Pharmaceutical Senior Commercial Director Larry Freedman Talks About The Leadership Success Sequence – Episode 138


What is your leadership formula? Former AstraZeneca executive, Larry Freedman, has recently developed a success strategy for leaders of different organizations; the Leadership Success Sequence. Larry talks to Patrick Veroneau about how this special sequence allows leaders to perform effectively and contribute greatly to their companies. Larry discusses why it’s important to tap into employee engagement and enhance the employee experience that each person is having. Listen in as Larry takes us in on his knowledge of the pharmaceutical world and sets out on the next phase of his journey to help others become better leaders.

Listen to the podcast here:

Pharmaceutical Senior Commercial Director Larry Freedman Talks About The Leadership Success Sequence – Episode 138

Thank you for joining me on another episode. In this episode, we’re going to talk about a model, specifically the Leadership Success Sequence. It was developed by a former AstraZeneca executive named Larry Freedman, who I was so happy to interview for this show as he sets out on the next phase of his journey in helping others become better leaders.

A couple of things that stood out for me in terms of our conversation that fit in line directly with what this show is about is that he talked about the continuous drive to improve as a leader. The tagline of this show is, “Leaders are learners.” It’s so true. He spoke to that throughout this in his model. I’m so honored to have him on the show and talk about a model that he used. In the short time that I had to meet with him and interact, I saw this model in him. Let’s get into it.

Larry, thanks again for being on the show. You have capped off a pretty distinguished career in the pharmaceutical industry, leaving as an executive business director in the sales arena. You have so much knowledge that we can tap into. As you get ready to embark on the next space where you’re going to make your mark and impact, I wanted to see if we could dig into something you had provided, which was a model you created. The title of it is the Leadership Success Sequence. As I looked through that, I thought, “This has so much to it.” Your lengthy experience of using this has so much value.

Pat, thanks a lot for the opportunity. It’s an honor. Certainly, one of my favorite topics is leadership and how we can help leaders be even more effective in their roles. I’m excited about the conversation. Thank you.

You had created the Leadership Success Sequence. There are four components that you talk about. I’ll hit on them quickly. I hope we can dig into them individually. You talk about building a relationship. Creating a strong culture is number two: enhancing capabilities and driving results.

Over my time as a leader, I was always trying to do things better and differently and evolve as a leader each year. Over my years, I had some great teams. I’m proud of the performance we had and the patients we served while doing so. I started to think about it after a while. What were some of the commonalities? Why were these teams, aside from having great people, having the success that they were having? It came down to this somewhat basic formula that you described and that I’ve deemed the Success Sequence. The word sequence is important because it does follow a specific order.

The first part of the Success Sequence in leading a team is to build relationships with the people on your team. It may sound basic, but sometimes leaders don’t take the time necessary to build the relationships in a genuine, authentic, and meaningful way. Get to know the person beyond what they do at AstraZeneca and who they are as a person, their interests outside of work, and their family and hobbies. Those things matter. It’s key in doing so that there’s a genuine and sincere interest and that it certainly doesn’t come across in any way, shape, form, or fashion as transactional.

Once you’ve built the relationship with each individual on the team, and it is individual conversations that happen over time, you start to create a culture. Culture is the tie that binds each individual that’s on the team. What is it that connects them all? What is that North Star that you’re all shooting for or that common vision, mission, and passion that creates the culture? It depends upon what your role is within the organization. I lead second-level leaders at my organization. Does that cascade to the next level, which is district sales managers?

When you inspire accountability, you're more likely to gain that person's commitment. When you hold someone accountable, you’re, at best, going to get compliance. Click To Tweet

It would go from 8 regional or commercial business directors to 54 district sales managers. Are they buying into the culture, belief, and mission? The district sales managers cascades to between 400 and 500 sales representatives. When you have that and it’s done well, you have a culture. From there, you have great relationships, a culture, and a belief system. Enhance capabilities and identify within the organization but also within each person. What are the skill gaps that may exist with each individual? What are the holistic skill gaps that the team can get better at?

