Read the Conversation
EF: What was your given mission when appointed as Latam Area Leader of Astellas?
SC: I was appointed in February in the context of Astellas pursuing a commercial re-organization initiative at a global level, now, Latin America is a part of our newly created international markets. Our aspiration is that international markets will be a growth driver for Astellas in the different markets of the region. The mission for Latin America is to deliver this growth in the region while expanding Astellas's footprint. We are a Japanese company, our core is rooted in discipline and collaboration and in this spirit, we approach the markets we work in providing access to the innovation we bring to the patients, working collaboratively with the different stakeholders across the region.
EF: What attracted you to work at Astellas?
SC: I find there is something very unique in Japanese culture. The approach they have to stakeholders and governments across the different markets where we participate is impressive and the existing culture of consensus drives projects in a very good way as does the high sense of integrity and ethics in all we do. However, what makes us unique is our collaborative approach. Our approach is something we share with the people we bring to the organization. From the moment we start interviews, we look for people that can work in what we call the “Astellas way”, which is a corporate set of values we follow at Astellas. These are not just pretty words on a website, it is real for us. It is a culture of patient centricity, of openness and collaboration, and of a focus on results achieved through integrity to create changes. We work on being good and on supporting each other. Cross-collaboration is not an empty word, we practice it. The Japanese culture code as a whole was a big part of the attraction to work at Astellas, as was working with a team that was expanding its footprint. We approach our objectives in the same way we work with stakeholders including our business partners, and with a spirit of collaboration and respect for our social objectives, employees, and stakeholders in our region.
EF: What advice would you offer other Latin American leaders who come from a different culture and want to create values of collaboration, integrity, and respect?
SC: For me, the most important way to lead is by example. There isn’t a more powerful strategy than doing what you preach and work every day to be the best leader you can be. In Astellas, I also work in achieving consensus. As a leader, I also practice the aspiration that we have in our region and is our passion for excellence- excellence in all that we do, believing in our people, and creating value for patients and always challenging ourselves to be the best we can do.
EF: As a Japanese company that has a very strategic mindset with long term objectives, how do you balance tactical decisions based on day to day operations to ensure business continuity while dealing with Covid-19?
SC: Ensuring business continuity during a pandemic is a challenge for all of us and there is no magic formula to succeed. We have a responsibility as an organization and we care about our employees, the health system, and the different stakeholders. We are alert and seek to understand what is happening around us to make the right decisions. We need to be very flexible in our approach to customers, and medical society has to be adapted. We also see new advancements coming in, such as telemedicine, that is changing the needs of customers. Historically, the doctor had a face-to-face interaction with each patient and that now has gone to fifteen minutes of focus for each patient´s ailment as well as for the human side of the relationship. We must understand and support how customers, physicians, and patients are coping with this new digital world while balancing the priorities of the business and mitigating the impact of Covid-19. Covid has created an additional barrier within the Latin American healthcare system, so we are focused on providing emphatic solutions for the different interest groups. Our customers and our teams are adapting to this change and my job is to acknowledge all of this, be flexible, and embrace the changes that are needed to adapt to the circumstances. Decisions made must be taken towards your objective, in our case, creating value for patients. We also need to be very attentive to listen and read what is happening in the market and acknowledge that changes are happening fast.
EF: Have you, as Astellas, identified some of the key trends pharma companies will need to advance on? What is the required skill-set for the company of the future?
SC: Operational tools and skills are very important to run the business. To grow strategically, skills that help you read the moment and understand the priorities and urgency will allow you to provide a better outcome for all parties. For example, when ensuring the supply chain, it is crucial not only to know the rules of the market but also have information on new trends such as home delivery. Having increased stock might be important to ensure the security of supply in some of the Latin American countries. The environment needs to be read correctly through a common capability which is the ability to listen and interpret what is happening. We all have different ways of adopting the use of technology and managing our customer-facing roles and for some, it will be easier than for others. People raised in the era of new technologies may find it easier to adapt than the more mature and experienced professionals, as they are better on a hands-on relationship with the customer, but again, we cannot assume this as a rule. The different stakeholders and health systems are suffering and need to optimize to maximize their resources to deploy innovative access solutions. In a situation like the present, chronic patients might get left behind and it is our responsibility to ensure those patients are not left out for long because there will be a cost to pay for all the parties. Another capability to be taken into account is building confidence in the customers and patients so they come back to the system once the healthcare systems of the different countries allow for it. There have been changes like doing digital launches and managing regulatory agencies that are taking up with everything related to Covid-19. There are other additional capabilities more related to soft skills, like understanding, building confidence, and some very hard skills, like innovation, providing access to patients and supporting the concerns in terms of resources, organization, investments and attention for chronic patients. One skill doesn’t work without the other, they complement each other, and the whole is greater than the sum of each skill.
