The Secrets Of Success With Paul Hudson, CEO Of Sanofi, The Leader Who’s Channeling AI To Find The Next Pharma Wonder Drug | Old North State Wealth News
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The secrets of success with Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, the leader who’s channeling AI to find the next pharma wonder drug



CEO Agenda provides unique insights into how leaders think and lead and what keeps them busy in a world of constant change. We look into the lives, minds and agendas of CEOs at the world’s most iconic companies.

Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, works in a volatile business. The pharma sector has been very profitable for many decades, and its weight in the economy has grown steadily. But for individual companies, to lend a phrase from the late Oscar winner Marie Dressler: “You’re only as good as your last picture” – or, in this case, your latest blockbuster drug.

Hudson moreover joined Sanofi, the leading French pharmaceutical company, just before the biggest global public health crisis in a century hit us. He became CEO in June 2019. Six months later, COVID appeared in China, and a little later, all over the world. In those early days of his tenure, Sanofi was mostly missing in action. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Roche all developed their vaccines or diagnostics in a few short months. Sanofi got in on the action but disappeared in the background when its COVID vaccine efforts fumbled.


Sanofi’s rank on the 2023 Fortune 500 Europe

But the world of pharma is always in flux, and so is Sanofi. In 2022 and 2023, updates on trials and regulator responses to Sanofi’s new asthma treatment caused its shares to soar and fall, as did regulators’ involvement in Sanofi’s planned acquisitions. Today, its share price is up more than 15% compared to 5 years ago. And Hudson is patiently yet frantically building the Sanofi of tomorrow.

At a Fortune dinner in 2023, he and I discussed what AI would mean for business. He was adamant that it would be transformative; I was skeptical. As you’ll read from Hudson’s answers below, the British CEO has been doubling down on his AI implementation, and it’s starting to pay off—Sanofi today is becoming a leader in AI. 

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Down to business

Fortune: What global news item is at the top of your mind?

Paul Hudson: With the world we live in today, it’s simply impossible to pick one. As is now often evoked, we are facing a “permacrisis” or an extended period of instability and insecurity. As we continue to witness increased polarization around the world, it’s striking to see that the global issues at stake are more interconnected than ever.

What is the single most important project you are working on with your company? 

At Sanofi, we’re in the midst of a company-wide modernization – everything from our science to our manufacturing to our culture. Driving much of our modernization is our ambition to be the first biopharma company powered by Artificial Intelligence at scale. That means we are fully embracing the power of AI across our value chain to harness the pace of scientific discovery, improve our productivity and place better decision intelligence in the hands of our people. Always with the goal to accelerate scientific breakthroughs so we can innovate faster for patients. 

Driving much of our modernization is our ambition to be the first biopharma company powered by Artificial Intelligence at scale.

Which long-term trend are you most bullish about for society and the economy at large? Which one makes you most worried? 

It won’t come as a surprise, but I’m betting big on AI. It’s here to stay and I believe if we use it responsibly and ethically, AI will bring about positive changes in our world in ways we cannot yet imagine.

A trend we should all be worried about is climate change. While progress is being made, it’s been incremental at best. Increased collaboration is needed, and quickly, within and across industries for a more sustainable world. A top of mind example: healthcare systems overall are responsible for 5% of all carbon emissions, with half those emissions being generated “downstream” via the delivery of care to patients. It will take all of us – industry, governments, healthcare professionals, hospitals, patients – working together to find long-term solutions.

Paul Hudson starts every morning with a coffee.

Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography via Getty

If you were an economic policymaker, what would be your top priority for Europe? 

Achieving health autonomy for the EU. Healthcare is a critical sector for Europe’s security but one that remains underprioritized due to lack of investment. For R&D in particular, it is often related to complex regulatory hurdles, among others. Europe already has a strong foundation for health innovation in place with world leading science, a dynamic start-up ecosystem, and strong bio-clusters. What’s needed now is the concerted effort of all stakeholders joined together to restore Europe as a healthcare leader and regain a competitive edge in healthcare innovation.

Being productive

What time do you get up, and what part of your morning routine sets you up for the day?

I get up around 6:30/7:00 a.m. My morning routine definitely includes coffee and checking in on my family, before I start catching up on email.

What time do you work until? Do you continue sending emails during the night and/or weekends? 

I’m more of a night owl and don’t mind working late. Saturdays are saved for family and personal time as much as possible, and I typically use Sundays to prep for the week ahead.  

Managing My Life: My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson
Hudson channels Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson’s leadership strategy and takes inspiration from his autobiography.

What apps or methods do you use to be more productive?

An app I use daily, plai, was tailor-made for Sanofi. It’s like snackable AI in your pocket, giving me – and all our employees – access to billions of aggregated data points from across the organization in real time. Having that kind of insight at my fingertips means I can make better, faster decisions, and identify potential challenges or opportunities in a matter of seconds.

Who is on your “personal board”?

My three children, because they keep me on my toes. Through their eyes I get a glimpse into what the future looks like for the next generation, which helps me as a leader of today. Then a good friend from university (Manchester Metropolitan University), to keep me grounded on what matters in life; a data scientist, to help me lead with insights and not bias; and a CEO from a completely different industry, for different perspectives on leadership.

Getting personal

What book have you read, either recently or in the past, that has inspired you?

Alex Ferguson’s Managing My Life.

Paul with his Olympic heroes:

Paris, France, 17 july 2023. Sanofi team during the World Paralympics Competition at the Charlety Stadium.
Sanofi athlete, Ezra Frech (L), Paul Hudson and athlete Dany Dann at the Charlety Stadium in Paris.

© Bambasi / Courtesy of Sanofi

Paul Hudson (C) and Sanofi athlete, Ellie Challis at Sanofi office in Paris.
Paul Hudson (C) and Sanofi athlete, Ellie Challis (R) at Sanofi office in Paris.

© Fisheye / Courtesy of Sanofi

If you could ask your idol one question, who would it be, and what would you ask?

It would be Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary coach of Manchester United who I consider a true role model for leadership. My question would relate to his incredible ability to keep everybody on the team connected and committed, not only in difficult moments, but also in winning moments and how he managed to keep standards of excellence so high and so consistently.

As a consumer, what is your favorite company and why?

It’s tough to pick one, but I would say Apple for their consumer-centric mindset, seamless user experience across products and capacity to drive a clear vision.  

Apple Vision Pro headset
Hudson’s favorite company is Apple.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Who is your Olympic hero, present or past?

The athletes of Team Sanofi who are about to give their all at the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Game: Valériane Ayayi, Amandine Buchard, Ellie Challis, Dany Dann, Ezra Frech, Nantenin Keita, Yul Moldauer, Lauren Rowles. This group of inspiring individuals have joined us in our partnership with the Paris 2024 Games, promoting diversity, inclusivity, and the values shared between science and sport.

CEO Agenda provides unique insights into how leaders think and lead and what keeps them busy in a world of constant change. We look into the lives, minds and agendas of CEOs at the world’s most iconic companies.

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