Pf talks to Simon Nicholson, MD of Organon

Pf talks to Simon Nicholson, MD of Organon, the global women's health company

It is long overdue, but women’s health is finally having its moment in the spotlight and it feels like there could be a big shift on the horizon. Currently, the Department for Health and Social Care is calling for evidence to help shape its Women’s Health Strategy and reflect what women identify as priorities.

It is timely, then, that Organon has just launched; a global healthcare company formed through a spinoff from MSD, with the goal to make a better and healthier every day for every woman. Pf spoke to Simon Nicholson, (UK, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia & Iceland) to find out more about why this large-scale organisation with a start-up mentality could be a real driver for change.

Organon is an old company name, why did you bring it back?

When we were building Organon, of course, one of the first questions we asked was – how do we brand it?  Women’s health is so important to what we are at our core and Organon was one of the names that we included in conversations we had and research we carried out. It quickly became obvious that the name was remembered, valued and trusted, not only by internal founders (we call all our colleagues’ founders of Organon!) but also by external stakeholders. Suddenly, it became the only choice and, in a way, the name found us.

Since launch day, my LinkedIn has gone crazy and I’ve been contacted by people who previously worked for the company, saying how great it is that the name is being brought back which is heart-warming to hear.

How will Organon be different to MSD?

Well, if I can address the similarities first, it may help to establish the differences. Both organisations are grounded in the science and delivering against true medical unmet needs. A large proportion of Organon’s founders have come from MSD and these people are, and will always be, connected to the company history in a unique way.

The key difference is that Organon has a real clear mission to lead in the field of women’s health. We are proud of our heritage in MSD and will always be grateful to MSD for creating this opportunity to deliver something very special. To me, this really feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference, with a group of friends in tow.

The creation of Organon was announced back in February 2020, just before the first lockdown and from that point on, our team has worked incredibly hard to build Organon across the world and specifically across the 11 countries which make up our cluster. From the manufacturing and supply chain departments, legal and HR, and all the commercial functions – they have done it all virtually during a global pandemic. What an achievement!

We have a set of values that underpins everything we do and one of them is ‘We All Belong’. It doesn’t matter what your background or your experience, at Organon you are as valuable as anyone else.

Over Christmas, my family and I were struck down with Covid and I suffered badly with it and ended up being admitted to hospital. It was a difficult time, but Organon closed ranks and wrapped its arms around me and really made me feel like ‘that is where I belong’ I knew then that Organon would be a very special place to work.

Why do you think women’s health has been undervalued by HCP’s and the NHS for so long?

It’s impossible to answer this question with just one reason. Over the last year, we have explored this question and had discussions with stakeholders who have an interest in women’s health all over the world. Women don’t receive the care they deserve for a multitude of reasons. Often, they are busy caring for everyone else first and their needs come last. In some cases, perhaps the health systems themselves aren’t taking the opportunity to provide the care that they could, due to a lack of understanding of the specific needs of individual women. In other cases, there are poor outcomes for women, which can be seen if you look at the statistics showing that women are more likely to suffer from a stroke or a UTI than men.

But I feel the tide is changing with the launch of Organon and the UK Government’s call for evidence to help shape its Women’s Health Strategy.

Women need more choices when it comes to their healthcare, but they also need to feel like they are being listened to. Do you agree?

Yes, I agree 1000%. When Organon launched on ‘Her Day,’ on the one hand we were announcing the birth of a new company but on the other hand, we were also launching a long-term commitment to listen. Listen to the people on the ground that know far more than we do, the healthcare professionals, the policy stakeholders and women themselves.

This commitment has manifested itself in a number of ways, including the ‘Wall of Voices’ – our multimedia installation outside the New York Stock Exchange. We asked women all around the world who had experience of healthcare, as well as those who were delivering healthcare, for their thoughts on the unmet needs in women’s health and we published these quotes, with a commitment to listen and hear every one of them.

The first question from Organon has to be, what are the needs of the woman, and this is regardless of where she lives or her background. First and foremost, it has to be – ‘what are her needs?’ This will drive our strategy going forward, as well as our business developments.

Again, my LinkedIn page has been filled with comments and stories from women saying,’ I have something to say.’ And it is time for somebody to really listen and act.

What are your strategic objectives for the medium to long-term?

