Bob was born & raised in Dumont, NJ as the youngest of four siblings. He grew up in a typical, middle-class family where his father worked as a policeman and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Bob worked as a janitor during his time in high school while playing several sports throughout the year.
After getting his B.A. in Economics & Religious Studies, he worked as an assistant trader on wall-street for some time before realizing he wanted to do something else. Bob took a job selling pharmaceuticals to doctors for two years before making a significant career move. He then was admitted into the Harvard Business School to pursue an MBA, and he would become one of the top leaders in biotechnology/pharmaceuticals.
Throughout his career, Bob made several risky career moves that ended up paying off. At one point, he was managing a $6 billion business at Amgen, a large pharmaceutical corporation, but decided to take a leap of faith and leave to join a smaller company called Juno Therapeutics.
In the full podcast, Bob shares career setbacks, temporary failures, and most importantly shares key advice for how you can better prepare yourself to reach your career ambitions.
00:00:04 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of ExecuTalks. It’s the show that trains your brain to think like today’s top executives. I’m your host Ash, and in this episode, we will get to hear from Bob Azelby.
00:00:24 Ash Faraj: Before we get into the show, I just wanted to remind you that we’re here to help. The reason we started ExecuTalks, the reason we exist, is because we want to help you. Wherever you’re at in your career. If you’re looking for a career switch or you feel stuck not knowing what’s next for you. We want to engage with you, and we want you to engage with us. Email me personally Ash@ExecuTalks.com. Again, that is A-S-H-, Ash@ExecuTalks.com.
00:00:52 Ash Faraj: And by the way you want to be sure to stick around for the whole episode today, because Bob dives deep into how you can really take your career to the next level. What steps you need to take in order to realize your career ambitions.
00:01:07 Ash Faraj: So, Bob was born and raised in Dumont, New Jersey, a town pretty close to New York City. He grew up in a typical middle-class family. He was the youngest of four siblings. His father was a policeman. His mother was a stay-at-home mom. In high school, Bob worked as a full-time janitor while playing sports year-round to support himself. After college, Bob worked on Wall Street as an assistant trader for four months before realizing that it made him miserable. He went on to work in sales for a pharmaceutical company, and from there he would remain in the industry and become a top industry executive.
00:01:45 Ash Faraj: Last time we talked it was before the coronavirus.
00:01:47 Bob Azelby: Yeah, you know what, I was just thinking about that. That was probably right before the shutdown. That was probably in February.
00:01:52 Ash Faraj: Yeah, it was around February, March. Hopefully, everyone in your family is okay?
00:01:58 Bob Azelby: We’re all safe. Everybody is good.
00:02:00 Ash Faraj: Obviously, I know a lot about your story, but can you just kind of start off by painting a picture of the audience of who Bob Azelby was? You grew up in Dumont, New Jersey, right?
00:02:12 Bob Azelby: Yeah.
00:02:13 Ash Faraj: -- Dumont, New Jersey. How was -- If I was in the classroom with Bob in middle school, who was Bob?
00:02:18 Bob Azelby: My dad worked two jobs, so I didn’t see him very much. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I was the youngest of four. And I think you’d see the kid who did well in school but played a lot of sports. We would play any free time we had; we were playing sports. Unlike kids today, where they have play dates, my mom would yell out the back door; I’d probably be two blocks away. She’d yell, “Bobby, dinner!” Then you’d come home and then -- you know, even in middle school, I would stay at the park ‘till ten or eleven at night with Little League baseball going on, and playing basketball all night underneath the lights. So, it’s a completely different way to grow up, but a great way to grow up.
00:03:02 Ash Faraj: Yeah, yeah. I also noticed, it seems like your relationship you have with your brothers is like very, very tight. What factors do you feel influenced that, because it’s not -- some families are not that way.
00:03:14 Bob Azelby: Yeah, I was the youngest of four: my sister is the oldest, and my brother John, and my brother Tom. I don’t know, it’s kind of a neighborhood thing where you kind of looked out for your siblings. Although, your older brothers always beat the crap out of the little brothers, and that happened every day with my middle brother Tom.
00:03:32 Ash Faraj: Yeah… [laughter]
00:03:34 Bob Azelby: My oldest brother, Joe, we’d always joke. My brother Tom and I are both 5’10”. My brother Joe is 6’2”. We claimed that he got all the milk.
