Lars Sørensen, the former CEO of Novo Nordisk, credits the company’s success to a blend of luck and a distinctive leadership philosophy. In a conversation with Harvard Business Review, Sørensen sheds light on Novo Nordisk’s strategic choices, approach to corporate social responsibility, and the challenges of leading a pharmaceutical giant. Here are key insights from the discussion.

Leadership Philosophy

  1. Focus on Expertise:
    Sørensen emphasizes the importance of focusing on areas of expertise. Despite suggestions to diversify, Novo Nordisk remains committed to diabetes treatments, representing 80% of its revenue. Sørensen believes in doing what the company knows best, citing past failures in diversification attempts.
  2. Avoiding Unsuccessful Ventures:
    Learning from past mistakes, Sørensen highlights the pitfalls of attempting ventures outside the company’s core competence. He cites an example of a failed foray into glucose monitoring, emphasizing the importance of staying within familiar territory.
  3. Long-Term Goal:
    Sørensen expresses a visionary outlook, stating that if Novo Nordisk successfully cures diabetes, even at the cost of a significant business portion, it would be a remarkable achievement. He believes in contributing to societal well-being beyond immediate financial gains.

Corporate Social Responsibility

  1. Global Pricing Strategy:
    Sørensen addresses the challenge of selling lifesaving drugs at different prices globally. He shares Novo Nordisk’s solution—a nonprofit organization, the World Diabetes Foundation. A portion of insulin sales contributes to the foundation, supporting diabetes treatment in underserved regions.
  2. Triple Bottom Line Approach:
    Novo Nordisk adopts a triple bottom line philosophy, integrating financial, social, and environmental considerations. Sørensen believes that long-term corporate social responsibility is synonymous with maximizing the company’s value over time.
  3. Environmental Impact:
    Sørensen highlights the financial implications of neglecting environmental and social responsibilities. He argues that pollution and poor treatment of employees can lead to costly regulations, making a compelling case for sustainable practices.

Leadership Style and Compensation

  1. Consensus-Oriented Style:
    Sørensen describes his consensus-oriented Scandinavian leadership style, emphasizing the need for consensus in decision-making. He acknowledges a slightly more aggressive approach influenced by his experience in the United States.
  2. Pay Disparity and Cohesion:
    Notably, Sørensen acknowledges being among the lowest-paid CEOs, emphasizing Novo Nordisk’s commitment to internal cohesion. He sees a smaller pay gap as conducive to better employee engagement and reduced executive-employee distance.
  3. Employee Motivation:
    Sørensen shares Novo Nordisk’s unique approach to employee engagement—bringing in patients to connect employees with the impact of their work. Saving lives through medication serves as a powerful motivator for the company’s workforce.

Innovation Strategy

  1. Honest Self-Assessment:
    Sørensen underscores the importance of honest self-assessment when crafting an innovation strategy. Recognizing strengths, capabilities, and acceptable risks lays the foundation for an ambitious yet achievable vision.
  2. Collective Team Leadership:
    Rejecting the “best-performing CEO” notion, Sørensen emphasizes collective team leadership. He sees the company’s success as a result of a team effort rather than individual accolades.


Lars Sørensen’s insights offer a glimpse into Novo Nordisk’s distinctive approach to leadership, innovation, and corporate responsibility. The company’s commitment to expertise, long-term goals, and a triple bottom line reflects a holistic approach to sustainable success.

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Rishi Malhotra, an adept editor at Atom News, specializes in travel and cultural affairs. With a global perspective and a flair for storytelling, Malhotra brings diverse perspectives to our readers, making Atom News a go-to source for enriching travel narratives.