Our primary objective is to become the leading women’s health organisation in the world and in doing so, create a better and healthier every day for every woman. Organon has launched with three growth pillars: women’s health portfolio, biosimilars and established brands. How does it all connect? Well, not only are we interested in those conditions that exclusively impact women, we are also committed to conditions which disproportionately affect women and our broader portfolio fits well into this mission.

When it comes to our long-term strategy, we will be focusing on how we can build growth into our current portfolio whilst identifying new areas for growth through research and development (R&D) and business development. With a specialist company like Organon, we now have the luxury of spending more time thinking, ‘how do these products really support women?’.

Your board is 50% women, is that deliberate?

The Leadership team for my cluster is 50% women and I am proud that we have achieved gender parity in my team. We are an incredibly diverse group of Organon founders, with colleagues representing diversity in so many ways.

If we look to the global Board of Directors, nearly 70% of our accomplished directors are women, which exceeds most other companies – with no healthcare company in the S&P 500 reaching even the 50% threshold.

In addition, almost half of the directors are people of colour, 23% were born and educated outside the United States, and 23% are physicians. In all, the board brings attributes that help create a strong foundation for becoming a global leader in women’s health.

When you won a Pf Award at Pfizer, did you ever think you would be MD of a UK pharma company one day?

Not in a million years. Winning the Pf Award back in 2006 was most surreal moment of my career to date. I have never aspired to keep moving to the next level up and I’m not motivated by hierarchy in the slightest. Personally, I think it can be damaging to an organisation and can encourage behaviours that can be quite destructive.

Instead, people should feel safe to speak up about anything and know that everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. Which is captured perfectly in one of our company values ‘Rise Together’.

I have never had your typical ten-year career plan mapped out, instead, I have focused on doing the best that I can, and things have worked out well for me. I work with people I value, and respect and I think that as you get older and tuck more experience under your belt, you recognise things that trigger you.

I know that I am triggered by inequality and unfairness and this drives me in my thinking, ‘what can I do to help?’ and ‘where can I make a difference?’. I surround myself with people who think the same way.

What motivates you on a daily basis to do the job that you do?

Firstly, it’s working with great people. I am definitely a social animal. I’m happiest when I am at work with a bunch of great people solving a problem or addressing an issue and tackling it head on.

Secondly, I am obsessed with the mission that underpins Organon. In truth, I got into the pharma industry by accident, but women’s health has been a part of my career since 1998. That focus and mission has grown with me in my own life – I have two daughters now and a wife and it has only burned brighter as I have got older.

I’m also a change junkie – an exciting opportunity or challenge is something I can’t resist. This last year, there has been a lot of uncertainty for everybody, but having a focus and putting my energy into establishing Organon has been motivating in itself. Is it possible to build a multi-national company during a pandemic? I guess Organon demonstrates that the answer is yes!

Do you prefer working from home or being in the office?

I love both. As things start to change and lockdown restrictions look set to lift, companies have obviously been considering how they work going forward. The approach that we have taken is to make a conscious decision to not put together a document stating that this is how we will do things going forward. It’s a much more flexible approach which prioritises our founders’ physical health, mental health and safety. This approach says we trust you and you know how you work best better than anybody.

When we put a survey out to our founders and asked for their feedback, they told us that they missed face-to-face interaction and really valued it. So, our intention is to take the best of the last year, the best bits about what was good about working from home, keep that in place, and then really appreciate the face-to-face time we have together when we are in the office.

Do you have any habits or rituals you need to do to have a productive day?

Well, I have two dogs, so I get up early and take them out before I start work for the day. I love being outside on my own and having some headspace to think before I start my day. I also love listening to rugby podcasts – on my commute to the office this morning I’ve been listening to one and I think I enjoy the banter and the chat and how different it is to any other dialogue I hear, day-to-day.

My morning routine is nothing special, there are no yoga mats or green juices to hand, I just take the dogs out for a walk, get home, make my wife a cup of tea and take it up to her. But I don’t think I need any habits or rituals to have a productive day. I love the work I do and my passion for women’s health is what pushes me to be a productive as I can and make a difference in what I do.

I’m lucky enough to have a job that I absolutely love, in a company with values that reflect my own, a mission that really drives me and a group of people that I really value and respect. So, I don’t really see work-life as two separate things; life is too short to compromise on either!

Already 100,000 women, organisations, clinicians and carers have responded to the government’s call for evidence to shape its Women’s Health Strategy. It closes at 11.45pm on 13 June 2021 and you can respond here.