It comes down to enhancing capabilities or developing people. One thing I wanted to say ties into the sequence. Constructive feedback lands as criticism and less as a relationship. That relationship is important to have. Feedback without a relationship could land as criticism. Once you have the relationships and culture and you’ve worked on those gaps and opportunities to make the team and individuals better, the natural manifestation of those three things is driving performance and results.

I’ve been asked about this, especially if we have new leaders that have said, “How long do I spend on each one?” It’s more of a concept than anything else. It’s not, “We’re going to do relationships for two weeks and then move to culture.” It happens organically and more conceptually as you think about it. What you don’t want to do is your first sit-down with your first rep. Perhaps a common mistake of new managers that want to impress with results is you take out the market share charts and the volume charts and start going through it before you’ve even asked the person his or her name. I’m being facetious, but it happens.

There’s a lot to unpack here. If we take a step back and look at relationships, to me, this is the foundation. It seems so simple. What is simple and what is done or what’s common sense and what’s applied are oftentimes not the same thing. The behaviors make the difference here in terms of the relationships, “If I don’t feel as though you care about me as an individual, I don’t care how much you know, your title, and your success as a manager or a rep. It misses the mark if I don’t think that you care for me as an individual first.”

I love that you bring that up because I do think it’s an important component to this. I look at this in the environment that we’re in now, which we haven’t even hit on yet. The market or industry has changed so much over the years as the pandemic started. We had this conversation. I got into the industry back in 1998. I remember coming into the industry at that point.

Old-timers or people that have been in the industry for a while said, “It has changed so much. This is the end. It’s never going to survive because of the changes.” You hear about that every five years. We’re in that environment. How cliché is this? This time it’s different. There is a seismic shift that has happened because of access and things like that. If you don’t have good relationships with those individuals, it makes it difficult to have difficult conversations about what are the real challenges that reps are facing in the medical field in this environment.

We will talk about the environment. There’s something I wanted to build on. I want to make sure I get the T word in as it relates to relationships. That is trust. That’s foundational to everything because behind the trust, then people understand your intention, which is important.

To me, it’s the mortar between the bricks of all the other stuff. If you don’t have trust, this step doesn’t work. You mentioned something else that I thought was interesting. You dealt with second-level managers. How important is it for this to start at the top? You’re setting the course for this. You need to make sure that you have eight people that report to you, that they have all bought into this, and to ensure that they then buy into it before it ever gets to the people that are going to be impacted by this like the people on the frontline and the salespeople. Is there anything that you did, in particular, to ensure that was happening?

LFL 138 | Leadership Success Sequence

Leadership Success Sequence: Once you build relationships, you go through individual conversations that happen over time, and you start to create a culture that binds each individual on the team.


One of the things that we led to was the concept of leading two levels deep. I was the executive business director, and some people may know that term as national sales director. I led the second-level leaders from a functional responsibility and had daily interactions seemingly with each one. When you lead two levels deep, it’s also important that I develop meaningful relationships with the district managers or those frontline managers.

I did that anytime I had an opportunity, whether it was a one-on-one phone call. For example, during the pandemic, I spoke with all 54 of them individually over time to see how they were doing, how their teams were doing, and what was keeping them up at night. There were a number of different forms that I would create to talk to those district sales managers to get a better sense of the culture. Two levels deep also mean it was important for the second level or the commercial business directors to have relationships with the representatives.

As a concept, if the district sales managers are going two levels deep into their organization, that’s customers. It’s important that they have those customer relationships. As a concept, leading two levels deep is a way to gain insight into the culture that you’re creating as close as you can possibly get it. That’s not to say I didn’t have a lot of conversations with the representatives. If any of them are reading this, they certainly know that I created a number of forums to talk to them as well.

