When Shaun Chilton started his career with a law degree, little did he expect that he’d eventually be leading an international pharmaceutical company. “Scarily, I’ve been in the pharmaceutical industry for 26 years,” he laughs, walking The CEO Magazine through the progress of his career.

From entering the field in 1991, to working in ‘big pharma’, before moving to commercial and operational roles on national and then international levels, he’s had quite the journey. “I jumped the fence from the pharmaceutical industry to pharmaceutical services,” Shaun says. “I ran a number of companies that spanned the pharmaceutical product life cycle before I joined Clinigen in 2012.”

Shaun Chilton picks up the baton

He adds that his working relationship with Clinigen’s previous CEO, Peter George, delivered a masterclass in mentorship and succession. “We got on very well and we had similar views on business, as well as the pharmaceutical and healthcare world. I knew that we would eventually work together again.”

In fact, the pair became reacquainted to discuss an opportunity in the middle of 2011. “Peter was about to set up what’s now Clinigen Group. He had the initial idea of bringing a number of businesses together and he needed somebody to join as COO to help him build that business.” As it turns out, that man was Shaun, who later became CEO in 2016. “I suppose I was an ideal successor to Peter. My background, a mix of international pharmaceuticals and international services, was pretty much tailor-made for what the Clinigen Group was to become, and certainly what it could become in the future.

Shaun Chilton, CEO of Clinigen Group

"The succession plan that we went through was basically a case study in how to handle internal succession. Everybody – investors, external and internal parties – has been very happy with the passing of the baton from Peter to me. The implementation of the plan was handled very well. I couldn’t have asked for a better grounding to get there.”

Clinigen Group is in good hands

With the baton firmly in hand, Shaun believes the success of Clinigen is bound in its distinctive offering. “I think our uniqueness is very important to the underlying growth of the business. What makes us unique is our ability to manage both licensed and unlicensed medicines. We are still the only company in the world that can do that. That’s a pretty critical point of difference.

“The other thing that makes us quite different is that we’re able to manage some quite difficult markets: Africa and South East Asia, for instance, those types of regions where pharmaceutical companies of all shapes and sizes seem to struggle to know what to do, or they don’t understand how to navigate the environment in the hospital setting – we’re able to do that for them. We’ve come a long way very quickly and we’ve got a really interesting business. Anything that I bolt on has to complement that uniqueness and extend it further, rather than simply being an acquisition for the sake of it.”

Partnerships have played an important part in Clinigen’s capacity to stay lean. Both Shaun and Peter wanted to strike a balance between the use of partnerships and internal resources. Shaun says the company’s high ethical stance and its goals to establish regulatory and operational standards that are better than what governing authorities expect has guided the company’s choice in partners.

“Every partner we work with has to abide by that philosophy and has to have that quality mentality as well. We’re very selective in the people that we choose. We always look to ensure that our partners benefit as much as we do, because ultimately – and I think this is just plain common sense – the better you look after your partners, the better the service you’re going to get.”

‘Big pharma' can have a positive impact

Shaun admits that ‘big pharma’ has had its share of bad press, but feels the industry can make a positive impact on the world. “It’s quite an interesting time for the pharmaceutical industry. Having worked in it for 26 years, I can see that there’s a lot of good that has been done,” he says.

Shaun Chilton, CEO of Clinigen Group

The better you look after your partners, the better the service you’re going to get.

“There are a lot of very capable people in the field, but it certainly has had somewhat of an image problem. I think for Clinigen there are a couple of things that we can do to try to make things more positive. Being involved in unlicensed medicines and being involved in improving access to medicines for hospital-based, specialist-based disease means that we have a responsibility to educate physicians, pharmacists and regulatory authorities about the way to create access to medicine. If we’re the market leader in that, then we have a responsibility to act as a thought leader, to engage in the debate and to help people better navigate that space.”

Indeed, Shaun finds satisfaction in the industry. “Our mission is to deliver the right medicine, to the right patient, at the right time. We get feedback every single day from where our work has benefited patients directly. We deal mostly in life-saving products and with life-threatening conditions, and being able to play a part in improving the welfare of our patients is hugely satisfying.”