Read the Conversation
EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccinations. What do you think 2022 will be the year of?
VK: 2022 will be the year of understanding the importance of health and having health as a priority in the government's plan. It will be a year of collaboration between every stakeholder in the sector to improve the health system and develop better solutions and opportunities for patients. It will be the year when innovation will be truly valued. Without innovation, we wouldn't have been able to find vaccines as fast as we did.
EF: How can we restore the importance of non-communicable diseases in a world focused on Communicable diseases?
VK: It is important to develop prevention campaigns and increase people's awareness of the importance of attending to their physicians, getting checked regularly, and having them better understand symptoms and signs. Also, to work with insurance companies to ensure patients are brought in for care. Seeing prevalence numbers in different diseases shows that we have a lot of opportunities to improve our diagnosis and patients' treatments in diabetic, multiple sclerosis, and oncology patients.
EF: What trends have you seen in the different divisions throughout these past years?
VK: We have three different divisions, life sciences, mostly focused on research and innovation behind local and global manufacturing of vaccines and electronics. The healthcare division has seen a big improvement in access after the basic list update, which included lots of products in the basic list and has brought better opportunities for better treatment and better financial system sustainability if collaborations with the academy, government, and private associations continue.
EF: How do you see this collaboration spirit moving forward in Colombia?
VK: Collaborations in Colombia got popular during the pandemic. Different private or public sectors were organized and planned to focus on caring for patients by putting resources together in favour of citizens. The starting point and the strong associations we have, with real common goals in the way we want to see health care in the future, have a strong connecting factor that's heavily aided in our collaboration with these different entities. In Colombia, there is a mindset of creating equivalent access for all citizens that's yet to be seen in other countries.
EF: Could you elaborate on the Mpodera Program and Merck's role in it?
VK: I am a volunteer of Mpodera, and Merck is currently collaborating with communications in all of Latin America. Mpodera is a woman-led organization working with women at different levels in Colombia, as 70% of healthcare participants are women, and their influence is much more important than what we can see in the front rows. Looking into healthcare practitioners or people doing investigations is a growing area in the women's participation section. Today, women have a key role in the sector, as they are caregivers taking care of citizens. We are showcasing the importance of prevention and treatments and how it relates to being a healthier person who will be productive for much longer and be able to give back to society.
EF: What advice would you give women interested in working in your type of role?
VK: Women should take the initiative and go for what they want. I believe we've come a long way with the different types of leadership, and we see more women in leadership roles now. The mindset of how we see talent is changing. Obviously, talent is not gender-based, and it is important to create the space for talent to be showcased. A key point is having diverse and inclusive environments for work that are open to making new cultures and allowing people to work with the intention of giving the best o themselves.
EF: Is there a new product or something you're excited about on the pipeline coming in for Colombia?
VK: We have a very strong product in the pipeline for multiple sclerosis. There's still a lot to do for those patients to have the best quality of life possible, as this is degenerative. Bringing more options to increase and prolong that quality of life is very important.
In oncology, we have new products and an interesting pipeline, and the key is to collaborate with the government, insurance companies, and other stakeholders to diagnose and treat early. Time is an important variable that should be considered when defining treatments. Earlier treatments can bring a significant difference in the quality and longevity of life of an oncologic patient.
We also play an important role in fertility by bringing more babies to the world and bringing modern solutions and options to old and young women interested in having a family in the future, such as family planning and egg freezing. This will also impact the demographics and evolution of society, as we need babies to take care of our older population in the future. At the same time, we need productive people to work and keep the economy going after giving birth. This is a franchise we believe will be more important in the future.
We also have diabetic and cardiometabolic products, which are therapeutic areas that strongly impact society. Despite growing awareness of the importance of treatment adherence, there is still more work to be done.
EF: What do you see the role of healthcare being in developing the economy in Colombia?
VK: The role of healthcare must be on every government plan as it's not only about patients organizing the health system but speaking about the country's future. Healthcare must be at the top of the agenda if you want an active working society. How we articulate that and get people the right treatment at the right time must be a collaboration between the pharma industry and the community.
