JP Garnier, CEO, Glaxo SmithKline

They say the test of fluency in a second language is the ability to crack a joke and get a laugh

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO of GSK, had a go with a weak gag about George Bush. He raised half a laugh from the delegates at the CBI Interactive Conference, but his own story was so strong he needn't have bothered.

Under his stewardship, GSK has streaked ahead with a pipeline of new drugs twice the size of its nearest competitor's. Garnier says innovation is all about people, but truly innovative people are rare – he reckons they have just 50 such souls out of a total workforce of 110,000. He calls them volunteers, because 'they could choose to work anywhere they like, so we have to look after them'.

He gave the audience plenty to take away. Having insisted he was no business guru, he then handed down some pretty didactic tablets of stone, such as: 'You need to stick your neck out and be committed, not just engaged. The kamikaze pilot who flew 41 missions was clearly engaged but not committed.' He also listed the signs a company displays when it's not ready for innovation, such as too many layers of management, finger-pointing when things go wrong and strong fiefdoms linked to silo mentalities.

His audience lapped it up, and his ending, a quote from Darwin, was on the button: 'It's not the strongest or most intelligent who survive. It is those who are most responsive to change.'

Key moment: The disclosure that in 2006, 24 million babies will be born in India – more that in Europe and Japan put together.

Key lesson: Don't be afraid to be didactic. Audiences warm to certainty delivered straight, especially when you speak from experience.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth?... Silver Tongue

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