From over the try line to over the counter: The Machen boy who made it big in pharma
- Born and raised in Machen
- Marlborough, England
I grew up near Machen in a small estate called Graig-Y-Rhacca. My mother, believe it or not, was the local vicar, one of the first female vicars to be ordained. My father was a retail shop owner. Like many young Welsh boys, at a young age I joined the local rugby club, Machen RFC, and it was there my love for the sport grew and signalled the start of a pretty successful rugby career.
I attended Bedwas Comprehensive School, where we had an excellent school side throughout the whole time that I was a pupil there, and it was there that I played all my teenage rugby. My education was very much geared towards sport and I was lucky to have some amazing teachers. Jimmy Stokes, who played for Newbridge and Newport, was my PE teacher and it was him and another teacher, Malcolm Richards, that really supported me in developing my rugby skills.
I was ‘lazy academic’ to be honest as like many young Welsh boys, my dream was to play for Wales. My dreams did, however, come true when I was picked to play in the Wales U15’s against Italy and this was followed by captaining the Welsh U16’s against England at Twickenham the following season and then representing Wales U8’s for two seasons between 1982 and 1983, which culminated in us winning the U18’s Grand Slam. During my school days I also made my senior debut playing for Newbridge RFC as well as representing them at the annual Snelling Sevens competition as a seventeen-year-old.
"Reflecting on my career and the successes I’ve had, I really think that my Welsh roots and playing in a team sport such as my rugby have played a huge role in how I approach business. My ethos is very people and team focused."
My parents were very supportive of my rugby focus but like all good parents they would encourage me to take my studies seriously too, so alongside playing I did have to fit in some studying to prepare me for a future beyond rugby. I managed to secure a place at Cardiff Institute of Education, now Cardiff Met, to study History and Physical Education. That summer, in 1983, whilst I was touring with Wales Schools U18's in Canada, I snapped my ACL badly which back then meant a long recovery time, which consequently meant that I had to defer my entrance into Cardiff Institute for a year. Ultimately that injury played a major impact in deciding my next steps from an educational and career perspective. Ultimately it made me decide not to further my studies and I focussed on building a work career alongside my rugby ambitions.
Through my rugby connections I was offered a sales job working for Church and Dwight, an American pharmaceutical company, in East London. At just 19 years of age, I had a great opportunity ‘to get out there and earn some money and to start building a career’. It was too good an opportunity to turn down so I said "yes", packed my bag and off I went off to London. I spent the next year knocking on pharmacy doors in east London and coming back to Wales on weekends to play rugby for Newbridge RFC having fully recuperated from my ACL re-construction
After one year in London, I came back to work in South Wales still working for the same company. I re-joined Newbridge RFC and then in 1985 I signed for Cardiff RFC. I spent the next few years balancing rugby commitments and my developing sales career. I toured Canada with Cardiff in 1986 and even got to play against the All Blacks for Pontypool in 1989.
My working career had really started to take off when I started working for Boots in 1986. I was selling big brands like Nurofen, Strepsils and Optrex and I was thankfully relatively successful. I ended up being one of the youngest in the company to be promoted from a local representative to a regional manager. Then by age 24 I was a national account manager which was unheard of back then. Soon after, my bosses wanted me to move up to head office which was in Nottingham so, in 1990, I made that move.
"At just 19 years of age, I had a great opportunity ‘to get out there and earn some money and to start building a career’. It was too good an opportunity to turn down so I said ‘yes’, packed my bag and off I went off to London."
Luckily my bosses were always so supportive of my rugby focus and whilst up in Nottingham I signed with the Leicester Tigers and then left there to go to Nottingham where Alan Davies, who went onto become the Welsh coach, was there. He ultimately became a great long-term friend and professional mentor.
