In October of 2003 in Atlanta at a global company meeting, as the new CEO of Schering-Plough, Fred Hassan stood on stage before thousands of sales professionals from around the world and said:
If you are in a position of making a sale and doing something you are not comfortable with – something you won’t feel proud of later, or walking away, I want you to walk away. As your CEO I’m telling you to choose long-term trust and integrity over short-term gain.
He had only been named CEO in April of that same year. His philosophies and opinions were not yet well known throughout the organization. He also knew he was taking a risk in alienating some of the successful sales professionals who were making a killing on short-term transactional quarterly commissions checks. In addition to providing this message of integrity focus, he led the change of the commissions structure to incentivize longer term relationships with customers. He knew some salespeople would leave, and they did.
But something else happened. Starting in that spring of 2004, Schering Plough enjoyed over four years of double-digit growth. Then came 2008, and the growth ran dry for most everyone. Yet even during this period Schering-Plough continued to innovate and introduce new pharmaceuticals to the market, as well as continue to return consistent earnings for shareholders and community. Schering-Plough hired and retained those sales types who took the long view.
In our conversation, Fred put it this way, “People want to do something right and be a part of something bigger than themselves… I didn’t expect it, but I got a long standing ovation that day.”