That’s a great concept. We move on to sequence enhancing capabilities. What better area to start talking about enhancing capabilities than the environment that most reps are into as a virtual selling environment. Historically, that’s not something that was regularly done. There were times when we would do it, but that’s not the standard way we’re doing this. I’m curious. How did you approach that?

Prior to the pandemic, we would use Skype, which had a camera capability, but no one ever thought to even turn the camera on in 2019 and early 2020. Now every meeting is on Zoom or Teams. It’s the exception if the camera is off. You’re wondering, “Why is that camera off?” Things have certainly changed. Virtual selling, I do believe, is here to stay. What I’ve seen is it falls into two camps. The first camp is, “We will do it if we have to do it. Maybe I’m not 100% comfortable doing it, but when everything locked down, that was the only opportunity.”

You have others that have embraced the hybrid selling environment and look for opportunities to sell virtually and bring value to their customers. In some cases, depending on the environment, you can be in almost two places simultaneously, give or take, when you’re selling virtually. During the pandemic, and we’re still in the pandemic, I was often invited onto calls. I could start to forge relationships with customers in one specific case who was out in San Diego and was able to meet this customer, HCP, doctor, or cardiologist virtually.

I forged a great relationship and exchanged cellphone numbers. The doctor then called me when he changed his prescribing behavior to the product that was being promoted at the time. When I went out to San Diego, the doctor changed his schedule to meet the representative and me for lunch. There are all different things and ways to be creative, leverage people in headquarters, and lend their expertise to customers while they’re at home or in the headquarter office.

Without question, you bring up a point that I would hit on. There’s always going to be a lack of resources. There’s always a time when we’re not going to have what we need. The budget and time aren’t there. We all have equal access to resourcefulness. If anything, this pandemic has created an environment where being resourceful is what’s going to make the difference. The other part that I thought was interesting was about adding value. This has created an environment where you need to demonstrate value quickly because people don’t have a lot of time.

This pandemic has created an environment where being resourceful is what's going to make the difference. Click To Tweet

I do a lot of work in healthcare and see the other end of this. They spend most of their day in Zoom calls. What they have termed it is Zoomitis at this point. The other thing they have said is that the people they have as participants on these calls are what they call Zoombies. They’re so tired of being on the Zoom calls that they’re not truly present. In the biotech environment, this is something where there’s a real opportunity. If you can present value in a shorter period, it does earn you the opportunity for other things down the road, like the story you mentioned about the physician in California.

You have to. Many of the interactions in pharmaceuticals are often by chance, meaning the representatives in the hospital run into a customer in the hallway. Representatives in a hospital run into a customer in a cafe. There are appointments, but when you go to virtual, those serendipitous meetings, or if you’re in the office in the Sample Closet or by the front desk, don’t happen. It has to be an office staff, the HCP, or the customer going to the laptop, iPad, or PC and logging on and turning it on. To do that, they have to perceive that there’s going to be an absolute value in doing that. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.

You mentioned something that, in my experience, many managers didn’t want to address, whether it was out of their discomfort. There’s serendipity. A lot of interactions are going to happen by coincidence or being in the right spot. In sales, in general, I thought there were three C’s to selling. One is Coincidence, meaning it happened. It’s the right day and right time. One was Causal, meaning the rep directly impacted choosing the treatment that was done based on being there. The other part was there was a Correlation to the selling. It wasn’t direct.

You didn’t need to be there, but because you had laid the foundation long enough, it was going to happen. Too often, we get nervous, thinking that means we don’t add a lot of value. We can talk about territories that were qualifying for President’s Club that were vacant. That says that there were a lot of coincidences and that it just so happened. That doesn’t take away the value that reps provide. Let’s realize that some of this is going to take place by itself. To move the needle to get the most value, the rep has to do those things that add value to create more correlation.

You could look at every different study, analysis, and so forth. There’s no greater value than a representative’s positive influence or persuasion with a customer. You could send all the emails you want and do everything else you want with digital journals, congresses, and so on. At the end of the day, that representative having a relationship with that customer and presenting the features, benefits, and value proposition of their specific product and how it serves patients ultimately will always be the most effective way to sell a pharmaceutical product.