00:03:42 Ash Faraj: Growing up, do you feel -- were there any kind of things you felt like you were always curious about, or like maybe inside hustles you did?
00:03:50 Bob Azelby: When I go back and I think about my problems in high school, I kind of feel like I didn’t start growing up ‘till like I was 25. I mean that seriously. In high school -- I played football and basketball in high school. Then in my senior year, I started working 40 hours a week, cleaning office buildings every night. It was about making some money, and me going out and hanging out with your friends or your girlfriend, etc. Even when I went to the University of Virginia it was more about getting a degree, but I wasn’t coached or guided on what degree I should get or anything like that. I think it wasn’t until I actually got out into the real world that, hey, if I want to progress to do the things I want to do, then I’m probably going to have to go back and get more education.
00:04:38 Ash Faraj: Hmm… interesting. Now kind of reflecting on your childhood up until you were 25. If there was one person that you felt had the biggest impact on your life principles today, who do you feel that person is?
00:04:51 Bob Azelby: Well, I would say from the highest level it was my dad. All my dad would ever say -- he was born in 1926, he was working at 12, lived with his grandmother, went to World War II, and then did some things until 30 -- so it was always about working hard. But I would say, the people who probably guided me the most in the principles, were probably my two brothers. My brother Joe was the perfect child; got great grades and was a great athlete, went on to play for the Buffalo Bills. Right? Then my brother Tom, who beat me up every day, not in physically, but emotionally and physically, but not bad.
00:05:27 Ash Faraj: Emotionally hurts more than physically, by the way. [laughter]
00:05:28 Bob Azelby: Yeah, but he made me, which is crazy, incredibly competitive. Like, kind of to a problem. So, for example, because he could beat me up physically, I would beat him at everything else. We got this little, new pinball machine for Christmas. I would play it until I dominated it, so I could be better than him. We got a ping pong table. I would spend hours playing ping pong. He could never beat me at ping pong. Everything I would do was always to be better than him at everything, because I couldn’t beat him up mentally or physically. I think that created a little bit of a competitive nature.
00:06:10 Ash Faraj: So, Bob, after high school, you decided to pursue a degree in economics and religion -- economics and religious studies?
00:06:19 Bob Azelby: Religious studies, yeah.
00:06:21 Ash Faraj: Just curious for those people that maybe are -- haven’t gotten into their major yet; why did you make that decision?
00:06:27 Bob Azelby: It’s a great question. I was in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. Again, I wasn’t getting a lot of guidance, except that I would go there. I thought economics was the most business-like topic and I wanted to go into business. I studied economics but didn’t really enjoy it. But I started taking these history of Christianity classes. It wasn’t really -- the religion major wasn’t so much theological it was more historical, and really started to enjoy those classes. By the time I looked up, I was a class or two away from getting a double major. I loaded up a little bit in my senior year to get -- take a couple more classes to come out with a double major. But that was more along the lines of really enjoying the classes and adding, versus what I thought was pragmatic and what you needed to actually pursue a job post. So again, to go back, I really didn’t grow up until I was 25.
00:07:23 Ash Faraj: Now after you graduated college, do you remember how your first opportunity came about? I remember you said it was on the training floor?
00:07:31 Bob Azelby: Yes, well, yes, yes. But not as being like Gordon Gekko at Wall Street. I was an assistant trader where I was actually typing in the trades and correcting the -- Guys were yelling at you to get the trades in before the clock stopped, and you just typed in. It wasn’t a very strategic job. I was living at home. Taking the bus in an hour a day into New York City and it was miserable. I actually think, for me at least, when I got out of college that was probably the toughest time. Because you had all this freedom and life was good and it was pretty easy. Then you go to work; you’re working every day and the only day you get off is Christmas. You don’t get the two or three or four weeks breaks any longer. That took an adjustment. Then left that and then did a sports photography business for about a year and a half, and at night I worked on soap operas, the staging. Then my brother’s girlfriend said, “You know what, you can sell.” And next thing you know, I was interviewing for a Glaxo pharmaceutical sales job down in the Philadelphia area. So that’s how I ended up in the business. It wasn’t any grand plan. It was just kind of serendipity to get there.
00:08:53 Ash Faraj: Yeah, it seems like -- I’m just kind of trying to think about how -- what motivated you to make those decisions? Was it because you wanted to make a buck, or was it because you were actually trying to find -- you know, you’re curious about certain things? Reflecting back do you know why you made the decisions you did?
