Eli Lilly, riding pharma's rising digital wave, drafts Apple exec to replace Shah as CDO

Eli Lilly hired a new digital chief from Apple in another consumer switch for pharma and as the industry speeds up its shift to online strategies. (Pixabay)

Eli Lilly's new digital chief hails from Apple. The latest pharma to tap a consumer executive to head digital strategies, Lilly is swapping CDOs amid an accelerated shift to digital spurred by the pandemic.

Diogo Rau will take over as chief digital and information officer in mid-May from Aarti Shah, Ph.D., who is retiring. Shah led digital at Lilly beginning in 2016, capping off a 27-year career at the pharma.

Rau most recently headed information technology for Apple’s retail and online stores. He worked at Apple for 10 years, developing its online and retail store technology including the e-commerce platform, mobile point of sale, online store app and internal systems used by retail store employees.

Before joining Apple, Rau led IT organization and governance at McKinsey & Co. for North America. He also served a stint at A.T. Kearney and started his own online rewards software company.

RELATED: Eli Lilly bids farewell to longtime digital chief Shah

Lilly’s move to hire a consumer veteran comes at a turning point in pharma's digital adoption. Now more than a year into the pandemic, the initial scramble to shift to digital technologies across business units is beginning to settle in.

Lilly CEO David Ricks said Rau’s experience at Apple “will be invaluable to Lilly as we change how we discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize innovative new medicines."

Lilly joins the ongoing pharma trend over the past four years hiring former consumer company digital leaders. 

Sanofi hired its chief digital officer Arnaud Robert last year from Viking Cruises, where he held the same role. Robert also worked at Disney and Nike earlier in his career.

RELATED: Pharma's pandemic response could help attract tech talent, Novartis digital chief says

GlaxoSmithKline was one of the first to hire from the consumer world when it recruited Karenann Terrell as chief digital and technology officer in 2017 from Walmart, where she was chief information officer. Her previous experience included stints at Daimler Chrysler and General Motors.

Novartis hired Bertrand Bodson as its first chief digital officer in 2018; he moved from a career in retail that included Amazon and EMI Music.

However, not all the consumer-to-pharma executive hires have stuck.

Merck & Co. tapped Jim Scholefield as chief information and digital officer in 2018, but the former Nike executive left last year to return to consumer digital at Marriott. Marc Speichert recently left GlaxoSmithKline, where he had served for four years as chief digital officer for its consumer health business. He is now chief commercial officer at Four Season Hotels and Resorts.