Sharer, Kevin W. 1948–
Kevin W. Sharer
Chief executive officer, Amgen, Inc.
Born: March 2, 1948, in Clinton, Iowa.
Education: U.S. Naval Academy, BS, 1970; MS, 1971; University of Pittsburgh, MBA, 1982.
Family: Son of Keith Sharer (navy pilot); married Carol (maiden name unknown; second wife); children: five.
Career: U.S. Navy, 1970–1978, began as lieutenant, became lieutenant commander; AT&T 1978–1982, executive; McKinsey & Company, 1982–1984, consultant; GE 1984–1989, executive; MCI Telecommunications, 1989–1992, executive vice president; Amgen, 1992–2000, president and chief operating officer; 2000–, chief executive officer.
Address: Amgen, Inc., One Amgen Center, MS 275-D, Thousand Oaks, California 91320-1799; http://www.amgen.com.
■ Kevin W. Sharer, CEO of Amgen, a global leader in pharmaceuticals developed using biotechnology, got his leadership skills and personal drive from his training at the U.S. Naval Academy. He developed his ambitions through a series of corporate executive positions (none of them the top position) after he left the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant commander in 1978. Determined to rise to the top position in some company, Sharer saw potential in the position of president and COO at Amgen when he took the job in 1992. Sharer got the top job, CEO, in May 2000. His goal was to move Amgen from its leadership position in biotech pharmaceuticals to a top position among all pharmaceutical companies, putting him as CEO of Amgen on a par with CEOs of such major health-care leaders as Johnson & Johnson.
DEVELOPING LEADERSHIP AMBITION
At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Sharer majored in aeronautical engineering, receiving a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. His initial ambition was to be
a navy pilot like his father, but his eyesight precluded that goal, and he went into the submarine service instead. He told Arlene Weintraub in an interview for an article in BusinessWeek Online (March 18, 2002) that "he decided he was meant to be a leader just about the time he started taking orders" in the navy.
Sharer served on two nuclear fast-attack submarines during the cold war. As chief engineer he oversaw the construction and trained the crew for the second sub, the Memphis. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover had to approve the ship before it was launched. When Rickover, known as the creator of the "nuclear navy," questioned the young officer, Sharer told Weintraub, "I had to tell him I was right" (BusinessWeek Online, March 18, 2002).
In 1978 Sharer left the navy as a lieutenant commander. He was impatient to move ahead, but he realized that it would take years of service to rise to the top job in submarine service. Moreover, a career in the navy required too much time away from family. Sharer decided to redirect his ambitions to be at the top in the corporate world. His first job was with AT&T, where he worked from 1978 to 1982. During that time he earned an MBA degree from the University of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1982. With a new MBA in hand, Sharer talked his way into a consultant position with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm that serves top management in major companies and institutions on issues of strategy, organization, and operation. Sharer's navy experience and his tremendous ambition to lead caught the attention of Ron Bancroft, also a Naval Academy graduate and a partner in McKinsey's Washington, D.C., office. General Electric (GE) recruited Sharer for a position in corporate development in 1984.
Sharer made an impression on Jack Welch, GE's CEO, who offered him a chance to lead the GE jet engine division. Sharer refused the job because that position was not high profile enough. Sharer left GE for an executive vice president position in marketing at MCI Telecommunications Corporation in 1989. At MCI, Sharer became convinced that internal politics would keep him in a number three position and that he would never get to be the CEO. He left MCI in 1992 to join Amgen as president and COO because he could see the potential in the Amgen job to match his ambition to become the company's CEO. Amgen was the world's largest biotech company, but it was a midsize company when compared to the major pharmaceutical and health-care products companies.
SHARER ARRIVES AT AMGEN
Amgen (the name stands for Applied Molecular Genetics) was founded in 1980 to develop effective human therapeutics in the form of proteins from recombinant DNA technology. The company produced its first major drug in 1984. The company focuses its research and development efforts on human therapeutics delivered in the form of proteins, monoclonal antibodies, and small molecules. Sharer became president of Amgen with science training limited to high school biology and college chemistry. When he was contacted by a recruiter about the position, he had never heard of Amgen. To his credit, he did put himself through a crash course in biotechnology so that he could talk to the scientists who are at the heart of the business.
Although there were some in the company who questioned whether Sharer was the right person to lead Amgen when he was hired, his predecessor, Gordon Binder, said the company already had people with strong science backgrounds. It needed, he noted, people with basic business experience as the company entered an intensive commercial environment. Sharer did not lack confidence in himself. He told Charles Fishman, the author of the article "A Dose of Change: Face Time with Kevin Sharer," that he was not in the slightest concerned about moving into a leadership position in a biotechnology company. He said, "Moving among different environments has been a pattern in my life, and I've been able to succeed in all of them" (Fast Company Magazine, August 2001). Sharer said that he was not cocky but that he had no hesitation about his ability to learn the new technology.