00:09:10 Bob Azelby: You know what, at the end of the day, it was all about getting the job, getting experiences, but there wasn’t any big grand plan. For a while there, I thought I might want to be an FBI agent. It was really tough to find my way during that time. As I told my dad -- he was born in the depression, he was always out working hard, and putting money away. So, if you weren’t working that was a problem. So, you wanted to make sure you went out and got a job with a pension. At least that’s what he would always articulate. So again, unlike most, I didn’t have a grand plan. I kind of found my way. Sometimes I see these kids they know exactly what they want to do which is great. Then I see kids that don’t know what they want to do, and they’re all stressed out about not knowing what they want to do. I would suggest they shouldn’t be stressed out because life’s a journey. You’ll find your niche. You’ll find your path. It just may take a couple of swings at the plate to figure out where you want to end up.
00:10:11 Ash Faraj: Interesting. Just curious, at what point during your time on the trading floor -- At what point, were you just like this is just not for me. I’m not going to be in this for a long time. How did you--
00:10:25 Bob Azelby: Yeah…
00:10:26 Ash Faraj: --when did you realize that?
00:10:27 Bob Azelby: So, I was probably was four months in on that, but then, I come back to -- when you’re born and raised outside New York City, about six miles. A lot of people go to work in New York City and Wall Street, because that’s where you make a lot of money. That was kind of the -- this was in the 80s, right. When I was between my first and second year at the Harvard Business School you had to do a summer internship. I went back and did a 10-week summer internship at Bear Stearns. So, I’m on the trading floor again with the trades because I wanted to give it another shot just because that was a very lucrative business. As that summer ended, or as I graduated HBS, I had two offers to go to Wall Street. One being a great job with Morgan Stanley; paid a lot of money. I turned that down because I realized that wasn’t going to be for me. I wouldn’t enjoy it. And then I also think sibling rivalry always played a role. My brother Joe was doing really well on Wall Street, so I lived in his shadow forever. Then I was like you know what let me go carve my own path, because those shoes are too big.
00:11:39 Ash Faraj: Right, right, interesting. And so, after a while of working -- I want to go back to when you decided to go back to get your MBA at the Harvard Business School. Do you remember why you made that decision? I feel like that’s something…
00:11:51 Bob Azelby: Sure. So, I was a Glaxo pharmaceutical rep for two and a half years from 1992 to 1995. As I was going to visit doctors every day and educating them on more pharmaceutical products, I realized, wow, I don’t know if I want be driving around, and talking, and being in sales for the rest of my life. I started getting an MBA at Drexel University at night. And then, you know, I saw what the Harvard degree did for my brother Joe. And I wanted to go to the Harvard Business School, and so uh, ended up and applied and got in. Even though I finished half my MBA at Drexel, none of those credits transferred over to Harvard. So, I really did almost four years of business school rather than what most people do is two. But that was a big change in life and one of the greatest things that happened.
00:12:47 Ash Faraj: That’s great. I just remember that from our last conversation, you mentioned that you -- sales was something that you actually really enjoyed in your life. But then you said that you didn’t want to do this for the rest of your life. What was your thought process? Was your thought process: “I want to go get an MBA so I can go into management?”
00:13:08 Bob Azelby: Yeah, I wanted to go get an MBA, because I wanted to make sure I understood how to run a business and get training in financing, accounting, and marketing. And then obviously where you go and what happens sometimes can play a role in what type of opportunities you end up getting. And so, I wanted to go to the best business school that I could. Once I got the opportunity to go there that was a no-brainer.
00:13:33 Ash Faraj: Yeah, yeah. By the way, just curious, what -- If somebody like now wants to apply for the Harvard Business School, what advice would you give them on getting in, or things that like are maybe outside of the box?
00:13:48 Bob Azelby: You know what, I would take it little broader than Harvard. I think the world’s changed a little bit. Does the Harvard MBA make a big difference as you marched now? I think there’s more important things that you could say you went to Harvard, the one and the better business schools, right? The network is great, but I don’t know if the education is any better there than it is in other places. But I think you have to weigh it. It’s expensive, right? And if you’d go away full-time, you’d be losing two years of salary.
