Skip to Main Content

On Dec. 2, Executives’ Club second Vice Chair Linda Imonti, who is Office Managing Principal, Chicago, for KPMG, met in conversation with Timothy Walbert. He is CEO of Horizon Therapeutics, which develops medicines for rare, autoimmune and severe inflammatory diseases.

Walbert has unique insight into the pharmaceutical business: He is not only chairman, president and CEO, he’s a patient. In college Walbert was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, but it took 10 years and visits to more than 100 physicians for him to be diagnosed with his rare disease. Recently his son was also diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease.

“I’ve taken many of the medicines that I’ve been involved with, and it’s something that has always given me a different perspective, and attracted me to working in autoimmune diseases.”

“Patients have many other things going on in their lives and you have to have a real context and understanding of what the patient goes through.”

—Timothy Walbert, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Therapeutics

When Walbert’s son was diagnosed,  Walbert became a caregiver, which has given him additional recognition of the needs of patients and families.

“You assume you know what it’s like for someone to have a child or family member who has a rare or autoimmune disease. But to go through it and experience all the challenges in the healthcare system and getting medicines and getting into treatment, you get a whole new perspective that I think makes me better at what I do. It takes a lot of assumptions away.”

—Timothy Walbert, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Therapeutics

The pharmaceutical business is high risk/high reward. Walbert said it takes an average eight to 15 years for a drug to be identified, developed, tested and approved by regulators. Manufacturing is complex. For rare diseases, designing clinical trials is challenging because there are fewer trial models to follow.

“Most R&D projects fail. Somewhere in the 70-plus percent of medicines started into human trials never actually make it to market. All that cost of failure has to be factored into the cost to develop a successful medicine.”

—Timothy Walbert, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Therapeutics

Imonti asked Walbert about Horizon Therapeutics’ reputation for having a culture based on the idea of shared purpose. Walbert noted that a LinkedIn survey of Generation Z employees identified “purpose” as the main reason for going to work.

“You have to compete for talent, and having a company that has real purpose matters to employees in a way that I don’t think it ever has before.

We are patient-focused and some examples are when it comes to working with patient advocacy groups. …We have a medicine that we were studying for a rare neurological disease three or four years ago. It failed at Phase Three. Four years later, we’re still working with that advocacy group as if it was successful. It’s because (employees) really care about patients who have that rare disease.”

—Timothy Walbert, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Therapeutics

Walbert said growing companies that want to deepen their talent pool need to commit to fairness and inclusivity. He said it’s important for business leaders to recognize that they tend to look in the same places for talent — until they consciously break that pattern.

“When it comes to interview slates…so many people say ‘You’re not hiring a diverse talent pool.’ And they (respond), ‘We’ll, we’re not getting them. The people who apply are the ones we hire.’ Well no, you haven’t done a good enough job of going and getting recruiters that represent various diverse groups. …If you keep looking in the same place, you’ll keep getting the same people.”

—Timothy Walbert, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Therapeutics

Compensation demands fairness. Walbert said not all companies are willing to assess pay equity and share results.

“We always make sure if you come in at a level, it doesn’t matter what your background is relative to gender or race. It’s what does the job you’re doing (entail). You should be paid a similar amount.

It doesn’t matter if you are working in scheduling meetings or if you’re in R&D or at the lowest level. Every person in the company is going to get (stock) equity and share in the success of the company. …I’ve seen companies say, ‘You have to be a director level to get equity.’ I just think you’re excluding a key part organization that makes you successful.

If there’s a bonus for executives, everyone should share in a bonus. Those are some simple things that shouldn’t be difficult to do, but people tend to not think through it fully.”

—Timothy Walbert, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Therapeutics

Ready for more?

Recordings of select events are now available to view on demand.

Watch Past Events

See What Else Is Happening

Browse All Our Upcoming Events And Keep Learning, Growing, And Connecting