Building The Business – André van de Sande
Meet André van de Sande, a change management expert with more than 30 years of experience in the Life Sciences industry.
Meet André van de Sande, a change management expert with more than 30 years of experience in the Life Sciences industry. With exceptional leadership skills and strategic thinking, André successfully implemented transformative initiatives in several companies throughout the years, revitalizing and growing those businesses. In this article, André generously shares his invaluable tips on change management and leadership based on his international experience at Organon, Schering-Plough, and Xendo, where André was CEO from 2011 until 2019. Xendo was successfully sold to the ProPharma Group in 2019. Learn from this business case and discover how to lead your organization to success.
‘Originally, I am trained as a physiotherapist. I worked as such for a year but was then offered an interesting opportunity at Organon. Later, I followed an MBA program in Tilburg and a Master in Management at Purdue University in the USA. I worked in different management positions in the international pharmaceutical industry. In commercial roles, first, then leading large organizations as Regional Director in Asia Pacific and later as VP Middle East Africa, where I merged and integrated the organizations of Organon and Schering-Plough. Then, in 2011, I was asked to step in as CEO at Xendo, a consultancy company specializing in compliance, regulatory affairs, engineering, and pharmacovigilance consultancy for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. In 2011 Xendo needed a new strategic direction to bring back the successes from the past.’
‘Normally in the Netherlands, people spend much time asking lots of opinions, talking to councils and boards, and then working on a plan, also known as ‘polderen’. However, we required action. Not “polderen”. So one of the first things I did together with the team, was to make a gap analysis to see what worked for the company and what didn’t. In essence, Xendo had all the knowledge: our consultants were top-notch and knew how to help our customers best. However, there were two bottlenecks: the support organization and company processes needed to be improved, and a clear Business Development strategy needed to be included. Therefore, we had to build up the organization to support the business and make some choices around our strategic proposition.’
We re-positioned Xendo as a company that delivered above-average quality for a price that reflected that quality. We wanted to be the best, not the cheapest. That meant that we also lost some customers. Though that may sound counter-intuitive, it freed up time for customers willing to pay that premium price for high-quality and more strategic consultancy. Xendo got a clear position in the market as ‘very good at what they do and getting your money’s worth.’ Of course, you must also ensure the company is able to deliver that premium quality.’
‘Change management is complex, especially for people who are used to the status quo within a company for many years. Unfortunately, some people had lost faith and had decided to leave the company. Meanwhile, we were trying to keep valuable employees on board and bring in new talent that could bring technical expertise, management experience, and a positive attitude. We were trying to regain people’s confidence. People will become enthusiastic again if a strategy is executed correctly and successfully. You can only achieve that if you also use your soft skills as a person; more than processes and rational thinking is required. As a leader, you must show your integrity and continuously explain why these changes are important.
‘Of course, during my career, I also had to learn to gain people’s trust and be a good leader. I think we are sometimes pretty bad at leadership in the Netherlands. We are often rather democratic managers, trying to please everyone. Instead, you should not be shy to give direction as a manager and CEO. You need to actively listen to your team but also need to be able to take a firm stand as a leader, even if not everyone agrees. Because in the end, you decide what’s best for the company, as you are ultimately responsible person for the outcome. That can only be done if people feel and see your authenticity as a person and a leader.’
‘If you are there for your employees in good and the bad times, and they feel that you will fight for them no matter what, you can also be quite direct and honest in your feedback. Your people need to develop in their careers. Often, managers are cautious with their feedback and are only highlighting the good points. If you are a good manager and your team trusts you, and you spend time on their development, you also need be open about what they need to learn still. This way the coaching of your team members becomes much more meaningful to them.
Tips for starting entrepreneurs
‘My strategy professor once said you should start worrying if your company is very successful. Though money flows in, chances are your people will get complacent, as everything comes easily. If that happens, it is crucial to stay sharp because, in three months, the situation could be different. You can’t predict crises like Covid-19 or economic recession, but you do have to have the flexibility to absorb changes. A gap analysis is, in fact, an ongoing exercise. Always try to look for continuous improvement. You should definitely celebrate today’s success, but tomorrow should be even better.’
The right mindset
‘In addition, to stay focused on continuous improvement, you need an entrepreneurial spirit to keep growing the company. For example, at Xendo, we once experienced a major setback. We had been working for a few months on a potentially large assignment; we belonged to the last two participants. Ultimately, they chose the other company. That left us with a sour taste. However, tomorrow is another day, and the company is still there. So we went in the next day and continued our work with new energy. You need to get over setbacks easily as an entrepreneur.’
Building the team
The most important advice I can give is to build a talented and diverse team around you. Managers often make the mistake of hiring a team of like-minded people. But above all, you want the input of people who have a different “color type” and view. Firms like Humaniq give excellent support in assessing your team.
In building the right team, an entrepreneur must foster a culture of open communication and mutual respect. This environment allows team members to freely share their ideas and insights, which is crucial for innovation and problem-solving. It’s important to recognize and utilize the unique strengths of each team member and thus stimulate diversity, encouraging them to contribute in ways that maximize their potential.
Moreover, a successful leader understands the importance of adaptability and flexibility in their team. The business world is constantly evolving, and a team that can quickly adapt to new trends, technologies, and market demands is invaluable. This agility can be fostered through ongoing training and development, ensuring the team’s skills remain sharp and relevant.
Lastly, trust and transparency are crucial elements in building a solid team. When team members trust their leader and each other, they work more effectively and cohesively. Transparency in decision-making and strategy helps align everyone’s efforts towards common goals. A leader who demonstrates trust and transparency builds a strong team and nurtures an environment where everyone feels valued and invested in the company’s success.
Choose your career with passion
‘I think the Life Sciences industry is wonderful; you can greatly contribute to healthcare in the Netherlands and internationally. I consider myself extremely lucky: I eventually made a career because I enjoy what I do and wanted to make a difference. In addition, it’s important to find a mentor who is willing to invest in your development. I was lucky to meet several good mentors. You should also actively develop yourself: be curious and experience as much as possible in your company or other companies. For example, you could work in different cultures to expand your perspectives. Be curious and passionate about your work and regularly obtain honest feedback. Don’t let money guide you, but follow your passion. In that case, you will have a greater chance of succeeding in your goals and enjoy what you do.’
André now has his own company. As an independent consultant, he supports Life Sciences companies with Executive Interim Management, Business Coaching, or Board Positions. Currently, André is Chairman and member of the boards of several companies.