I don’t think that sales representatives are going away anytime soon. There’s a great value proposition for them. A point worth mentioning is in COVID, many of the rules have changed. The representatives that are able to get the most time and have the most influence, whether it’s virtual or live, following the rules of the office or institution, are those with relationships and connections to the customer and the office. That is a competitive advantage and always will be.

Along those lines, if you look at the Success Sequence that you’ve set up and at 2019 to 2022, is there one in that sequence that you say needs a little more attention in this environment? Are they all equally the same?

It’s every aspect of the Success Sequence. We didn’t talk a lot about driving results because driving results are the manifestation of the relationships, culture, and capabilities, but we certainly cannot lose sight of driving results. That’s super important in serving patients when you drive results. Suppose I looked at the sequence and asked, “Which one as a result of the pandemic has been impacted the most?” This is personal taste. It was culture. We’re able to form a connection with the team virtually, but we have so many stories of people that were hired over the years. They were hired by someone via Zoom. They had never met that person. There were always jokes if they finally met live that so-and-so was taller or shorter than they thought because everyone is the same height on Zoom.

The thing that I missed the most, especially when everyone was in lockdown in 2020, were the opportunities, hugs, handshakes, team meetings, dinners, time in the car with the sales representative, and the getting-to-know-you aspect of it. That’s how the culture truly gets built over time. We’re at the height of another wave of COVID. Hopefully, when things can return to some degree of normalcy, the great things that created culture are able to come back and then some because it’s important. It makes a difference. Capturing hearts and minds is hard to do through a Zoom meeting.

LFL 138 | Leadership Success Sequence

Leadership Success Sequence: Sometimes leaders don’t take the time necessary to build the relationships in a genuine, authentic, and meaningful way.


I would agree with you there overall, regardless of where we are. I would label it as isolation. The more we have been isolated, the harder it is. We’re herd animals. We need each other. There’s a huge drive for that. For what it’s worth, at least anecdotally, I’m hearing that people are ready for that. They’re willing to take whatever a little more risk might involve. They want that connection as opposed to a Zoom call. It’s going to happen sooner.

I hope it does. I’m laughing because you talk about isolation. If my former colleagues were reading this, I would remember when the mailman used to pull up. It was the highlight of the day if I could get out there and say hello to someone that was either not on Zoom or outside of my immediate family. The isolation part of it is certainly hard, especially with the type of people, generally speaking, that make up a salesforce. That’s not to say that salesforce doesn’t have introverts. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted. Generally speaking, the profile of a sales leader and sales representative is one of an extrovert. It’s someone that doesn’t like to be locked in their bunker for hours on end on Zoom calls.

Along those lines, it will drive my wife nuts. If we’re out in public and I sent any type of opening for a conversation with somebody in an elevator or wherever it might be, she will give me an eye every so often like, “We don’t have time for this. Do not get into a conversation.” She knows I can’t help myself. I want to step into something that we had talked about briefly around accountability. It was interesting to hear how you phrased it because I share a similar opinion. I would love to hear you talk about your view of accountability.

One of the terms that I’ve grown to hate over the years and I want to qualify is, “Hold accountable. I’m going to hold you accountable. I’m holding you accountable for the quality of this show.” To me, we can even debate the word accountable. I like the word inspire accountability because it’s more of a partnership between you and the person when you inspire accountability. You’re going after a goal together. You’re motivating and capturing hearts and minds.

When you inspire accountability, you’re much more likely to gain that person’s commitment. When you hold someone accountable, you’re at best going to get compliance. They’re going to do what they think you want them to do because you’re their boss. That, to me, is not the secret sauce. It’s how you inspire, capture hearts and minds, gains commitment, and together go tackle a goal.

