GSK’s Neale Belson on building trust with employees and society

Pharma’s reputation is currently riding high as the industry comes together to tackle COVID-19, but GSK’s UK general manager Neale Belson says there is always more companies can do to build their culture and make sure employees and customers trust they are doing the right thing.

When we spoke with Belson about the GSK’s response to COVID-19, he pointed out how the pandemic has allowed him to get to know his colleagues even better than he anticipated. Now, speaking to him as the first vaccines are deployed in the UK, he highlights the importance of GSK’s employees and culture to the future of the company post-COVID.

Despite becoming UK GM at a difficult time – right before lockdowns came into effect in March – Belson says he was excited to start the role, which he describes as his “dream job”.

“It’s an incredibly humbling experience. When I was young, I had a strong desire to make a difference, and making a difference is right at the heart of GSK’s mission.”

As GSK’s UK lead, Belson is responsible for promoting and implementing the company’s three core priorities – Innovation, Trust and Performance – in the country. He believes the most important aspect of doing this is to develop the business by building its people.

“Our employees’ friends and colleagues understand the great work we’re doing, which has changed how they feel about working for GSK and how they are engaged in our mission”

“To me that’s all about the environment we create,” he says. “We want people to enjoy working for GSK in the UK, to feel valuable, and to feel excited about being part of something.

“What we do as an industry is really special, and it’s important to me that people feel proud of what we do and see that we can achieve an awful lot together.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, he says, has been a key catalyst in helping people both outside and inside the company understand its purpose and build on the Trust agenda.

“People now recognise what the industry has done to help tackle COVID. Our employees’ friends and colleagues understand the great work we’re doing, which has changed how they feel about working for GSK and how they are engaged in our mission. It’s been lovely to see that.

“There’s never been a better time to be in pharma. If we build on that, our Trust agenda can have a very strong future.”

Trust and Performance

Building this trust among employees involves improving a company’s culture from the ground up, Belson says.

“We are looking to build a purpose-led, performance-driven culture to enable us to make the biggest difference possible. To us, that means making a difference to what matters to people.

“We want to focus on things like development, diversity, health and wellbeing – and all of that underpins our goal to be one of the most innovative, high-performing, and trusted companies in the healthcare space.”

The same is true for the company’s Performance agenda.

“Our performance agenda is all about investing in our people and our capabilities,” Belson says. “At the beginning of the pandemic we ramped up our training, and our capabilities developed significantly as a result. We wanted to get people match-fit, and they really enjoyed and appreciated that.

“As part of that we also sought to understand the challenges people were having and how we could help them. This is not only good for health and wellbeing, but also for overall performance.”

Sustainability and joint working

But Belson notes that building trust must go beyond internal projects and involve external efforts as well.

He highlights GSK’s recently announced sustainability ambitions as an example of how the company is aiming to “do the right thing” for wider society.

With the new goals, GSK aims to have a net zero impact on climate and a net positive impact on nature by 2030.

Underpinning these goals, the company has set new targets across its different businesses, including: 100% renewable electricity usage and good water stewardship at all GSK sites; 100% of materials sustainably sourced and deforestation free and transitioning to 100% usage of electric vehicles by sales reps worldwide.

“We’re investing in restoration projects where we can and are looking to put back into nature more than we take out,” Belson explains.

“We don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m proud of the agenda and the ambition.”

Similarly, Belson believes it is important to make sure that GSK is “part of the solution” in addressing patient needs in the UK through joint working initiatives with the NHS.

Some examples where GSK have done this include a collaboration with Health Innovation Manchester to deliver asthma care to patients within a pharmacy community setting, and an initiative with the Federation of Family Practices in Belfast to help improve the care of COPD patients who remain symptomatic.

“It’s also important that we continue to learn and understand what patients need throughout the ecosystem, from early drug development all the way through to how patients are diagnosed and treated and their journey through these processes.”

Overall, Belson says the Trust agenda is about making sure people genuinely feel that GSK is doing the right thing.

“I think people are proud to work for a company that has that as one of the core pillars of its strategy. Fundamentally, I want to lead an organisation where people genuinely feel they are connected with our purpose.”

He says he would like to see employees become even more connected to this purpose in the future.

“We’re trying to drive a culture where people feel valued and respected, and where they’re genuinely part of the solutions we’re providing.

“That involves listening, understanding and making sure they have a voice and feel confident about speaking up – as well as making sure they can feel part of where we’re going as an organisation.”

About the interviewee

Neale Belson is senior vice president and general manager UK and Ireland at GSK, and leader of the GSK Pharmaceuticals affiliate in the UK. Neale has performed several significant leadership roles encompassing many therapeutic areas working in the United States, Europe and most recently as vice president and area director GSK Nordic and Baltic Cluster, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Prior to GSK, Neale held senior commercial roles at AstraZeneca.

About the author

George Underwood is pharmaphorum’s Deep Dive magazine editor, leading the content for the bi-monthly magazine. He has been reporting on the industry for seven years and has worked at a number of leading publications in the UK.