Finding The Right Strategic Thread To Drive Innovation

Industry insight: Charles Purtell, VP Open Innovation & Strategy at Beckman Coulter


Ahead of his presentation at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit in New York this December 5-6, we spoke to Charles Purtell, VP Open Innovation & Strategy at Beckman Coulter.

Prior to this role, Charlie spent five years in Danaher’s Strategic Development Group, leading M&A activities, as well as strategic planning processes across Danaher’s operating companies. Prior to Danaher, Charlie held a mix of business development and general management roles at Applied Biosystem (later Life Technologies), Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Incyte Genomics, and Genencor International (now part of Dupont). Over the span of his career, Charlie has covered a unique breadth of technological and market spaces within the biotech industry.

How did you get started in your career?

A couple of different experiences opened up my career path. First, I transitioned from the lab bench to the business size of biotech through an MBA program. I had the good fortune to have two internships that gave me tremendous exposure and autonomy to explore white spaces or adjacent opportunities for the companies I worked for, and then, to make communicative proposals to executive management. The combination of technical skills with some new found B-school competitive landscape frames gave me early experiences in leveraging strategy in decision making. Later, I combined this with more process development experiences – NPD stage gate approach and project decision hierarchy, competitive intelligence monitoring, and revised strategic planning processes. I have continued to iterate on those skills throughout my career in every role, looking for where I could integrate data representing the vantage points of customers and competitors into our own business strategy.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

Lately, there seems to be more focus on innovation models in order to accelerate the pace of innovation, to thwart potentially disruptive technologies, or to increase the mix of more breakthrough development versus more incremental NPD. The availability of off the shelf technologies, interconnectivity standards, and new business models is forcing many companies to re-think their approach to innovation, in order to avoid being disrupted. Today, when creating a strategy, we also seem to think more multi-dimensionally than the basic four forces or SWOT analysis of the past. There are more strategic levers to consider operationally than ever before.

How do you ensure your long term plans are reactive to disruption?

Our 3-5-year outlooks include fairly rigorous evaluation of the risk of disruption. When we identify a potential threat, we monitor them routinely, (monthly, quarterly, annually) and develop countermeasures to minimize the risk of the threat as part of our execution of strategic plans. We are also far more open to disrupting ourselves, which is an important cultural element to drive disruption versus reacting to it.

What are the main challenges companies face when planning their innovation strategy?

A primary challenge in large complex businesses is finding a strategic thread across the operating company to drive decisions and prioritization of opportunities. Another issue is shifting the mix from incremental product development towards more breakthrough products given the change in development certainty. This may include disrupting your own businesses in the process. Overall, as the pace of innovation accelerates in many industries, it is even more important to have increased clarity and precision of where you are going, and how you can win.

What will you be discussing during your presentation?

I will be discussing the challenges of defining a strategy across a mix of businesses or product lines. I will share some lessons learned from my vantage working at the center of a large conglomerate, and more recently, in one of its large operating companies. The talk will reveal how we find the strategic threads within or across a complex set of businesses. Themes to be covered: Strategic Planning Process, Metrics, and general lessons learned.

You can hear from Charles and other industry leaders at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit, taking place in New York this December 5-6.

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