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How CEO of Zoetis learned to lead

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

In 2011, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer explored the option of splitting off its animal health division. That was good news for Juan Ramon Alaix’s career.

Alaix, who ran the animal health unit, learned that if the spin-off occurred, he would become CEO of the new company. Pfizer thus put Alaix through an 18-month training program to acquire the skills that the CEO of a public company would need.

During that period, Alaix conferred with a mentor, a former CEO of a big European firm. They met regularly to discuss how to communicate with the media and stakeholders and how to craft a corporate culture for Zoetis, the newly christened animal health company.

With his mentor’s help, Alaix analyzed his decision-making and grew as a leader. He received valuable input from a trusted outsider that he couldn’t get from his colleagues.

Alaix also met with a communications coach to polish his media interview skills and public speaking. He even learned how to navigate the scripted and Q&A segments of quarterly earnings calls, a key challenge for a new CEO.

“The trainers taught me specific delivery techniques that I now use regularly, such as nonverbal communication, speaking simply about complicated issues, and paying attention to pacing while speaking,” he says.

Alaix, 62, likes to engage in diligent preparation. Before his first television interview, for example, he practiced for eight hours.

Today, Zoetis is the largest public company focused solely on animal health. And Alaix is widely hailed for his leadership.

— Adapted from “The CEO of Zoetis on How He Prepared for the Top Job,” Juan Ramon Alaix, www.hbr.org.

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