Tales from the Trenches


Keeping the Fire: Tim Walbert on Maintaining Company Culture Through Massive Growth

Posted November 7, 2016
by Devon Leichtman
MATTER Associate Marketing Manager

Tim Walbert thrives on growth. As a serial entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry, he’s spent his career helping brands and companies grow. When Tim was named Horizon Pharma’s chairman, president, and chief executive officer in 2008 it was little more than a solo operation, and he worked mostly from coffee shops, taking advantage of the free wi-fi and parking. Fast forward to present day, and Horizon has 900 employees and more than $1 billion in annual sales.

While he’s traded working from coffee shops for corporate campuses around the globe, Tim has maintained the small-company mindset and hunger for growth that helped Horizon grow so large so quickly. Tim spoke to his appetite for growth and how he managed this transition from small-to-large company when he told his “origin story” to ContextMedia CEO Rishi Shah at our recent Tales from the Trenches event, hosted in partnership with ContextMedia and Pritzker Group Venture Capital. Watch the full interview or read our recap below.

With the perspective he’s gained building Horizon, Tim is uniquely positioned to understand both the challenges of a small company bootstrapping its way to the next week as well as a large company working to deliver long-term growth for shareholders.

“The things you take advantage of in a big company are the things you die for in a small company,” Tim said, pointing to resources, employees, connections, and especially money. He remembered several times Horizon was only weeks away from the coffers being completely empty. Thankfully, he said, drawing the biggest laugh of the night, “our investors always stuck with us. They just didn’t let us know that they would.”

“Our investors always stuck with us. They just didn’t let us know that they would.”

TTim discussing his path through healthcare with Rishiim contrasted his experience building Horizon with his experience maintaining its current position as a public company. “Now we live quarter to quarter. We have to go out, execute, and convince our investors that [we’re] still worth investing in.” This responsibility to shareholders brings added visibility to everything Horizon does.

“The lights are on 24/7,” Tim said. “When you get to 1,000 people and a billion in sales, you can’t just ‘wing it’ anymore. You can’t use Excel to track your money anymore.”

Though the pharmaceutical industry has a reputation for being traditional, corporate, and slow-moving, Tim repeatedly stressed the need for a strong company culture. He claimed that hiring for culture is more important than hiring for experience when he urged the audience to “hire the right people, [then] teach them the science.” While many entrepreneurs talk about building a strong culture, Tim has made difficult decisions to create the right culture for Horizon. He once fired 80 percent of his sales force because they did not fit the culture he was trying to build.

When pressed for advice he’d give to potential entrepreneurs, Tim was frank. “If you’re not ready to hear ‘no’ more than you’ve ever heard in your life, you’re not ready for this,” he deadpanned.

“If you’re not ready to hear ‘no’ more than you’ve ever heard in your life, you’re not ready for this”

So why do it? Why build a healthcare business when there are markets with significantly fewer barriers to entry? Tim’s response spoke volumes about the internal drive he taps to navigate Horizon through it’s monstrous growth: “You can go build a widget, or you can make a difference in life.”

For more on Tim, see his LinkedIn or the Horizon Pharma website.

Tim, Rishi, and MATTER CEO Steven Collens