Merck joins Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline in grabbing a consumer executive to beef up digital

Merck & Co. is joining the chief digital officer parade. The pharma giant has poached Jim Scholefield from Nike to head up its global IT and digital strategy, becoming the latest Big Pharma to put digital on its priority list.

Scholefield will serve on Merck’s executive committee, underscoring the company’s bid to thread new digital and IT work into its operations, from R&D to commercial. Judging by a reference in its hiring announcement, he’ll also take on cybersecurity, a need Merck knows all too well. Last year’s notPetya attack disrupted manufacturing and R&D, caused some supply issues and cost Merck nearly $1 billion.

The Merck hire is part of a surge of pharma interest in using digital and data technology to speed up drug development, make marketing more efficient and effective and boost productivity all the way around. The industry is late to the party—as is often the case with overall business trends—but the action has been heavy, and high hopes come along with it.

Scholefield follows close on the heels of a similar executive addition at Pfizer, which recruited Quest Diagnostics’ chief information officer for its executive ranks. His hire was part of a reshuffling earlier this month as incoming CEO Albert Bourla assembles his own team.

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And in moves more closely mirroring Merck’s, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline each plucked consumer executives for their digital teams. Novartis brought in Bertrand Bodson from the retail industry last August to head up its digital efforts. In March, the Swiss drugmaker’s new CEO, Vas Narasimhan, promoted Bodson to his executive committee, citing digital and data as top priorities. GSK chief Emma Walmsley snagged a former Walmart Stores exec to help the company harness IT and digital to augment its own transformation.

Scholefield’s resume includes spearheading a “digital transformation” at Nike, Merck said in announcing its new exec—and one of his accomplishments was delivering “state-of-the art cyber-security,” the company said.

“His extensive experience leading large global IT organizations for multinational companies, including developing innovative digital capabilities, makes him an exceptional addition to our team,” Robert Davis, Merck’s CFO and executive vice president of global services, said in the statement.