33-year pharma industry veteran Georg Schroeckenfuchs currently heads up the vast Middle East & Africa (MEA) region for Swiss behemoth Novartis, overseeing 19 countries, over 1800 employees, and more than USD 900 million in revenues. In a recent conversation within the frame of PharmaBoardroom’s current focus on Saudi Arabia, the Austrian native explains how Novartis’ strategy in the region’s most significant market is dovetailing with the country’s ‘Vision 2030’ strategic plan, and why its ambitious goals are destined to pay off.


The ambitious mindset that the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 sets out fits well with the mentality we are embracing at Novartis. I like to say that we shoot for the moon, and even if we miss, we will land among the stars

Georg Schroeckenfuchs, Novartis MEA


Globally, Novartis today positions itself at the forefront of innovative therapies such as cell and gene and, for Schroeckenfuchs, this is an asset that Saudi stakeholders are increasingly cognizant and appreciative of. “The ambitious mindset that the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 sets out fits well with the mentality we are embracing at Novartis,” he proclaims. “I like to say that we shoot for the moon, and even if we miss, we will land among the stars.”


Schroeckenfuchs continues, “We have many collaboration and partnership models with the Saudi government because they are open to public-private partnerships to improve the outcome for patients. I believe that both Vision 2030 and our mission to reimagine medicine fit quite well with that. As a research-based pharmaceutical company, it is good to see a proper ground for innovation in Saudi Arabia and a renewed focus on the healthcare sector, which the country sees as a critical one. As Saudi Arabia continues its push towards diversification, they are looking at pharmaceuticals and healthcare as sectors to build on.”


He also feels that Saudi, in contrast to other nations that have fixated on local manufacturing when rethinking their approach to pharma, is instead putting in place better overall scientific infrastructure. “The ambition should revolve around capability building and knowledge transfer and move beyond local manufacturing,” Schroeckenfuchs proclaims. “Manufacturing alone is the old-fashioned approach to the pharmaceutical industry whereas the future is more about cell and gene therapies, the manufacturing for which takes place in laboratories. We have encountered openness from the Saudi government to find a wide spectrum of different activities to support their goals. Novartis is also doing clinical trials, which is one way we want to support scientists in the country.”


A much-discussed element of the Vision 2030 plan is Saudization, and the requirement that all pharma companies sales representatives be Saudi nationals by June 2021. When this was announced a few years ago, for Schroeckenfuchs it represented “an opportunity to see how we could take their approach one step forward.” He continues, “There are many graduates from local universities with the right knowledge to succeed in our industry. We wanted to move fast, creating an internal training centre to ensure that young and ambitious talent got opportunities. We achieved a nationalization rate of 65 percent of which women make up a very large proportion.”


While acknowledging the challenges of Saudization, Schroeckenfuchs is very optimistic on its benefits to both Novartis and the country as a whole. “Knowledge and capability are important, but ambition can sometimes make up for the lack of knowledge,” he states. “Especially if you think about female Saudi talent, they are so ambitious and willing to help the country’s transformation. The level of commitment, support and knowledge has helped us achieve the nationalization objectives.”


Looking to the future, this talent piece will be a key element in Novartis’ positioning and strategy in Saudi as well as across MEA. Schroeckenfuchs concludes, “My personal purpose best describes what I want to achieve, that is to help develop people and talent to overcome their own barriers and limitations to have a better impact on patients’ lives. I am someone that supports talent to make sure that there are opportunities within the organization so they can move up and become enterprise leaders. My purpose fits well with the region because there are many growth opportunities in MEA. As countries move away from oil and gas, they are developing new industries and opening doors for everyone.”


Read the full interview with Georg Schroeckenfuchs of Novartis here