Colombia: Ramping up the Local Footprint

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With Latin America’s best healthcare system in terms of both coverage and quality, Colombia is fast becoming a destination of choice for multinationals, not only to set up shop in the sense of establishing a direct local affiliate, but also for opening regional headquarters and implanting managerial functions.

“We are on the cusp of yet a further wave of investment: this time from rapidly emerging turbo economies such as India and countries from the Far East”

Juan Gabriel Pérez, Invest in Bogotá

“When you cast your eyes across the local landscape, it is clear that there has been a great deal of movement in recent months and years. Traditional big brand players like Bayer, Roche and Pfizer have been around a long time but, from around the year 2014 onwards, impressive growth figures have prompted the entrance of a multitude of global mid-cap players including Servier, Astellas, Shire, and Menarini, and, right at this moment, we are on the cusp of yet a further wave of investment: this time from rapidly emerging turbo economies such as India and countries from the Far East,” perceives Invest in Bogotá’s executive director, Juan Gabriel Pérez.

One of the most notable big-ticket investments underway is that of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) which will be spending some USD 20-30 million on the creation of a service center to be unveiled at the end of 2017 to serve as the working arm for the entire regional operations. “After extensive analysis, we ultimately selected Bogotá as the optimum host city primarily because of Colombia’s macroeconomic stability, sound economic fundamentals, favorable geographic positioning as a gateway between north and south, and the ready availability of a scientifically skilled human resource base with multilingual capabilities,” confides J&J Medical Devices’ vice president for the Northern Region, Mircea Cubillos.

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“Colombia is the Latin American country that instills most confidence for the global organization right now and will become the seat of one of only five such service centers worldwide. When fully implemented, the hub will house some 200 employees, spanning support services from customer logistics and procurement to finance and human resources,” elaborates Yolanda Alagón, general manager of Janssen, the group’s innovative pharmaceuticals subsidiary.

MSD, for its part, employs as many as 740 personnel in-country, having elected to base its pharmacovigilance operations and one of the company’s six global data management centers out of Colombia. “The rationale behind setting up these strategic centers in Colombia is the relative stability in the country and an unmatched talent pool with high levels of education and good English knowledge,” admits general manager, Guillermo Browne.

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Meanwhile smaller entities have been following a similar logic, identifying Colombia as suitably strategically placed to oversee the rest of the Andean area. “Colombia serves as a headquarter for Latin America, a focal point from where we can define marketing, commercial and medical strategies and deploy those to other markets. It simultaneously serves as a training base to our distributors’ sales force,” recounts Zambon’s Eduardo Franky.

One important pull factor is the perceived sophistication of the local market. “Colombia stands out especially because of its manifold distribution channels, maturity and variety which enables you to fine-tune your strategies, before applying and replicating them elsewhere,” deftly points out David Leclercq, general manager for the Andean Region at Mundipharma, yet another multinational choosing to lead out of Bogotá. “Ecuador, for example, is a full 10-12 years behind Colombia in terms of pharmaceutical development and the market is pretty one-dimensional, being heavily controlled to the point where only the institutional channels flourish. Peru, meanwhile, is marginally different in the fact that 70 percent of the market is institutionalized while Venezuela is barely functioning at all,” he continues. As such, Colombia differentiates itself as being the naturally dominant market of the various Andean economies.

The leadership of Japanese outfit, Astellas, who, as recently as 2016, turned to Colombia to establish only their second ever affiliate in South America, has reached a similar conclusion in their decision-making. “We are keen to earn our spurs in one of the more regularized, mature markets and, to our mind, Colombia very much fits the bill with its extensive coverage, strong regulatory regime and overarching stability,” details general manager, Sandra Cifuentes.

Writer: Louis Haynes

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