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EF: The role of a general manager is more important in these times of crisis than any other time especially with Medtronic’s place at the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. What advice would you give to other GMs in managing in a time of crisis and change?
FO: We never planned for a pandemic, but we are facing a crisis in which the rules are clear. First of all, it’s important to keep your priorities straight. It’s crucial to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve in any situation. Secondly, it’s essential to take the lead communication role in the organisation. Communication is key for effective leadership especially in times like these where fake news is nearly as abundant as real news. Thirdly, it’s important to focus on the crisis on hand. Of course, we are still learning as we go along, but it’s also essential to picture the end. We are going to be in this situation for a while, but at some point, the pandemic will pass. While I’m focusing on my priorities and leading the communications in the organisation, I also need to mobilize the minds and the hearts of people to prepare for the next phase. There’s always another phase. I would advise others to remember that we’re going to get over this. We need to remember to continue what we’ve been doing before the crisis.
EF: In terms of decision making, what is the distribution with regards to tactics, strategies, and adaptations?
FO: The strategy we have set for Mexico is clear. No one knows what will happen even though it’s clear there will be a significant economic impact. Since no one is equipped to predict what will happen, it’s not a good idea to start creating new strategies. The top priority is my team and my people because it’s the one thing you can protect and, therefore, is 100% your responsibility. For everything else, we will see what will happen and navigate as best we can. We are in uncharted territory, and it’s not the right moment to adapt the business model or make any big changes.
EF: How would you maintain the momentum of interest and investment in a post-covid environment?
FO: It’s a painful lesson, but the pandemic is a great example of how health impacts the financial health of the world. When the pandemic passes, this crisis will highlight the importance of health in societies in its impact on economic activity. We’ve been talking about this for many years through various forms. People might understand it conceptually, but we’re experiencing it now. After this crisis ends, we will have many different conversations with governments and other stakeholders to better prepare for future crises. We need to figure out how to build a strategic reserve of health capacity in the world. Currently, we don’t have the system and the capacities to cope with normal demand. Now we need to raise capacities for a level of demand orders of magnitude higher than before. We will need to continue to build infrastructure, products, and technologies available for everybody precisely for moments like these. Now that all of humankind is faced with such a challenge, there’s no time in implementing initiatives that should’ve been done 2 or 3 years ago. The biggest learning is that this is a strategic sector. Healthcare is a strategic sector, and we need to learn our lessons from this pandemic
EF: Last time we met, you had mentioned a “Gross Internal Health ( Salud Interna Bruta) ” metric. What is the pandemic’s effect on that metric and how does that relate to GDP?
FO: Every single case affects the GDP per capita. When you are confirmed, you affect your family, your community, and so forth. The GDP goes down for everyone, not just for the confirmed people, but for people like myself that are in quarantine. I’m continuing to work at home as much as I can, but there are some things that I simply cannot do, particularly going to the customer or meeting people like the physicians, surgeons and customers. This is a clear example that health impacts everybody. We need to work more intelligently and more collaboratively while remembering the lesson we are learning very painfully in this situation.
EF: Countries throughout the world have been shifting their profiles in tackling the rising levels of NCDs. How can you continue to advance the strategy in attacking NCDs while dealing with the short term consequences of this CD sweeping the world?
FO: When dealing with the major NCDs: diabetes, obesity, renal care, hypertension, governments tend to be focused on cost-containment as opposed to forward-planning. Even beyond the mortality rate, there are people affected by covid-19 who will slowly or never return to work due to the virus’ effect and the combined effect on their comorbidities. The more comorbidities a country suffers, the greater the infrastructure needs to be. This is a justification to manage and treat patients suffering from NCDs in advance. We can’t just defer the cost of a disease for the future if it doesn’t significantly impact the system today. Now we are learning the hard way that a chronic condition will always have a cost to be paid, either now or catastrophically in the future. This is also a call to action to have people in the best health possible, not just one that can be maintained. After all of this has passed, we will need to discuss methods of building a health infrastructure that is capable of coping and managing these chronic diseases. I believe digital technology will have a big role to play in this.