At Amgen, Sharer was determined to become an insider and to avoid making dramatic moves, as he had done in some of his previous jobs. When he felt he could reasonably expect to get the CEO position, he put himself on a partial sabbatical to learn all he could about the management of the research and development end of the business. Sharer noted that strategic competence is critical to success. An October 2001 article titled "Amgen's CEO Provides Candid Reflections on Leadership" (a report on an earlier speech) quotes Sharer as saying, "Get the operational stuff under your belt early" (Harbus Online, October 29, 2001).
Sharer spent a lot of time reading textbooks and visiting the laboratories at Amgen. He hired a tutor from McKinsey & Company to instruct him in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Sharer made no claim to be qualified in the science end of the business, but he felt he could participate in any discussion at a level that was appropriate for the company's CEO.
AMGEN GETS A NEW CEO
In May 2000 Sharer was made CEO of Amgen. He brought with him a goal he had for Amgen to become a major competitor in health-care markets, comparable to Johnson & Johnson. He used Johnson & Johnson as a benchmark because Amgen, as a young and less experienced company, had licensed a successful drug to Johnson & Johnson and had to sue to regain the U.S. marketing rights.
Sharer was known for both grand ambitions and little patience. Under his leadership Amgen acquired another biotech company with a blockbuster drug, Immunex Corporation, in July 2002, making Amgen's sales on the order of three times those of its nearest U.S. biotech competitor. With sales in 2002 of over $5.5 million, Amgen was competitive with the pharmaceuticals division of Johnson & Johnson, although Johnson & Johnson's total sales were over eight times Amgen's sales for the same period.
In the foreword to the book Building Global Biobrands: Taking Biotechnology to Market, Sharer says that Amgen is reaching a certain critical mass, something that he predicts will make Amgen a "world-scale biopharma" company. He credits success to the company's having scientific expertise, technical depth, focused infrastructure, customer-focused commercialization, and a world presence on the market. Under Sharer, Amgen had three key objectives: portfolio diversification, technology integration, and geographic expansion. In addition to acquiring Immunex Corporation, the company accelerated its alliances and licensed technologies to complement in-house capabilities.
AN AGGRESSIVE STYLE
Described variously as being blunt, having blustery confidence, and demonstrating an unflappable certainty of purpose that carried over from his navy experience, Sharer admitted to being a "little intimidating, so people don't feel comfortable giving their true opinions" (Harbus Online, October 29, 2001). He expanded the sales force and at the same time tightened the demands on reporting efforts so that any ineffective sales tactics could be quickly corrected. Sharer initiated luncheon meetings to teach strategy and leadership to the company vice presidents. He also planned ski outings with some of them, and then he insisted that they take ski lessons. One vice president commented, "Even when you relax with Kevin, you're working" (BusinessWeek Online, March 18, 2002).
Sharer had enormous self-confidence, but he did not try to be a one-man show. He used the expertise of a handpicked executive committee when he made decisions. He put together a team of experts that included a former research executive from Merck & Company to oversee R&D, a head of marketing who developed his skills at what was the drug giant Glaxo-Welcome in the 1990s, and a longtime veteran from Amgen who grew up in the business to be in charge of operations. Sharer believed in making decisions as a team because he said the business is so complicated that "no one person alone can be maximally effective in making those decisions" (Fast Company Magazine, August 2001).
So that he would never forget the dangers of overconfidence, Sharer hung a stark portrait of General George A. Custer, who led the doomed battle of Little Big Horn, across from his desk in his office at Amgen. He said of the picture, "It's good when you have a job like this to look at someone who overestimated his ability, underestimated his enemy, and lost everything" (BusinessWeek Online, March 18, 2002).
See also entries on Amgen, Inc., AT&T Corp., General Electric Company, and MCI Communications Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Fishman, Charles, "A Dose of Change: Face Time with Kevin Sharer," Fast Company Magazine, August 2001, http://pf.fastcompany.com/magazine/49/facetime.html.
Lashinger, Brett, "Amgen's CEO Provides Candid Reflections on Leadership," Harbus Online: The Student Newspaper of the Harvard Business School, October 29, 2001, http://www.harbus.org/news/2001/10/29/Features/Amgens.Ceo.Provides.Candid.Reflections.On.Leadership-134001.shtml.
Simon, Françoise, and Philip Kotler, Building Global Biobrands, New York: Free Press, 2003.
Tichy, Noel M., The Leadership Engine: How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every Level, New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
Weintraub, Arlene, and Amy Barrett, "Amgen: Up from Biotech: Kevin Sharer Wants to Turn the 22-Year-Old Company into Another Johnson & Johnson," Business Week Online, March 18, 2002, http://www.businessweek.com:/print/magazine/content/02_11/b3774080.htm?mz.
—M. C. Nagel