Kevin Sharer, president and CEO of Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, spoke at the College Thursday on how to succeed in his position, much-maligned in the wake of recent corporate scandals.
He emphasized the importance of responsibility in his position — to ensure that the company stays committed to its mission and its values — but noted that many CEOs fail to learn that responsibility until they assume their position at the top of their company.
“Something’s wrong in the world of big business,” he said, referring to the recent scandals involving large corporations such as Enron and WorldCom. “If it’s wrong, it’s the CEO’s fault. The CEO is responsible for everything.”
Sharer cited his career in the Navy and at the U.S. Naval Academy as a strong foundation through which he acquired his own sense of responsibility.
He outlined four key attributes to a successful CEO: chart the course, deliver results, act as a role model and develop the best team, which he said was the most difficult.
“You’re never going to be better than your people. [You’re] only as good as their performance,” Sharer said.
Once CEOs has mastered these four tasks, their power is “almost limitless,” he said.
Sharer recommended hiring people who are better than the CEO, smarter than the CEO. It is not something many like to do, but it is key to a company’s success, he said.
When asked about the path to his CEO position, Sharer explained that there is no secret trick to succeeding, as the opportunities vary for everyone.
“Life is a gigantically unmanageable event. The most important things that happen to you are circumstantial,” Sharer said.
Nevertheless, success depends partly on whether or not a person has the capabilities to capitalize on good opportunities.
Sharer further emphasized that success depends on a love for the job.
“I knew from my earliest memory that I wanted to be in charge,” he said.
As CEO, Sharer has seen Amgen grow into a Fortune 500 company, with operations in 31 countries throughout the world. Sharer said the company now offers several revolutionary products, including Aranesp, which combats anemia by stimulating red blood cell production, and Enbrel, which helps with rheumatoid arthritis.