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Top of the Hill
Time to elect industry prefects

Posted 14 August 2019

For anyone with kids about to enter their final year of primary or secondary school, the topic of prefects and school 2020 leadership teams is likely to have already been raised.

Future leadership becomes the talk of the playground at this time of year as students with aspirations of grandeur, political ambition or a strong community focus start to canvass the field, wondering whether they have what it takes to secure enough votes to win. 

A similar process is already underway in the race to secure a place on the next Medicines Australia Board, due to be appointed at the association's AGM in late October.

With the nomination period yet to open, super-keen candidates have hit the hustings early, lobbying their peers in a bid to pitch their case for joining the next board.

And, just like school prefect elections, company leaders are coming up with an interesting array of reasons as to why they should be voted a coveted place on the next industry leadership team.

One interesting argument is being presented by 'the Melbourne block'. Several Melbourne-based companies are arguing they currently lack adequate representation and want a southern representative appointed.

While it smacks of Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, the argument is gaining momentum but the Melbourne candidates aren't relying solely on geographical status to get them over the line.

BMS' Neil MacGregor is said to be among the super-keen Melbournites but is also arguing his company's takeover of Celgene will make it the biggest oncology company in the country, thereby giving him at least two reasons to be elected. A former CFO, MacGregor is also good with numbers.  

GSK's Christi Kelsey also calls Melbourne home and is pushing her company's manufacturing status as a further reason why she should get a seat.

Ipsen's Peter Koetsier and Vifor's James McDonnell - also from Melbourne - are strong contenders for a small company board position, and they may well be joined by Eisai's new managing director, yet to be named as a replacement for Jaime McCoy.

McCoy is heading over to lead Gilead next month and is not expected to put her hand up, largely because Gilead's global HQ has never supported its company leaders taking on industry association directorships, and because she is likely to have her hands full with the new role.

Koetsier and McDonnell may be competing in a hotly contested field for the small company directorships, with Merck's Leah Goodman already arguing her case. Goodman has won over the bookies in early betting and is a hot favourite to secure a small company place.

The eight big pharma directorships are going to be equally hard to secure, even for returning directors who in previous elections were virtually guaranteed to be returned. This year is likely to be much more challenging, and they will need to do the legwork and have good reason to be re-elected - especially the newcomers who got onto the board with just a couple of votes.

Chair Anna Lavelle - elected school captain last year by the current prefects - is not guaranteed to keep her job, with the incoming leadership team to decide whether it will stick with an independent chair, and if it does, whether Lavelle should be reappointed.

Lavelle argues the position should remain independent of industry - a more modern corporate governance position - and, given the not-so-distant recommendations of the Governance Review, she is right.

Moving away from an independent chair without previous company associations so soon after appointing its first to the role is likely to see the next school leadership team seen as self-serving and inward-focused. And, as Lavelle points out, putting one of their own into the role within months of them stepping out of a company MD position will not kid anyone that they are independent.

Regardless, putting your hand up for any electoral process takes a lot of resolve - will your peers like you enough to vote for you? If they don't, was it for personal or professional reasons?

In the end, elections are either popularity contests - as was so often the case in school - or are all about power.

In MA's case, it is much more likely to be the latter and, despite the whimsical arguments already being touted, MA members should think carefully about who currently holds the power, who can most be trusted with it, and who will truly act in the interest of the whole sector moving forward.

Megan Brodie

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