Lead­ing ladies

ITV’s Dame Carolyn McCall and Emma Walm­s­ley, of GSK, top Man­age­ment To­day’s ex­ec­u­tive poll and talk to An­drew Saun­ders

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - For the full re­sults of the Bri­tain’s Most Ad­mired Com­pa­nies sur­vey, visit Man­age­ment To­day

Emma Walm­s­ley (left), the boss of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal gi­ant GSK, and ITV chief ex­ec­u­tive Dame Carolyn McCall have been named Bri­tain’s most ad­mired lead­ers in a poll of top busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives by Man­age­ment To­day.

Dame Carolyn McCall, the ITV boss, and GSK chief ex­ec­u­tive Emma Walm­s­ley have been named Bri­tain’s most ad­mired lead­ers in a poll of top busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives. The duo, two of the just six women who lead FTSE 100 com­pa­nies, came out on top in a sur­vey of 234 board di­rec­tors, an­a­lysts and City com­men­ta­tors as part of Man­age­ment To­day’s Bri­tain’s Most Ad­mired Com­pa­nies sur­vey.

This is the first time two women lead­ers have been named joint-top in the an­nual sur­vey, which is con­ducted by Echo Re­search. Man­age­ment To­day sat down with each of them to get a sense of what life is like at the helm of two of the coun­try’s most high-pro­file busi­nesses.

Emma Walm­s­ley, chief ex­ec­u­tive, GSK

When Emma Walm­s­ley took over the top job at Bri­tain’s largest drug maker, GSK, in April 2017, she was not only the first woman to run the com­pany but the first woman to take charge of any ma­jor phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals firm.

Af­ter 17 years at L’Oréal and sev­eral more run­ning GSK’s con­sumer health­care busi­ness, Walm­s­ley wasn’t a tra­di­tional pharma spe­cial­ist but a con­sumer mar­keter more used to sell­ing Hor­licks and tooth­paste than life-sav­ing medicines.

GSK’s shares dipped on the news, per­haps re­flect­ing sur­prise and un­cer­tainty in the mar­kets. Would she have what it takes to per­form one of the most com­plex and high-stakes – not to men­tion so­cially vi­tal – roles that UK plc has to of­fer?

Eigh­teen months on and she has proved her crit­ics wrong, hav­ing set about the task of stream­lin­ing GSK’s £80bn busi­ness with the lev­els of en­ergy and laser-beam focus you’d ex­pect from a noted yoga afi­cionado.

“GSK has a long track record of mak­ing a great dif­fer­ence to pa­tients with our res­pi­ra­tory and HIV medicines. We are world lead­ers in vac­cines and con­sumer health­care, but I’ve made it our num­ber one pri­or­ity to strengthen our pipe­line of new medicines fur­ther,” she says.

Along­side the com­pany’s HIV medicines, new shin­gles vac­cine Shin­grix and es­tab­lished asthma treat­ment Ad­vair, Walm­s­ley wants to speed up com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of the lat­est im­muno­log­i­cal re­search, which har­nesses the body’s own de­fences to treat dis­eases.

Walm­s­ley has a rep­u­ta­tion as a no-non­sense leader who deals promptly with any fail­ure to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions. One for­mer col­league has de­scribed her as “nice, but ut­terly ruth­less”. She sum­marises her own style slightly dif­fer­ently: “I’m very driven. I’m cu­ri­ous, I get lots of en­ergy from ex­pand­ing my knowl­edge and I’m re­sults and peo­ple-ori­ented.”

She is com­mit­ted to mak­ing GSK’s R&D even more pro­duc­tive – a drive that will call for some “tough portfolio de­ci­sions”, she says. In Oc­to­ber she an­nounced the ter­mi­na­tion of five un­der­per­form­ing early re­search projects to focus on more promis­ing en­deav­ours.

