This is the first in a series of articles examining what it takes to be a country manager of a multinational pharma company in some of the world’s most challenging markets. We start in China, where the heads of Merck, Ipsen, Chiesi, Gedeon Richter and AbbVie’s Chinese affiliates give their insider tips on being successful there.
1. START QUICKLY
Rogier Janssens, general manager biopharma at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in China
Previously in charge of Russian operations, in July 2017 Rogier Janssens was parachuted in as general manager biopharma of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in China. Janssens feels that quickly getting to grips with a market’s key characteristics is crucial to developing a strategic plan for an affiliate. He also notes the significance of being able to network with peers in industry associations.
As GM, you need to get past basic points of difference in the initial onboarding to quickly grasp the characteristics of the market in which you are now based
“China is the sixth country I have lived and worked in and, of course, it is very different from my previous positions in Denmark, Switzerland, the US, Belgium and Russia. However, this is how I like to look at it: yes, the regulatory system is different here – as it is everywhere. The financial system is different – as it is everywhere. The portfolio of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany here is very different as well.”
“As GM, you need to get past these basic points of difference in the initial onboarding to quickly grasp the characteristics of the market in which you are now based. There is a process of meeting with the local leadership teams and getting to know the business. Around six weeks after my arrival, together with the leadership team here, I went to HQ to present our operational plan for the following year.”
“I am deeply convinced that as an industry we face a lot of challenges and opportunities and therefore I seized the opportunity to join the MNC association here, RDPAC, when they were just in the process of electing a new Executive Committee. It was very opportune timing for me as I only just qualified to participate in the elections based on the time of my appointment as GM China and was elected onto the Executive Committee. This has helped me a lot in terms of interacting with and learning from industry peers and leaders.”
2. GET THE FOUNDATIONS RIGHT
Alan Chen, general manager of Ipsen China
Having worked his way up from a sales representative in Hong Kong to now managing French mid-cap Ipsen’s China operations, Alan Chen highlights the importance of creating an appropriate organizational structure in achieving success in the Chinese market.
If you do not have the right machine, no matter how powerful it is, you will not generate the right momentum
“From a GM perspective, fundamentally you have to ensure that your organization design is the right one. After all, if you do not have the right machine, no matter how powerful it is, you will not generate the right momentum.”
“I have worked in and with many departments for many different multinationals, so I understand what kind of structure works in China. One of the critical learnings for me was how to change the Ipsen organization here. China’s healthcare landscape is changing and evolving, so structure is key to ensuring your organization really fits the needs of the market.”
“When I joined, Ipsen only had seven departments. I increased it to 16 to fully capture all the needs of the organization. A simple example: if you do not have a ‘new product launch’ department, you will not be able to launch new products successfully. People cannot focus on both the present and the future. If their job scope involves both areas, they will always focus on the present, more urgent needs, instead of the future, more important ones. Therefore, when we restructured the organization, it was with a focus on the future of Ipsen in China.”
3. BUILD TRUST
Davide Dalle Fusine, general manager of Chiesi China
Having spent the last five and a half years in China and with a background in key markets like Brazil as well as experience at headquarters managing international commercial operations, Chiesi’s Davide Dalle Fusini outlines his strategy for forming successful long-term partnerships.
Having a trusting relationship with the partner makes it easier for both sides to communicate well and resolve such differences. This is why I say patience is a key skill needed in China
“In China, as elsewhere, partnerships must be built on trust. You need to find a way to establish mutual trust, because that is the foundation of the relationship. As I have learnt, the development of trust between business partners in China is different, or at least happens differently and with a different timing, compared to my background experience in other markets. Just as an example, in other countries where I have developed new business with partners, both sides will first invest a large amount of time and energy to define the contract, because the full contract must be there to navigate any potential issues or misunderstandings, which may be foreseen to arise in the future performance of the contract. Once that contract is discussed at such lengths and finally signed, the partners will have already built a level of trust in each other’s intent and feel reassured to have already discussed possible future difficulties.”
“However, in China, as I have experienced it, the urgency to start is higher, and the contract may be agreed too fast without adequate exhaustive discussion on what could go wrong. Then it may become just the start of discussion when a future disagreement arises, which was not already discussed in advance and ‘aligned’ before signature in a ‘what if’ discussion. As a result of agreeing to a contract too fast, the partners’ expectations may turn out to be quite different, i.e. badly non-aligned, and this may later cause an amount of stress or anxiety for both parties.”
“In such cases, relationships are even more important. Having a trusting relationship with the partner makes it easier for both sides to communicate well and resolve such differences. This is why I say patience is a key skill needed in China. The best solution to any partner problem is seldom to find a new partner. Working with the same partners means that you can build an ever-stronger relationship together, to get to know each other better by working through such unforeseen issues arising, to resolve the ‘non-alignments’ not discussed in advance in the original contract, and so progress and build something together.”
4. BE A CULTURAL BRIDGE
Andras Gizur, vice president of Gedeon Richter China
Gizur, an ‘old China hand’, having been in the country for 22 years, explains his crucial role in explaining the complexities of the Chinese market to Gedeon Richter headquarters in Hungary and the importance of both fostering and retaining talent.
I understand how local Chinese people think and work, and part of my role is to explain this to HQ because of the cultural differences
“I am definitely very used to working in China now. For me, personally, I understand how local Chinese people think and work, and part of my role is to explain this to HQ because of the cultural differences. That said, the affiliate has been here a long time as well, so HQ is very familiar with the complexities and characteristics of the Chinese market. I am happy to say that our relationship with HQ is very smooth and communication is very stable.”
“One of the important factors contributing to this stability is the consistency within the Gedeon Richter China team. This is one of our strengths, I believe; from the leadership to middle management level and even down to the supervisor level, many of our staff have been with us for ten or even 15 years. At the same time, we also need fresh blood and fresh talent, particularly in this changing and challenging environment. Having this balance of stability and freshness is critical to provide new ideas and drive our ongoing development.”
5. FIND YOUR NICHE
Tony Au, general manager of AbbVie China
Tony Au, AbbVie China’s general manager since its establishment in January 2013, shares his insights on the importance of staying on top of industry trends and finding the niches in which a smaller, specialty player such as AbbVie can excel.
Our goal is not to be the biggest company in China either in terms of size or sales. Rather, we want to be the most reliable pharmaceutical company in the eyes of all industry stakeholders
“When AbbVie China set out our vision, we were very clear. Our goal is not to be the biggest company in China either in terms of size or sales. Rather, we want to be the most reliable pharmaceutical company in the eyes of all industry stakeholders, from patients to partners. I think we have built a very solid foundation in this way.”
“From my perspective, it is very important that a company identifies clear and relevant industry developments and opportunities within the market. For instance, with the healthcare reforms ongoing in the past few years, the environment is changing a lot. It is important for our employees to avoid being distracted by all the changes and to stay focused on our own direction. As a GM, this is what I must be very clear about and share with our employees. As a simple example, AbbVie is a specialty care company operating in areas like immunology and virology, and in the future, oncology. Policies aiming to redeploy public funding may give pressures to primary care products but however may be seen as an opportunity for AbbVie’s specialty care portfolio.”
“It is clear that the government’s agenda now is focused on ‘Healthy China 2030’. This aligns very well with AbbVie’s focus on specialty care. We are committed to bringing in innovative products to China in order to address unmet medical needs. In the past six years, we have seen very good development as a company in all areas from corporate culture, value, employee development and commercial figures in this direction.”