00:14:18 Ash Faraj: How should someone base their decision today? Should they base their decision of off, you know, I need this in terms of, from a pragmatic standpoint, or I don’t want to -- How should somebody make their decisions?
00:14:32 Bob Azelby: Yeah, you know what? I think it goes back to -- I don’t think you can tell anybody one way to make their decision, right? I wish I could. I think it really depends on the particular individual. If you can afford to leave your job for two years and go away to the Harvard Business School and adventure into that, I would say, do it. It’s an unbelievably, incredible experience, right? But for some folks, if you’re going to run the NPV on whether or not that’s a great investment or not, you could go to both so you go at night, right? And you might not have the luxury of giving up two years’ worth of salary. I think it really depends on the individual. And I don’t think there is a right or wrong decision to be made on that.
00:15:13 Ash Faraj: You spent a good chunk of your career at Amgen, about sixteen years. When you first got to Amgen, or I guess the first maybe six months, what struggles were you having and how did you overcome those?
00:15:27 Bob Azelby: Yeah, it’s a great question. Believe it or not, when I was hired in May of 2000 my job was to identify for Amgen how the Internet was going to change their world from a commercial perspective --
00:15:38 Ash Faraj: Oh, really, I had no --
00:15:38 Bob Azelby: -- in marketing. That was my first role. And so, I went and looked at all the Internet companies on what they were doing; distance learning, pilots with the sales teams where they’d get on headphones and retrain them so you didn’t have to fly them to Southern California, and the like. I would say that was kind of a fun job, but as an individual -- It was really sales. I was selling my ideas internally. But probably a great learning was, you know -- after a year and a half in, that was my third job post my Harvard graduation right in a short period of time, and like many newly minted MBAs you want to run the world tomorrow. I remember calling my older brother Joe up, a year and a half into Amgen, and say, “Hey, I think I am going to leave Amgen my career is just not moving fast enough.” Only a good brother or an older brother can say -- he said, “Shut the hell up”, he uses a different expletive as hell. And said, “Put your head down and deliver something. Show people that you can execute, deliver value for the organization. You can’t do that in a year and a half”. That was great coaching because he’s right. A lot of newly minted MBA’s come out doing the job for a year and they can’t believe they’re not the VP of something or the CFO. At the end of the day when you’re newly minted you really don’t know that much. You think you do, but life is about experiences that make you a better leader, make you a better problem-solver just because you’ve seen more things. And so, I think that’s great learning I had in the first year and a half.
00:17:18 Ash Faraj: There was a moment in your career when you were the VP of Sales of a division, and then your boss had hired a co-VP of Sales. And then initially, I think I read that you were for a couple of weeks, you were kind of bottled up in your office, you know what I mean? And then after a certain time -- Can you share that story?
00:17:44 Bob Azelby: Yeah, sure, sure, sure. That was pre-Amgen. That was here when I moved to Seattle for the first time and I was at a start-up. I like to tell the story that I had seven sales reps and I was the VP of Sales. When they ran a co-VP of Sales with seven people that’s usually not a great sign. The greatest learning I had there was -- I stopped playing office, right. I started “playing not to lose” so I questioned all my decisions, had notes in my office. I wasn’t as aggressive or as assertive. And so that probably lasted probably six to eight weeks, or so, right. Me not being myself and my wife was like, “What is wrong with you? You’re moping around the house.” I was feeling sorry for myself quite honestly. Finally, I was like: “You know screw this.” I will have it out with my boss at the time. We had a really bang-out, drop-out meeting where I told him everything I liked and didn’t like, and he said the same. We kind of argued heavily, and it ended up being all right. But I think the biggest thing was, I was prepared to leave my job that day, and I was going to be very comfortable with that. One of the big things I coach people now on, you can never play scared. You can never play to be afraid to lose your job, because once you start to play scared, you don’t play your game, you don’t play well. You’re actually going to end up losing your job, because you’re not playing well. I think there’s a great sports analogy when you see teams in football get up by a touchdown or two and they stop throwing the football. They try to run the clock out and end up losing, because they stop playing to win. I see a lot of people do that in their careers. When they get in challenging times they start going into their shell, and not being confident in their decisions when they’re afraid to fail. And once you’re afraid to fail, you fail.
00:19:40 Ash Faraj: Interesting. So, is there any practical advice you can give somebody who is feeling afraid? What steps should they take to get over that hump?
