From science to sales and marketing and on to the top - Veterinary Practice
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From science to sales and marketing and on to the top

JOHN ALBOROUGH talks to John Hanley about his rise to one of the biggest jobs in the UK veterinary pharmaceutical industry

JOHN Hanley, the UK general
manager and vice president of
Pfizer Animal Health UK, started
his career with Beecham Animal
Health at Walton Oaks in Surrey 30
years ago.

This was when Walton Oaks was
Beecham’s research establishment and
had a 150-acre farm with cattle and
sheep and a couple of magnificent
manor houses.

He takes up the story: “I always
had an interest in animal health. My
parents were both from farming
families and my favourite subjects were
all sciences. In my first job at Walton
Oaks I worked in the
department and
enjoyed working as
part of a team with a
focus on antibiotics
such as Orbenin and
Synulox, both of
which turned out to
be major brands for

“For all the good
times, I felt that a career as a scientist
wasn’t for me. I wanted something
more immediate, with quicker results.”

JA. How did you make that leap from
R&D to sales and marketing?

JH. My role at Walton Oaks brought
me in touch with local vets and
involved some farm visits, something I
really enjoyed. One week I responded
to a job advert in a vet magazine,
applied for and was given the sales position
of territory manger for
Solvay Duphar in the
south-west. We made
our home in Devon and
fell in love with the
West Country.

I started with Solvay
Duphar on a six month
probation, wise from the company’s
viewpoint as I knew nothing about
business or sales. However, I learned
quickly and continued in the role for
five years. Whilst working in the south-
west I was still hungry to develop my
knowledge and understanding of
business, so I studied for a marketing
diploma with the Chartered Institute of

Just as I was completing the course,
an internal role became available for a
small animal product manager; my
application was successful so I moved
my family to our UK headquarters in
Southampton. The management team
at Solvay Duphar at this time were an inspiration to me and had a very strong
influence on my own management
style since.

In my new head office position, I
was able to apply my recently acquired
marketing knowledge. I was also
fortunate in that the company agreed
something for which I was extremely
grateful, even if it did take up many an
evening and weekend for the next five
years. Hopefully, it proved to be a good

I continued to manage the small
animal brands for Solvay Duphar in the
UK for four very enjoyable years and I was then offered
promotion to
European business
manager for
companion animals.
So we were on the
move again, this time
to Holland. For Sue
and me, the timing
was good as our two
boys were young and it was a good
opportunity to see another country up close – nothing like living in another
culture to broaden the mind. It made
me realise how close and how inter-
related business in mainland Europe is
and how that small stretch of water
between the UK and the Continent has
a big influence on our outlook.

Whilst working in Holland, Solvay
Duphar was acquired by Fort Dodge
Animal Health in 1997, my first experience of an
acquisition. A year later
my role was due to
disappear but I was
presented with the
opportunity to move in
to export and
management, with
responsibility for the whole of Eastern Europe and

Again it was a great opportunity at
just the right time. My new region gave
me more exposure to the intensive
livestock business, pigs and poultry and
gave me a fantastic insight into the
entrepreneurial distributors’ business –
I met some great leaders.

JA. What made you leave Holland when you
were clearly enjoying life there?

JH. We had been in Holland for five
years and had to consider my children’s
secondary education. I couldn’t see us
staying another five years so it felt like
the right time to come home.

In the UK, Fort Dodge was going
through a difficult time and the
integration was not running smoothly.
Not one to resist a challenge, I
volunteered for the position of UK
sales director and in the nine months
that followed, following the departure
of the marketing director and
managing director, I took charge of
their responsibilities also. I aged about
10 years in six months!

I found myself in my first GM
position with few senior managers and
had the task of completely rebuilding
an entire organisation. An old mentor
of mine from Duphar did tell me how
lonely the MD position can be – it was
something I certainly recognised in the
first year. There is no one else to make
a decision – the proverbial buck stops
with you.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get
any worse, foot-and-mouth hit the UK,
followed by severe stock difficulties
with our vaccines. All this was going
on while we were still, in effect,
merging what was left of the Fort
Dodge and Duphar businesses – and
of course the company wanted to see
quick results. They were very tough
days: you find a lot out about yourself
in those situations, you
have to dig very deep!

Anyway, we did turn
it around. Following the
tortuous start, we were
able to build an
outstanding team and I
was immensely proud of
what we achieved
together and the support
we got from our
customers, right through until the end
of 2009.

JA. But then along comes Pfizer and you
must have thought, “Here we go again!”

