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EF: How was the transition to working remotely and what have been the lessons learned from the pandemic?

LRP: The message to my team was to cover all areas of work even though we are not in the same space working together, we had to learn a new of working, meeting deadlines, and accomplishing goals. We have a lot of software and solutions I had been encouraging my team to make use of even before the pandemic and then we had no option but to start using them.  Personally, I prefer face-to-face contact or chats, finding that contact easier faster, more direct, and efficient. In January of this year, our office contract finished and we were looking for new offices and when we were very close to signing the contract, the pandemic arrived and we stopped our negotiations. Right now we don’t have offices -we are the only region of the company in LatAm that doesn’t have an office to go back to. This has benefits in savings and the added value of avoiding the Bogota traffic -the worst of Latin America- for our people, saving 2 hours every day not having to commute and they are working very hard from home. We plan to go back in February to an office and see the team behaviour on a flexible schedule working on a 3x2 schedule which means 3 days in the office and two days from home and go adjusting the team and business as needed. It will be a bit of an experiment, collecting data to see how to continue as the size of the office will depend on how many people we have working there. We won’t do 100% home office as interaction will be necessary.

EF: Could you elaborate on the business Aspen has in Colombia? 

LRP: Our main business is with hospitals and we are very big in anaesthetics. In some brands, we are the world’s top 10 in sales, something which doesn’t usually happen in the Latin American pharma industry, so it is quite an achievement for Colombia. Other than anaesthetics, which is a major part of our business as we have a 75% market share in one product and in a few others, we are also leaders with a 40% market share as well as a thrombosis business. Two-thirds of our business is with hospitals and one-third is in retail. For Peru and Ecuador, which I also manage, it is the other way around -more retail than hospital business- but we are developing the anaesthetic business which is growing very rapidly. Due to the pandemic which caused issues in the supply chain, May and June were very difficult months but since July and August, the situation has massively improved and we have grown. So despite the pandemic, it has been a good year for us in terms of sales, even if some brands haven’t performed that well. 

EF: How is it to virtually manage not only Colombia but Peru and Ecuador as well?

LRP: Before the pandemic and at the beginning of my tenure, I was travelling a lot to both Peru and Ecuador so after practically living in an aeroplane, this year things have changed very drastically.  We are all virtually very connected regardless of the actual distance between us. Most of our people work from home so when we have to make an announcement, we make sure everybody gets the information at the same time. Regardless of where our employees are, they all have the same information at the same time.  

EF: What was your given mission when appointed a year and a half ago? 

LRP: In Aspen, finance is the main driver and management rules are simple, we have to deliver our ratios in terms of sales, OPEX, and expenses but otherwise, we have a free hand to work. In Colombia and the region, we had a few issues with high expenses mainly due to the original company’s organization which required a lot of administrative work but we have done a very good job cutting back expenses and we were already in a good position when the pandemic broke out. My first given mission was to cut back expenses, my second was the alignment of Aspen´s different areas which we have done to the extent where we no longer have divisions and the feedback we have received from the top management was that they don’t see any difference -receiving the same message- when talking to a person from Colombia, Peru or Ecuador so our alignment has been successful. My third mission is to keep the Aspen business growing and to that end, we are looking at physicians and for deals in the region. I hope in the near future we will be managing new brands. We follow the Aspen culture and narrative to achieve integration through company values. When we got the anaesthetic business from GSK, only three countries in the world received their people: Kenya, China, and Colombia. We were the first to receive the business and we worked very smoothly and successfully with the GSK team. 

EF: What would be your advice on managing the resource allocations between chronic and communicable diseases? 

LRP: With the world's present reality, it isn't an easy task. For example, we have brands that are selling very well due to the present situation and other brands that are not doing that well but even so, service must be given to the physicians, clinics, and hospitals so regardless, we need to invest in all our brands. We also have brands that used to perform very well so it is not easy to balance the portfolio because when we finally get to the next new normal, those brands should start growing again and sell at the levels they had pre-pandemic. We cannot lose their positioning or the physicians, so we have to invest in the brands that are not doing so well at the moment. As a result, we are investing in the brands that are doing well and working on recovering the brands that aren't. The biggest issue we face right now is the supply chain which is affecting other companies as well because plants cannot deliver all the units we need as a result of the pandemic. However, we are doing our best and in some brands, we have very high sales.

EF: How do you see the adoption of technology in Colombia?

LRP: LatAm, generally speaking, is understood to be behind the US and Europe but I am not sure that is so. Some years back when a new iPhone was launched in the US, it took two years to get to Latin America whereas today, a new iPhone is in the region within a month's time. I think the idea of 'being behind" is speaking more of a mindset than the reality of the situation. We are embracing the digital transformation within the company, we are digitizing all our files and moving on to think of ourselves as a paperless company; it is not an immediate process, but we are working on this new mindset. We also have plans to work with a partner to make our business digital, both internally and externally. We are already experimenting with new ways of communicating with our physicians through digital software and not through workshops, congresses, and dinners, which was our standard practice. With my team, we are working on making our interaction with our stakeholders more efficient, delivering short and to the point messages, even doing podcasts, something we have never done before. We are embracing digital for our customers using the exact necessary information, internally sharing files which 2 or 3 people can work on at the same time so we have become more efficient internally as well. We are not a multinational which is strong on processes but we have been advised to explore our digital capabilities. We are doing an internal survey to understand each person’s digital capabilities and to see what level we are as an organization to make us more efficient.

EF: What would you like 2020 to be remembered for? 

LRP: It will be remembered for solving situations from our homes in a way that we never thought possible in the past, not only related to work but in all areas of our lives. I think 2020 has changed the concept of being at home, people have learned to enjoy spending time at home, sharing time with family and friends especially in LatAm where we are in general more family-oriented. In business, the biggest change in management is that we have learned to trust that our employees are at home and working on solving company issues. To do home office or flexible hours there has to be trust and trust must be earned and delivered and our people have understood this message and have no problem delivering on time. Finally, I guess the other big difference is that we will all take better care of ourselves from now on, people will be more aware of their personal health and our future interactions will be different. 

December 2020