have gone on to become CEOs of large organizations. He is a great storyteller who blends situations, observations and people in an engaging way. My favorite story in the book is when Hassan was called by The Coca-Cola Company’s CEO to address the troubled company, which was looking to embark on a turnaround.

Hassan started his speech to an audience of 200 executives this way: “Start with productive attitudes and behaviors to build a productive culture. Diffuse these into the organization via three main pathways: the Power Trident of Passion, Courage and Tenacity; the Power Triangle of People, Products and Process: and the Leadership Quartet of four winning leadership approaches. Do this right, and you can unleash a virtuous spiral of results that then generates even better results.” This quote is a summary of his entire playbook, which uses the tools detailed in the book. In Reinvent, Hassan delivers the sound business practices he has refined over his career. His playbook packages his ideas in a simple and straight-forward system.

 What Are The ABCs?

Hassan’s playbook is not of the flavor of the month variety. He developed his approach over decades of practical experience. He’s not an academic, consultant or journalist. As the famous saying goes “he’s been there, done that, got that t-shirt” and the book simmers with pragmatism. This is not a book about grand strategy: It is about how to get things done. It is about people and culture at its foundation.

Attitude. Everything starts with attitude and that is to be role-modeled by leaders, especially the CEO. Hassan believes that what holds companies back is the skepticism for management. He advocates being authentic—at work and in life—valuing integrity and owning your accountability for self-development, self-control and self-drive. Hassan seems to have an innate ability to see possibilities, persevere through challenges and restlessly drive towards excellence. And he believes we all can unleash this capability. He says, “It is in our power to do more with what we have. It’s in our power to fulfill our own potential. It’s not where we take our aspirations—it’s where our aspirations take us.” Attitude serves as the catalysts that stimulate the desired behaviors.

Behaviors. There are three behaviors that Hassan outlines in the book as key: Purposeful, connected and leadership. Purposeful is characterized by having clear goals, risk taking, inspiring energy and self-renewal. Connected means self-awareness, sincere emotional intelligence through all levels of the organization and being attuned to the external environment. Behaviors are the substance that sustain the culture.

Culture. People are the decisive difference in any organization. Hassan walks through the steps in selecting, aligning and motivating. He spends a great amount of time discussing how leaders should role-model behaviors throughout the organization, thereby inculcating winning behaviors and creating shared ownership. Culture is the context that fosters executional excellence.


The ABCs are the foundation of Hassan’s playbook. The ultimate result of his playbook is to achieve executional excellence. The author understands that the power of a CEO is not realized by strategy or the leadership team, but by aligning all employees, customers, regulators and partners in execution. Hassan states in his book, “Making strategies happen is the toughest part of being a CEO.”

Hassan believes that strategies are best articulated in a few straight-forward sentences. He provides an example of his work at Schering-Plough, where he kept his strategies as simple as 1, 2, 3:

1. Grow the top line.

2. Grow the pipeline.

3. Reduce costs & invest wisely.

That’s it. For six years these strategies remained unchanged. Their simplicity was executable and yielded one of the best turnaround stories in the pharma industry.


I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I found its tone sincere, personal and easy to digest—yet intellectually insightful and practical. If you’re interested in turnaround stories, you should definitely pick up this book. As you get your summer reading list ready, don’t overlook Reinvent: You’ll feel as though you are sharing a conversation with a wise friend. Enjoy!


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