Human Resource Management in the Pharma industry

03 October 2018


Industries are changing and developing, and so is the pharmaceutical industry. Not only the size of the industry, the expenditures and the techniques are changing, but also the Human Resource Management sector has gone through several changes over the past few years. We wanted to know more about these changes, and asked an expert, Leonard Polman, for his experiences and opinions on the developments.

Leonard Polman is a Business Partner at Optimus Acorro. Optimus Acorro is an HR Consultancy firm with clients active in different industries throughout the Netherlands. For example, Leonard has worked for companies such as Eli Lilly and Teva.

‘’My strength is to implement changes in a short period of time. That is the reason why I started working as a Consultant.’’ By working as a Consultant, Leonard can use his strengths and work together with different people in different disciplines. ‘’I have a strong believe that variety and a wide orientation could be very beneficial for everyone’s career.’’

During his career as HR Consultant, Leonard experienced a lot of changes considering Human Resource Management. ‘’HR changed from a social role to a more managing role in a company.’’ In other words, HR professionalised. These days, the HR department is in place to work as a business partner which helps with the development and growth of the company. Next to this, recruitment has got a more important role within the company. The labour market has become tighter over the past few years, which makes it that companies find it harder to find the right person for the job. ’’The scarcity amongst talents makes it that the best employer brand gets the best talents.’’ And getting the best candidates helps to make your company grow faster. Internal recruiters can help companies with their experience and knowledge, and therefore became more important in the HR departments.

Between pharmaceutical companies, the differences in HR management can be quite large. ‘’One of the companies I worked for as a Consultant was Teva. This was especially interesting, as I was the Assistant of the Senior Vice President HR in Europe during the time of the Actavis take-over. Because of the size of Teva, Leonard noticed that in such a big company, there was a gap between ’corporate and local offices’. ‘’For example, I was stationed in Amsterdam, but I have never seen the site in Haarlem, which is only a few kilometres away.’’

The opposite of such a business environment is Lilly. ‘’Lilly has a much more familiar business environment in the Netherlands, due to their size, but that could also be the case because of the difference in producing generic medication with low margins and producing specialised medicine.’’

Leonard thinks that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the industries that goes through the biggest changes. ‘’Everyone has their eye on the pharmaceutical industry, a lot of money is being made and the changes are big and in rapid succession. This makes it that the corporate strategy should be adjusted to these changes, as well as all the employees that need to be able to adapt to them. To me, this is the reason why the pharmaceutical industry is so promising and interesting.’’

One of those changes is the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, in the United States there is an insurance company which asks for a selfie when you take out a life insurance. A computer analyses the picture through logarithms and predicts your life expectancy. ‘’This prediction decides whether your insurance gets accepted and how high your premium will be. Some people think AI is the future, but it is already happening and starting to be implemented, even if it is just being just on small scale at the moment.’’ The influence of AI in this example could result hundreds of acceptors less, which would lead to reorganisations, dismissals and less recruitment for insurance companies.

Another change is the rise of personal medication. Patients can choose which brand of medication they want to use, doctors do not have a veto anymore. ‘’With this development, pharmaceutical companies can use private information in order to target individual people with advertisements and offers for medication. For HRM this would mean that a part of the functions of pharmacies and doctors would be unnecessary, which could eventually lead to reorganisations as well.”

So, over the past few years the HR sector in the pharmaceutical industry has seen several changes, from becoming more professional and important, to the implementation of artificial intelligence. But the changes do not end here. Especially AI and personal medication will become even more important than they are right now, and that will lead to changes in HRM, such as reorganisations and dismissals.

We want to thank Leonard Polman for his time and sharing his experiences with us. Do you have any comments for Leonard, or do you want to share your own opinions and experiences as well? Please contact us via or LinkedIn.


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