Ed Stelmakh Shares His Secret to Success

How Otsuka Pharmaceuticals’ Ed Stelmakh is redefining the role of CFO

Photo by Gillian Fry

Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc.’s Ed Stelmakh is always ready for change. Over the course of Stelmakh’s thirty-year career, his roles have evolved and continue to do so.

Stelmakh’s career has taken him across the globe, including eight years in expat postings in Russia and the Netherlands, as well as domestic assignments in the NYC metro area, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. The underlying theme of all of his career moves were based on opportunity for continuous learning and exposure to the diversity and adversity of the global business environment.

“Looking back at the early days of my career, finance was focused more on transactional activities, given the nascent state of technology and a mostly domestically focused business environment,” says Stelmakh, senior vice president and CFO at Otsuka. “Expectations were generally much more basic—you reported on what happened rather than looking forward, providing useful insights, and influencing outcomes, which is certainly the expectation today.”

Ed-Stelmakh, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals Photo by Gillian Fry

Stelmakh held senior-level positions in several healthcare companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Organon, Mylan, and Covance before joining Otsuka as vice president and CFO in December 2015. In 2017, Stelmakh was promoted to his current role and, in addition to traditional finance functions, now also manages IT, tech ops, and business services.

He has earned his place as a trusted advisor at Otsuka. During Stelmakh’s early years, the company was facing significant sales challenges due to loss of exclusivity for its flagship product, Abilify. His first order of business was to grasp the financial dynamics of the business so he could help Otsuka “chart a path to profitable growth.”

“I was working with the operations and sales teams to understand where we needed to focus our attention and either dial up or dial down our resources and investments,” he explains. As such, Stelmakh restructured the finance team, repositioning them to serve more as business partners than analysts with the various departments they work with.

“My general philosophical approach is to get quite involved across a wide spectrum of the business,” Stelmakh says. “I spend a good proportion of my time away from my desk, engaging with the business and getting a sense of key challenges and opportunities. The overarching goal is to be in the best position possible to be able to deploy resources where they will create the greater value for the organization, and I strive to have everyone on the finance team have a similar approach.”

Photo by Gillian Fry

Today, Stelmakh says he spends more than half his time helping to develop strategy and supporting operations by playing active roles in key alliances, business development deals, and engaging across a wide spectrum of operational activities.

Outside of work, Stelmakh actively engages in charity work by giving back to his local community, as well as causes that he feels passionate about. He currently serves on the board of directors of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national organization dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. He also sits on the board of trustees and is a former treasurer for the Arts Council of Princeton (NJ), which offers exhibitions, performances, studio-based classes, and other programs.

But Stelmakh’s commitment to community service goes deeper than that. As a first-generation immigrant who arrived in the US from the former Soviet Union almost forty years ago, he and his family received significant assistance and support starting out from rather limited means in Baltimore. He says that generosity instilled a responsibility to pay it forward and do the same for others now that he is able to do so.

Furthermore, his community focus likewise resides within Otsuka, where Stelmakh has helped build a popular wellness program. He is part of an Otsuka running team, which runs the New York Half Marathon to raise money for the Alzheimer’s support organization, CaringKind. The group has raised more than $80,848 over past four years, which included a $30,250 donation from Otsuka.

“It’s all about connecting mental health with physical well-being and corporate responsibility and having it all tie back to Otsuka’s philosophy of making a lasting difference,” Stelmakh says.

Finance for a Better Future

Ed Stelmakh has watched the field of finance over his thirty-year career evolve from a relatively passive spectator to an active participant role, heavily involved in shaping business strategy and outcomes. His best advice for business leaders looking to tap into the finance side of their business to advance into the future is to “develop an above average level of financial literacy and understanding of economic value creation, using data-driven and fact-based insights. The speed and quality of critical business insights and decisions continue to increase and will create a competitive advantage for organizations that embrace this approach.”