In Latin America, there are countries that before Covid-19, telemedicine was already regulated while others were trying to catch up and some did not have a framework at all. We need to be agile in understanding the circumstances of each of these markets as each one is in a different stage. Even if there are regulations, they might not be implemented or they might not be ruled or they might not have a plan to regulate in some cases. A lot of information and communication is required, as is a dialogue with the Chambers, customers, and organizations across the region to develop knowledge and to try to influence the health agenda. The pharma industry must work together to achieve access for Covid-19 patients but also for chronic patients that are not getting to the system at the moment.
EF: What is the relative importance of both Mexico and Latin America to the newly created international market division you mentioned earlier?
SC: Latin America is very important for international markets, and Astellas has already done fantastic work in the region. There are a variety of healthcare systems with different maturity levels across the region mainly because they are starting to establish their health technology assessment -a good sign in itself. Governments are concerned with increasing coverage and improving access to the population which makes it a very exciting region for Astellas. Mexico occupies a very important position due to the size of its market within international markets. We are very excited about investing in Mexico and setting up our own affiliate with a big team supporting the project, which is quite as challenging due to Covid-19. There are great opportunities to bring innovation to the country, which patients will benefit from. We will also bring in new talent, create employment opportunities, and replicate the Astellas culture within the Mexican culture.
Also, we are moving the Astellas hub in Latin America to Colombia this year and this is good news for Colombia and us, as it is a moment of transformation. We continue to have good partners in the Latin American area so it is a great opportunity for us all to grow together and particularly for the benefit of the healthcare system and our patients. We are members of the different Chambers of R&D across the Latin-American region and we are looking to Latin America as a source of best practices which when added to the passion we invest in our work -yet another characteristic of our uniqueness- we will drive the projects and embrace the changes, in terms of collaboration, patient support programs, patient access initiatives and patient partnerships among others.
EF: What is your definition of access?
SC: Over the years I have deeply considered that question. To me, access is ensuring the right patient gets the right treatment at the right moment. Not all treatments are right for all the patients, so we must work together with the different stakeholders in the healthcare system so that the right patient gets the right treatment they need when they need it. With this view in mind, we contribute to the patients’ health status and have sustainable growth as a company -not just have an outstanding performance here and there but give access to sustainably. The concept of access means working together with all the stakeholders, achieving the expected healthcare outcomes for the patients in a sustainable way for the healthcare system and at the same time, we achieve a responsible and sustainable growth for the organization and all this access.
EF: When you look back on your tenure, what would you like 2020 to be remembered for?
SC: It has been a tough year but we are in a position to lead the transformation at a critical moment for the society, to have stronger teams with a better understanding of all our stakeholders, and to support the implementation of policies critical to the sustainability of the system. Creating a company in Mexico at this time has been challenging due to Covid-19 and if we succeed, despite the limitations, I would like to remember 2020 with my team as to how we rose to the challenge despite the drawbacks we had to face, for getting better insights, for a better understanding of the customer and that we actually made this happen. Transformation means a lot of work and we will have to be resilient, but I have the confidence that we will make it happen; it is not a matter of “if” but more about “how” and “when”.
EF: Is there any final message you would like to share with us?
SC: This is a moment of truth for leaders. We have a responsibility as leaders to instead of complaining, we should dedicate ourselves to understanding better, reacting faster to events, and being socially responsible. To give you an example, we have an initiative in Astellas called "Changing Tomorrow Day" where our employees give back to society in terms of volunteering with various NGOs and we have done this to support different actors of the healthcare system to drive change and transformation within our organization, society, and patient associations. Leadership means service, we are here to serve and we must not forget that we are here to serve patients and to support and serve stakeholders. I serve and support my team internally and must be useful in this situation of crisis. The results are never complete unless something good comes from what we do for society and the country where we operate. The “why” is also very important to have in mind when making a decision to understand the purpose behind that decision and ensure the intent. In Astellas, we are passionate about what we do, we care for each other, and we challenge ourselves to be the best we can be. As a team, we work with excellence and focus on the patient's needs.