EF: Recently, Medtronic had notably partnered with Tesla to produce more ventilators for New York. As GM of Medtronic Mexico, what do you look for in an ideal collaboration?
FO: Collaboration is a concept that sounds very nice to all but there are two key factors that are critical. First, there needs to be a shared intention and most people tend to have that shared intention. But second, we need to consider the implementation phase of that collaboration. I’ve talked with many other companies seeking to collaborate, but we also need the governments playing an important role in leading these efforts. In some countries, the governments are leading the charge, coordinating and organizing the different players. For other countries, that coordination is not yet present. Without this coordination, things become disorganized and those collaborations tend to be much less effective. Collaboration must not only have the will but also the discipline in execution. In our case, we have just shared the blueprints of our ventilators to the world and I would love to see a line of partners ready to take on the production. We’ve
provided half of the equation, but the other half is still lacking. Currently, there’s not an entity in the world that keeps track of ventilator needs and surpluses. Most countries are quick to ask for additional ventilators to fulfil their needs, but they’re slow to give out ventilators when cases are declining and there’s a surplus. I would like to see a collaboration on a global level that addresses this issue.
EF: How do you think digital technology and data sharing would contribute to a more conducive, collaborative approach?
FO: Data is an enabler. We’ve been lucky in Latin America to receive data from other countries that have been exposed to Covid-19 earlier than us. By learning how other countries have had to deal with different stages of the pandemic, we should aim to ensure every pandemic cycle is dealt with better, safer, faster, and more efficiently. Data is critical in making the right decisions, not only for a country but also for an organization. We are sharing the data we have and communicating the positions that data has informed with everyone in our company.
EF: Could you provide some facts and figures about Medtronic’s operations in Mexico? What do you hope to achieve in a post-covid environment?
FO: In the last 4-5 years, we have been growing double digits mainly resulting from the strategy of developing the market conditions. Our strategy was paying off because we have a commitment to the country and the region even before covid-19. I’m still planning to do the same. In the end, the structural problems of the Mexican health system will remain the same or worsen, and they will need help from companies like Medtronic. At this point in time, we plan on continuing our investments and leveraging the development of market and infrastructure, training of doctors, technological innovations, and new product launches. This will continue to be our mandate and will resume as soon as this pandemic has passed. There’s no need to re-calibrate our long term strategy for Mexico.
EF: What are some of the key areas you are focusing on for Mexico?
FO: One major focus is access for which we have a 4 pillar strategy:
1. We need to continue developing talent. Human capital is essential in advancing healthcare. Of course, we need a sufficient number of healthcare workers, but the quality of training also matters in order to effectively and efficiently operate different systems.
2. We need to continue building infrastructure. Mexico is very far from where we should be in many aspects, particularly in medical technologies. Access to standard equipment like X-rays, CT, etc. have been poor. We are collaborating with many different players in the market to develop the infrastructure and availability so that patients can receive treatment.
3. We are continuing to develop new financing strategies. We are creating market appropriate financing strategies to ensure that people have access to our technologies and are not limited by the cost. On the government side, we also help to inform them where they need to invest. We inform them about chronic diseases like renal disease, obesity, and diabetes to ensure that investments are funnelled into those priorities.
4. We are creating innovative and efficient business models. This involves new market trends like digitalization and remote monitoring. Being in the medical device sector, we have the luxury of being connected with these technologies, and it’s a good time to transform the quality of care in using these technologies.
These 4 pillars have been our priorities and will continue to be our priorities.
EF: Covid-19 seems to have accelerated the digital transformation of many companies with an increased focus on home care and work-from-home models. What is your take on the potential of digital technology in the healthcare sector?
FO: It is the right time to accelerate and seize digital transformation. Now that we have travel bans and social distancing, it’s imperative to use technologies like remote monitoring for patients with cardiac rhythm failure. There’s no reason to bring a patient from Chihuahua to Mexico City for a check-up if we can do it remotely. There are many enabling factors like a favourable regulatory environment that makes it opportune and necessary to become increasingly more digital.