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Almirall's Sabé on critical thinking, corporate challenges and why he left banking

Abby Roberts, Director of Merrill Insight™ | June 26, 2018

Jordi Sabé is Senior Vice President, Corp Development and a Member of the Management Board of Almirall, an international specialty pharma company based in Spain.

Q: Tell me about yourself.

A: I am a very curious person. I try to learn every day from people and from everything I do. That intellectual curiosity is something that keeps you alive and running and making progress all the time. If you don’t have that intellectual stimulus, I believe you get stuck in your career.

Q: How has that influenced your career?

A: When I look backwards, quite a lot. There are certain moments in your career where you may feel comfortable, and you don’t have to move forward. But if you want to grow and develop yourself you have try to be courageous and leave your comfort zone, even if you don’t know where it will take you.

That is something I have done every time I was looking for a new challenge, and it’s allowed me to constantly grow.

For example, I left investment banking to work on the corporate side because I wanted to know more about the entire deal cycle decision-making process. Why a deal makes sense, why or how as a purchaser I can create value, and what are the different integration strategies to make sure I can execute? When I worked at an investment bank, we were brought in once the strategic rationale of the deal was already elaborated, so the focus was more on the execution of the deal.

Whenever you have challenges ahead of you, instead of being reactive you must be very proactive; otherwise, the challenges will hold you back. The cost of doing nothing is never nothing."

Q: Best practices as a dealmaker?

A: To me, try to know who you are competing with if it’s an auction process. What are the key drivers of the seller, what is the rationale for divesting this business? From the buy-side, how can we create value where others may not? How can we differentiate from the other bidders, and make sure we can be the best owners of this business? I think that’s critical to making a good acquisition.

A few years back, maybe everything was about money. In the last 10 years, the more you know about the other side, the more you can put together a mutually beneficial proposal on top of the money. For instance, when we sold our respiratory business to AstraZeneca we would never have signed a deal if we didn’t believe AstraZeneca could be a better owner. That doesn’t mean money isn’t important, but if you have something else that puts you in a different dimension.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

A: In 2014, Almirall sold its core business. We realized commercially we needed many more resources in terms of marketing than we anticipated, and that making progress on all the elements we had in development was not possible while sustaining financially the company.

We had two alternatives: be courageous and go to the market and say: “We have sold our core business and want to reinvent ourselves”; or we could play in a market we could not compete in and put the company under financial pressure.

In the end, the market accepted our story, but that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was trying to explain to our own employees that we’re going to be divesting the crown jewel.

Whenever you have challenges ahead of you, instead of being reactive you must be very proactive; otherwise, the challenges will hold you back. The cost of doing nothing is never nothing.

Q: What do you look for from advisors?

A: What has really impressed me with the investment bankers is having a deep industry and client knowledge that puts them in a different dimension from the rest. Going beyond the obvious.

Q: What career and life advice do you give to finance professionals starting their careers?

A: Do what really drives you, what gets your positive energy up. Don’t have a job for the sake of having a job. At the end of the day, you’re going to spend a lot of your life at work, so you better do something you like.

Q: Best advice you ever received?

A: Say what you think. Be yourself, always constructively. I heard that many years ago and it really hit me. I have never, ever been in a situation where I have not given my opinion, while always listening to others.

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