“How I Did It: The CEO of Zoetis on How He Prepared for the Top Job” Harvard Business Review
The Idea: Alaix had spent years running businesses inside large companies. But when Pfizer decided to spin off his division in an IPO, the soon-to-be CEO embarked on an intensive training regimen to prepare for a very different role.
For most of my career, I didn’t aspire to be the CEO of a U.S. public company. I was born in Spain and spent the first few decades of my professional life there. I was a finance specialist: I worked as an auditor and a controller. I was employed by a bank, and then by Texas Instruments, and then by Polaroid. But I decided I wanted to build on my finance career and become more of a general manager, running a business within a large corporation.
At that point I moved into the pharmaceutical industry. First I worked at Rhône-Poulenc Rorer (which later became part of Sanofi-Aventis through a merger), and I was sent to run its operation in Belgium. Then I moved to Pharmacia as the president of its business in Spain. When Pfizer bought Pharmacia, in 2003, I was asked to relocate to its U.S. headquarters as the president in charge of a large section of Europe that stretched from Portugal to Russia.
I enjoyed the broad scope of those general management jobs. In my first role at Pfizer, I learned to navigate a large organization and advocate for the opportunities in my region. I also gained sufficient experience to manage a business across different cultures and with a high level of complexity.
In 2006, when Pfizer asked me to run its animal health division, it was a great opportunity to take on a more global role and expand the scope of my responsibilities to new areas such as R&D, business development, and new product marketing.
At the time, I didn’t anticipate that it might lead to a CEO job. But five years later Pfizer launched a strategic review to find opportunities to create value for shareholders, and one of the options was to spin off the animal health business in an IPO. The CEO of Pfizer told me that the IPO was likely—and that I had been selected to become the future CEO of the new company if it happened.
We talked about how very different that job would be from the ones I’d held before. I’d proved that I could run a business, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had the skills to be a CEO. I would have to develop them. Because the IPO process might take 18 to 24 months, we agreed that this would be a crucial period in which to confirm that I could lead the new company.
As a general manager, I’d had plenty of experience building teams and communicating with employees and customers, but as CEO I would also have responsibility for communicating our strategy to the outside world—including the media, analysts, and investors. Employees and customers already know a good deal about your business, but other constituencies may know nothing. The sophisticated external communication skills that a CEO must have would be especially important in the months leading up to the IPO. During our road show, I would be telling the company’s story to analysts and potential investors, and their opinion of our strategy would have a direct impact on the value of our stock offering.