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EF: What is the mission that you set for yourself?
RF: It's a challenging time to be appointed to a new role, especially in a new company where you start everything from scratch. The first mission I set was to be very open about the whole situation, to be extremely flexible, to be open about how we're going to approach this new adventure. I knew it was going to be completely new, not only for me but for my new team as well. The second critical thing was to ensure I engaged the team. The third one was to make the best use of technology. The first part of our journey was around being insightful about the company and the team. During the first three months, I focused on keeping the team engaged. For me, it was quite challenging: because although I knew Latin America, it was the first time that I came to work in Mexico directly. The challenge was double folded: not only I was joining a new company, but I was also moving to a new country.
So, I think those two things, the first one, was openness and flexibility, and the second was the opportunity that I had to learn from my team and build this journey. The second part, the market, bonding and building a successful team, I couldn't do it myself. That was very clear. But then here, the challenge was how to engage them, especially in Mexico, and also across the Latin American region.
EF: What are the lessons learned from these experiences?
RF: The first lesson works in general for the industry; we are very open to innovation when it comes to science and R&D. However, when it comes to the commercial approach to markets, we're not that innovative. It takes us a lot of time to change our paradigms. But the first learning is to put the patient at the centre and find a link between your product and the patient. One of the biggest challenges was to understand the nature of the patient and where we could interact with them. With the new context, patients, physicians, and we were mainly reachable online. It was key to understand it so we could adapt to the situation. Companies that did not understand the new dynamic were not able to succeed. In our case, we started calling our customers to understand their human situation and understand the new dynamics. We realized that patients changed their purchasing behaviours and accommodated our strategy. We also learned that technology had to be used wisely and a balance between technology and human touch was needed.
One of the first things I worked on as I joined Teva and we got into the lockdown, was to see how I could stay closer to my team. I was working remote, so first I started flying over to Mexico and at least be in the same country. We had meetings in open spaces close to my hotel because regulations in Mexico required so at that time.
Finally, I learned we were all patients of this pandemic. Sooner or later, it would impact all of us. And it was not only about the virus itself but also related to mental health and personal lives.
Acceptance and empathy is another big learning from the pandemic. Our teams were at home with their families with all of what sharing a family space entails. The human side of leadership was important learning in all this.
EF: Which two courses would you recommend for a Master’s in Pandemic Administration?
RF: Leadership is the most important skill to have when managing a pandemic. Strategic Growth Planning is another course that I would recommend. Especially when it comes to understanding your plan and being able to adapt it to last-minute changes. When you work in emerging markets, you're used to this, whereas if you are in more established markets, you would normally be more used to long term planning.
EF: How did you ensure business continuity during the pandemic?
RF: We had a strong plan in place to ensure business continuity, not only in Mexico but also globally. Our market research showed us that we were one of the first companies to return to calling on customers and manage to understand the new context. We then shifted to virtual channels, instead of conducting face to face meetings. When I arrived, the objective was to plan how to get back to the marketplace. As we were getting into the second wave of the pandemic, health authorities were updating their regulations. Across the value chain, you could observe different ways of communicating with customers. Several distributors were working face to face, whereas others were working virtually.
We found ways for individuals to feel at ease when performing their work, as well as to ensure their safety. I believe having the right mindset was the most crucial factor. We defined which of our products were helpful during the COVID pandemic peaks. We worked with authorities to define a list of products that we could provide to satisfy the high demand. We also had a variety of products in our portfolio that could assist patients in overcoming sensitive situations at the hospitals.
EF: How can we restore the importance of focusing on chronic diseases?
RF: That is an interesting matter. As an industry, we are working hard to figure out what will be the healthcare trends over the next couple of years. IQVIA suggests governments will have to refocus back on a couple of diseases, consultations will have to start to go back to normal. I was looking at some figures in Latin America, we're still at around 30 to 50% vs pre-pandemic levels. In countries such as Brazil, public consultations are still not taking place more than 50% of the time. Even with priority conditions like cancer, chemotherapies are still in short supply. In Mexico, we need to bring patients back to care. We need to work together between the private and public sectors to achieve this. We can collaborate by providing education, promoting adherence to treatments, increasing access to medicine, working on the delivery channels. Over the next couple of years, partnerships will be critical, both for chronic diseases, non-communicable diseases, and for diseases like COVID-19. In many ways, we will need to ensure that the vaccine gets more available, broader, faster, especially in emerging economies and low-income countries.
