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EF: If 2020 was the year of diagnostics and 2021 the year of vaccines, what do you think will be the key talking points for 2022 in terms of healthcare in Colombia?
ES: Getting back to business is an important talking point. Serious diseases were ignored during the pandemic, which caused many things to be abandoned, patients did not follow up on treatments and controls, and the time lost must be recovered. Due to the backlog, there is much demand on the health system, and we must focus on getting people back to care and healthy again.
EF: During Covid, there was a shift in the perception of the importance of self-sufficiency and local production; considering Colombia imports many healthcare goods, how important is local production?
ES: There used to be a lot of pharmaceutical production in Colombia; we provided at least 75% of the local production for the country's needs. For the last five years, I have focused on getting the Colombian state to set up rules that will allow the sector to grow and prosper, and the pandemic has made my work much easier. The pandemic made people more aware of the healthcare industry and the importance of developing the local pharmaceutical industry. The new administration is aware that changes are needed and are prepared to invest in developing strong local capabilities, and the much-needed changes will be good for the country.
EF: Do you consider foreign investment important for Colombia? What needs to be done to attract investment and promote local production and self-reliance in Colombia?
ES: Knowledge is even more important than investment. New policies should be set up to allow the knowledge to stay in Colombia. Making things attractive for a multinational to build a plant in Colombia is one way of doing things. Another is for them to do business with Colombian firms and bring knowledge to the equation. We are in conversations with a couple of international companies, focusing mainly on the transference of technology and collaborating with investments in Colombian universities and hospitals. Things have changed; a few years ago, we looked for licenses for raw materials and a brand name to sell. But today, we aim for investment in knowledge for the country. Licenses come and go, but knowledge remains.
EF: Could you elaborate on the work Tecnoquímicas is doing, your current portfolio, and how you expect it to evolve over the next few years?
ES: We are an established and traditional family-owned business, so we don't move very fast because we plan very carefully. I am trying to achieve technology transfer moving forward with small sure steps; it can't be done haphazardly. For the time being, we are mainly focused on our very strong OTC business and we are working on expanding it in Central America and the Caribbean. We are expecting to grow a lot in our international business. Within three or four years, we hope our international business is as large and developed as our Colombian business, which is already large. We are putting all our marketing knowledge and experience into our international business and trying to bring technical know-how into the country.
EF: Regarding the future of healthcare in Colombia, what can be done to increase collaboration between the public and private sectors and local and international companies?
ES: Regulations must encourage a strong Colombian industry. Regulations must be strengthened to favour foreign companies and motivate them and their partners to come to the country. In our case, we are searching for strong partners to develop from the technical and research point of view. We have grown over the last couple of years and are interested in accelerating the growth further to invest our money abroad. Otherwise, it is business as usual in Colombia.
EF: Could you elaborate on your educational initiatives, such as rebuilding an education centre in Cali?
ES: As a family-owned business, we are very committed to education. The company invests directly in education because we believe it is the only way for the country to develop; without it, we will never progress. The CEO of Tecnoquímicas is the chairman of the board of the local university (ICESI) and chairman of the best Colombian hospital (Fundación Valle del Lili de Cali), ranked Nº 3 in Latin America. If we have partnerships with foreign companies, we would also ask them to collaborate on education. We have a big stake in developing local technical skills. We are engaged in rebuilding a local educative facility for our employees' children regardless of their position in the company. The facility is for kids up to two years old, and we offer an excellent bilingual education. It is one of the highest-ranked preschools in Cali. Education is so important for our company that we even have a program to help relocate the employees to live near their children's primary or high schools. Obviously, we have a wide array of student aid for our employees and their children.
EF: Given that Tecnoquímicas is a Colombian success story, what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to follow a similar path in today's market?
ES: There is no advice to give other than hard work. To succeed, one must be able to reason wisely, but mainly it is all down to hard work.
EF: To what extent is Colombia a hub for innovation, and how important is innovation to Tecnoquímicas?
ES: Innovation is important to all companies, and we all want to innovate. We have a product that is a hundred years old. I think it says we can innovate and modernize an old product because there is a demand for it in the market. For me, innovation can be for any product ahead of the market; our job is to diagnose what the market wants and innovate in that area. There is scientific or marketing innovation, but regardless, we must always innovate. Regrettably, Colombia does not have much innovation in the scientific field, as a critical mass is required. So we bring it in from abroad and have people to teach us to work it. For the future of our country, we must work on leaving behind an environment where science can be developed and locally commercialized.
EF: What skills do you look for when hiring new talent for the company?
ES: We look for people that are right for our company: creative, hard workers. We don't look for specific skills, as skills can be taught. They must come with certain capabilities that can't be taught. We select our people carefully and pay them very well. Our basic wage is the highest in the region, so we can afford to be selective. We may choose people with particular skills when needed for the laboratory, but in general, we look for bright people that are prepared to learn.
EF: Has the way you hire changed at all over the past years? Has it evolved from how you selected employees twenty years ago?
ES: It hasn't changed much, but small changes have occurred. As we have grown, there are more places to be filled which means more new people are coming in. When there is a higher selection, we always select from people within the company that has the potential to fill new positions. It is harder to be chosen today than twenty years ago to work in Tecnoquímicas.
EF: As one of the biggest Colombian local companies providing great services, what achievement would you like to celebrate by the end of the year?
ES: I hope to celebrate being above the budget in all our areas and activities. We don't have anything specific; we work hard, produce, and are delighted when we fulfil our plans. We are very satisfied with how things are going and are a healthy and happy company.
EF: Is there any final message you would like to share with our readers?
ES: During the pandemic, we never closed down nor worked remotely. We had an excellent checking and testing system for all the workers, which worked very well for us, and all our employees came to work every day. It helped us develop a very strong team, facing problems and issues and resolving them together, something other companies were not doing. The sales force never stopped working in the field; we ensured they were the first to be vaccinated and tested them systematically. Many doctors were abandoned during the pandemic but ensured we continued visiting them. Even though they weren’t prescribing, we felt they needed support. Sometimes, we went to their homes as they were not allowed to go to the hospitals. While other companies were letting people go, we increased our workforce during the pandemic. We kept up person-to-person contact in the company and with our stakeholders. At first, we were seen as irresponsible, cold business-minded people, but eventually, everybody was very grateful for our continued presence.