But Walm­s­ley is un­der no il­lu­sions of a quick fix. The pharma in­dus­try op­er­ates on ex­tended cap­i­tal cy­cles, with novel treat­ments tak­ing years and cost­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions to get to mar­ket. “This will not just be for 2019. We are a long-term in­dus­try and this will be a mul­ti­year task.” On her desk, Walm­s­ley has quotes from both Steve Jobs and Win­ston Churchill, be­cause they both showed courage and com­mit­ment to their prin­ci­ples. But her big­gest in­flu­ence has been closer to home.

“Most of all I’ve been in­flu­enced by my dad. His ca­reer was largely spent in the mil­i­tary, and although busi­ness is dif­fer­ent I still be­lieve sim­ply in hard work and dis­ci­plined ex­e­cu­tion, and that prin­ci­ples and a sense of duty are im­por­tant.”

Dame Carolyn McCall, chief ex­ec­u­tive, ITV

Hav­ing va­cated the pi­lot’s seat at low-cost air­line easyJet at the end of 2017, Dame Carolyn McCall is now chief ex­ec­u­tive of ITV, the UK’s largest com­mer­cial broad­caster, and firmly es­tab­lished as one of the coun­try’s most sought-af­ter bosses.

It’s been quite a change – for one thing she has swapped the air­line’s fa­mously no frills run­way-side HQ at Lu­ton Air­port for the ter­ra­cotta splen­dour of the old Pru­den­tial As­sur­ance build­ing in Hol­born, cen­tral Lon­don.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences be­tween the two or­gan­i­sa­tions, from a lead­er­ship point of view the role of chief ex­ec­u­tive is very much the same, she says.

“The peo­ple side, the board, share­hold­ers, strat­egy – it’s all the same. As chief ex­ec­u­tive, you’re still re­spon­si­ble for all the risk; it’s just a dif­fer­ent kind of risk.”

It helps that she cut her teeth in me­dia, ris­ing from ad sales to chief ex­ec­u­tive at the Guardian Me­dia Group – so she knows the busi­ness and many of the peo­ple in it.

ITV – like easyJet – is a busi­ness fac­ing more than its fair share of big chal­lenges, from pres­sure on the tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue model and chang­ing con­sumer be­hav­iour, to the rise of deep-pock­eted and fast-grow­ing stream­ing me­dia ri­vals Net­flix, Ama­zon Prime and YouTube.

It’s im­por­tant to keep an eye on the com­pe­ti­tion, but not to be dis­tracted or in­tim­i­dated in the process, she says. “Don’t try to be like them, just do what you do re­ally well. YouTube or Net­flix can’t be us and we can’t be YouTube or Net­flix.

“As a leader you have to give clar­ity where you can, but you also have to ab­sorb un­cer­tainty for your peo­ple. You don’t want them dis­tracted, you want them to be do­ing their best work.” McCall has been in­stru­men­tal in lead­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the BBC and Chan­nel Four, among oth­ers, to es­tab­lish a joint stream­ing plat­form to show­case the best of Bri­tish TV – from dra­mas like A Very English Scan­dal to ITV’s sum­mer smash hit Love Is­land.

For all their sim­i­lar­i­ties, one dif­fer­ence be­tween ITV and easyJet – at least when she joined the air­line – is the num­ber and strength of se­nior women. “Look at Siob­han Greene, the head of en­ter­tain­ment com­mis­sion­ing, Polly Hill, head of drama, Emma Gorm­ley, head of day­time – we’ve got some amaz­ingly pow­er­ful se­nior women here.”

But McCall – who has won the ti­tle of Most Ad­mired Leader three times – won’t be rest­ing on her lau­rels. “One thing we do still need to focus on is the pipe­line of se­nior lead­ers to the man­age­ment board, which isn’t quite so clear. That’s a long-term process.”

‘As a leader you have to give clar­ity where you can, but you also have to ab­sorb un­cer­tainty for your peo­ple’

Emma Walm­s­ley, chief ex­ec­u­tive at drug maker GSK, and ITV’s Dame Carolyn McCall have been named Bri­tain’s most ad­mired lead­ers in a poll by Man­age­ment To­day

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