00:19:51 Bob Azelby: I think you got to look down deep and ask yourself: “Okay, if I get fired what’s the worst thing that happens?” and really play that out. I might have to get a new job. I may have to move. And they got to ask themselves is that really terrible? Is that really a disaster or is that something you can recover from? And in 99% of the cases it’s not as bad as you think it is. So, don’t play scared. Because if you do, you’re going to probably end up in that spot anyway. But I think people have to get to the point where they understand that, if everything goes to hell in a handbasket can you recover? And in 99% of the cases you can.
00:20:41 Ash Faraj: Yeah, unfortunately -- I mean, I’m sure you read a lot about the brain, it’s like -- fear drives human decisions.
00:20:46 Bob Azelby: No doubt about it. So you have to be cognizant of that. And then the other thing in that same vein, when you’re really uncomfortable in your job, or you think you hate your job, or you’re really uncomfortable, right? And you think you want to quit. I would ask you to sit back and think about it. Is it because you’re doing things you’ve never done before and you’re really being challenged. And when you’re not an expert or a master in your domain, you’re uncomfortable, and that’s when you want to run away from it. And so, what I like to say, when you’re the most miserable you’re learning the most. When young people are in their careers and they’re really stressed out they should step back, and be like: “Oh my God, this is really hard, I must be learning a ton.” And embrace the learning rather than embracing the fear of failure.”
00:21:42 Ash Faraj: Hey guys. I hope you’re enjoying the show so far. I’m sure you’ve learned by now that Bob is just full of wisdom. I want to quickly remind you that, if you subscribe to our newsletter on our website, you will get updates on blog posts, new episodes, and you can also get a chance to join our interviews as an audience member which would help you build a powerful network, and possibly get your foot in the door somewhere where you’d like to be. And it’s all free. Just visit our website at www.ExecuTalks.com and hit the yellow Subscribe button on the top right. Now, back to the show.
00:22:22 Ash Faraj: So, after your long career at Amgen you made the decision that, okay, it’s time to move on to -- I think it was Juno that you moved from there, right?
00:22:35 Bob Azelby: Yeah, yes, I did.
00:22:36 Ash Faraj: So, what was the reason behind that decision. How long did it take you to make that decision and what was the reason behind that?
00:22:42 Bob Azelby: Yeah, you know, I was at Amgen 15½ years and I had run a six-billion-dollar franchise. 99½ percent of the people would have killed for the job that I had there. It was a great job. I felt that at Amgen -- I didn’t know how much more altitude I had at Amgen, but I was making good money. My family was happy. I could spend the next 10 to 15 years and retire there.
00:23:07 Ash Faraj: You were in Southern California, right?
00:23:09 Bob Azelby: Yeah, right, 75 and sunny, it’s not bad.
00:23:11 Ash Faraj: Right. [laughter]
00:23:13 Bob Azelby: But then I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied if I didn’t actually put myself out there and take some risks. It seemed like, you know, take more risks, go to a start-up, try to build a company from scratch. It was a very hard decision. And a gentleman named George Morrow, who is very well-known in the biotechnology industry, I called him. He was a mentor of mine and he said: “Just assume you’ll be the Chief Commercial Officer at Amgen,” -- you know that my career had progressed to get there and there was no guarantees that would happen -- “or assume you would be the Chief Commercial Officer at Juno and that would have great success” -- and there was no guarantees that was going to happen. But he said: “In which of those scenarios would you feel most proud about when you retire?” And it was clearly -- I would be more excited about being a Chief Commercial Officer of a cutting-edge, scientific biotechnology company impacting lives than being the Chief Commercial Officer of a big, large, successful biotechnology company. That was really the driver of this thing at the end of the day.
00:24:20 Ash Faraj: Interesting, again, even though it was -- for most people it would be kind of scary to leave that position -- like, “Oh my God I’m losing a lot here by leaving.” But you did it anyway because you played it out. You played out that scenario.
00:24:37 Bob Azelby: That’s right. The worst-case scenario for me wasn’t that I couldn’t go if Juno failed, it wasn’t that I couldn’t go get a new job. The worst case for me was moving my wife and five kids to Seattle and if Juno failed, I would have to move them again and take them out of school. That was the biggest risk I’d face. But when I sat with my kids and wife, they said if it doesn’t work, we can handle it. So, we made the call to do it.
