“When the president of the company asks you to step up and lead, you don’t say no.” Marc Fishman had been with Novo Nordisk Inc., the US subsidiary of the Danish pharmaceutical leader, for six years when the unexpected request came his way. The expert litigator and in-house attorney was asked by his company’s president to step in for the departing general counsel. It was February 2020, and Fishman was prepared and excited to serve in the role of interim general counsel. Little did he know what would happen within a month’s time.
When American Healthcare Leader last caught up with Fishman in 2018, he was helping the US affiliate of the Danish healthcare company navigate a complex maze of litigation and investigation matters. Fishman had made the transition to Novo Nordisk in 2014 after nearly a decade of managing litigation for pharmaceutical giant Roche, which itself followed the untimely passing of both of his parents in 2000 and 2005, respectively.
At Novo, Fishman had seen a series of different general counsel and a period of change within the legal department: he accepted the interim role with an awareness that he needed to address concerns and inject a measure of stability. “I wanted to stay close to my colleagues, work as a strong advocate for them, and try to ease the fear of the unknown,” he explains. Fishman spent four weeks learning about people in the department more deeply and helping the executive team manage through existing organizational change. Then, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Suddenly, Fishman found himself taking on a very different type of leadership role. While balancing the responsibility of leading both the legal department and the litigation team, he took on responsibility for the establishment and oversight of the company’s Covid Response Team (CRT), a cross-functional team composed of leaders from various functions across the organization.
As it became apparent that the novel coronavirus would remain an ongoing medical concern, Fishman acknowledged the importance of shifting responsibility for the CRT to the most senior medical expert at the company, with whom Fishman and others partnered closely. The team’s remit was simple, yet extraordinarily complex—oversee the company’s response to a global pandemic. This involved navigating issues of first impression, including such things as contact tracing, masking requirements, stay-at-home orders, vaccine mandates, and OSHA regulations.
Collectively, the team made recommendations about the health, safety, and employment issues surrounding the pandemic. They moved quickly to put patients’ needs and employee safety first. They tracked the virus, monitored employees, assessed product supply, and kept the business moving forward while limiting exposure and minimizing risk. Importantly, Fishman and his counterparts worked to ensure that the patients and physicians relying on Novo for medicines to treat diabetes and rare diseases had uninterrupted access to critical, life-saving therapies. Concurrently, he managed an organizational restructure, oversaw a robust litigation portfolio, and attempted to bring stability to the legal department.
As the global pandemic persisted, Fishman quickly realized that an effective crisis leadership strategy required an emphasis on empathy. “When people are struggling, they want leaders who are human, understand what they are going through, and are willing to ease their struggle,” he says. “So that’s what I tried to do.”
Marc Fishman is proud of what he saw from leaders and individual contributors alike. While employees often volunteered to perform tasks outside of their traditional job duties, members of the crisis response team worked nights and weekends to guide the company. The whole experience gave Fishman a deeper appreciation for the importance of people. “We have important, lifesaving work to do, but it only gets done if the people doing it are being supported and taking care of themselves,” he says.
By August 2020, Novo Nordisk had hired a new full-time general counsel and Fishman went back to his job as vice president and chief litigation and employment counsel. Now in a critical supporting role, he helps ensure Novo maintains a strong culture, a collaborative spirit, and a diverse and inclusive environment.
Although he has been in-house for more than sixteen years, Fishman remains passionate about litigation and the skills he sharpened as a firm attorney at McCarter & English. Recently, he helped Novo win a landmark victory that ended a ten-year mass tort litigation relating to the company’s diabetes medication, Victoza.
Litigation is just one of Fishman’s many professional passions. He also cares about helping junior lawyers and other employees grow in their roles. “I want to empower people to work autonomously and understand that their contributions matter, and I want them to see a clear path forward to where they want to go,” he says.
That’s important as Novo Nordisk charts its own path. The company recently launched next-generation products to treat both diabetes and obesity and has a clear vision for the future. Marc Fishman is excited about that future and is prepared to support the company as it emerges from the pandemic.
DLA Piper has worked with Marc over many years. His deep understanding of litigation issues permits him to partner with his outside counsel in balancing the needs of the litigation with the requirements of the business. In this regard, Marc has proven to have a steady hand.
Arnold & Porter congratulates Marc Fishman on his accomplishments as a leader in the life sciences field. We are proud to partner with clients like Marc in delivering sophisticated regulatory, transactional, IP, and litigation legal strategies that innovators need to bring advanced products to patients.