Currax Pharmaceuticals: Developing Emerging Leaders


COVER STORY – By Pam Marinko and Kelly Cheston

Building pipelines can be a monumental challenge

Imagine that you’re a training leader in a growing, leading independent specialty pharma company. There are high standards for field team excellence and people development, and now you’re building a program for emerging leaders –both to develop their core leadership skills and then to assess their proficiency in these skills for future leadership roles.

You’re an n=1 in the learning and development (L&D) department, and you’ve been recognized for your expertise and talent. Leadership relies on you. No pressure, right?

Lisa Dreher, associate director of national sales training for Currax Pharmaceuticals, was faced with this monumental challenge. She had to develop a robust program that would support the leadership team in delivering results today while also building an assessment and development program to upskill their future leaders.

Like most successful training organizations with lofty expectations and a finite budget, Currax set out to find a partner with deep industry experience that could utilize technology to deliver deeper insights. Dreher also needed a strategic partner to create an innovative and sustainable assessment center program. Proficient Learning was selected as the training partner to turn the vision into reality.

Building the Blueprint

Dreher and the team worked to build the framework for the program as well as a customized competency model for first-line regional managers. They spent time with their sales leadership team to fully understand the Currax culture, guiding principles, expectations and “language” to build a competency model that aligns with the “Currax Way.”

This model served as both the aspirational ideal for all sales leaders at Currax and the blueprint for the emerging leaders program. By aligning measurement key performance indicators (KPIs) with their first-line manager competency model, Currax successfully established an internal leadership assessment center.

They identified development opportunities for their high-potential leaders in real time while demonstrating a serious commitment to investing in emerging leaders by senior leadership.

Utilizing a best-in-class measurement platform, the team combined data from training events, assessment centers, simulations and field coaching. This allowed them to provide meaningful feedback, highlight training gaps, and track coaching KPIs. These carefully designed metrics provided quantifiable return on investment (ROI) data to justify decisions on future investments in leadership training initiatives.

“Small pharmaceutical organizations often face challenges in establishing robust leadership development programs due to their limited scale,” said Brian Rigney, director of sales for Currax. “Regardless of our size, we remain steadfast in our commitment to readiness for expansion and sustained growth. Investing and developing future sales leaders from within our own organization is a critical goal.

“Our dedication goes beyond merely preserving the integrity of the Currax culture; it extends to empowering our representatives to excel even beyond our organization,” he added. “I take great pride in witnessing how our investment intime and resources has resulted in a best-in-class program.”

After the competency rubric was developed, they developed a 12-month emerging leader program blueprint that included the assessment center. When they needed to pause development due to budget constraints, Dreher used the program blueprint to develop content internally.

Once budget became available, Dreher asked the training partner to tie all the program elements together with the development of a customized assessment center. It was a win-win: Currax did not let budget constraints stop the program, and having a well devised program design kept the project on track.

The Currax Journey

Currax Pharmaceuticals has an impressive history of investing in leadership coaching and development programs. Throughout the pandemic, Currax remained agile by adapting to the evolving industry dynamics, such as developing programs to support the virtual selling environment.

The coaching skills required to lead successful field teams in this new virtual-first environment had fundamentally shifted as well. To continue leading and growing market share in their therapeutic categories, the organization knew a fresh approach would be required.

One of the core pillars of Currax’s high-impact strategy includes continually enhancing its coaching and leadership development capabilities. Led by Aaron Baratta, vice president of sales for Currax, the sales organization maintains an “always be coaching” mindset with his leadership team.

Attracting and retaining strong talent is a key priority for Currax. Having the ability to benchmark the current team and diagnose development needs, and implementing a best-in-class assessment center quickly emerged as top priorities.

The emerging leader program would quantify the strengths and development areas for both the current leadership team as well as rising stars identified as high potentials. The L&D team also diligently ensured alignment between outcomes from the assessment center program and simulations to Currax’s broader corporate growth strategy.

Key Elements & Alignment

According to Dreher, “We deliberately aligned measurement of both current and desired leadership behaviors, skills and abilities to our manager competency model. This ensured our assessment center was laser-focused on the most essential leadership skills that ladder up to overarching enterprise goals.”

The Currax team created 10 role-play scenarios and simulations mapping back to five core leadership competencies. This allowed them to objectively measure the ability of emerging leaders to:

  1. Build high-performance teams.
  2. Lead with purpose, integrity and resilience.
  3. Influence and communicate effectively.
  4. Strategically plan and achieve measurable results.
  5. Coach and develop others to reach their potential.

The assessment staff objectively measured competency proficiency utilizing multiple professional assessors. But they also systematically captured the candid perspective of participants playing the role of field team members and stakeholders in simulations.

Achieving Individualized Results

One of the primary objectives for Dreher’s program was gathering both individualized and high-level aggregated data. With meaningful performance insights translated into clear and simple leadership development plans, participants could take immediate action after assessments. This built steady momentum for long-term coaching and emerging leader career growth strategies.

Data and insights were made tangible by tailoring assessment center scenarios, interviews and measurement criteria to each leader’s unique DiSC profile. DiSC examines behavioral preferences across four spectrums: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness.

These individualized personality profiles provided a way for leaders to meet participating field team members where they are, while providing the targeted feedback they needed to grow. Participants are also integrating DiSC insights into downstream coaching touchpoints and training activities.

With their commitment to coaching excellence, Currax was able to realize rapid wins. The assessment center methodology combined with Dreher’s willingness to customize ensured assessment validity and reliability.

By relying on proven practices and principles, adapting them to Currax’s unique culture and goals, and enhancing them with cloud-based tech, Currax achieved outstanding results. They established an objective baseline for current leadership competencies while identifying precise development gaps at both individual and organizational levels. Ongoing measurement ensured steady progress. Quantifiable improvement provided easy ROI calculations that justified expanding coaching and leadership programming.

The Road Ahead Is Bright

In Dreher’s own words, “The development and launch of this innovative internal assessment center enabled Currax to reliably quantify individual skill levels. It also allowed us to clearly demonstrate the tangible ROI of our extensive investments in leadership development initiatives to our executives.”

Specifically, the program outcomes and reporting analytics empowered Dreher to advocate for expansion across multiple fronts, including:

  • Identifying high-potential future leaders for selective promotion and development.
  • Evaluating current leadership competencies and precise development areasfor individuals and teams.
  • Providing unbiased insights leveraging multiple assessors and modernmeasurement.
  • Determining specific training needs and gaps at the organizational level todirect curriculum.
  • Standardizing leadership expectations and competencies across the entire enterprise.

“I have nearly 28 years of experience in pharma sales, with 25 years spent in leadership roles,” Baratta said. “The emerging leaders program led by Lisa Dreher stands out as the most exceptional leadership development program I have ever participated in. This program was tailored to our needs, spanning a duration of 12months. The culmination was a comprehensive leadership assessment for our emerging leaders, evaluating their proficiency in Currax region managerscompetencies.”

The future remains bright as Currax maintains alignment between talent development strategy and overarching corporate goals while investing in Dreher’s ongoing leadership agenda. With outstanding tools now in place to consistently build competencies, Currax knows the emerging leader pipeline will generate tremendous returns powering drug commercialization and patient impact for years to come.

The program’s rigorous measurement methodology and focus on competency development ensures Currax will continue to build bench strength and maintain a pipeline of strong leaders poised to accelerate growth into the future.

Pam Marinko is CEO of Proficient Learning. Email Pam at or connect through


Kelly Cheston is an instructional designer and learning strategist for Proficient Learning. Email Kelly at or connect through


About LTEN

The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network ( is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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