00:25:02 Ash Faraj: Interesting, okay. While you were at Juno, I think you spent about two years at Juno?
00:25:07 Bob Azelby: Two and a half.
00:25:08 Ash Faraj: Two and a half years at Juno. And then after two and a half years, you decided to jump again to Alder Biopharmaceutical. First of all, just curious, how did the Alder Bio opportunity come about?
00:25:17 Bob Azelby: Yeah, so I would say I didn’t leave Juno. I mean I did leave Juno, but Juno was acquired by Celgene, a big biotechnology company for 11 billion dollars. When the big company comes in to buy the small company, they ask you to stay around. But they’re a big company and they had a lot of commercial people like me. So, you know, it wasn’t like I left Juno, right, it was -- I would have been going back to an Amgen-like situation. We had a lot of success at Juno. Anytime you get bought things are good from an economic perspective. And so it was time for me to go see what my next adventure was despite the fact that Juno was supposed to be a five or ten year run to build the company, but it ended in two and a half years because we got bought. So that was the difference.
00:26:08 Ash Faraj: In a way you kind of know your DNA in a sense; you’d rather be at a small company and have a bigger impact than be at a big. So anytime that happens you’re just aware of that.
00:26:17 Bob Azelby: Yeah and I would have been gone; I left an Amgen. The company that bought Juno was like Amgen, and I was going to go back into that. I already made the decision that part of my career was done. I enjoyed it, but I was moving on to do different things.
00:26:32 Ash Faraj: I want to talk a little bit about your book Kiss Your BUT Goodbye. One thing that I am really curious about is -- In the “Intro” you say that you wrote the book not for people to understand their strengths, but for people to identify and manage their weaknesses. That’s the purpose of you writing that book, right?
00:26:51 Bob Azelby: That’s correct.
00:26:52 Ash Faraj: You and Joe. Just curious, what motivated you to write a book? Was it because you always wanted to write a book or was it because--
00:26:59 Bob Azelby: No, I never always wanted to write a book, and I’ll never write another book. That’s a one and done deal. I would talk to my brother Joe often. He ran large, thousands of people, groups. I ran five to seven hundred people in a group. And we would share some challenging personnel issues that we had. And then as we started to engage and I would take a lot of notes on it, I realized that everyone, HR, and all the books you read talks about play to your strengths, right? And what I discovered was, everyone has strengths and you should play those. But most people won’t identify what their development area was that was holding them back of getting the next role. Basically, they would always talk about when they didn’t get the role, they would talk about “I got screwed.” “Jennie got the job, because Jennie knew Tommy or Susie, and that it was against me.” What I started realizing was that wasn’t true at all, because managers only want to hire people that are great people, because they’re going to make their career better if they hire great people. And what I discovered was managers didn’t want to give negative feedback back to their employees and employees weren’t searching for negative feedback to get better. Much different than a professional athlete that goes after every game and watches game film. And tries to figure out how to get better, what they did well, and what they didn’t. But people in the professional world, like you and I, they don’t do that. The premise of the book was you have to identify those areas that you’re not as good at it, in fact that are driving some people crazy, because we all have those “BUTs”, and that you got to figure out what it is and fix it. That’s why we wrote the book, because we thought that it was holding a lot of people back, because they weren’t having a really solid self-assessment of what their strengths and their development areas.
00:28:50 Ash Faraj: Ah, okay. You wanted to pass down the knowledge that you guys had learned from experiences.
00:28:57 Bob Azelby: Exactly right. It’s all about passing down the knowledge. It’s great when you just get notes and people say, “I’ve read your book” and saying, “You’re spot on. My development area was ‘this’ and I fixed it. It really helped me and thank you.” That’s where you get the greatest satisfaction.
00:29:13 Ash Faraj: Part of the book, I feel like -- is it truly that your weaknesses and strengths, most of it, is just something that is innate or is it something that’s developed over time, you feel?
00:29:24 Bob Azelby: Yeah I think, like anything else, it’s balanced. Obviously, when you’re talking about the aptitude, part of the APD right, so technical skills, you can always go and learn these. You can always become a better presenter, you can get Excel skills, PowerPoint skills, those you can always get better at.
00:29:43 Ash Faraj: Even if you --
00:29:44 Bob Azelby: Some of the innate… Exactly, right, sorry.
