Date: 23 Apr 2013
Eimear Kenny (left), ICON’s HR vice-president, and Helen Brophy, director of executive education with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School
Leading global contract research organisation ICON has teamed up with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School to establish the ICON Business Academy with the objective of developing excellence in leadership capability right across the company.
ICON must be one of Ireland’s best-kept business success stories. From small beginnings in Dublin in 1990 the company has grown to be a global provider of outsourced development services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries with over 10,000 employees worldwide and turnover of over $1 billion. “We are now one of the top five contract research organisations in the world but we have tended to keep a very low profile over the years,” explains HR vice-president Eimear Kenny. “The company was founded by Dr John Climax and Dr Ronan Lambe and grew very rapidly through organic growth and acquisitions. About 90 per cent of the world’s top 20 drugs have been developed with ICON’s help and we have strategic partnerships with leading companies such as Pfizer, Ely Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Shire. ”
Such rapid growth brings its own challenges, however, not least of which is managing 79 offices in 37 countries. “Our people are all highly qualified and trained in their own fields but we need other skills if we are to fulfil our growth ambitions for the coming years,” says Kenny.
The company has ambitious growth plans for the future. “Ciaran Murray became chief executive in 2011 and he recognised that while we had great technical expertise we needed to do more on the management side. When you think about it we don’t sell anything, all we have is our people,” says Kenny.
This is where the partnership with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School came in. “We had already collaborated with the school of medicine in UCD on a number of projects and Ciaran Murray wanted to extend this collaboration into the management side of things so he initiated contact with UCD dean of business, Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh last year.”
That first meeting took place in July of last year and progress since then has been rapid to say the least. “That first meeting was really a brainstorm,” notes Helen Brophy, director of executive education with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. “We wanted to see what ICON was looking for and how UCD could help the company instil the business and leadership excellence it was seeking.”
Out of that meeting came a process which saw staff at the school work closely with ICON to design a bespoke programme which would meet the company’s specific needs. The ICON Business Academy is a structured framework that offers a number of programmes aimed at different levels within the organisation giving each participant the opportunity to receive business and commercial management skills development and action-centred learning in an international business context.