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EF: Six months after you were appointed the pandemic came into play, what was Novartis role during this last very atypical year?
GC: At a global level, Novartis is today highly focused in contributing to the manufacturing of some of the available vaccines; we have agreements to assemble the PFIZER BioNTech vaccine and a commitment with CureVac to produce 50 million doses in 2021 and 200 million doses in 2022. Novartis is also focused on taking care of the employees, on business continuity and looking for new ways of engagement and investment. In Colombia specifically we moved to protect our associates in the country giving them the possibility to continue working and maintain their businesses and we looked for ways of adapting and adjusting the way we did business. Taking care of our employees meant taking care of both their mental and physical health and we did this by creating different spaces for them with psychologists, giving parents the time and opportunity to look after their children, cook, do homeschooling, we avoided scheduling meetings at certain times, we extended the lunch hour and made the agenda and the days shorter. The company launched the “Choice with Responsibility” program where employees could choose to stay home even today when we are trying again to work from the office –which might not be possible with a new quarantine looming- and we provided work elements for the employees to work from home to have business continuity. But business continuity involves more than providing supplies to work from home, it is about taking care of the home ergonomics, about the time and dedication of working at home, including what we call ´Energized for life´, which entails having a break to do some exercises, stretch, take a moment and then go back to work. I think the pandemic accelerated the need to reinvent ourselves, as we speak we are transforming, reinventing ourselves moving into the execution of the new way of doing business. Colombia is an example of how successful we have been in the past, growing double digits per year, but in spite of our success , we look for long term sustainability, therefore we need to change and evolve.
EF: What were the lessons learnt from the pandemic, leading remotely for example?
GC: One of the main lessons was the importance of communicating with our teams and employees. There has been anxiety, volatility, people scared of losing their jobs and addressing the concerns has been crucial. Our Global CEO promised employees they would not lose their jobs due to Covid. The second learning was understanding we have to be prepared for these kinds of events moving forward, so the lesson is there is urgency and change is the only constant, and now we incorporate change to our analysis on a daily basis. The pharma industry had been stable for a long time and now after the pandemic, we move forward in a state of permanent change. The third learning was that our pre-pandemic efforts of investing in multi-channel engagement, digital transformation and creating capabilities to improve allowed us to move faster during the pandemic and now we are using the platforms we created. The final lesson was about learning skills, we were not prepared for the changes the pandemic brought and we have had to analyze what we should be looking for in the new roles and responsibilities of our people, our reaction to the trends and changes and what we had in-house. We had to develop different capabilities, hire people with different skills; Today we are hiring people from completely different industries to help us make the transformation.
EF: What is your pitch to attract new talent to the sector and make it “sexy” for them?
GC: When I am looking for talent, I look to understand the drivers and motivations. I have found that people looking to join Novartis are very interested in the culture of transformation which is exactly what we are doing globally but also here in Colombia. They find our company culture attractive; they like how the leadership interacts with the employees, they like the fact we invest big time in R&D, that Novartis is moving away from the traditional way of treating the different diseases, they like our gene-based therapies as well as the platforms that allow to give the patients their own modified cells back, that is cellular engineering, and the positive outcomes we produce. The big attraction is our passion, our cultural transformation, our image and our reputation. 32% of Colombia’s employees are millennials and to them engaged, motivated and happy they need to be empowered. Novartis’ culture is about being curious, inspired and empowered. Our CEO always reminds us that we are here to fail fast and to propose new and better ways of learning and solving problems. The company culture keeps motivation high, pushes everyone to be the best they can be, and I think this our recipe for our success. We have a purpose in service, commitment and engagement; we track and evaluate progress through the group and team leaders to give feedback as a feedforward on a monthly or quarterly basis, making sure they are constantly engaged, all as part of our transformation.
EF: Could you elaborate on Novartis’s footprint in Colombia, its relevance, and contribution to the country?
GC: We have an opportunity to drive better participation in clinical trials; Colombia has 50 million inhabitants and it´s the opportunity to have better participation. Novartis is the second company in trials in Colombia, but compared to other countries from within Novartis, there is room for growth. We are working with the government, academia, and with other companies to promote investigation in the country. We have just developed two programs with different platforms, one is designed specifically for trials and the second is an 8 year plan on how to innovate and how to improve our participation in trials. The spillover of Clinical trials is clear: providing early access, and local data to compare with global trends. For this, we need to improve approval times to allow for innovation and improve and facilitate research. Getting clinical trials in Colombia is the way to better position our country to get access to innovation faster and with a better regulatory and legal framework that supports new therapies.