00:29:45 Ash Faraj: -- Sorry to interrupt you. I was going to say even if -- let’s say you’re naturally shy for example. Do you feel you can still learn to be not shy? Does that make sense?
00:29:57 Bob Azelby: Yeah, that’s where I was going. So, from a technical perspective, an aptitude perspective, like technical learning you can get better. But from -- obviously, people can do anything, but it’s all about effort and reward at the time. So, if you’re an introvert and you really don’t like speaking to people. The odds that you’re going to be the greatest salesperson ever that’s a pretty steep climb. Now, I’m not going to say you can’t do it. But if you’re going to say the time and effort that I need to put into, and the return I get from it. And then it’s all relative to other people in terms of competitiveness that you may not be using your time and the best approach. I’ll give you a great example. At Amgen what we used to do is, if we identify the big development area for somebody, we would then give them a role. For example, let’s say people weren’t great in engaging people. They don’t work well in teams. Sometimes you go make them a regional sales director. Because they would say, “Oh yeah, you know what, they’re going to have to be good with people” and give them that role. Because if you don’t engage people well, being a sales leader, you’re not going to do well. Well, guess what happened? They fail miserably. Their careers are over, right? With the thought process of, “Let’s take where they really suck at it and put them in a place where you have to be good at it.” That is not a good strategy. So, to answer your question is, I do think you should play to your strengths. Many of them are innate. What you grew up, you can get better at them. But it’s really hard to come back and beat somebody who is innately strong at that area, because they’re also working on making their strengths better.
00:31:46 Ash Faraj: Yeah, yeah. It’s like me competing with LeBron James or something. [laughter]
00:31:48 Bob Azelby: Yes, that’s right.
00:31:51 Ash Faraj: One more question I have about the book. What “BUT” break do you feel like you had? I think it was patience?
00:32:00 Bob Azelby: It was, yes, yes. And gruffness, um, um, and argumentative. I like to tell the story, so that was in 2003. I was a regional sales director. My team won all the contests. We were the number one region in the country and all my team members went to President’s Club. I was coming back in for my annual review waiting to get all the accolades from my Vice President Sales about how good I was.
00:32:31 Ash Faraj: Was that Chris Thompson?
00:32:33 Bob Azelby: Yes, it was Chris Thompson. He started off by saying: “We have a problem.” I went, “What do you mean we have a problem? Didn’t you see the numbers?”
00:32:40 Ash Faraj: Look at the score board! [laughter]
00:32:43 Bob Azelby: Yeah, look at the score board! And he said, “People think you’re a bully. People inside at Amgen think you don’t appreciate what they do. They don’t like doing things for you, because you’re argumentative, and you’re aggressive, and you don’t thank them enough for what they do.” And, like most people, I disagreed with the feedback I got because I wasn’t self-aware. After a day or two, I sat, thought about it, and really realized it doesn’t matter what you think. It’s what other people think. Their perception of you is what your reality actually is. Never forget that. I quickly changed. I liked some of the story that at Amgen, we give out a $100 Amex gift card to people to say thank you. I was like Santa Claus the next week. I was thanking everybody and handing out a $100 gift check. So, if it wasn’t for Chris giving me that really candid feedback.
00:33:37 Ash Faraj: “BUT” talk, yeah.
00:33:38 Bob Azelby: Oh, “BUT” talk. I may have been asked to leave Amgen. The story would be different today.
00:33:46 Ash Faraj: I appreciate you sharing that. I think that’s a quote I’m going to put on my wall: “It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what other people think.”
00:33:52 Bob Azelby: Yes, that’s right.
00:33:55 Ash Faraj: We have some last power section questions; eight questions. If you were to meet the 25-year old Bob, what would you advise him?
00:34:05 Bob Azelby: Yeah you know, I think what I would advise him, as you walk through life and you’re working with people make sure you understand their incentives. How are they structured? What do they want to get done? How do you align your incentives with theirs? The reason why I say that’s really important is -- I had a great run at Amgen. I had nine roles at Amgen. Every one of the roles I had, Amgen gave me. But at the end of the day when I wanted a role to go run Europe, they basically told me I had too much US experience. I didn’t’ have enough global experience to run Europe. And what I realized at that time was I didn’t do a good enough job managing my own career, because I just did what Amgen wanted me to do. And so, at the end of the day, companies are going to do what is in their best interest. You have to keep in mind what’s in your best interest. But it also applies to every day you work with people in different functions or with different customers. How are they judged at the end of the year? And therefore, how do you make sure you fit what’s meeting their role and how do you tie them together to actually have a win-win.
