JOB description: Saving the world. Sounds like something right out of a Marvel comic or a Hollywood superhero action flick but it's in fact the stripped down version of what the folks at Quintiles do. And they carry it out with much fervour, according to Tom Pike, who is the chief executive of the Fortune 500 company.
"There's probably not one of us who hasn't been touched by cancer or some burden of disease, and the ability to go to work every day and know that what you're doing is helping people is really rewarding. To go to work and know that you've got a company where 35,000 people get up in the morning and are excited about really trying to save the world," Mr Pike shares with a smile.
The 56-year-old knows only too well the pain and distress of having loved ones struck by disease. His mother died of colon cancer 16 years ago; she had also suffered a stroke but did not receive proper medical care for it, while his father died in May 2004 of complications from lung cancer.
"He was in an extended care facility and even though he had lung cancer, it was really more the treatment in that extended care facility that caused him to pass. So when I turned 50, I thought about where I can focus myself and I was very motivated to stay in healthcare to try and create better solutions given how my parents passed and what their interactions with the system were like."
The New Jersey native, an accountant by training, joined Quintiles - a global clinical or contract research organisation (CRO) - as CEO in April 2012, taking over the reins from Quintiles founder and now executive chairman, Dennis Gillings. In the past three years, Mr Pike has been preoccupied with bringing professional services to Quintiles' commercialisation and clinical research expertise, something he believes the firm has managed to do "very well". For the first nine months of 2015, Durham-based CRO's service revenues grew 3.1 per cent or US$96 million from a year ago.
The Asia-Pacific region is Quintiles' fastest growing market, with what Mr Pike describes as "unlimited growth".
In 2014, this region represented 21 per cent of the company's total consolidated service revenues. For the first three quarters of 2015, the region held steady at more than 20 per cent of Quintiles' total consolidated revenues.
There are more than 17,000 investigator sites or hospitals across Asia Pacific and Quintiles has conducted more than 1,100 studies in therapeutic areas, including cardiovascular disease, oncology, neurology and infectious diseases, that have involved almost 250,000 patients since 2000.
Last November, Quintiles marked another milestone - it celebrated its 20th anniversary in Singapore.
And the company shows no sign of slowing in what has been a challenging external climate marked by months of global market meltdowns, oil price slumps and sluggish economic growth.
In fact, expanding Quintiles is at the top of Mr Pike's priorities, even as the pharmaceutical industry remains beset by various woes, including tremendous cost pressures and the challenges of mounting new drug discovery in an affordable way.
Coupled with a pressing need by governments around the world to stretch their expanding healthcare budgets, the challenges inevitably place pressure on Quintiles' business as it helps pharmas develop and test potential new drugs, as well as assisting them with selling and marketing prescription medicines once regulatory approval is given.
The company has to "continue to grab market share", says Mr Pike, adding that he wants to grow Quintiles above the market growth rate of about 6 to 8 per cent in the next one to two years.
He is also looking to data analytics to help lift the company's integrated healthcare services segment, which is not as consistent as its other businesses.
Such targets explain his laser focus on the need to develop drugs faster and more effectively for clients, especially when the drug development business accounts for 75 per cent of the CRO's revenue, while the rest of the top line business comes from the integrated healthcare services segment.
A fair profit
Increasingly, the pharma industry is finding it harder to sustain high drug prices, particularly in the face of patent expiries and competition from generic drugs. Industry players have also come under fire for profiting from the sick.
But therapies are getting more complex, says Mr Pike, noting that more tests and procedures are then required to demonstrate that the drugs are safe and work.
"That raises the cost of drug development and what the industry executives are really trying to do is recoup that cost and continue to have enough money to reinvest in more clinical trials." Government funding in these areas is also "not to the degree it used to be", he points out.
"If the pharmaceutical firms don't continue to invest in drug development, then the burden of disease is likely to get worse. I think we just need a fair system that lets pharmaceutical firms make a fair profit and have enough money to reinvest into drug development to benefit populations," he says, adding that industry executives are trying to support the high costs of drug development as they try to balance the scales.
