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EF: Could you elaborate on B Braun's footprint in Brazil?
BB: We are the market leader when it comes to infusion therapy, with the largest fleet of automatic infusion pumps in Brazil and a 50% market share. Let me explain, when you are a patient in critical condition, it is very important to control all of the fluids that are being infused into your body. It can range from simple liquids to very complex drugs. Usually, a critical patient would be connected to several infusion pumps which are basically small computers that are administering the right drug at the right speed. During the pandemic, the ICUs being at maxed capacities in Brazil, there was a great need for infusion therapy. Usually, when thinking about a Covid patient, you would think about the use of ventilators, but here at BBraun we do not have those, we have infusion therapy. We have a very relevant production footprint in Brazil. We produce 70 million units of large volume parenteral per year that every patient in hospitals need to be infused with. Locally, we produce the infusion pumps and lines.
Even though we could increase the production capacity of the infusion lines for the large volume parenteral, we had to be careful with the demand going up and managing worldwide demands with bottle-necks to manage. What we had done in Brazil due to these bottle-necks was to go to the market and requested the non-operational pumps and accelerated our refurbishing activities in order to activate every pump in the Brazilian market. Even though we could not supply the full needs of all of the customers, we still found solutions for them.
There were a lot of crisis meetings done in order to understand where the needs were most critical and how to administer our products.
We are also the exclusive importer for all B Braun productions worldwide for the Brazilian market which allowed us to work well with the international BBraun teams in order to meet the needs of the customers in Brazil. I am very proud of the team. For us, shut down meant that the team worked double instead of reducing its capacity. Economically, it was a challenging period, because we have a very wide portfolio, supplying 17 therapies. There was a maximum demand for infusion therapies, but no demand in other areas of the portfolio which created an imbalance. However, we were able to create a balance by quickly utilizing the flexibility and willingness of our employees. Our employees did a great job.
EF: Focusing on the challenges posed by the pandemic, what do you think are the biggest lessons learned?
BB: I think the biggest lesson learned is that our sector is kind of slow when it comes to digitalization and efficiency. Due to the crisis, we had to strategize in order to be more digital and efficient. With a heterogeneous customer base in Brazil, we may not have been able to go through the same standardization and acceleration as the fast-moving consumer goods sector, but we saw that we needed to go through the process. As such, we successfully accelerated that transition.
EF: How has the product portfolio performed in the pandemic?
BB: We are a sector that normally has a very stable demand because if you need major surgery, you will not postpone it. For the first time, however, critical procedures were postponed in order to treat Covid patients which had caused parts of our portfolio to be in low demand. In response, we shifted however much of our resources (especially headcounts) to the areas of higher demand. There were areas of our business that came to a standstill. For example, we are the largest producers of surgical instruments and during the peak of the pandemic, no one was buying these products. So, there were parts of the business that suffered huge setbacks.
EF: Looking at the footprints and performance of B Braun in Brazil. What is the strategic importance of Brazil to B Braun?
BB: We are a family company that has been in Brazil for 52 years and is committed to the country. Brazil is the largest market in Latin America, being almost 50% of the total volume, so it is very important to the group. Brazil is a great part of the BBraun portfolio that has continued to grow and still has large potential. Brazil was the great future of the market in the 80s until Asia took over, but the moment has come again for South America to take over given the geopolitical problems building up worldwide. The other big markets are becoming more and more problematic.
I think South America, especially Brazil, did a good job of managing this crisis. If I see this situation today in the US or in Europe it would be much more concerning than what we are seeing in South America.
It is fair to say that B Braun in Brazil is a good example of how a company can perform very well in the Covid crisis. We had to make very tough decisions, so it was not easy, but it led us to have a much healthier, sophisticated, and competitive structure which has opened the door for more growth in comparison to how we were 3 years ago.
EF: How is BBraun evolving with the growth of E-Health?
BB: We are a big device company, looking at a revenue of about 1.2 billion Euros worldwide from medical devices. We have a lot of devices like infusion pumps, various surgical systems for minimally invasive surgery, and power systems which are all things that we will need in the future. The crisis is also accelerating the necessity for devices that can minimize personal contact with patients but also have the patients well taken care of. We currently have products and processes that contribute to the changes necessary to integrate into the future. There are big solutions like telemedicine and data integrations, but there are also small solutions that also contribute.
EF: Brazil has elections coming up later this year. What advice would you give to the new administration after the elections?
BB: The Brazilian health system is very heterogeneous right now and I think Brazil needs a certain standardization. We need to advance in considering cost per treatment instead of simply looking at the consumption of materials used during the relative therapies. Therapy-based outcomes and things like that are very important topics, but we are still at an early stage. This should be a very important topic for future administrations.
EF: In regard to the current allocation of resources you have within the footprint in Brazil in between manufacturing and product management of your portfolio, what is the overall structure like?
BB: We have about 1,300 people in total. We have three production sites with about 700 employees, 120 of which are field technicians to support our products. The remainders, outside of the production sites, we have about 500 employees that are in sales and marketing and internal functions.
EF: You were operating during the pandemic at full capacity, what is your capacity like today?
BB: Due to a constant and growing demand for what we are producing and also what we are looking to produce and import, we are still operating at full capacity and are looking to keep growing.
EF: What would you say is the role of Health Care in developing the economy?
BB: I think that healthcare is an issue that is high on every country’s agenda. Whenever someone looks at whom they will be voting for during an election period, healthcare is the main criterion. There are other stakeholders in society, but the healthcare sector plays a strong role. Everyone should have fair access to healthcare services. Secondly, we should focus a lot more on prevention rather than just treatments to keep a patient alive, there is a need to establish systems that can support patients in all aspects of life. The more solutions geared towards being able to create through healthcare for patients, the more productive they can be or continue to be if they ever require any health treatment.
EF: We say 2020 was the year of prevention and diagnosis and 2021 was the year of vaccines. What do you think 2022 will be remembered for?
BB: I really think that 2022 will be the year when we learn to live with the challenges of Covid and how to operate with and around its existence. Covid has to be something on the side now and no longer the centre of everything.
In our experience when talking about home offices, only about 150 to 200 of our employees could afford to work from home as the job mostly required people to be in the field. With that said, people need to be able to move about freely. For the most part, we were forced to learn that people were still able to work in the same spaces during the pandemic, and I think it is fair to say that a very small number of our employees had gotten infected while working in the same spaces; most of the cases were in the private environments. I think we really need to get the sense of the pandemic out of our systems, understand how to manage the business under the circumstances, and be able to move forward and focus on everything else.
I am proud that we had used 2021 to make a lot of strategic changes in the company which benefited us not only from the security point of view and surviving the pandemic but also from the economic standpoint. We had really brought the company and its team forward. We are a people-centred company. With a production footprint, sales, and marketing responsibilities here we have assets, machinery, and more, but all of that together would not make a big company like we are, it is the team that really makes the company.
EF: Is there any final message that you would like to add?
BB: I am very bullish about Brazil. It is my only responsibility which is a difficult market but I am very positive about it. This market has great potential and Brazil did an excellent job in managing the pandemic. Today, Brazil is positioned well and I am really looking forward to great years to come.