To me, it’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic. The intrinsic is, “I’m motivated to do this not because I’m afraid if I don’t, the stick is coming out. I believe in this.” I look at it as ownership. We’re all going after the same thing here. What’s interesting about the sequence itself is it’s not as though we’re going to spend two weeks on relationships and culture. Even if there is a sequence to it, it’s a dance at this point where inspiring accountability builds a better relationship with that person and impacts culture as well in a different way. We’re known as a culture that isn’t about whacking each other over the head and pointing fingers. We’re in this together.

I know that you do a lot of reading and research into analytics. It doesn’t matter what Google search you do. Engaged employees are more productive employees. It’s that simple. In the end, it comes down to, “How do we get that discretionary effort, tap into that employee engagement, and enhance that employee experience that each person is having?”

We’re in a strange time with this whole Great Resignation where people not just in pharmaceuticals but everywhere, perhaps uninspired by their jobs, seeking to do something else, need to be at home, or whatever the case may be, are not connecting with their employer. The employee experience and how they feel about their organization, jobs, manager, and culture are massive. I’ve used the term secret sauce a few times. I’ll use it again. That’s what it is. It’s tapping into that.

Engaged employees are more productive employees. Click To Tweet

I would agree in relation to the Great Resignation because I’ve heard that so much. Certainly, you can’t deny the number of people that have quit their jobs and are going to other places. I would argue, especially in what I’ve seen personally over the years of research in different areas, that a lot of people resigned many years ago emotionally and intellectually. It’s just that physically, they are now resigning.

That’s a result of more opportunities being available and also people deciding that enough is enough, “I don’t want to do this anymore. Either I’m going to start my own business. I’m going to retire early because I’m not going to put up with this anymore.” It’s the thought that all of a sudden, everybody had a light bulb moment to say, “I’m going to quit.” If you look at the research from Gallup, people quit a long time ago. It’s just that physically, their bodies are now going with them.

The mental resignation precedes the physical one. A perceptive, intuitive, and insightful manager can pick that up in his or her people and understand when that has happened.

What’s important is that if you follow the research from Gallup, and I can say from my anecdotal experience in working with organizations, about 70% of that feeling of engagement or disengagement is the direct result of who the person reports to. That’s a huge number for organizations to recognize. That’s a huge responsibility to put on a manager who supposedly takes care of your most important asset, your people.

You also have to more than assume. You have to know that the manager is checked in as well. That’s the first dysfunction of a team. If the manager has checked out that mental resignation, what do you think is going to happen to the 8, 10, or 12 individuals that he or she is responsible for? Responsibility is right up the line as it relates to leadership and ensuring that the emotional connection and engagement are there with everyone.

Here you are transitioning to your next phase. It allows us to then talk about legacy, which is another topic that you find important. You’re living it now.

Legacy would be the fifth part of the Success Sequence if there was a fifth concept. Legacy is interesting because legacy is what you leave behind. Legacy can be a certain individual thing or, depending upon your impact, will be a broad consensus type of thing. Once your legacy has been formed or shaped, there’s generally not a chance to go back and make it better or worse. It is what it is. That legacy and impact you’ve had on people should be important to every leader. What you find is a legacy transcends time and organization.

I can remember back when I started as a sales rep the first national sales director that we ever had. He would come on stage and there would be a room at the time of 200, 300, to 400 people. He’s such a dynamic public speaker and influencer. You think he’s looking at you the entire time. You’re looking around at your friends, “Was he looking at anybody else?” That’s the legacy. When I talk to colleagues from back then, we all have that same perspective.

I hope for the people that I’ve led over the years that I’ve been with my organization that I left a lasting legacy. Maybe it was a quote, strategy, tactic, resource, relationship, or connection that we had. Something comes up and they go, “I remember that.” You get a text years later. That’s special. It should be important to every leader. What’s the legacy that you’re leaving behind for folks that invested in you and followed you as a part of your organization?

LFL 138 | Leadership Success Sequence

Leadership Success Sequence: Organizations need to recognize that a manager has a huge responsibility in taking care of their most important asset; their people.


