Novartis CEO calls external focus key to fast-changing pharma

The idea of facing generic competition for a $5 billion blockbuster like Diovan would daunt almost any CEO. But Joe Jimenez (photo) says his experience hawking baby food and ketchup at Heinz made him just the right person to run Novartis ($NVS) as it confronts a crucial transition.

"If you look at my background in understanding the consumer," Jimenez tells Forbes' Matthew Herper, "it's not just about marketing. Consumer goods companies have to be very externally focused, looking at their environment and how it's changing all the time. What I have learned is that this is an industry that is changing so fast and so significantly."

Instead of following the Big Pharma slim-down game plans out there--like Pfizer's ($PFE) spinouts or Abbott's ($ABT) big split--Novartis is adding new efforts like its Alcon eye unit while improving its sales muscle in emerging markets and looking for a new product to revive the fortunes of its vaccines unit. But what really gives Novartis enduring strength is its long and successful track record at developing new drugs that can clear the bar on unmet medical needs.

The Swiss company's new drugs may not include mega-blockbusters, but Jimenez gets credit from R&D revolutionary Bernard Munos (photo), who cheers Novartis' average investment of $4.6 billion for each new drug it wins an approval on. That's far less than some rivals who are being forced to take a much different direction.

- check out the profile from Forbes

Special Report: Joseph Jimenez - The 25 most influential people in biopharma today