Read the Conversation

EF: After having worked 15 years in Johnson & Johnson, what was your motivation to join CSL Behring?

EC: Diversity of experience is most important for a career; it helps in making the right decisions and in building teams. I worked most of my career in the medical device industry, so when I had this great opportunity which involved pharma and a startup, I found the combination very attractive. It was very different from what I had done so far but I knew it was the right move in terms of development and experience. I wasn’t looking for the change but it came at the right time; it takes a special company to take that risk and I am very happy I made the change. Technology will be the main driver for the future of all life sciences; the integration of technologies and AI will become more consumer-oriented with gadgets linked to healthcare, a different future is coming as we go integrating more and more technology. I like looking at problems or situations integrally and what I like about healthcare is that one is required to look at the whole environment: patients, healthcare system, company, pipeline, etc. We need to have a constant and wide viewpoint and at the same time, execute strategy and tactics in the short term so it is a very interesting challenge. 

EF: During these times of transition, how do you balance tactic and strategic decisions to achieve your objectives while navigating the current scenario? 

EC: In the healthcare sector we are very used to planning the future, working on short term goals or 5-year forecasts. During this pandemic, we didn’t know what would happen in a week so after being used to managing the medium to long term, we had to focus on a week to week basis. Now we are going back to our original balance but we will have to stay nimble and ready to react to the short term because the long term planning will not help with the quick and changing conditions we are dealing with at the moment. We are forced to be reactive with the environment constantly changing, the government passing new regulations, and companies having more flexible policies. We must of course plan in the long term as far as the company's big drivers are concerned, like the pipeline, the supply, and the product. What doesn’t change are the values, the spirit of the company, and what we stand for. The challenge of going ´virtual´ is something we all must continue to explore and this means changing habits and people are much more flexible than we give them credit for, especially in situations that are not ideal.

EF: What have been the lessons learned in these times of transition? 

EC: The biggest lessons learned are the need to invest in team-building and the new virtual era. Establish a mission, ensure the whole team is engaged in the project, and understand where we are going, why we are doing it and what we stand for. These are major drivers and they must be clear to be able to advance. We spend a lot of time on virtual communication channels to the extent where people are finding it exhausting, but we are grateful to have the technology, it is a big but fundamental investment. Building communication channels is very important and spending time with the team is the major learning. Clarifying where we are at in the short term and what is happening week to week has been important for our personnel as our employees needed reassurance on the short term and their jobs. Covid reality must be understood as there were a lot of people who thought it was a hoax or that masks did not work so the company needed to make a statement and be prepared to correct or amend that statement if needed, people need to know what to expect and what we are thinking. In business, we like to have a structured process but at the moment, we have to be more flexible due to the many changes in the environment so we bring as much certainty as we can while navigating the situation and trying to recover a balance to successfully survive. 

EF: CSL Behring is a very young company in Colombia, could you elaborate on the portfolio and products within Colombia, why was it the right market to address, and why now?

EC: CSL Colombia is a result of strategic corporate decisions and we are here for the long term. The company focuses in the areas of immunology and haematology (products for haemophilia), our portfolio targets rare diseases which are a bit of a niche market. Big pharma companies are starting to focus on niche areas and markets. CSL has always specialized in rare diseases since the beginning. Colombia has a very attractive healthcare system, and there is great talent here, as well as very good conditions. Being local put us in a scenario to engage in long term dialogue with the government and shape the environment to increase access to patients. We offer a new mindset, cross-cultural knowledge with high innovation, and our rare diseases niche which brings value to the market. It is the perfect time for us to bring our portfolio, make ourselves known, and have a great impact on the patients. Rare diseases can be a difficult area because even doctors are sometimes not generally aware of the diagnosis involved so we want to give support educating doctors to achieve our end goal which is our commitment to the patient’s experience. As part of our long term planning, CSL is committed to Colombia and doing whatever is needed to get through these difficult times. CSL isn’t quite established yet so it is very exciting times for us, needing, wanting, and finding new markets where we know we can make a difference in our contribution to healthcare.

EF: What is your advice on how to balance the allocation of resources between Chronic Diseases and Covid? 

EC: It is a tough balance. The healthcare system has had to focus on Covid-19 related issues while still having its usual challenges so it is difficult to prioritize and allocate resources. Across the world, Covid has a negative impact on plasma collection. Biological products are manufactured from plasma donations, so if we consider that for three months nobody has been to a plasma donation centre -and are still scared of going- the business will be affected by the reduced plasma supply so there will be a shortage of related products. It is important for the healthcare system that the companies that are in the know have discussions on the subject. We are in a plasma alliance where we gather convalescent plasma from recovered patients and we also have trials going on to deliver safe and effective drugs.

EF: What is your definition of access, having worked in devices, and now in rare diseases? 

EC: Med-tech and pharma have a different take on access. My vision of access is a broad one and is all about removing the barriers so the product gets to the patient, and the barriers can be supply barriers, administrative barriers, or knowledge barriers. From my systemic viewpoint, it is about finding the solutions to removing the barriers so that the patients can access what they need, be it pricing, legislation, or economics. It is often about humility and being prepared to sit down and discuss with other parties to achieve whatever needs to be done. 

EF: You are currently building and shaping a future pharma company in the middle of a pandemic, how do you envision the future pharma companies? 

EC:  We begin with a plan which invariably will suffer deviations. With a startup, one must be prepared for bad things to happen –not necessarily COVID, but we are prepared- we know things will always be harder than initially planned. So the first thing a startup company must have is the right mindset, the ability to hit the reset button, and rethink the whole project if necessary and be prepared to navigate even a pandemic. So I would recommend a startup mindset, agility, a capacity to restructure plans, and be aware of and acknowledge the environment. Short term wins are important as is recognition and celebration of the small victories and having a generalist approach, avoiding the silo mentality which no longer works in the world of today.  Being an access specialist is not good enough, a broad view of the whole situation is needed, a long chain of problem-solving done by a resourceful person. 

EF: What would you like 2020 tenure to be remembered for and how would you like this year to be remembered?

EC: I would like my tenure to be remembered for building a team of individuals that saw through the pandemic. I know I will remember this team for many years down the road; we grew together, lived through a pandemic, they accepted me as their leader, worked on a plan, and we took care of each other. I want to be remembered as a good leader because we battled the odds with team spirit and this will remain with me. Despite the biggest challenge we faced, our plans are still forthcoming. We set out to reach patients, to introduce technology, and to build a company, and in my 2020, that is exactly what we are generating. Times like these demand courage from a lot of people as even working from home takes courage, and so will be going back to the office because the option is to be passive, do nothing and wait till the danger goes away. Considering how global healthcare works with all its layers, it was very important in this environment to work on communication which has been swift on all levels. The short distance between global and local communication management is very important because it means the difference between life and death. Local empowerment is fundamental because global measures don’t have the depth or detail needed as the information is more general. The management approach at a local level has accountability. 

September 2020