Read the Conversation
EF: What was your self-imposed mission for the region when you were appointed General Manager of Glenmark Mexico and Latam in February 2021?
MR: My priorities were safety for my team and creating awareness of the new context. Covid changed the game completely, and we needed to understand and learn the new market dynamics and rules faster than our competitors to stay ahead. My team was very supportive in finding new ways to deal with the situation. Instead of going for the digital approach –which of course, we had to include- we saw it, from the safety of our homes, as a professional and personal challenge at a time of enormous uncertainty. Uncertainty was the name of the game; none of us knew what would happen next. The point of sales took on huge importance because we usually create demand by generating prescriptions, going to the physicians to generate them, and then patients go to the pharmacies to buy the drug. Initially, we had no longer access to the physician, as no prescriptions were being generated. People in need of medication went directly to the point of sale without recipes. I encouraged my team to understand this, be resilient, and try new ideas. We made mistakes and learned from them, and it was all about the opportunity to do things differently, and trust ourselves with new ideas. I used to work in the FMCG industry before my career in Pharma, and I believe it is essential to try out new ideas and ways of working while respecting the legal context and framework provided; we are innovating, having good results, and growing strongly. I am excited about the results; we are number one in market share in some products in Mexico. As FMCG (fast-moving-consumer-goods) have a faster turnover, we dusted out those skills to find new spaces to work. Thinking outside the box, trying to do new things with compliance and within the parameters that needed to be fulfilled.
EF: What are the lessons learned managing through a pandemic?
MR: With all the changes in the context, we had to learn to unlearn and then relearn. I believe the best learnings don't come from the top-down but the bottom-up. I am always in touch with people in the field, sales reps, district managers because they are the ones that are out there in the real world. We went back to basics listening to our people in the field and taking ideas from different places. Our people were in touch with physicians by phone, many have long-term relationships with physicians, and we put the puzzle together. The first learning was going back to basics to ensure strong foundations; there will always be answers going back to basics.
EF: Has your portfolio shifted and evolved, and how can we restore importance to chronic diseases in a communicable disease scenario?
MR: Some therapeutic areas suffered more than others. We have three main areas, respiratory, dermatology, and oncology. Because people with COPD, asthma or allergic rhinitis were afraid of running out of medications, they stocked up, and those products, in a natural way, boosted the respiratory therapeutic area. The challenge was the supply; we have fourteen manufacturing plants in India, and getting the product from India to Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Caribbean was not easy. We had to have enough product to fulfil the demand we were generating, and logistics were complicated; there were fewer or no planes or ships. Other companies had a similar situation, and with the patients in mind, we were on alert to see if they were supplying products or not. The patients must get their medication when and where they are needed. Fortunately, we managed successfully manufacture and supply products. Eventually, the importance of chronic diseases will to a certain extent, be restored. Physicians will have to speak to their patients to emphasize adherence to treatments, a cornerstone for chronic treatments, and we will help them in that fundamental education. Many patients dropped their oncology treatments in the initial stages of the pandemic due to fear of leaving their homes, losing a lot of valuable time. We are already seeing the effect of this neglect, and physicians will play a significant role in the comeback of the chronic disease.
EF: What is pharma's role in accelerating the economic recovery in Latin America?
MR: Since the pandemic, the health sector has played an even more prominent role in investigating, developing, and supporting the worst health crisis in the last century. All the progress managed is mainly due to the health industry, and that progress will help economies recover because hotels, restaurants, and businesses opening up will boost the economy. I was in France a few weeks ago, and life is pretty much back to normal; in the US, masks are not mandatory in closed places, but Latin America is a bit behind and still struggling, but we will get there. Our work enables people to leave their homes which will, in turn, boost the economies not only in Latin America but all over the world. The vaccination plans, treatments, and health developments will help the full recovery of the economy.
EF: What are the new skills you look for when hiring new employees for your company?
MR: Communication is a big part of my style of leadership. I am constantly in touch with people, not just my staff here in Mexico and the other North Latam countries, but with other organizations. When I travel to see the country managers, I take time to walk the street with the sales reps because that is where I get ideas -bottom-up- and that is where the magic happens. When I hire new people for the company, I look for a capacity to adapt to new things and flexibility. In the past, each person had clear-cut responsibilities and worked in one area, but now people work on various topics and are more open-minded. I believe it is best to bring together with different responsibilities together to get new ideas. Two months ago, we spent some time in the Rivera Maya with the Mexican team to plan for the second half of the year. We started by revising what we did right and where we went wrong in the first part of the year, changing and adapting to succeed in the second half. We mixed all the executives up, pharma vigilance, IT, market access, regulatory, commercial, sales, etc., to talk about different issues to get good ideas. An entrepreneurship background is good because they cover many areas and grounds, makes for a dynamic brain and adapts to new challenges. I can learn from this.
EF: Could you elaborate on the experience of launching a new product during a pandemic?
MR: The traditional way of launching a new product was to gather physicians at a convention site or hotel somewhere in the country, organize various stand-alone of key opinion leaders talking about the product, about the new molecule, the availability of the product, and how it will help the patient. They are costly events, providing food and drink, paying tickets for physicians from abroad -the US or Europe- and other international and local opinion leaders. The new launches are digital with the same physicians speaking from their homes. We have included more physicians as it is easier to do so, and we record the event and share it. Since the pandemic, we have recorded 50 or 60 gatherings with physicians, regional meetings, regional key opinion leaders, national meetings with global speakers, and local speakers. It is a different way of launching but targeting the physicians is more effective today than the old way of doing things. The original disadvantage became an advantage as all these small things offered a good launching experience for everybody. I think we will keep this format in the future. Organizing face-to-face activities has a different effect to a digital launch; virtual can replace many things but not the comfort of being in contact with other humans. It was impossible to do a product detailing over the phone in the past, but since then, many doors have been opened. This does not mean digital is replacing people in the field; we are hiring more people and have access through digital to remote places in Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.
EF: When you look back at this period in your professional career, how would you like your tenure to be remembered, considering you navigated a pandemic?
MR: I would like to be remembered as somebody who cared for my people. If people feel safe, they work better. We are now back in the field, starting with healthy people first –with no other diseases- giving them the means to work safely. Our sales reps drive to visit eight or ten physicians and four to six sales points every day, and we train them to conduct themselves safely during the visits. Because they are very exposed, we ensure they have protective suits, masks, alcohol, and spray to work safely at all times. I would also like to be remembered as a person with new ideas, open to trying new things and thinking outside the box. I challenge the status quo by being innovative and willing to take risks with compliance, always prepared to try new things. We launched products during the pandemic, and we are not a big pharmaceutical company. With digitalization, we can do better targeting of physicians and provide them with better content faster.