Read the Conversation
EF: What was your mission when appointed to Singapore?
EP: Upon arriving in Singapore, my first mission was to fulfil our vaccine commitment with the government once the first Pfizer vaccine was on the market. It was crucial to us to keep delivering our products in spite of supply chain disruptions. It was a challenging task, but it is something I quickly adapted to. As a newly appointed manager, I learned how to manage the company remotely while building the company culture.
Pfizer is a multifaceted business with a complex and robust portfolio that we promote alongside vaccines.
EF: What advice would you give to someone who wants to see the Latin American and Asian markets, preparedness, and culture? What did you identify as the key elements of success in leading?
EP: Curiosity and being open-minded are important when integrating into a new culture. We are fortunate at Pfizer because the company provides support and cultural orientation in each country we go to. Learning about the culture and values of each country or region is eye-opening and interesting. You should pay attention to the fundamental elements of the country and its history.
There are several differences between LATAM and Asia; however, there are also some similarities. In both regions, there is a strong sense of community and family. Having a big family meal that includes everyone every Sunday afternoon is a recurring theme in both areas. I have recently been challenging myself and my team to try local cuisine. I try any food my team brings me at least once because food is a big part of the Singaporean culture. This activity builds rapport between us, and it helps me understand my team better.
EF: What key advice would you give to any manager trying to build a strong culture remotely?
EP: Trust is the foundation of successful relationships. The first few meetings with my team were quiet, with little interaction because we still needed to build our rapport. Once I built up my leadership skills and trustworthiness and became approachable, they began to trust me. We now often engage in meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations because rapport and trust have been built.
Initially, it was challenging for me to manage the company because. My management style was different from what they were used to. I am a democratic leader, and the team was used to more direct management. In the decision-making process, I aid the team with hard-hitting questions that prioritize the most important goals and the strategic direction the company should go in. This makes the decision-making process a collective decision because my team knows the business in Singapore better than I do. I listen to the different perspectives that my team has before coming to a joint decision. To involve everyone in decision-making, I help prioritize, gather information, distil tasks according to relevance, and provide direction. If I could change one thing about my management in the beginning, it would be showing and telling my team the type of leader I am from the first day.
EF: How do Pfizer labs and manufacturing plants in Singapore support the global supply chain, and what is Singapore’s strategic importance?
EP: Pfizer Singapore has two small high-end operations. The first is a manufacturing technology development centre, and the second is a scientific laboratory. We are a trailblazer in developing and launching new products within Asia and other emerging markets. We produce an active ingredient API for many of the products that are exported globally. This is possible because Pfizer was established in Singapore in 1964 and has become the supply hub for the Asian region.
EF: What are your top priorities in API manufacturing or supply chain management, and what have been your biggest lessons in the diversification of these centres worldwide?
EP: One of Singapore’s biggest assets is its stability. The policies prioritize businesses which lends to the government's stability. The government values private initiatives within the country. This allowed us to expand our robust footprint in the country. It helped us collaborate closely with the government and to have dialogue throughout the pandemic. We worked closely with several government agencies to ensure our products' free flow to minimize the pandemic's restrictions or constraints on our operations.
It is a unique moment to be leading the organization. I coordinate our effort at a country level, but of course, there is someone who heads manufacturing and another running the supply chain.
EF: What is your advice on managing a ‘vaccines’ portfolio while also giving continuity to health on the chronic disease side?
EP: Balancing our vaccine and other portfolios was a common issue globally. Therefore, some of our base portfolios underperformed because of the nature of Covid. Despite the challenges, we worked tirelessly to increase the importance of getting vaccinated and keeping up-to-date records.
Many people with basic chronic conditions could not access healthcare which challenged us to open other communication channels. This led us to deploy some digital tools to better communicate with patients and customers. This led us to initiate more programs like the delivery program we implemented for the direct delivery of medicines to the patient's home.
The second initiative we took on was the mental health initiative. There was a very relevant rise in mental health cases. We wanted to step in and help as a company. As a result, we entered digital partnerships with companies that provide mental counselling through physicians. We used social media platforms to raise awareness of mental health and vaccinations. We are now just beginning to see the results of our investments during the pandemic.
Pfizer Singapore delivered on its commitment, which earned us a reputation and the respect of our stakeholders. We can reach out to these stakeholders when we develop new projects or initiatives as they seek partnerships with us. It is about being patient-centric and making the patient's journey as easy and simple as possible.
EF: What is your take on Pfizer Singapore’s adaptation to the digital business model?
EP: From the beginning of the year, we have incorporated digitalization into our corporate DNA. We are preparing to transition from an analogue to a digital company. Digitalization is our go-to core component and strategy when going to market though we are still building key competencies like KPIs and implementing new digital tools. During the pandemic, we had to quickly adapt to digitalization with the tools we had at hand.
It took our mindset to change for people to understand the power of integrating. We are changing from being marketing-driven to being scientifically driven. It is about the when, where, and how. We want to have high-end conversations with our customers. The customer must be able to reach us when they need us, so we offered a highly reachable communication channel.
Singapore has the infrastructure to aid us in our transformation. There is high connectivity and data availability. We feed real-time data from vaccine drives and healthcare systems to R&D to improve our vaccines and products. Singapore has robust data. Recently there was a publication from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, which Pfizer contributed to; on the responsibility of data sharing. Data management and processing are becoming the backbone of the ethical dilemma. Privacy is very important, and more people should be aware of it. We must balance using private data to improve healthcare systems and outcomes.
Singapore is well positioned and already thinking twenty years into the future of how to collect data, make precision medicine, and understand the impact of interventions at a granular level.
EF: What is your involvement in SAPI and how does it contribute to and fuel Pfizer's overall commitment to Singapore?
EP: Right after I joined the Singapore branch, there was an opening in the board of directors at SAPI, so I took the opportunity to join them in early 2021 as one of the board of directors. By August, I was the vice president, and now I am the Head of the public policy committee. The public policy committee comprises patient advocacy, health technology, and government affairs groups. The government affairs group is involved in shaping healthcare policies in the country. SAPI was founded in Singapore 56 years ago, and it hosts a lot of presidents from other multinational companies.
Singapore is going through major changes in its healthcare policies. The government has established the oncology drug list and is now moving to the healthier SG, which will be implemented next year. SAPI has been advocating to be the partner in the discussion to illustrate the industry's point of view. In the serial implementation, various stakeholders contributed to the outcome. After that, the MOA realized that several things needed to be adjusted over time. We hope to improve the dialogue and give more insights with a healthier SG. We bring collective knowledge from all the big pharmaceutical companies in the association. The industry association has a bigger role as a collective for the industry.
EF: When you look back ten years from now, in your professional career, what would you like to be remembered for?
EP: I would like to be remembered for changing the avenues for collaboration and mutual respect for the government and the biopharma industry. After the pandemic, we built fundamental relationships with the government. We can truly collaborate with the government through Pfizer or industry association channels. This is shaping the paradigm beyond covid about making better sustainable systems. Moving forward, I yearn for a connection beyond covid and vaccines.
EF: Do you have any advice for women in pharma?
EP: I have been working for Pfizer for almost nineteen years now. When I joined in Brazil, there were no women. Now there is a balance in diversity between men and women. Six of nine country managers within the Singapore region are women. There is a 43% representation of women at the highest levels of the organization with no pay gaps. Pfizer is very close to closing the great disparity between men and women. If you are not happy with your job, go to Pfizer.