Mr. Charles Fiaccabrino is one of the most remarkable and impressive people I have crossed paths with. Over the past couple years, I had the distinct pleasure of working with him closely, as we (at Flevy) productized his thought leadership into a sales management methodology known as the Fiaccabrino Selection Process (FSP).
Now in his 80s, Mr. Fiaccabrino has led a lengthy career marked with success and achievement across a number of disciplines. In fact, prior to his almost 30 years at Roche, Charles was an athlete (signed by a major league baseball team, the then Boston Braves) and a military man (serving the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict). At Roche, Charles earned the President’s Achievement Award an unprecedented 20 times. In his earlier years with the company, Charles was responsible for over 80% of the national sales for the Roche Diagnostics business unit.
It would be an understatement to say Charles Fiaccabrino was instrumental to the growth of Roche–one of the largest companies in the world today, with a market capitalization of over $250B in 2015. In this interview, we seek to better understand what Mr. Fiaccabrino attributes to his own success at Roche and the success of Roche itself.
During at your career at Roche, you were referred to as “Mr. Roche” by your colleagues, including former CEOs of Roche, Irwin Lerner and Patrick Zenner. How did this moniker come about?
An interesting question. How did this expression come about? I guess it was a combination of factors starting with my first day with Roche. I can still recall driving along route 3 on my way to my first interview and how it felt seeing a large building with “ROCHE” lettering that could be seen from a distance.
I would be soon sitting down with some of the finest professionals in the healthcare industry that would be deciding if I was qualified for the position and, as such, provide me an opportunity to achieve my interpretation of success.
How fortunate to be recruited by such a fine company and, as a consequence of that meeting, to be selected as the first Diagnostics sales representative for the newly formed Roche Diagnostics Systems. Luck, fate, divine providence? It would obviously be difficult to dissect the meaning of this episode in my life.
It was from that first day that my goal was to be the best that I could be and as a natural consequence dedicate my efforts to the success of the new venture.
As a sales representative, we were successful. How successful? Let the record speak for itself. My next role that allowed for an even greater contribution to the company was that of a sales manager. In this capacity, I would be better able to work with and through people epitomizing the role of a manager and leader.
In this capacity, I was fortunate enough to select some of the best of the best performers in the history of the company, which created an opportunity to better contribute to its growth and success.
What I can say using the ”I” word, the antithesis of true managerial dogma, is that I worked long and hard hours dedicated to the success of RDS, a passion and inner sense of responsibility that became a part of who I was and still am.
Apart from my family interests, Roche became my life and a part of my existence. Throughout a period of over twenty eight years, my reputation within the corporation grew not only because of my achievements, but, more importantly, the influence on the success of others and how my dedication to the success of the company manifested itself as my major goal.
And so, I was regarded as a true Roche person and was proud of my contribution to the success of the company. “Mr. Roche” in the eyes of many became a term initiated by others in the organizational structure.
What would you attribute most to your success as a Sales Executive?
Perseverance, dedication, loyalty, and hard work led to the success of the company that gave me an opportunity, and as a natural consequence my way of showing my gratitude.
You’ve developed a methodology for identifying top performing employees, known as the Fiaccabrino Selection Process. Can you describe what this framework does?
The Fiaccabrino Selection Process is designed to identify the truly great individuals, the cream of the crop, “best of the best.” It is based upon evaluating a number of humanistic traits that are meaningful to the selection process.
Clearly, based upon published research, my twenty eight years with the company, with over fifty years, actively involved in the health care industry as a manager and consultant, sales personnel turnover is a very significant issue with most companies. The FSP is designed to minimize the wasteful and costly problem of sales personnel turnover.
How did you come to develop the principles behind the Fiaccabrino Selection Process?
During my early years as a sales manager, we were introduced to a system known as the Target Selection Process. It was really the genesis of what was to later follow. As my experience with the system grew, I decided to incorporate a number of modifications, deleting some aspects and adding new ones, most significantly evaluating observable behavior. Although a concise and valuable evaluation system, it was important to include the implementation process, without which the user of the system might not derive the full benefit of the evaluator process.
Is the Fiaccabrino Selection Process most relevant to selecting sales people at the enterprise level?
The Fiaccabrino Selection Process is most relevant to selecting sales people at the enterprise levels. It is also true that the system, due to its concentration on humanistic and behavioral traits, can be very effective at any level of the organization. Additionally, the process can be used with most categories of a departmental structure with a concentration on those attributes most relevant to the job function.
For example, as regarding sales people evaluation, my mentor at RDS stressed the importance of weighting competitiveness, drive, and empathy at a higher level than the rest of the attributes. Although an interesting and valid point of view, it has been my objective to weight the attributes equally, since they all had to be at the “best of the best” level to begin with–so much so that a candidate would not be considered for hire if even one attribute was not at the “best of the best” level.
Lastly, this system has also been used at the CEO level with great success. The “great ones” back into the attributes at a high level and the would-be CEOs in the incompetent category are easily detected and removed from consideration. The empty suits don’t make it.
While you were at Roche, the business grew exponentially into one of the largest companies in the world. It is now has a market cap of over $250B. What were some major growth challenges that arise along the way and how did the company overcome them?
During my tenure, which lasted 28 years, we experienced various phases of economic change. As a new division of a great company, we were under a great deal of pressure to succeed in a very competitive environment. In the early years, there were serious questions as to whether or not we will ever become a great leader in the industry. We were new and we were inexperienced in a very competitive diagnostics environment.
However, because we were able to introduce new modalities of products, including highly sophisticated instrumentation, as well as a cultural revolution to meet these competitive well established company’s challenges, we prevailed and laid the ground work for future expansion and growth. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. We developed a culture of winners in the highest interpretation of the term.
While at Roche, what were some things that kept you up at night?
What kept me up at night? Very little as far as the job was concerned. We developed a culture of hard working, industrious, competitive, driven, loyal, honest, and success-oriented salespeople that understood their respective roles and were proud of their well earned recognition and financial success. We became a well-oiled enterprise, confident, ready to meet any and all challenges by working as a team reflecting the common goals of the company and finding solutions when faced with adverse situations.
Culture eats not only strategy for breakfast. It can include lunch and dinner as well.
What do you see as some common issues that prevent the success and growth of other organizations?
The common issues that plague many companies today are manifold in nature.
A., A lack of fully understanding how to select the best people and developing a culture of winners.
B., A crisis in middle management. Unqualified, untrained and relegated to the menial tasks of administrative insignificance.
C., Dishonesty at the corporate level. There are companies that are doing well financially by implementing a strategy of overcharging the customer. In this situation, the company dictates terms at the detriment of the customer. In time, when competition becomes viable, these dishonest entities will suffer economically.
D., A lack of understanding of the importance of customer satisfaction and retention.
E., Top-down management. Does it work? Not in my way of thinking.
Most organizations compare their results versus competition and, if in the category of imagined success, believe they are doing a good job. Whereas, the best way to achieve and understand the true meaning of success is to evaluate your results by a different criteria. What would we be doing performance-wise if we had the best people and developed a culture of winners? Success begets success.
Charles Fiaccabrino has written a number of narratives on Flevy. You can read all his articles here.