As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Ross.
Dave joined Seqirus in October 2017 as Vice President of Commercial Operations — North America. Prior to this, Dave held several senior roles at Sanofi Pasteur, including Head of Marketing and Sales for VaxServe, a subsidiary of Sanofi Pasteur, Head of Strategic Programs for the Global Influenza Franchise, and Head of US Marketing for the Influenza Franchise. He joined Sanofi Pasteur in 2004 from BASF Corporation, where he also held a number of leadership roles in Sales, Marketing, and Finance during his 16-year tenure. Dave has a BS in Finance from Seton Hall University and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I developed a foundation of analytical and critical thinking skills with my early career experiences in finance, and those experiences have served me well ever since. It’s also where I learned the importance of taking an enterprise view of every opportunity or challenge, as the goal of anyone working in finance is to view every situation objectively and with the goal of maximizing return on investment (ROI). I later had the opportunity to take on more commercial roles in sales, marketing, and eCommerce, which changed the course of my career.
The first half of my career was spent in the chemical industry, until I reached a point where I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to enter a space where I could expand my commercial competencies, build new leadership capabilities, and play a part in public health, which was always important to me because, even while in the chemical industry, my focus was on nutritional products.
Vaccines became a natural and obvious fit for me, so in 2004 I made the move and never looked back. The last 17 years have been an extremely rewarding time for me professionally. Over nearly two decades, I’ve developed a vision and strategic road maps to inspire employees and healthcare providers alike about the need for new standards of care. I’ve helped launch new vaccines that addressed unmet population health needs, developed and implemented go-to-market models to deliver on our vision and strategies, and stretched my leadership capabilities during two global pandemics — first the flu pandemic of 2009 and now COVID-19.
For me, how I show up every day is best described as an accumulation of all my experiences, and with an unwavering commitment to leverage my enterprise mindset to protect public health.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Well, it wasn’t funny at the time, but with more than 30 years behind me, I think I can say it doesn’t sting anymore. When I started my career in 1989, not everyone had a dedicated computer, so we needed to share computers. And as a finance guy, I was working with massive spreadsheets and storing data on floppy drives. Well, the short story is that I needed to clear a floppy drive to make room for some new spreadsheets, and in a moment that I remember like it was yesterday, instead of erasing the floppy drive, I erased the hard drive of my boss’ computer…yes, my boss’ computer. As soon as I hit that “enter” key, I realized what I had done and completely panicked! In that moment, I had a choice to get help or try to fix it myself, so I didn’t have to admit that I had done something so stupid. I chose to own it and get help. And by addressing the problem immediately and getting the right person involved as early as possible, we were able to recover nearly 100% of the files that I had deleted. The IT person told me that had I tried to recover the files myself, all of my boss’ files would likely have been lost forever.
The life lesson that I learned in that moment, and still carry with me to this day, is that acting quickly and getting the right people involved as soon as possible ALWAYS leads to better outcomes than waiting or trying to do something that someone else is better suited to do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I started my career at BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, I was in a Finance-Professional Development Program. It was a two-year rotational program where I moved through different areas of finance, general accounting, financial planning & analysis, treasury, and more. The person managing the employees in the program was a gentleman named Frank Fortuna. Frank became my mentor during the program and remained in that role for me during my entire time at BASF. I can confidently say that without his mentorship, I would not have been able to navigate the corporate world, which was so foreign to me when I first started my career.
During almost every touch-base that I had with Frank, we would get to a point in the conversation where he would say, “put that in your book of how not to run a company.” Early on, I would just laugh every time he said it and didn’t recognize it for the insightful comment that it was. But, over time, I realized that what he was trying to make me see and learn was that even from the worst examples of how business is done and how people lead, there are valuable lessons to be learned. In fact, it’s my experience, with Frank’s catchphrase echoing in my head every day, that there’s more to be learned from mistakes than successes — you just have to be humble enough to allow yourself to see them.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
As part of the CSL Group, Seqirus draws on over a century of experience in influenza vaccines, and from the very start has been driven by the promise to save lives using the latest technologies.
As the only vaccine company with a singular global focus on influenza, Seqirus works tirelessly on cutting-edge research, transformative technologies and the latest methods of production and distribution. Together with our partners, we’re on the front line to protect communities from seasonal influenza and global pandemic threats. And from my enterprise perspective, this company has never wavered from this purpose, which has only helped further success and commitment — and is a true testament to my colleagues at Seqirus.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has presented the world with uncertain and challenging times. But early on in 2020, our team recognized the role of influenza vaccination as a tool in the battle against COVID-19, helping to not only reduce the impact of seasonal influenza, but also to reduce the burden on our overrun healthcare systems.
During the 2020/21 season, my team at Seqirus, along with our partners in public health, rallied around a unifying call to action and worked diligently to not only produce more flu vaccine doses to meet a higher demand, but also educated the public that it was safe — and important — to seek out an influenza vaccine.
The result of this focused effort was that we saw record levels of influenza immunization which, no doubt, contributed to the low flu circulation that was experienced last year. This allowed our health system capacity to focus all of its resources on the COVID-19 battle.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Doing the truly important stuff is hard and we are always challenged in our weaker moments with the question, “Is it worth it?”
For me, my energy and commitment come from my passion for what we do at Seqirus and the important role we play in public health. I’ve had the unfortunate honor to meet with parents who have lost children to the devastations of influenza, children who have lost parents, and people who have lost their soulmates to influenza. Trust me when I say that the pain that they expressed during those conversations is with me every day. When a parent of a child who has died from influenza says, “I didn’t know how important it was to get my child immunized. Please help make sure no one else suffers the pain I’m going through,” it lights a fire in me in a way nothing else can. Of course, I want to help run a successful business, but for my colleagues and me at Seqirus, it’s so much more than that.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
You need to stay laser-focused on your vision. If you lose sight of your north star, you just find yourself blowing with the wind, and in the process, you squander your valuable resources.
You need to double down on your strategic and tactical planning. Organizations that do this well always outperform those that don’t. It’s a discipline that creates alignment and empowers you to say “no.” An organization’s strategic plan is its litmus test for resource allocation and allows you to create operating leverage. Without it, there is no way to know the difference between a good and bad business tactic — they will all look the same and organizations may find themselves spread too thin and being busy without being impactful.
I encourage all business leaders to truly empower your team to own and co-author the business plans.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Create a Vision and then be relentless and laser-focused in your pursuit of it.
- Invest your time to enroll your team, coworkers, customers, and stakeholders into that vision. It’s not enough to tell them what it is. You need them to own it with the same passion you have
- Give your team your unconditional trust. It’s the only way to achieve a high-performance team. You always hear people say, “they have to earn my trust.” But this implies you start every business relationship from a point of distrust, which, in my experience, doesn’t work.
- Be authentic in how you show up for your team. Trying to be someone you are not will rob you of energy and impact.
- Always, always, always take an enterprise approach to addressing opportunities and challenges. Anything else will almost always lead to a suboptimal outcome.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill
This quote sums up how I try to live my life and how I approach my work. It’s about never getting complacent, knowing that there’s always more that I can accomplish, allowing myself to learn from my mistakes, and having the courage to do what is right.
How can our readers further follow your work?