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EF: You took over as CEO during the Pandemic. What was the mission you were given when appointed?

AS: When the pandemic broke out we knew we had to go ‘back to basics’ as forecasting for our traditional customers, hospitals groups and med-care organizations would be extremely complex. With the first lockdown hospitals stopped admitting patients, elective surgeries came to a complete stop and there was a big drop in occupancy -last year it hardly ever went above 60% of what it had been the previous year. Our strategy was centered in diversifying our business in various countries -Malawi, Madagascar & Mauritius- we decided to focus on non-traditional business and new markets. We managed to accomplish this due to all the work we had done over the last two years. 

In terms of the culture and behavior within the company we focused on safety first, as it was our responsibility to ensure our engineers were safe when entering hospitals. Within the company we had to adjust to a new virtual reality and a new customer virtual engagement, as well addressing basic topics such as ensuring a safe interaction with the customer, the mental health of our employees and adjusting the company to digitalization.

EF: Could you elaborate on the role of SIEMENS HEALTHINEERS over the past months in the region?

AS: Siemens Healthineers and other companies in the country collaborated with the government contributing towards a COVID-19 hospital in the Eastern Cape, a model hospital which was completed in less than 100 days, in record time. That was our biggest key contribution to society in terms of equipment. Once COVID-19 is over it will be converted into a regular hospital and will be a huge contribution to the region. In terms of healthcare we contributed and promoted our digital operations with CT scans in the much needed COVID-19 areas, installing our equipment and managing them digitally from our offices. 

EF: What are the lessons learnt that you can share with other business leaders? 

AS: My biggest advice is to listen to the market. Upon the realization that some of our customers would not be able to have the usual cash flow, we allowed them to defer payments. We also learnt the lesson of looking beyond the traditional customer and diversifying the business in terms of geography and therapeutic areas. It was very interesting to see our Lab & Diagnosis business leap forward with the registration of our rapid COVID-19 test, which was a global contribution to society. Overnight something that didn’t exist suddenly became a very big contributor to the company.

EF: What would be your choice of two mandatory courses for a ‘Master in Pandemic Administration’?

AS: Digitalization is crucial, the more digitized we are the less human contact there will be which is a step forward in the case of infectious diseases. We need a digitalized approach to healthcare, and Siemens Healthineers already identified this concept in 2017 . The first course would be on digitalizing healthcare and the second to understand the concept of global health and the principles of public health and public administration. Only a year ago many presidents didn´t understand concepts which are of common use today, such as isolation or quarantine. The subject of public health must be explored and understood especially since public health and digitalization have become priorities and key topics. Global healthcare and its practices have a huge amount of awareness today which they didn’t have 18 months ago.

EF: How did you manage to attract resources to South Africa and the region at a time they were scarce? 

AS: We have been identified as a growth market and we cover a diverse area. The health resources in this country are limited and with COVID-19, access to healthcare has been restricted for everybody, rich and poor alike, nobody could access health and we must work on investing more in infrastructure to ensure that health can still be given to those in need.

EF: Have you seen changes in growth or performance of imaging and diagnostics or in the portfolio performance in general? 

AS: Both imaging and diagnostics have performed very well, diagnostics has grown disproportionally more which makes a lot of sense considering the demand in areas of chemistry, pathology, coagulation and the demand for tests that grew our business as did the instruments needed in the points of care where demand also increased. In shopping malls for example those entering have their temperature taken, but our biggest growth was in COVID-19 rapid tests. CT scans became a highly demanded modality which put pressure on our factory and our capacity to deliver; there was an increase –which grew over last year- in the demand to install our equipment abroad because of the limited amount of engineers in the region.   

EF: What are the KPIs you are tracking and did you have to add new KPIs due to the pandemic?

AS: Some areas needed to be tracked because we had a higher turnover than usual, our engineers for example are a key KPI for us because in the present situation we are looking for their least possible movement and it’s the first time we have used this KPI. The engineer goes to fix the problem and returns and the KPI allows this to be achieved in the most efficient way possible. As for other KPIs we have customer’s satisfaction and a turnaround time for spare parts –before it was 24 hours but now by default it has moved to almost 72 hours- mainly when we have to move spare parts from Germany to South Africa, a challenge at present that has compromised our turnaround time. We have since invested in keeping the commonly used spare parts locally in South Africa to return to the 24 hour window and have a 98% uptime response to our customers.

EF: Where do you see SIEMENS HEALTHINEERS in five years’ time? 

AS: We are very aware of the acquisition of value in the radiotherapy area and locally we want to advance two steps in one making sure that over the next five years the oncology area is consolidated and that we gain market share in this area as a comprehensive area.  It is about upgrading our strategy in the oncological therapeutic area to be a key partner moving into what we call ‘enterprise services’ where we change from a transactional model to a long term partnership which in our book is the best possible result for the customer converting from a CAPEX into an OPEX investment. The renewal and refreshment of the equipment becomes our business by making one person responsible for the machine in terms of the partnership with our prime and key customers. Then we have a “climbing the customer ladder” area to broaden the portfolio and optimizing the portfolio offering. We also want to offer value to new business and want a market share in local hospital groups. 

EF: In your experience what can be translated from the pharma into the MedTech sector? 

AS: Pharmaceuticals is more of a disease based operation rather than transactional; the approach I bring is clinical based marketing which solves therapeutic area issues. In cardiovascular diseases for example we address the topics of the cardiovascular disease and push more disease orientated initiatives. The other area that needs to be looked at is regulatory, pharma is far more strictly regulated and we should learn from them.

EF: When you look back to this period in your professional career, what would you like your 2020 and 2021 tenure to be remembered for? 

AS: As regards the company I would like to be remembered for bringing work and collaboration to Siemens Healthineers core and achieve higher results because of my actions. I would like to instill the culture in the organization to be more candid in how we appraise our results, look at the results objectively to see what it is telling us and what needs to be done, improved and changed. The culture should move away from using hierarchy as the definition of authority which means that if we break down the silos hierarchy for accountability anybody should be able to work cross functionally in the allocated projects. If I could be remembered for moving the company in that direction I would be grateful. South Africa is going through a transformation and we need to comply with the Employment Equity Act fulfilling the plans of employment of equity and diversity and I would be happy to achieve this by the time I leave the office. 

RF: Is there any final message you would like to share?

AS: We have reached a stage where there is more need for operations between the investors and collaboration in the interest of patient care.

July 2021
South Africa