Vasant Narasimhan is bringing a unique brand of leadership to his job as CEO of Novartis (NVS). It’s not surprising when you hear about his unusual background and his path to the C-Suite. A Harvard-trained physician and former McKinsey & Company consultant, he worked for years in developing countries on a range of challenging public health issues like HIV AIDS. He says those experiences made him “purpose-driven.”
“When I think of myself as a leader,” Narasimhan tells Fortune, “I think of myself as an inspirational, purpose-driven leader who wants to empower teams to do incredible things.”
The way to get those “incredible” results, he believes, is by changing the culture at the 250-year-old Swiss drug maker into what he calls “the inspired, curious, unbossed culture.”
What does that mean? “I believe the future of companies is going to be about ideas coming from the bottom up,” he explains. “We don’t need bosses. We need servant leaders. We need people to serve their teams and let their teams come up with the best ideas.”
As one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world with revenues of $50 billion and operations all around the globe, Novartis is admired for its innovations in medicine. Still, Narasimhan believes the company’s workforce of 120,000 can achieve so much more if only they take more risks and move away from Novartis’ “perfectionist culture.”
“In Switzerland there’s a great pride in legacy,” Narasimhan explains adding that he’s had to learn to repeatedly acknowledge the major achievements at Novartis over 250 years. “Every time Novartis needed to pivot in that long history, it pivoted,” he says. “And this is the a moment to pivot again. Pivot towards transformational innovation. Pivot the culture. Pivot towards data and digital technologies. And we need to do it fast because the world is moving really fast.”
Watch the video above for more from my interview with Narasimhan.