Read the Conversation

EF: We are still within the first 100 days of a new administration that has said healthcare will be a priority; what would be your advice to ensure that healthcare is a pillar for the next 6 years? 

KF: There are many factors involved: the quality of the medication, supply and distribution, corruption, and the debate regarding the roles of national companies versus international based companies in Mexico. High technology and innovative medicines are very costly for the average Mexican, and only a small percentage of the population can afford them. The announcement of closing Seguro Popular is worrisome. There is room for improvement, but it has done a lot of good, and the numbers do not lie. Infant mortality, for example, has been reduced dramatically, especially in cases of leukaemia—from 30% to 1%. Before Seguro Popular more than 30% of infant patients undergoing leukaemia died because there was no available treatment or because treatment was not delivered. It is really amazing what Seguro Popular has done in specific regions, hospitals and therapeutic areas. So I am not sure that shutting it down is the correct decision, and I am not too sure that unifying all the government institutions is the correct pathway, either. I don’t believe in dismantling the system as a whole—of course it needs a lot of reshaping and a lot of work—but the starting point is not zero. The perspective from some of the present authorities is that they have to start from scratch and for me this a contradiction; you don’t have to throw away the positives. 

EF: There’s an old project-management adage known as the Iron Triangle: “Fast, good, or cheap. Pick two.” In other words, you can have it fast and good, but it’ll be expensive; you can have it fast and cheap, but it’ll be low quality; you can have it good and cheap, but it’ll take forever. Which two would you pick?

RP: I would go for good and fast, because cheap in third world countries is immediately associated with poor quality goods. It is comparable to when 50 years ago Chinese goods were considered bad quality in supermarkets, something which is no longer the case as China has invested a lot in technology, but the bet was placed 20 years ago, and they have worked hard as did the Japanese did after the Second World War, investing money and resources, and as a result, today we can trust Chinese goods. Other players want to come into the country with lower prices, but I don’t feel very comfortable with the quality of the goods they are delivering.

EF: What are some key learning points you can import from other markets in Latin America—and vice versa, that you can take from Mexico to the affiliates?

RP: In Latin America, we must be very patient because things can change very dramatically and quickly—you never see one year exactly the same as the next! Regardless, I see continued growth for the sector. National companies are rapidly expanding their footprint beyond their natural country borders. The game plan for 2021/22/23 would be to bond with local players to get a positive entry in the markets. To enter Colombia, for instance, as a Europe-based company, a local partner is necessary. It’s always possible to go solo, but it is very complicated to be successful.

EF: What is something you believe to be true that most people don’t agree with you on?

RP: With regard to human resources, nowadays more than ever we live with different generations and we have to adapt. We are starting a huge transformative project which will reshape the company from the inside. The point that generally is missed is that our clients and future stakeholders are not necessarily speaking the same language—we’re still talking in terms of tools and messages the industry was using 20 or 30 years ago. This could be a reason why we are not so successful as other industries that have taken this into account. As an industry, we have been slower than other sectors in e-commerce and digital commerce.

EF: Could you give an example of crossed lines, miscommunications or opportunities you see to engage with millennials?

RP:  A very basic example is that when we do trade negotiations with any distributor or wholesaler, and we have a senior manager who interfaces with a millennial, there is a generation gap that could interfere with the chemistry which is so important in Latin America as a face-to-face society. I don’t mean that we need to bring in a trendy youngster with a cool pair of shorts to visit the client, but we need to understand what is the correct way to address this new generation that sits on the other side of the desk. I see this in our company, here in Mexico, or in Argentina where we have a very senior manager of 82 years old! 

EF: Healthcare is an attractive sector, it has high technology, it’s science-driven, and there are many dynamic companies; how do you attract the best and brightest to work at Pierre Fabre?

RP:  I don’t think there is an easy response to that question, but every time we bring in young talent we offer the same things we offer everybody coming to work with us. We don’t offer days of a home office because we need to be disciplined, but we do work on internal development plans, workshops, we allow casual attire, and we try to design a career for the new talent. All these youngsters need to be careful about becoming a member of the so-called “human commodity market.” There are probably 150,000 people that could do their same job, so if one quits there is always another one to hire. 15 years ago, I was warning about the risk of having a humanized commodity system, because you lose a lot of continuity and that becomes expensive, especially in therapeutic areas like oncology. 

I don’t believe in top-down leadership; rather, leadership is something you have to work for. And I don’t want to be seen as a vertical leader but as a horizontal one. A leader should work among his people, to know and understand the employee’s problems. It is what I call contextual intelligence—not emotional or objective intelligence—and it is important not to be far away from the people one works with. I like to engage people, not force them, as I want to be part of a success story. We all have the same objective but with different responsibilities. As long as everybody understands this, the company will flow in a much better way, and this can be sensed as people are more lighthearted and have fun. I make sure to spend time with the teams, I go out with the sales reps, with distribution, to visit clients. I already have the hard information, so I dedicate my time to listening and supporting or helping any way I can because truly being part of the team is fundamental.

February 2019