Sanofi’s David Ford on Talent Challenges in Emerging Markets

Sanofi’s David Ford on Talent Challenges in Emerging Markets

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Sanofi’s David Ford on Talent Challenges in Emerging Markets

An Interview with the Company’s Vice President of Human Resources, North America
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  • In This Video
    David Ford

    At a Glance

    Born in the U.K.

    Year born: 1968



    Career Highlights

    2011–present, vice president of human resources, North America, Sanofi

    2010–2011, vice president of human resources development, Sanofi

    2009–2011, global project leader for transforming talent, Sanofi-Aventis

    2005–2010, vice president of human resources, global pharmaceutical operations, Sanofi-Aventis

    2002–2005, director of human resources, U.K. and Ireland, Sanofi-Synthelabo

    1988–2001, various positions for the New Zealand Dairy Board, initially in New Zealand but also including regional assignments in Latin America and Europe, culminating in director of human resources, Europe


    Sanofi, a leading global diversified health-care company, has seen the future, and it is the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America. The company’s long-standing commitment to these markets shows up in its results: sales in emerging markets rose 9.9 percent in the first quarter of 2012, significantly outpacing sales growth in the rest of the world.

    The company’s rapid expansion in emerging markets brings challenges as well as rewards. One of the most acute challenges is that facing David Ford, the company’s head of human resources, North America, whose job includes meeting Sanofi’s ever-increasing demand for resources in China and other emerging markets. As he points out, it is a task made all the tougher by the fierce competition for talent—not just from within the pharmaceutical industry but from other fast-growing industries as well.

    To attract the best talent, Sanofi is leveraging its well-established presence in emerging markets, reinforced in China by its recent acquisition of BMP Sunstone, a leading local consumer health-care company. Sanofi is also reaching out to China’s university graduates through its China talent center, which Ford was instrumental in launching during his tenure as global project leader for transforming talent. In addition to building excitement about what Ford calls Sanofi’s “sense of growth and opportunity,” the center is rapidly developing high-potential recruits to be tomorrow’s leaders.

    Ford recently spoke with Olivier Wierzba, a partner and managing director in BCG’s Paris office, about Sanofi’s talent strategy in emerging markets. Excerpts from their interview follow.

    We’re seeing many challenges in talent management in emerging markets, in China in particular. What are the main challenges that you see?

    Since the latter part of 2009, the challenges that we have faced in China are first, the simple demand for additional resources in our China business, particularly in the sales force. We are also very conscious of the need to find managers who are well equipped to lead an increasingly large sales force in China. So we have a sense of our own internal requirements, and we know that the competition for people—both within our industry, where we were an early mover in establishing a sales force infrastructure in China, but also from other industries—is going to lead to a situation that will get more and more difficult as time goes on.

    What do you use to attract and retain talent?

    We have really looked to leverage the sense of growth and opportunity. That has become more possible over the course of the last 12 months with the acquisition of a major local player in the Chinese consumer health-care market, BMP Sunstone.

    Given the quantity of people you need to recruit, do you have to explore new pools of people?

    Yes, very much so. One of the roles that the China talent center plays for us is to increase Chinese university students’ awareness of Sanofi and the opportunities that we represent. Before we established the China talent center, we had a very good and competent recruiting team in our Chinese business. But they were constantly battling to maintain head count growth to support the business and offset attrition. In China, you are dealing with explosive economic growth, you are dealing with multi-industry competition, and that leads to a position where 20 percent attrition is a fact of life.

    Let’s move to the talent center. What is it exactly?

    The talent center is a structure that we put in place in the beginning of 2010. It is linked to the human resources function, but it is distinct from the staffing function. The talent center is really an investment, with a head count of eight to ten people who are focused on building for the future. They have a number of areas under their responsibility, including the employer branding and graduate awareness that we talked about earlier. They are responsible for having a clear definition of what is necessary for success in managerial roles, particularly first-line managerial roles, and then having resources in place. Where we can identify high-potential people in the organization, we move them into an accelerated development program, so that they will become qualified to become first-line managers as fast as possible. The intent is for the talent center to support all businesses. It was very important that we separate it from the operational recruitment and staffing organization so that they could focus on the development of future leaders. I’m confident that it has been a success, I’m confident that it will be a success, and I’m extremely comfortable with the decision to push hard to get it up off the ground. Had we not done it, we would be in a much worse state today than we are now.

    Are you considering a talent center for a country like India?

    We certainly are looking to support countries where we expect tremendous business growth. I am advocating looking at India as a potential source of talent for export. Our business in India is large and growing, but the quality of the Indian educational system is such that we should look there to find recruits for our global business, not necessarily for our Indian business.

    Our business in Russia is going to grow spectacularly. In Russia, you have an interesting demographic challenge, in that the population is flat or in decline. As a consequence, the challenge of the labor pool in Russia is very acute, and we have started to look at Russia as a country where we can potentially do things.

    I think the other country that will be very interesting to look at from a talent perspective in the near future is Brazil, where you have a tremendous economic engine and a very internationalist population. I hope to see us in the next two to three years doing something specific in that market, and, by extension, Latin America as a whole.

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