Access to innovation is another area that we must work on; Colombia used to be a reference country in matters such as approval times for new molecules, treatments indications and access to innovation, Colombia has a good healthcare system, one of the best in Latin America but in the last few years access to innovation has become slower and we are now behind other countries, not only in terms of timing but as well on a regulatory framework to support the adoption of cutting-edge technologies. We need to catch up and to do this we are having conversations with the government, talking with the private industries, working on agreements to improve access to innovation and to improve the lives of Colombians which is common ground for us all.
We have no framework for gene therapies so we are working with the authorities not only for them to be aware they exist but to offer help and support on whatever needed locally for Colombia to be on equal footing with other countries in this aspect. I am very proud of the fact that Novartis Colombia is a pilot country in business transformation making a 180º shift to the new way of doing things. Colombia is the right size for a pilot program and allows for it to be presented in a positive light.
We also drive efforts in increasing our social responsibility spillover in Colombia. Initiatives such as contributing in the aftermath of the hurricane San Andres, reducing our carbon footprint equivalent to 1 million tons of carbon dioxide by planting 3600 acres of trees and our contribution to the “Programa de la Primera Dama de la Nación” are some of the ones I am most proud of. But also, in the context of Covid, we did donations to different hospitals and clinics, provided masks and protection for health workers and we donated a big number of food supplies.
EF: Could you outline the main points of the transformation?
GC: We are shifting from “what is in it for NOVARTIS” to “what is in it for the customer”, and it might sound simple but it is a big shift from being internally focused to becoming externally focused. In order to succeed in our customer-centric strategy, we included in our KPIs metrics such as customer engagement and customer satisfaction in addition to the traditional ones. We moved from brand and disease area focus to the development of accounts focusing on what is needed to tailor a solution for each individual account, what is there for each stakeholder, and the journey of each stakeholder around the patient because the only reason we exist is the customer. We offer new ways of engagement: multi-channel engagement and digital transformation, all of which wasn’t possible in the past because for years we looked inwards. Now, the engagement model is different and more attractive to our customers and as we have a couple of global teams tracking our progress. I hope other countries will look to Colombia as an example.
EF: Could you tell us about your cardiovascular program?
GC: The incidence of cardiovascular disease is extremely high in the country and Novartis has the capacity to facilitate not only the diagnosis and treatment of patients but also increase the awareness of the disease not to mention promotion and prevention. Novartis facilitates treatment through a platform with tools and algorithms for the education of physicians and patients and access to treatment. It is a very comprehensive program for diagnostics, access to treatment, promotion, education and prevention. Through this program, we engage differently with our usual stakeholders because we engage with the patient, the scientific societies, the government and the local authorities. An innovative solutions company is working with us so there is a mix of stakeholders all with the same interest, supporting, facilitating and creating the space for this initiative. The reception has been incredible, commitment is huge and we are all very excited about it as it is something that has never been attempted before and has a level of commitment and collaboration from totally different stakeholders, all in aid of a common cause.
EF: What is your personal definition of access?
GC: Access is everything. Access means facilitating, removing barriers either simple or very complex, basically, it is about facilitating, supporting and engaging different stakeholders. Access is the issue, the opportunity and the biggest barrier all at once. Access is collaborating with the government, with private industry, collaborating with academia and scientific society and it is part of the strategy and it can never be removed from the agenda. Access is a complex concept, I have worked in Sweden, dealt with Canada but most of my working experience is in Latin America where access is a very critical issue because the value of innovation is not immediately obvious. Although better patient outcomes are directly connected to innovation this is not obvious to everybody. Even if better outcomes have a higher cost it means saving money in the end because as a result patients are more productive and Sweden and Canada are more focused on the productivity equation whereas we still have a long way to go before we arrive at that concept. We are working towards facilitating and educating what is behind the innovation: better outcomes, a better quality of life and living longer.
EF: Novartis’s purpose is to ‘reimagine medicine’, but how do you reimagine the future NOVARTIS, and what would you like your 2020/2021 tenure to be remembered for?
GC: I would love to be remembered for enabling and facilitating Colombia´s access to innovation and bringing better opportunities for better treatments, it is the right of every Colombian patient to be eligible to receive the best possible treatment for the needed pathology and we work to enable it happening. Novartis works at a global level to achieve this through our business transformation and the latest innovative treatments. Globally we see countries in waves for example Germany, France, and Italy are all wave one, whereas we are seen as wave three and my ambition is to be a wave one country on business transformation and wave two in access on innovation which means innovation comes to the country much earlier for the benefit of the patients.