00:35:14 Ash Faraj: That’s great advice. What in your life do you feel has given you the most fulfillment?
00:35:21 Bob Azelby: Yeah, you know, I think I’m in that process right now. I have five kids. I coach them every day. I try to be a mentor for them. Can’t believe they’re mainly teenagers right now. I don’t think they listen to a word I say, and so, I may be failing miserably at that. But the most important thing I have in my life is to be a good parent and try to shape good citizens of the future in the US. That journey I’m still on. Right now, after being in quarantine, I’m not sure I’m doing so well.
00:35:58 Ash Faraj: [laughter] What has been the happiest day in your life so far?
00:36:03 Bob Azelby: Yeah, you know, if I separate it from getting married, and having my kids, and those types of things; we’re talking about from a business perspective. I think the most exciting moment that I had that, I viscerally remember this day, is the day I got into the Harvard Business School. I was standing in my condominium in the kitchen, I can picture it, and I opened the letter up. And I got in and I said, “Oh my God, I think this is really going to change the trajectory of my career.” I would say that was probably the greatest euphoric moment that I’ve had.
00:36:36 Ash Faraj: In your opinion, what is the most important life skill?
00:36:39 Bob Azelby: By far and away in my opinion, emotional intelligence, being able to read people. Not how smart you are. Because if you get into these big complex businesses, one person can’t do it. You have to work with people. You have to collaborate with people. You have to understand people’s emotions, what their drivers are. If you’re a good read of people and can kind of lead them, and galvanize them, and have them collaborate well that’s the greatest skill set anybody can have.
00:37:06 Ash Faraj: Wow, that’s crazy. What do you feel -- how do you feel somebody can get better at that by the way; if I wanted to become an expert on that what are some things I can do to get that.
00:37:16 Bob Azelby: I think you go out and read a lot of books on emotional intelligence. Try to read the cues. Get a lot of feedback on what style you have that people like or don’t like. So read my book Kiss Your BUT Goodbye to make sure you know what your “BUTs” are as well. It’s really more about having the notion that “I need to get these different people to work together for us to have the greatest success.“ Another great book is the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Fast read, great book, but it really tells you what great teams look like. Hard to achieve.
00:37:53 Ash Faraj: If you could be remembered for one thing, what would that be?
00:37:57 Bob Azelby: I think, again outside the family life but in the business world, is being someone that people like to work for work with, because you created a collaborative environment. And I think the most important thing that I hope people will take away is that I care about them, and that I’m here to make them win and have success, and then hopefully coach them to make the best.
00:38:19 Ash Faraj: What is the best advice that someone has ever given you?
00:38:22 Bob Azelby: The best advice it’s two things that I think really go together. It’s better to be lucky than good and the harder you work the luckier you get. I think those two statements together is really what drives successful careers.
00:38:41 Ash Faraj: Interesting, okay.
00:38:42 Bob Azelby: A lot of hard work and a lot of luck.
00:38:46 Ash Faraj: What was the most memorable book you’ve ever read besides the Five Dysfunctions.
00:38:50 Bob Azelby: That was one. The best book I’ve ever read on leadership is called The Extraordinary Leader.
00:38:54 Ash Faraj: If you were stranded on an island and you had access to one meal; what would that meal be?
00:38:59 Bob Azelby: Easy, easy. Buffalo wings, extra blue cheese, and a Reese’s Pieces Sundae from Friendly’s on the East Coast.
00:39:08 Ash Faraj: [laughter] When you say buffalo wings; you mean like boneless or bone in?
00:39:11 Bob Azelby: Bone in, bone in!
00:39:13 Ash Faraj: Yeah!
00:39:14 Bob Azelby: And they really need to be from Buffalo, right, they’re the best.
00:39:16 Ash Faraj: Thank you so, so much for listening. If you found any value in this at all, please, please, please rate us on Apple Podcasts, because we are really trying to help as many people as possible with the powerful community to help reach their full career ambitions. And the more ratings we have on Apple Podcasts, the more people we can truly help. We’ll be releasing an episode every Sunday, so we hope you join us again next week. Until then, take care, stay safe, and don’t hesitate to reach out.