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We needed general managers who could see, understand and manage the whole business. We wanted to build a globally diverse leadership cohort Carl Segerstrom, vice-president, human resources, Merck Manufacturing

the mould of expert leaders in their function.” David Howe, now executive director, leadership and global function learning, was also involved. “Merck is large and complicated. To lead effectively you need to understand the breadth of the global business and how things get done. You need a well-rounded perspective and to be able to see challenges from different angles, not just from the perspective of one function. We had leaders who were excellent in their function, or their country, but this isn’t how we compete and win in the market. “We decided to take individual contributors who are early in their career at Merck and give them breadth, to develop the leaders we wanted for the future: agile, able to identify opportunities through new technologies and partnerships, able to pivot.” Merck decided to make a long-term play: a robust and sustained effort to develop leaders for the future, leaders able to see beyond their day job, change agents who could break down silos and push the organization forward. Patrick Bergstedt, head of global marketing and international commercial operations (vaccines), has been a senior line advisor to the programme since the outset. “We have traditionally been a US-based, US-driven company, but times have really changed. For example, in the vaccines business we are having more of a global impact. More of the volume and doses are distributed and sold outside the US today. The General Management Acceleration Program is helping us to develop truly global leaders.”

The General Management Acceleration Program (GMAP)

Merck chose Duke Corporate Education as its educational partner to develop GMAP. Some design principles were fairly standard for a global company with a strong history of leadership development. They wanted educational workshops at regular intervals; face-to-face learning would be complemented by virtual learning; participants were to have coaching, as well as each being supported by a senior leader on a specially-established Line Advisory Board; and participants would work in small groups on action learning projects, designed around real business challenges.

They also adopted some very different design principles, demonstrating how serious Merck was about investing in change. As Carl Segerstrom explains: “Our classic approach had been to manage people’s careers for them, but we felt that we were missing hidden gems. So instead, we invited people to apply for the programme and then put them through a world-class selection process. We only wanted a handful of candidates each year, about 15.” There are 350 or more applications for each year’s cohort – it’s harder to be accepted onto GMAP than it is to enter an Ivy League university. The rigorous application process includes a cognitive assessment, leadership assessment, business case and several structured interviews. The process works: there is a positive correlation between success in each round and career development. GMAP alumni make more career moves, vertical and lateral, and are regarded as having higher potential. The second unusual aspect of the programme is its length – two years – and what it demands of participants. The company wanted GMAP participants to get real experiences and own their business outcomes. In their first year, they take a job outside their function. In the following year they undertake a second rotation, moving outside their country and into a third function. Linda Garrett, key talent leadership learning, explains the impact of these placements. “When participants move outside their country, there is an exponential growth. They are tested and their grit and resilience emerge. Early feelings of panic and fear of the unknown are part of this growth. Sometimes the unknown just has to be figured out – that tenacity and patience has to be learned, not taught.” Bergstedt agrees. “The outside-function and country placements really develop resilience. It’s phenomenal to see how the participants adapt and bring fresh perspective.” Sahm Nasseri, promoted after the programme to executive director, human health strategy, is both a programme alumnus and a current GMAP assignment manager with a participant assigned to work for him. He goes further: “GMAP is not just a professional development experience. The overseas rotation took me and my family longer to settle in than expected – the whole 12 Q4 2019 Dialogue

Profile for LID Business Media

Dialogue Q4 2019  

Today’s global economy is shaped more by businesses than by nation states: by the goods and services they provide, the networks and supply c...

Dialogue Q4 2019  

Today’s global economy is shaped more by businesses than by nation states: by the goods and services they provide, the networks and supply c...