Read the Conversation

EF: What were your lessons learned in this last very atypical year?

TP: 2020 was a year of transformation for Pierre Fabre with the restructuring of the International Business Unit. As a local subsidiary, we had a change in management in 2020 whereby I was appointed the General Manager of the full subsidiary responsible for Medical Care and Dermo-Cosmetics and Personal Care. 2020 taught us to face reality as a key success factor, address the crisis and fight it. One of the biggest learnings working remotely while restructuring the company was that the well-being of the employees is critical. We had to focus on keeping all staff members connected and monitoring their headspace. We ran an employee wellbeing program for 4 months where we had a local counsellor working with our team on mental health. I was restructuring the subsidiary, and the senior management of the organization played a pivotal role in having one direction and one idea, which really assisted in terms of getting that message across. We had to be creative in our outlook, moving from having a fixed budget to adapting to a rolling forecast as the environment went unstable and we had to balance the P&L through 2020. All our three divisions got impacted: medical care, consumer care, and dermo-cosmetics, and after a decline in the first two quarters, we did a lot of catching up in the last two quarters. 2020 taught us that when we see data, we need to learn from it, adapt every time our ambitions, our ways of working as soon as possible in order to keep our competitive edge. The role of e-commerce was an area we hadn’t really played in the past and we had to focus on its development. This year, technology is one of our top priorities. Developing an e-commerce strategy within the South African context. 

EF: With the pandemic, the focus is currently on communicable diseases. However, non-communicable diseases must not be neglected. How can we restore the importance of Chronic diseases? 

TP: We have always been privileged in having face-to-face interactions with health practitioners, and that dimension has really changed into a very integrated communication channel. It is all about maximizing our portfolio to conform to the new communication channels so different from the past. We must find a way to deliver to the health practitioners what they need, supply relevant information, and provide immediate access. Now, the interaction is virtual and health practitioners have a crowded agenda with online calls and webinars. Really understanding the requirements of the health practitioners is critical to the physician’s journey. With this, you can then reinforce the importance of non-communicable diseases. 

EF: How fast was the adoption of Pierre Fabre’s team to the digital mode? 

TP: I am very proud of being part of an organization with a long-standing team. 85% of our sales team has been with us longer than five years. This was clearly an advantage to get through the pandemic, as our team had 5 years’ worth of healthy relationships and we are one small step ahead of companies that have been in the industry for a year as it is about leveraging those relationships to get access to the healthcare practitioners.

 From a sales process perspective, our team benefited from shifting to instant messaging and calling using mobile phones. We also developed various forms of multimedia communications to stand out, and we are very active on social platforms, which helped us to relate. Moreover, we developed new material that the team distributed to relevant health practitioners using consumer-friendly communication channels. We also took advantage of virtual meetings and organized online conferences and webinars, which proved to be fruitful, as health practitioners could engage in an easier more efficient way. It is clear that technology has come here to stay and re-shape the way we relate with each other.

EF: How do you see the pharma companies of the future and what sort of shift do you see coming?

TP: The transformation of teams will be quite diverse. In time, face-to-face interactions will be at a minimum, and the companies will have to manage their sales force effectiveness changing this aspect of the industry. Covid-19 has pushed National Health into its next phase, and co-sharing between private and public will happen, the interactions in co-sharing are already a reality with public patients being treated in private facilities purely due to the lack of beds in the public hospitals. It will be interesting to see how it will develop as this situation has catapulted the implementation of National Health. The public and private sectors have always been separated in South Africa but since Covid-19, there has been a change of mindset, and it is comforting to see them working together.

EF: Looking back from 5 years down the road, what would you like your 2020 tenure to be remembered for?

TP: Employee engagement has become a vital pillar of conversation in most companies. How we engage with our employees and create a culture of feedback needed to understand the requirements of the staff, and which the management team will have to transform to create actual plans going forward to better engage. I want my tenure to be remembered as how resilience and adaptability are vital to continue managing and driving change. One should not fear change, because it is leading you to a new beginning. Change management is now tangible and as leaders, we have to adapt, change and understand the interaction between all the main leaders inside our teams making decisions as it is no longer about the general manager and telling everybody what to do. Whatever I do must have an impact on healthcare and on patients, not only through the supply of medicines but through supporting the healthcare system. 

EF: Because of the ownership and organization of Pierre Fabre, do you think you have a competitive advantage in leadership over other companies? 

TP: The organization and leadership do speak to the backend of employee wellbeing. In 2020, we rebranded the purpose statement of PF and it is about the people being the heart of the business. The context of our purpose is that we believe every time we care for a single person, we make the whole world a better place, and that is exactly what PF stands for. The impact we make is so much for the better. 

EF: Do you have anything new to add on access? 

TP: Access is about being able to bring the best of our medicine, to each and every person, however, the definition of access may be vastly different from someone in an urban area versus that of someone in a rural area. With the SEP pricing system, access can be very difficult in South Africa, we don’t have the flexibility other international markets have to rebate and discount or have the flexibility to offer the needed healthcare to patients. In other countries, there is a published price and the rebate price whereas we have only the published price which puts us at a bit of risk in terms of launching innovative products because the price isn’t flexible. Our biggest issue with access is trying to overcome the fixed pricing of SEP. 

EF: Do you think the pandemic will reopen a conversation on the pricing structure? 

TP: We are already seeing changes in the pricing models for the vaccination where there is a variation between prices in vaccination for the private and the public sector, and that alone is quite a drastic mindset change. We would like to work on a rebate system to supply and support those oncology patients that can’t afford top-tier health insurance and therefore don’t have access to innovative drugs.

EF: Is there any final message you would like to share? 

TP: I believe our company has become very valuable at a time like the present at PF we have fundamental pillars

 i) Innovation: every time we innovate, to help each person live better.

ii) Naturality: Every time we repay nature for her treasures; we have found that consumers have become very much aware of what they are using, especially on the personal care side of the business searchers and website visitors want to know what is in their product of choice –all our products have a natural core including our oncology drugs- which incorporates the concept of repaying nature for what she gives us, 

iii) Sharing: Every time we share the fruit of our effort with those working and living beside us; sharing is a basic inclination in us all, we share within the company and with the people, we live with. 

iv) Pierre Fabre Foundation: Every time the PF Foundation improves access to healthcare for those most in need. 

These pillars, Innovation, Naturality, Sharing and the Pierre Fabre Foundation are vital and I believe in PF´s purpose statement has enabled us to move forward in a Covid context. We believe every time we care for a single person we make the whole world better.

Leadership for me is about leading from behind as opposed to leading from the front; it is about being the one at the back keeping everybody moving forward. With Covid, there has been a lot of entrepreneurial spirit that must be developed because we can no longer think in a fixed way and how we have always done things, it’s about being adaptable, trying to change things, and finding the best way to do things to advance to the next phase. COVID situation will ultimately offer opportunities to open-minded managers and sales representatives with an entrepreneurial mindset.

February 2021
South Africa