Robert Wessman: A leader must be able to act when most others don’t

Courage and persistence are critical to good leadership, explains the Alvogen chairman and CEO

December 7, 2017

Previously we heard from Robert Wessman – founder, chairman and CEO of generic pharmaceuticals company Alvogen – about the pressures in his industry, and the origins of the business on a restaurant napkin. Now we hear his vision of leadership, which in many ways has its origins in the same place: with the financial markets in ruins, and nothing but a napkin in his hand. He also talks about how he finds good people – and keeps them motivated.

Robert Wessman: A leader must be able to act and do, when most others don’t. And a leader has to also be persistent.

In the early days, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have anything else, other than a piece of napkin. You have nothing! Empty pockets. You have a handful of colleagues, you have some thoughts, you have the financial markets collapsed. Then you have to believe. And you have to continue and not give up; even though we have a lot of hiccups and headwinds.

I think those two elements are very critical, but of course there are many elements in a good leader.

I motivate people, mainly by being motivated myself. So if I wake up grumpy and I’m not motivated, I’m not going to motivate anything! I’m staying positive. And when we, kind of, hit the end of the tunnel and we didn’t see the light, I was the one to go on the floor, talk to the team, and help to find and create the solutions.

I’m not sure leadership can be in a big scale taught. You can, you know, have tools to help you, and improve. Some people are funny, and it’s not only because they have the DNA saying, you are funny. They are brought up in a certain environment, they go to school which impacts them, they have friends which impact them. They end up being funny people!

And I can learn a few jokes, but I would never be a stand-up comedian. But, it’s the same with leadership.

It’s not what you learn in school, in university, or MBA. It basically starts the day you were born. Your upbringing, your friends, which kind of personality you are yourself. People are at the end of the day, when they start learning about leadership, already they are leaders or not. But they can unfold their leadership by going to school.

World Finance: How do you find great people?

First of all, to find great people, you have to know what you’re looking for. And I look for two things. First of all experience, and reputation in the industry.

The second, and even more important, is the personality. Is the person ambitious? Is the person positive? Is the person able to work within a group? I’m looking for people who are pro-active and find solutions.

Our environment is positive. It’s a hard-working environment; we create our culture within the company from day one. We decided which kind of culture we wanted in the company.

We earn our respect by being respectful; and many, many companies don’t get that, or understand that. And I think that is part of the motivation we bring in people; the fire we manage to bring into everyone’s belly.

That is good leaders do, and that is what I believe in.

Thanks for watching. Click through for our other videos with Robert Wessman, where he talks about the pressures in the generic pharmaceuticals market today, and Alvogen’s origins on a restaurant napkin. And please subscribe for even more international business insights from