Back to consumer: Novartis’ digital chief Betrand Bodson is leaving pharma after helping break ground

generic revolving door
Some pharma digital chiefs hit the rotating door from consumer to pharma and back again, with the latest departure Bertrand Bodson from Novartis.(Denisik11/Shutterstock)

When Bertrand Bodson joined Novartis as its digital chief in 2018, he joined a steady stream of consumer digital leaders flowing into the industry. Now he’s joining a handful of them in a retreat back to consumer.

Bodson is the new CEO for Keywords Studios, a video game industry technical and creative services provider. Bodson left his role at Novartis as strategic advisor for digital transformation to the CEO, moving from chief digital officer in January.

He follows Jim Scholefield who joined Merck & Co. as chief digital officer from Nike in November 2018 and then left to head digital at Marriott International in 2020. GlaxoSmithKline also hired a consumer digital guru around that time, adding Marc Speichert chief digital officer for its consumer business in 2017 from Google. Speichert left in May to become chief commercial officer at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

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Novartis said in a statement to Fierce Pharma: “More than three years ago, Novartis started a digital transformation, from R&D efforts to next generation customer engagement. The Novartis digital strategy and its execution are well on track with a strong focus on scaling our efforts. ... Chief Digital Officer, Bertrand Bodson, had previously indicated that his next aspiration was leading a global business. Therefore, he stepped down from the Novartis Executive Committee as of February 1, 2021."

The company added its best wishes for Bodson and its appreciation "for his role as architect of our digital transformation, exceptional leadership and lasting impact."

Bodson's move out of Novartis is not necessarily a sign of a consumer-to-pharma digital bust. GSK hired Karenann Terrell, then-Walmart’s chief information officer to its newly created chief digital and technology officer role at the same time it named Speichert, and she remains in that role today.

And in the meantime, several other consumer veterans joined the industry. Eli Lilly's new chief digital and information officer, Diogo Rau, hails from Apple. Sanofi hired its chief digital officer Arnaud Robert in 2020 from the same role at Viking Cruises. Robert also worked at Disney and Nike earlier in his career.

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The digital chief changes are likely part realization that pharma is not the right fit for everyone but also thanks to more job openings and opportunities in digital. The pandemic accelerated digital technology and marketing adoption not only in pharma but across many industries.

Bodson, who worked at consumer companies including Amazon, Sainsbury's Argos and EMI Music, talked about how he himself was recruiting tech talent from outside the industry in a Fierce Pharma interview last year.

With a Novartis study then citing 73% of tech professionals elevating their opinion of the pharma industry thanks to its COVID-19 response, Bodson said he was leveraging the gains to bulk up tech expertise across Novartis teams.

Editor's Note: The story was updated with comments from Novartis.