A healthy dose of IR: Meet the new head of investor relations at AstraZeneca
Thomas Kudsk Larsen, who has joined London-headquartered biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca after almost a decade at rival Roche, talks about upcoming challenges, improving the company’s IR Magazine Euro Top 100 ranking, and what he likes best about IR.
What challenges do you anticipate for the AstraZeneca IR team over the coming 12 months?
We are a company undergoing an exciting transformation into a science-based biopharmaceutical leader, with a clear focus on patients and new medicines. Our challenge in the IR team is to bridge this transition and keep investors and analysts fully updated on the progress with the business and the pipeline of new medicines.
AstraZeneca has not generally fared well in the IR Magazine Euro Top 100 (most recently ranking at joint 195th). What do you think the IR team needs to do to improve this score?
There are many ways to measure IR performance and the IR Magazine Euro Top 100 is an important one. Over the coming months, our team will seek to understand more about past results and see how we can improve in the future. We will definitely try to get higher up the list next time and, given the progress in the business, I think this is do-able.
How will your experience at Roche benefit you at AstraZeneca?
I had more than nine wonderful years as head of investor relations in North America for Roche and worked out of New Jersey and Switzerland, as well as at Genentech in San Francisco. I learned a tremendous amount from my time in Roche’s IR team about the medicine business and specifically about biotechnology and cancer medicines.
As AstraZeneca is progressing into a very interesting pipeline of next-generation cancer and other medicines, I can directly apply that to my new job. Furthermore, most of the investor and analyst contacts are the same at both the sell-side and buy-side companies, so it’s familiar faces all around.
In your experience, what do investors in healthcare companies care about most when it comes to IR?
A large part of the valuation of a biopharmaceutical company relates to what we call the pipeline: the new medicines undergoing testing before approval. Compared with a company in another sector, such as [enzyme-focused industrial biotechnology firm] Novozymes, where I did IR from 2001 to 2005, the news flow about the medicine pipeline is really important. Financials and quarterly results are always important, but in biopharma the pipeline news flow really sets the industry apart.
How would you describe your approach to IR in three words?
Curiosity, underpromise, overdeliver.
How is the AstraZeneca IR team made up?
We are a team of seven people right now and based only in the UK. A couple of our good colleagues are leaving us for internal promotions and emigrating to Australia. We are also looking to re-establish a presence in the US. One challenge I look forward to is making sure a job in IR is an exciting step in a career – on a rotational basis, for instance.
Where will you be traveling to in the coming year?
I plan to meet all our current shareholders with the team, wherever they are. Shareholders own our company and deserve our full attention. I already took a quick trip to the US in my second week of employment, but London, continental Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America are also on the schedule. When I worked at Roche, we expanded our IR activities into Brazil and Chile, and had a very good response.
What’s your favorite thing about doing IR? And your least favorite?
There is so much to learn in IR and so many people to interact with, and there is always more you can do. This is also the downside: you never get to really rest before you are into a new project. Sometimes I would like a little more time with the team to think and make strategic plans for our IR program and company.
How did you get into IR?
I worked in finance at Novo Nordisk and was project manager for a part of the de-merger in 2000 of Novozymes from Novo Nordisk. I was in contact with senior management, communications people and bankers, and found it a very interesting job. When I came home to Denmark from a one-year spell at Novo Nordisk in Tokyo in 2001, there was an open IR position at Novozymes working for Michael Steen-Knudsen, who was the top-ranked Danish IR person. I thought this would be a great chance to learn, and Michael and I still keep in contact today.
What do you like to do outside work?
Family time with my wife Snežana, daughters Natasha and Vanessa, parents, brothers and other family. And some time with my Cannondale road bicycle, too. I started biking during my childhood with my father, and it’s great to go out on the weekend to get exercise and fresh air and enjoy the countryside.