We have a very clear mindset in Merck of working for human progress, and we relate that to the sustainable development of the UN to create sustainable value chains in the future that diminish the carbon footprint as well. We believe they make a better future for humanity. We do everything by placing the patient at the centre and understanding their needs. It's about human progress and the role that we want to play as Merck in that process.
EF: If you advocated for health in Latam to world leaders, what message would you send?
VK: It is important not to underestimate the importance of healthcare for Human evolution and the economic and social evolution of the world. Creating sustainable value chains and reducing carbon footprint to ensure that future generations continue to have healthy lives. Not only in health but also in, but also economics; how health relates to economics is much more important than we think.
EF: What advice would you give to the new administration in Colombia?
VK: Merck has been around globally for more than 350 years, and this is our 65th year in Colombia, and we have a very strong footprint so let's continue the conversations and sit at the same table with the government, the industry, the academy, and the different associations as that's the best we can do. Because if we do that, we will be able to continue to improve the health system in Colombia, which is already very good compared to many other countries but needs to continue improving the opportunities we have there as we continue working together.
EF: What skill sets do you think are the most important now for young and old employees?
VK: A curious mind. When you speak about curiosity, you talk about every person's impact on the company. When I say the impact, it's not only what we do, how we do it and why we do it, but it is creating an impact on the patients, the health system, and the society we live in. We also look for a digitalized person who utilizes not just old data but present data to get results as everything is connected today. A person that's alert to what's going on around us and understands the impact that we can generate.
When I look at the future of Merck, for example, the hybrid system, the way we will work in the future is no longer about the pandemic but because this is how we want to work. The flexible work that we want for the future accommodates the needs of our employees. The happier you are, the better you are with yourself, and the more productive you are. At work, we understand that, and we work towards that. If we want to attract talent, we must have the best policy for our employees to create the best impact on society and bring their best to work.
EF: Could you elaborate on Merck's high-impact culture?
VK: We have a high-impact culture with six very well-defined objectives for which we are all owners. We are focused on customers and patients and how we bring them value and a better experience. This will ensure each of us makes the most of what we do, and we will bring luck to what we do. We also speak about improving ourselves, being digitally innovative and curious, and being able to discuss and disagree professionally.
EF: What skillsets are needed for new leaders to manage pharma companies in an analogue or digital world?
VK: Leadership is not about hierarchies but more about being a facilitator with your team. Work collaboratively with your team, create that network with the government and associations, and actively participate by making yourself available. Also, networking skillsets as leadership is about being flexible, alert of what's going on, taking very good care of your teams, and working side by side with them while having the ability to understand the context inside and out and being a facilitator for people to give their best in their different positions.
EF: What decisions are you taking today that you see will impact 10 years down the line?
VK: I believe that building a high-performance team where every team member understands the impact they have in their role and, at the same time, can work together to add value every day is something that stays for the future. Those conversations are key to having a better future when you're sitting at the table with different associations and the government.
A good example is Colombia's conversations regarding COVID that were articulated in different discussion tables with the private and public sectors to understand better what was better for society. It's not an individual contribution. It's not just the industry contribution. It's being able to sit and articulate at the same table.
EF: Seeing that Merck will be celebrating 65 years of providing access to innovation, what will you say when giving your speech to your team this year?
VK: Impact. When we speak about being obsessed with customers and patients, whatever we do is because we will have a stronger and deeper footprint in improving lives and working for human progress. The conversations we have with our team are creating an impact. We understand that if it's not creating an effect, let's not do it. Let's use our energy to make better things every day for our patients and society.
To this end, we work every day to have better KPIs. We look at them using different time perspectives, as when you look at the short, mid, and long-term measurements, you can measure the impact.
EF: Five years from now, what do you want to be remembered?
VK: For me, the legacy would be people who remember me helping them improve impact and feeling that during my time, they had a better life, professionally and personally, and that I helped them create this high-performance team and facilitated and helped develop them as a team.