It is crucial that public and private healthcare systems work together. I was pleased to learn that in Mexico, Congress is considering how to include telehealth as a practice.
EF: How did your portfolio evolve over these times?
RF: Despite being an old player in the Mexican market, Teva is acting as a new player as we are further developing our market access strategy. We assessed our current product portfolio and the needs in the market. There are specific therapeutic areas of our interest, where we want to grow. I believe focusing on where you want to be is important to succeed. We also understood that since Teva’s network has more than 3000 products that we could select, we were able to deploy a comprehensive strategy that could address specific market needs.
The changes Mexico’s government introduced before the pandemic made us focus on where are the big needs for patients, in both the public and private sectors. Because of our portfolio and network, having generic and innovative products, we had the opportunity to plan the right strategy for the Mexican market. We believe in developing partnerships, like the one we did in Israel with Pfizer to deliver the vaccine. I am proud of the growth plans for our portfolio footprint in the market.
EF: How do you see the role of pharma in recovering the economy in Mexico?
RF: There are multiple ways in which the industry is driving recovery from the economy in Mexico. It's about driving innovation and planning an access strategy program to affordable medication. These are playing a key role in recovering the economy.
The world has changed, and we had to adapt to the new scenario. Healthcare has been revolutionized by technology to tackle this situation, and the market dynamics have changed. Many diseases that were well cared for in 2019 were left behind in 2020 and 2021. A lot of people could not access diagnosis, and several patients with diabetes, cancer and other diseases, unfortunately, could not receive their treatments properly. Now, it is critical to get patients back to care.
Two things are important: The first one is a mix between technology innovation and healthcare. We need to continue thinking about how we can blend technology and innovation to deliver better healthcare. For example, the growth of e-commerce over the past few years for the pharma industry has been substantial. There are markets where e-commerce in the supply of medications have grown up to nine points of the market share when they used to be two points of market share two years back. This is a sign of how we can drive growth into the economy because this is at the expense of 16% growth in the market. The market increased by making the products more available in different channels.
Telehealth, for example, face to face consultations have not recovered yet to pre-pandemic levels. But the number of telehealth consultations is around 40% of the total consultations taking place. If you get back the face to face because the capacity is there, you increase also with telehealth to improve the management of chronic diseases and then you will grow, of course, the basis of the number of consultations that will drive the market. Now, the key issue would be access to affordable medications and needed medication.
The review of portfolios, bringing in more products into the market, making Latin America more visible in the healthcare map, more visible for innovation.
EF: What is the strategic role of Teva in Mexico to the group?
RF: Currently we are at a turning point in Mexico. There is a lot of work to be done and I am proud to take this role and be part of growing our presence in Mexico. We have the foundational platform now for growing and bringing new products into the market. We also are in the stage of strengthening the capabilities of our teams. We are very highly focused on three main things:
- The first is to consolidate and broaden our portfolio and collaborations across various market areas.
- The second is to better understand the patient journey in Mexico, which varies severely, depending on where you stand whether it is private or public. Teva is working a lot in understanding and supporting different patient initiatives.
- The third one is ensuring an integrated approach to the market. Integrity is about our people, the organizational culture, how we live our values. It is also about the role you play; we must make sure we are true partners in health, ensuring patient’s health. We believe that founding in very strong ethical values our business is critical to achieving the second and the first goals just mentioned
EF: Five years from now, when you look back, how would you like to be remembered?
RF: I would like to be remembered as a transformational leader. To transform the way we approach the market, we need to understand it first and learn the dynamics. These last two years were all about understanding the true nature of humankind. No one that isolated himself would have gotten to the place we are now. Working as a team was key. I want to be remembered as a leader that drove transformation in Mexico with a human approach and being patient-centric.