Strategic Moves – Becoming the CEO of Primex Pharmaceuticals
Moving roles and companies is hard enough but when you couple that with moving around the world with your spouse and children it can be extra challenging. I interview Alan Knox on making those strategic moves to enable him to become CEO of Primex Pharmaceuticals AG.
Could you describe your current role?
As the CEO in Primex Pharmaceuticals, I work closely with the board and management team to lead and shape the future direction of the company. I work across a broad spectrum of customers, from potential investors to commercial partners and key opinion leaders in anaesthesia.
Could you explain why you first decided to relocate?
It was to Poland in 1992. My manager presented me with the opportunity to create a sales and marketing team to launch a brand. I realised back then the value of accepting a horizontal career move in order to capitalise on a great development opportunity offering professional and personal growth.
Did you always know you would be the CEO of a pharmaceutical company?
Yes, I did, although I didn’t realise it would happen with Primex. When I was younger, I aspired to launch Knox Pharmaceuticals. However, an opportunity came up with Primex to prepare for the launch of a novel paediatric sedative. The board asked me to become CEO to launch the brand.
Was it always your plan to work abroad?
No, I spent my first 10 years working in the UK developing my pharmaceutical career in sales and marketing and never imagined working overseas. However, once initiated into an international career, with my wife beside me all the way, we and our children really enjoyed the experience.
What type of person does it take to move to the other side of the world and take on more responsibility?
You need to be adaptable, flexible, resilient and open minded. I love learning about new cultures and I truly believe you leave a bit of your heart in every country you live in. If you are taking your family, you need to work as an effective team.
What was the hardest decision you ever made regarding your career?
Leaving AstraZeneca after 22 years. You have a strong umbilical cord within a large organisation, but once I decided to leave, I had a new lease of life and an opportunity to continue strategic moves.
Can you explain your strategy behind getting where you are today?
I occasionally moved to a horizontal ladder role which was “the same” on paper as the one I was currently in, however, remained open minded to the challenges and growth potential they would offer. I made sure I always took risks but was brave when it felt right, and I often jumped in at the deep end to progress.
You seem to have grasped the concept of strategic sideways moves, was it always intentional?
I learnt how to do this in the corporate structure within AstraZeneca. Moving around in this way taught me that each department has a different culture and each move broadens my horizons.
What is the best advice you could give someone wanting to achieve what you have?
Have an open mind and go for the opportunities that stretch you. Investigate international opportunities and keep yourself flexible in both roles and locations.
What are the highs and lows of travelling around the globe for work?
The benefit is you get to learn about cultural diversity. We will never forget our time in the Philippines and Mexico. The downside is it can be stressful, particularly moving the family every three years or so. However, looking back, we are all so glad we did it.
What has been your biggest regret?
Not getting out of big pharma earlier and doing something with more autonomy and less structure.
What is next for Primex Pharmaceuticals?
We are now in the process of launching our novel paediatric sedative across Europe. Next we work on the plan to register and launch in the USA.