In 2015, several global pharmas have restructured, gone into mergers and acquisitions (M&As) as well as asset swaps, as they try to contain costs and sharpen their businesses. Such trends will continue in 2016 and they spell positive news for CROs, as these will drive company executives to intensely scrutinise current business processes for effectiveness and give CROs an opportunity to show what they can do, says Mr Pike. To reduce costs, Quintiles has made investments in technology, to enable the paper-based industry to capture data more effectively and better analyse and track a project.
War on talent
Also weighing on the mind of Mr Pike is the other continuing challenge for the pharma industry - to win the war on talent, his pet topic. After all, almost everything the company does hinges on having good people - from creating novel operational approaches to making new discoveries in molecular medicine.
"We're now at the point where instead of just hoping that a drug works against a particular issue, we're targeting a therapy, moving towards precision medicine and that has resulted in 10,000 compounds in the clinical development pipeline."
With that many compounds to be tested for safety and efficacy, demand for certain expertise such as clinical research associates and project managers who are the backbone of the CROs has also gone up, says Mr Pike. "We're in an industry that has so many products coming along and they're so fast and highly complex and sophisticated and we have to continue to demonstrate value to customers to allow us to continue to do their work for them and to continue to grow.
"I know that sounds simple but in some ways, the business is about getting the big decisions right and in our case, we can take advantage of this attractive marketplace and really provide great careers for employees." To woo new recruits through every avenue possible, Mr Pike says the company reaches out through social networks and web tools to create a personal connection, on top of traditional means.
Precision in decisions
As Quintiles' chief, the father of two boys - aged 23 and 25 - is constantly having to make decisions, many of which are big and hard. "It has been a lifelong learning on how decisions are really made and then how organisations really execute against them."
This is perhaps tied to his attraction to problem-solving, which was what led him to become a consultant at Andersen Consulting, now known as Accenture, straight out of school.
"That always appealed to me because I always had a new problem to solve. And now, I've been lucky enough to work with hundreds of companies, so having the perspective of working with people like General Electric and Proctor & Gamble and large sophisticated companies through my consulting career ability has helped me develop a lot of the perspectives I use today."
The self-confessed autodidact, who has been married to Joanne Pike for 26 years, says the skills he now applies can be traced back to his earlier consulting career, particularly during his time at McKinsey and Accenture.
"I often say McKinsey taught me how to think and Accenture taught me how to do," he says without hesitation.
Thinking back to his days at McKinsey, Mr Pike, who was there for four years, says he learnt critical thinking skills and the need to verify information.
"When I moved on to Accenture, I was able to take those critical thinking skills from McKinsey and bring them to Accenture. So that combination, trying to make sure that we're doing the right things and then executing them very well, has become a hallmark of my experience."
Fast forward to today, his journey with Quintiles has been "fantastic", he says.
"I'm lucky enough to have some choices about where to spend my time and given that I have choices, I think doing something that's good in the world is very meaningful."
His proudest achievement though, is how he has managed to grow the companies he has been with in every management position he has held.
Outside of work, the avid runner, who enjoys the discipline of the routine, can perhaps look forward to collecting more medals from his hobby that has lately gotten a little competitive. He ran the New York City marathon in early November - his first at the age of 56 - and has also completed seven half marathons.
"It has taught me a lot - the pace and the discipline," he says about running. "I get up for (this) almost everyday that I can, unless my travel is too bad."
Born Sept 9, 1959, in Morristown, New Jersey, United States
Educated at University of Delaware
1981-1986 Consultant; manager, Andersen Consulting
1986-1988 Senior vice-president, Claritas/The Information Consulting Group
1989-1992 Consultant; senior engagement manager, McKinsey & Company
1993-2010 Various leadership roles at Accenture, including Chief Risk Officer; Managing Director, North America Health and Products; Chief Operating Officer, Global Energy, Chemicals & Utilities; Leader of Corporate Strategy; Managing Director, Global Strategic Services; Managing Director of Strategy, High Tech and Communications Business Unit
2010-2012 CEO of several technology and healthcare startups
Since 2012 CEO, Quintiles
Skiing, running, restoring vintage vehicles and structures