JH. We all received the news in January
2009 that Wyeth [owner of Fort
Dodge] had been acquired by Pfizer.
This meant my team and I were faced
with more upheaval but I realised my
job was to lead them through this
transition. It comes down to honest
communication and trust, something
built over many years. I have always
been very approachable as a manager –
you have to be even more visible
during change.

A lot of people had not been
through such an experience before so I
felt I was well placed to take my team
through the change. I was able to set
out very clearly for them how these
integrations work. We had lots of
pizzas and lots of staff meetings! The team were truly outstanding through
the whole process and the
professionalism right to the end was

JA. Have there been many redundancies?

JH. A total of about 30 – mostly
people who did not want to transfer
their lives from Hampshire to Surrey.
We have worked very hard to avoid
redundancies but we have also had a
small number at Walton Oaks. I
sincerely believe we have treated people
very fairly.

JA. During the merger your competitors have
been out there seeing this as an opportunity.
You must have been very aware of the risks of
Pfizer taking its eye off the ball.

JH. Very true,
integrations are very
internally focused but I
believe the integration of
Pfizer and Fort Dodge in
Europe must be one of
the most successful in
our industry. This is
because the heads of the companies decided from the outset
exactly how the business was going to
operate in the EU.

It was a very collaborative
integration. They set out with a policy
of having the best products and the
best talent. It was made very clear there
would be no favours for any individual,
no matter which company you came

The collaboration also set the tone
for the whole process here in the UK.
We also gave people time to think
about what they wanted to do within
the new business and held many staff
meetings to not only keep people
informed but to listen as well. On 16th
October I received a call to offer me
the opportunity to lead the new
combined business here in the UK.

JA. How is it that you have ended up with so
many vacancies when the new business is the
product of a merger between two existing

JH. There are three
fundamental reasons.
Firstly, from day one we
had a headcount freeze.
By the time October
came around both
businesses had unfilled
vacancies particularly in
the marketing and
technical roles and we
were not able to attract all
the people to Walton
Oaks from Southampton.

Also, Pfizer has been
brave enough to expand
the number of people.
We also wanted to expand
the number of technical
roles and create smaller territories for
our account managers to offer better
service for customers.

JA. You were required by monopoly
regulations to offload certain products. How
does that process operate? How do you find a

JH. This is done on an EU, not UK,
basis. Initially we had to get some
competition lawyers to assist us to
present the data to the European
Competition Commission. The EU
regulators then looked at our market
share within the same segments. If
they concluded we had too much share, we were compelled to
divest some of the

JA. But how does it work if
you have a massive share of
the market in one country
and very little share of the
market in another?

JH. What we end up
with is that some
products have been
divested in some
countries but not in
others. In most
countries Duvaxyn,
Stellamune and
Dectomax have been
divested. In the UK we have had to divest some cat vaccines,
some tetracycline aerosols and some
Strongid horse wormer, but we haven’t
divested those in other countries.

JA. With all the mergers that have happened,
is there not less competition and what are the
implications for R&D?

JH. Consolidations, mergers and
acquisitions have been a feature of our
industry over the past 40 years. Animal
health is close to our hearts but many
mergers take place because of the
human pharmaceutical business and we
tend to get carried along in the wake.
There are very few pharmaceutical companies where animal health exceeds
10% of the turnover. Incidentally, there
are very few products that do not have
competition. Everywhere people have

JA. What are the benefits of being a large
company over a small company?

JH. We can bring more products to
market, offer more services – for
example, the Fort Dodge Index we can
now expand. We can also provide more
practice support. We have just rolled
out the Pfizer business consultants to
provide customers with help in their
practices. We are looking at “Herd
Health” on the livestock side.

One of the benefits of combining
companies is that you have far more
resources to put more in things. As far
as R&D is concerned, the sheer costs
are one of the major drivers for
mergers these days. It’s harder to get
products through the licensing process
and you need a critical mass to get
them through. With smaller companies
you can spend time updating one
product sector but at the same time fall
behind in another product sector. It’s
very difficult to stay on top of all those

JA. What makes you look forward to each

JH. On a purely personal level, to
have the opportunity to lead one of
the biggest animal health companies
in the UK – it is a huge privilege and
a humbling experience. Coming here
to Walton Oaks also feels like coming
home, as this is where my career
started. That said, managing the
acquisition and integration has been
the toughest thing I have ever done
in my career.

My decisions and actions have a
direct impact on the lives of other
people and I take that responsibility
very seriously indeed.

But it is also a fantastic
opportunity. Pfizer is an organisation
that can achieve so much more: we
want to say to customers that we are
a company that you can deal with,
one with good people who care
about growing your business. If we
do that we can grow with our

I love business. It is really very
simple – for some reason we
sometimes seem to want to make it
far more complicated than need be. It
is about the correct focus.

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