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 Matt Wiley who has served as Chief Commercial Officer at VYNE Therapeutics since March 2020. Previously, he was in the same role at Foamix Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Mr. Wiley brings over 20 years of commercial and brand leadership experience, previously holding positions as Vice President of Marketing and Business Unit Lead at Jazz Pharmaceuticals from 2012 to 2018, as Vice President of Marketing at Azur Pharma from 2007 to 2012, and, prior to Azur, holding positions of increasing responsibility in sales, sales training, and marketing with Guilford/MGI Pharma, Salix Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, and Rhone-Poulenc Rorer. Mr. Wiley holds a BA in English from Syracuse 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 started back in 1997 as a sales rep outside of pharma. The turning point for me came when I entered into pharma sales. It was clear that this was going to be my passion since I was now selling products that would actually make a difference and add value to patients’ and physicians’ lives. After some time in sales, I moved into marketing, where my focus turned to motivating individuals and teams.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
It was my first week on the marketing team, and I was a rookie product manager on a brand that had a campaign that the creative agency had won multiple awards on. I went to meet the agency, and they had everybody who touched that campaign in the room. They asked me what I liked about the campaign, and I said I didn’t like any of it. You could have heard a pin drop. It was horrible. The biggest lesson for me was that if I wanted to be successful in building teams, I needed to take the time to learn where people were coming from so I could get multiple perspectives to help me make the right choices and decisions. Plus, everybody wants to do well and take pride in what they have done — plowing right in undermines people’s work, ideas, and value.
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?
Our purpose is very clear: improving patient lives by working to develop innovations in dermatology and beyond. It is the foundation upon which we build everything we do. Layered on top of that is a sense of innovation sparked by questioning traditional assumptions with the goal of finding a better solution. We make a habit of asking why — and why not.
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 led your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The pandemic turned everything upside-down, and uncertainty was everywhere. It changed everything, but the one thing it didn’t change was how I approached leading my team. In fact, I think it heightened it.
We had 2 products that were ready to launch. To do it successfully, I knew we needed to listen to our teams and support them as best we could so they could be successful even in such a turbulent time.
Once I knew our teams were working safely from home, I virtually gathered them. I didn’t shy away from the fact that, despite the years of collective experience on our team, we were facing a situation none of us had been through before: launching not 1, but 2 therapeutics in the middle of a global pandemic. I asked them to reimagine everything — how they did their jobs, how they communicated with people, and what they thought they might need to do those things given the current constraints.
Being transparent, positive, and making the team part of the solution builds trust and support.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up was never an option. Patients are at the root of everything we do, and we had 2 products that we knew would make a meaningful difference in their lives. We weren’t going to let anything, including a pandemic, delay getting patients access to it. So, we pivoted from our original plan, and we reimagined our efforts and approach.
What sustains me is having that same feeling that I had when I first came into this industry — recognizing that our products make a difference in people’s lives and add value.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
To have a steady hand. The reality is that regardless of any challenges, our vision is purposeful and deliberate. Maintaining that vision at the center allows for strategic pivots when necessary.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
For me, it’s about 3 key areas. The first is increasing communication so that the team knows they are not alone, and there is a plan. The second is sharing and celebrating best practices and wins with the larger team. We share in the wins, and that motivates the rest of the group to try proven approaches. Lastly, bring it back to the patient. Sharing patient stories with the team reminds us all how important the work we do is.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
We talk a lot about our vision, our North Star, which is future-focused, meaning at least 5 years out. From there, we build our strategy. When the unexpected arises, like we just saw with the pandemic, we keep our focus on that North Star. Even when we make near-term adjustments, everything we do today impacts where we will be tomorrow, so it’s important to reinforce that.
Is there a number one principle that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I love the quote “You don’t plant a tree and hang a swing on it the next day.” You need patience and thoughtfulness to imagine and plan for the future. At the same time, you need to be ready for those unexpected market shifts. Keeping your focus on your long-range vision helps to ensure that we make the right decisions even when things don’t go as planned.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Lack of confidence in the strategy: A strategy needs to be executed before a decision can be made as to whether it worked or not. It’s important to ground a strategic approach in solid research and analytics, then fully execute it. If at that point the strategy isn’t working, it’s time to adjust.
- Patience to see the strategy play out — same as above, basically.
- Lack of communication in the organization: Vision and strategy need to be consistently reinforced throughout the organization. If people don’t consistently hear the “why” in their jobs, they can sometimes lose focus on it.
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?
Every business needs the discipline and plan to invest wisely so that growth, stability, and profits are considered. During turbulent times, solid prioritization is imperative. Investing where we know the greatest impact will be makes the most sense in challenging times. We’ve prioritized patient support and sales force activities. Our priorities go back to our North Star and commitment to patient centricity.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the 3 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.
- Steady hand: While it’s tempting to immediately make changes to a strategy or direction during uncertain times, it is important to calmly and confidently assess the situation while providing comfort to the organization. Back in 2008, during the Great Recession, there was a lot of fear that the organization I was part of at the time might succumb to the financial crisis impacting the world. We assessed the situation and our business at the time, and we put together a plan of action that was not a dramatic departure from our previous one, but rather one that helped us cautiously conserve some near-term resources. Most importantly, our strategy did not change, and we had a high degree of confidence in it. How we sequenced tactics and invested in those activities that would drive market impact may have changed slightly, but the strategic focus and communication of it never did.
- Don’t make unnecessary and sudden moves: I have often seen products in business development that did not get out of the gates as expected, and, almost immediately, there were drastic commercial changes. More reps, fewer reps. Change in strategy, change in marketing campaigns, etc. These sudden moves almost always seem to accelerate the demise of the brands, because they are often aligned with the desire to do something — anything — different, and they’re not necessarily what is best for the brand. If the strategy is well-thought-out, but poorly executed, the strategy might not be at fault.
- Creating an environment of trust, integrity, and honesty: The only way to create trust is to give it willingly and expect it in return. When employees trust each other, there is no situation too great that cannot be navigated. This starts and ends with having a solid moral compass routed in integrity and honesty. One of the finest cultures I’ve worked in lived these values, and I can honestly say that the culture evolved exceedingly well because of the trust and respect all employees developed with one another. These may seem like small things, but when times get tough, they are the bedrock of perseverance.
- Trust the data: Turbulent times can be emotional. If you’ve been investing in good data and maximizing they’re potential, you will have a set of accurate facts in front of you when you’re making any decision. Lean into the data to help guide your next step. They might not make the decision any easier, but they will provide a foundation for the decision and the accompanying set of actions. For example, because we had already invested in 3 years of appropriate data and analytics, we were able to make decisions rooted in facts.
- Be clear in all of your communications: While clearly communicating with your team is important at all times, it is especially critical during times of uncertainty. As a leader, you want to make sure you are communicating with transparency and frequency. Keeping your team looped into what is happening can help mitigate any doubts they might have and provide a clear picture of the next steps forward.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I believe this quote by Anton Chekhov is a good one as it relates to business leadership: “If you cry ‘forward,’ you must without fail make plain in what direction to go.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
Our company and brands are active on LinkedIn and Facebook, and we update our corporate presentation every quarter. Of course, we also post corporate updates, news, and insights on our website.