My career accelerated from that time. A couple of years later, I left Boots and joined Novartis as Sales Director. The company was already well established in the UK at the time and I was very fortunate to get such a big job at a very young age. I stayed there for a few years and then in 1997 I joined Boehringer Ingelheim, the world’s largest privately owned pharmaceutical company, as managing director for the UK and Irish business
At the age of 33, I was one of the youngest managing directors in the pharmaceutical industry. This was a huge job for me which meant that I pretty much stopped playing rugby, at a senior level anyway. I played for a local club then for a couple of seasons, just for fun.
In 2004, I was called over to head office in Germany and offered the global marketing director's position. This opportunity meant me and my family having to uproot and move to Ingelheim am Rhein, in Germany. This was never in the plan, of course, but a lot of my career wasn’t planned.
At the time the company had a turnover of around $700 million, with 12 huge global brands and ranked number six worldwide in terms of the biggest consumer medicine manufacturers so this was a huge portfolio to manage. I spent the next five years on planes, trains and automobiles travelling all over the world overseeing the consumer healthcare marketing remit in 63 countries.
I consider myself very lucky to have had these opportunities but years of constant travel and being away from family aren’t for the faint hearted. There were times however when the hard work paid off. In 2009, I was offered the job of CEO. This was everything that I'd ever wished for, a boy from Machen, CEO of a multinational business!
During my tenure as CEO, I re-structured and re-organised the entire business from its central base in Germany to all the regions internationally where we operated a legal entity, with a headcount of over 6,000 employees. I built the business, that in 2010 had revenues of 1.2 billion euro to 1.9billion euro in 2016, all organically. In 2016 we divested the business to Sanofi, France, for 9.8 billion euro, an EBITDA multiple over 20 times.
From 2016 and up until July 2022 I was the CEO/President of HRA Pharma a PE owned pharmaceutical company, based in Paris. I joined the business in 2017 when revenues/EBITDA were 67 million euro/23 million euro respectively. The business operates globally in sixty-three countries with its category leading brands, Compeed, Ella, Mederma, two of which have been acquired during the last four years. Achieving high double-digit growth both on acquired assets and organic business, revenues for 2021 achieved 350 million euro with EBITDA growing to 90 million euro. Based on the future growth trajectory, the business entered into an exclusive arrangement with a major USA consumer goods company, Perrigo, in 2021 and signed a divestment all cash deal for $2.1 billion. This transaction completed in April 2022.
"My flexibility towards international mobility has allowed me first-hand exposure to working and living in various locations - USA, Japan, Germany and France. This has provided me a with deep insight in bringing people together with all the complexities that prevail in an international matrix environment, to achieve the common goal, and to build winning teams and organisations."
During the past twelve years as CEO of two organisations, I have developed a deep understanding and experience of operating under different governance models, both family owned, and private equity owned. These insights have provided me with the skills and tools to operate both to short and long-term strategic timelines, whilst delivering the desired outcomes in both cases. Under private equity specifically, I developed and executed a strategic business plan that delivered significant profitable growth, through acquisitions and organic brand growth whilst being constantly scrutinised by shareholders.
Throughout my career I believe my leadership attributes have continued to adapt with experience. I have had great success in building world class organisations and best-in-class, functional teams. This success has enabled me to recruit great external talent whose desire was to join “the team”. In turn the talent has built and executed the strategies that have led to the business success that I have had. A key success factor has been the experience accrued in managing the challenge of complexity, internal politics and cultural nuances. My flexibility towards international mobility has allowed me first-hand exposure to working and living in various locations - USA, Japan, Germany and France. This has provided me a with deep insight in bringing people together with all the complexities that prevail in an international matrix environment, to achieve the common goal, and to build winning teams and organisations.
Since leaving HRA Pharma in July 2022 I have founded my own advisory business, working pre-dominately on future M&A transactions as well organisational development strategies. I have also become NED of two healthcare businesses and a majority shareholder in a SME, and also become a founding patron of GlobalWelsh.
Reflecting on my career and the successes I’ve had, I really think that my Welsh roots and playing in a team sport such as my rugby have played a huge role in how I approach business. My ethos is very people and team focused. I would much rather grow a business by growing the people and creating a positive culture. These are the things that really matter…
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