Alexion’s Next Chapter: Indrani Franchini

Indrani Franchini leads compliance success for a niche biotech as it enters its renaissance

Indrani Franchini, EVP, Chief Compliance Officer, Alexion Pharmaceuticals 

There are those who hear of an opportunity to work for a company going through tough transitions and pass it by, fearing they’ll get ensnared in the challenges themselves. Then, there are those who embrace said opportunity, eager to have a hand in setting a company up for great success. Consider Indrani Franchini firmly rooted in the latter camp.

Franchini had nearly fourteen years of corporate compliance leadership under her belt—including an extended stay with pharma giant Pfizer—when biotech Alexion Pharmaceuticals tapped her for the executive vice president and chief compliance officer role midway through 2017 as the company was in the midst of a senior management overhaul.

“I love untangling things, and we had the opportunity to gain alignment on a new, exciting chapter for the company,” she says. “It could be daunting to others, but to me, it’s an invigorating time to be in a compliance role. I like being in the hot seat, managing through all that. This was an opportunity to take a tremendous business and start to write chapter two.”

Alexion’s first chapter began in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1992. In addition to becoming known for medication for rare disorders like Soliris, it developed a commitment to research related to autoimmune diseases. With about 2,500 employees worldwide today, Alexion is merely a sliver the size of the industry’s biggest names. But its output, Franchini says, is something much bigger and more important than its size might suggest. That impressed her. “Alexion has a passion for being a patient-driven company, dealing with rare diseases,” Franchini says. “In some cases, it’s about looking for a needle-in-a-haystack, and when you find it, it’s really a life-changing situation.”

Settling into her position at Alexion involved more than just rebuilding a compliance program. It meant understanding the business, its goals, and its objectives—and working a new compliance program amidst all those factors. Some of this involved skills that Franchini had already honed, such as the ability to move quickly and exhibit an enormous amount of grace under pressure. But she holds a healthy respect for the risks involved too. “You can come in as a compliance person and, quite possibly, paralyze the organization,” she cautions. “Mine has always been a very balanced and measured approach.”

To Franchini, that meant three key actions: enhancing what Alexion had, making sure its new culture aligned with the new plan for compliance, and dealing with external regulators. “How we understand our history and heritage, internalize that, and bring the best parts forward from there . . . that’s really what I came to do,” Franchini says. “Yes, we had challenges, but what we achieved was ultimately really positive. So, you want to keep that part of the culture, taking the core of what was really good with you.”

With a third of her compliance representatives located in places such as Latin America, Japan, Germany, and Russia, Franchini gets a fair sense of what’s being said and felt abroad as Alexion continues to regroup. And she’s the first to admit that transformation doesn’t happen easily or quickly. “Even internally, we’re still trying to redefine ourselves,” she says. “It’d be naive for us to think, ‘Oh, new management came in, everything’s different.’ It takes a lot more than that. It comes from alignment; it comes from how we move forward together.”

And she’s quite pleased with the action she’s witnessed thus far. “I’ve seen it happening. People on my team getting called into meetings that they historically that hadn’t been; people thinking about things differently,” Franchini notes. “So, I think, from a practical perspective, our next chapter is already happening.”

Strong leadership does wonders for pointing a team in the right direction, and in Franchini’s case, much of her success is fueled by lessons in engagement. Listening to business partners, keeping an open mind, and understanding someone’s objectives to come up with the best risk mitigation solutions are all part of her tool kit.

She also looks for continued growth in her role at Alexion, both in terms of the compliance space and the company in general. But what starts with her own team has incredible potential elsewhere at Alexion. That’s the benefit of being at both a smaller biotech company and one that doesn’t expect each leader to already have all the answers.

“I tell people all the time, ‘Understand when you need to ask for help and when you need to bring in the experts,’” Franchini says. “Those are the results-oriented people who really thrive in these situations. It’s knowing and being comfortable with that. That’s where you turn a point in your leadership.”

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