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EF: If health had its own COP26 and you were a speaker, what would be your message to world leaders?
VP: The future of the pharma industry is heading towards in vitro gene therapies and personalized medicine. There is evolution and development in personalized treatments already being done with Covid, and there are specialized treatments for the different afflictions of each patient. The Covid vaccines with mRNA technology can be easily adjusted to various illnesses. Big companies are still offering massive treatments, manufacturing vast quantities of the same product, but there are different levels of treatment. There is an opportunity to treat patients individually using molecular biology even if it would be a bit more expensive. I have a PhD in molecular biology and cellular biology, specializing in virology, and I think we are headed to target what each patient needs specifically. Biotech companies have started producing new bio-molecular products, coming closer to individual-based treatments, and working on the patient's body cells. Since patient centricity has taken over in terms of getting access to patients, pharma companies offer suitable therapies for a specific patient through innovation. This is already the case at Ferring with some fertility treatments adjusted to patient needs.
EF: What was your self-imposed mission when appointed General Manager of North Latin America?
VP: I set out to secure my current position and the team's and my future together. So far, my Ferring experience has been extremely intense, opening new affiliates and organizing marketing and sales activities in different countries. I first worked in Mexico till 2010, then in Miami for eight years, opening a regional office for the Latin America Distributor Network. Then, I delocalized the office in Bogota, with the mission to open a new affiliate in Bogota, it has been a rich experience of intrapreneurship. My main concern has been the people I have been nurturing for the future of Ferring; now, many of them have been relocated to Ferring companies in the Southern Cone and here in Mexico for the North of Latin America Region. It has been intense since my arrival with the Covid crisis and leading a new organization. I have worked in different countries, and other models, so readapting to Mexico is taking some time. In summarizing my mission was to finalize the new structure and to have a successful year in engagement and results. Listening to and understanding the Mexican employees and business model was the first thing to do. I am also in charge of the Caribbean and Central America, which fortunately I know quite well, but it is the first time I am responsible for the Mexican market. There are many factors to consider, including manufacturing, distribution, marketing & sales, so I still have a lot to learn.
EF: What were the lessons learned from the process of managing a pandemic?
VP: Managing teams during the pandemic means creating engagement thru video conferences, people only see you and listen to you thru devices. Not easy. You need to build trust to create accountability. During the pandemic, I have been listening to people to understand how they work and why they do what they do, taking no action until I knew what I was doing. My first step was to meet the 90 employees face-to-face, people of the plant and the commercial and administrative office, and I took my time about it, giving each person 20 to 30 minutes as I wanted to understand their perception of the change in Ferring and also their motivation. Then I went into the field with the sales force, which was a bit complex due to Covid, but we had to talk and be together, so coming back to the office was imperative. I asked everybody that once they were vaccinated, the kids were back at school and free of home responsibilities to come back to the office to work together to build trust and set the building blocks for a successful and long working relationship. When I start a new appointment, people are my priority, and they must come first. I feel I am neglecting my responsibilities if I don't start by understanding the organization. I need employees to trust me and work with me so, from the first meeting, I was very clear on who they are working with, why I am at Ferring, and why I joined the company eleven years ago. To create trust and transparency, I started sharing personal information including about my family. I don't have a classical family; I have a husband and two children born from surrogacy - two Ferring babies, meaning that we used Ferring products for the fertility process- as a source of my engagement with Ferring and in actions to give access to fertility programs.
EF: What learnings have you achieved from a failure?
VP: I faced many failures in my life and it has always been a source of learning. For instance, when you start in a new position with limited experience in the role, you try to mitigate between ambitious budget by ambition and the reality of the market. It is easy to be over-optimistic in business and to overestimate your abilities. In management, I think I have learned a lot by being humbler and avoiding management errors with my team.
EF: Considering you have had a manufacturing plant in Mexico for 20 years, what is the relative importance of the region for Ferring?
VP: Ferring is present in Latin America for many decades, initially working with partners and distributors and then opening affiliates in various countries of the region. Ferring owns 2 manufacturing sites in Argentina and Mexico and 5 affiliates in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico - we do also have a regional distribution HUB service in place in Panama since 2020. Having a plant in Mexico including the Quality and Control Laboratory has been a great advantage to improve the time for delivery for the benefit of patients and to participate in government tenders. In 2018, Ferring Pharmaceuticals opened a nanotechnology centre in São Paulo, Brazil, a local research operating entity, unique in the region. It focused exclusively on nanotechnology research and development and the centre aims to optimize patient care through enhanced drug delivery systems and product solutions.
EF: When you look back on this period in your professional career as a leader, how would you like your tenure to be remembered?
NL: I would like to be remembered as somebody who was able to grow the company, serve and create a new way for the future, find new opportunities for the company, create new jobs and integrate new talented people. I want employees to feel good and happy about working for Ferring. I want them to see me as a good boss that gave them opportunities to grow, creating a virtuous circle within the company. The real impact of my tenure will be on the employees and the patients; they are the ones that will remember me because people remember how they are treated. I would also want my kids to be proud of me, for my husband to be happy with my career, and to have a good family. I would like to impact my professional career and personal life positively.