What a great exercise to do right out of the gate in terms of a leadership development course, if you think about it. As you’re developing leaders within your organization, that becomes an exercise. What would you want your legacy to be as you start your leadership career? What do you want that to look like? That says a lot in terms of how you shape the direction you go to and the behaviors you exhibit. For you, as you’re looking into the next phase of your career, you want to be able to do that again and help develop legacies for others. What is the best way if somebody were interested in wanting to find out more about Larry, your experiences, and what you can provide them to get ahold of you?

It’s LinkedIn. On my LinkedIn profile, my email is certainly there. The messenger function on LinkedIn works. Feel free. I would love to hear from people, whether they’re people that I’ve known, new friends, or somebody that read this show and say, “I had a question. I would love to talk to you more about the Success Sequence.” I would love to talk to them about it as well. This is slightly off the question, but one thing that’s important is also your network. Your legacy isn’t mutually exclusive from your network.

While I was at my organization, anybody reached out to me from a networking perspective, whether internal or external. I was always quick to respond and do whatever I could. Now I’m on the other side of that. I’m very grateful to the network of people that I’ve known over the years. Some are still with the organization and many are not because I reach out. You’re a great example. We hadn’t spoken in quite some time, we reached out, and we’re doing this show together.

I’ll add to that in terms of what you talk about because it has been years since I left. We met through my proposals and what I wanted to try and bring to the organization that you’re with in regards to some leadership ideas that I’m doing. When I left and started my own company, I reached out to you in terms of having a connection. There was nothing in it for you to connect with me. You didn’t see down the road, “I’m going to want to reach out at some point because I’m going to be starting a new venture.” There was none of that.

You did it because we had a connection. I won’t forget that in terms of the conversations that we had. You were an executive, yet you took the time to listen to what I was proposing for the organization. You did it sincerely and I felt that. What you’ve talked about here in this sequence, in a short period of time, our interactions, I experienced it. It’s legitimate.

I would be remiss if I went this entire show without thanking AstraZeneca. They’re a great organization with great people and products. To express my gratitude to an outstanding organization and at the same time acknowledge I am excited to start that next chapter, I wanted to do that and also if I could leave you with a quote. I love this quote and it’s genuine, “As a leader, your goal should be to make every interaction count and leave people better than you found them.” If you can replicate that through one-on-one conversations, conversations with 10 people, conversations with a region of 60 people, or conversations on Zoom with 500 people, you’ve had success. With that, I thank you so much for this opportunity. I wish you luck and continued success, Pat, at what you do. Thank you so much.

Thanks. I wish you the best. Take care.

Important Links:

About Larry Freedman

LFL 138 | Leadership Success SequenceHe built a strong reputation for being an inspirational leader, who is passionate about his people and the patients they serve with best-in-class medications. Throughout his career, he created and led highly engaged selling teams, who maintain outstanding culture, while driving top-tier sales performance. He’s been able to do this by building trust and inspiring personal accountability with his team members. He has a growth mindset and a natural curiosity, which helps him to solve critical business challenges.  

He places an emphasis on developing and growing strong, authentic relationships, so that he can tap into each individual “why,” and TOGETHER can exceed their goals. One of his greatest strengths is his unique ability to attract, retain, and develop top talent, which has resulted in numerous promotions. 

At AstraZeneca, he was one of the organization’s most decorated commercial employees, and won several awards and distinctions. Examples include, but aren’t limited to the following:

Five Circle of Excellence and one Presidents Club Award for leading the top-selling team in my division.

CEO Award- For the outstanding turnaround of Brilinta (46% year over year) after a relatively flat launch.

Two Leadership Excellence Awards, which were presented to the top leaders in the organization for outstanding leadership.

Led the total buildout and launch of the Neurology Selling Team, which included the placement of all leadership and sales personnel, territory design and account lists.

Led several successful product launches, most recently a heart failure indication for Farxiga, which quickly achieved market leadership status.

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today: