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Maarten Kraaijenhagen

  • Programme: Leading Change
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • Job Post-programme: Regional Senior Medical Director, Rare Diseases, Pfizer

“The Leading Change Programme gave me key insights into how people react to change: now I’m better prepared to coach people through it”

“At Pfizer I deal with change all the time,” says Maarten Kraaijenhagen. “I like change. But every change causes a lot of anxiety among the staff; sometimes it even causes people to leave the company. I decided I would take LBS’s Leading Change Programme (LCP) to be able to manage change better for the people I lead.”

Maarten leads several regional medical teams in Pfizer’s Rare Disease unit, which develops programmes for the treatment of devastating but rare conditions such as sickle cell disease, haemophilia, muscular dystrophies and cystic fibrosis. He has four direct reports and oversees the development and execution of medical strategies and tactics across Europe and developed Australasia.

In 12 years in pharma, Maarten has seen several restructurings. He started his career at Wyeth, which was acquired by Pfizer in 2009. Numerous acquisitions and the ever-changing pharma industry mean reorganisation is embedded in the culture. “We have continuous change at Pfizer. You often hear people say that change is our only constant. 

A few months after the programme we had another restructuring. The programme gave me key insights into how people react to change: now I’m better prepared to coach people through it. I’m more aware now what perceptions people have when they’re faced with change: why they get afraid or angry. ” 

Experiential learning

Maarten had already participated in two LBS Executive Education programmes: Leading Teams for Emerging Leaders (formerly the Emerging Leaders Programme) and the Accelerated Development Programme. “I didn’t even look at what other business schools were offering. Choosing LBS was a no-brainer. 

"The faculty are excellent and I like the combination of the theoretical and practical, going out in the field. I’m pleased my company is investing in its employees by sending them on these sorts of programmes – it’s important they keep on developing new skills throughout their careers.” 

The Leading Change Programme included a visit to a salmon-smoking company that had faced two huge challenges: its premises had burnt down and the entire operation had to be moved to make way for the Olympic park. 

“The CEO’s story of overcoming obstacles and having the flexibility and agility to move on with the business in the face of change that’s forced upon you fitted well with what we’d learnt in the classes. It really helped me connect and understand how to manage changes that are beyond people’s control.”

 Maarten enjoyed learning alongside people from diverse backgrounds and industries. “There was a good balance of men and women, from different cultures, which made the learning richer. I’m a medical doctor working for a pharmaceutical company, so it’s interesting for me to hear how someone working in a bank or consultancy firm manages the changes in their companies. It’s useful to learn from different approaches; how we do something may not always be the best way. And of course you can really build your network through doing a programme at LBS.”  

Maarten is still putting in practice the lessons from the programme, especially around the psychology of change: how to approach people, what to say and how to lead them through the process. “I often revise the programme learnings just before I go into a conversation about change, to refresh the tips and tools. It’s about connecting with people – that was my main takeaway.” 

Even when Maarten’s dealing with individuals who find change extremely challenging, he finds it useful to have a framework. He has just led his team through another reorganisation. 

“I still refer to the learning on how to coach people during the process, how to have the right conversations with them and reassure them about their fears over how the changes will affect them. People definitely appreciate it if you get it right.”