Latin America is renowned for its creative geniuses – think footballers like Lionel Messi and Pelé; magical realist authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende; and ground-breaking artists like Frida Kahlo and Wilfredo Lam. This tradition of creativity permeates the continent’s population, who are well used to dreaming up innovative solutions to navigate the political and economic vagaries they face daily.
Creativity & Adaptability
Accordingly, the LatAm talent pool is one of the key strengths of the region’s life sciences industry. As Maria Gabriela Pittis, who heads up the South Cone, Andean Region, Mexico & Central America and Caribbean for Takeda explains, “There are 640 million people in LatAm – a huge population – incredibly talented, and spread over a highly diverse geography. Thanks to the ups and downs of our history we tend to be very resilient and able to manage in times of adversity, which is needed in our noble quest to deliver innovative solutions for complex unmet medical needs.”
Adapting to changing needs leaves you with fewer fixed ideas and greater agility to tackle new challenges
Rolf Hoenger, Roche
In a continent where institutional frameworks are not always fit for purpose, the calibre and quality of teams can be a deal breaker on progress, cohesive thinking and delivering results. As Roche’s LatAm Area head Rolf Hoenger highlights, the “creativity and adaptability” of LatAm people is crucial to solving challenges in the region. “A good friend of mine spent several years as a GM in LatAm before taking on an assignment in Europe,” Hoenger begins. “He said that it took him a year to figure out how to add value in Europe, where teams tend to stick rigidly to set plans, while in the constantly changing environment of LatAm, we are creative and adaptable by default. This makes it easier for us to adapt to new philosophies and ways of working.”
“Working in emerging markets teaches a person openness and adaptability, increasingly important commodities in today’s world. Adapting to changing needs leaves you with fewer fixed ideas and greater agility to tackle new challenges. Not everybody is successful in this part of the world because of this need for adaptability and agility.”
Others are keen to play up the potential of LatAm as a talent hub for regional or global roles elsewhere in the world as well as a location for some of these functions. “An important indicator of our strong performance is the number of Bristol Myers Squibb LatAm staff who have taken on positions in key international markets such as the US,” says Florencia Davel of BMS who serves as the company’s VP, general manager for LatAm and head of its Local Representatives Center of Excellence. “BMS LatAm is clearly a talent hub, in part thanks to our people’s ability to navigate uncertainty and complexity, and the company is keen to open the door for them to take on new roles globally,” she adds.
BMS LatAm is clearly a talent hub, in part thanks to our people’s ability to navigate uncertainty and complexity, and the company is keen to open the door for them to take on new roles globally
Florencia Davel, BMS
AbbVie’s VP for Latin America Flavio Devoto strikes a similar tone. “I strongly believe that LatAm staff have the ability not only to serve this region but also step up to global functions, and there are already many examples of people from this region doing just this.” He continues, “In a region like LatAm, with significant healthcare access disparities and frequent economic instability, our industry’s purpose of serving patients through science resonates particularly strongly. This is an incredibly strong value proposition and one that permeates all our work.”
German firm Boehringer Ingelheim has moved to capitalise on regional talent by establishing two shared service centres in Argentina. As South America Managing Director Dirk van Niekirk explains, “one of these centres supplies financial and human resources services to affiliates all over LatAm, and the other – rapidly growing – provides IT services to the organisations in LatAm, the USA and parts of Europe.” He adds, “the strong, talented and professional South America team’s track record of success, resilience, dedication, and energy gives me lots of confidence for future success in the region.”
The Ideal Country Manager
Managing in LatAm countries necessitates a particular set of skills and knowledge, with regional leaders split on the benefits of hiring locals versus bringing in outside perspectives. Drilling into what makes a successful country manager in LatAm, Luis Arosemena – SVP for GSK’s 120 country, 10,000 plus employee, and several billion dollar emerging markets grouping – points to a wide range of experience as being vital. “For general manager positions, we are looking for people with the most diverse set of experiences, ones that expose them to situations that build their judgement and business acumen. We also look for people with the right attitude and that are eager to help patients, as well as those that are accountable for the impact they bring through their role.”
For general manager positions, we are looking for people with the most diverse set of experiences, ones that expose them to situations that build their judgement and business acumen
Luis Arosemena, GSK
Arosemena goes on, “I do not have a preference of origin, but it is important that the general manager has been exposed to different markets across the world. A native with global experience would be an ideal candidate. A good example is our general manager from Brazil. He is Brazilian, was business unit head in the country, left to go to London, then Italy as business unit director, general manager of Romania, managed a cluster of Eastern European countries and went to take on a global role in vaccines.”
Developing this point in relation to the medical technology industry, Hugo F. Villegas, SVP and president for Canada and Latin America at Medtronic, states, “We do not necessarily need a local person in place in each market, but rather a team that understands the market dynamics and has a good leader. For example, leading Central LatAm where the biggest country is Colombia, we have a Brazilian. The lead for Brazil is now a Brazilian but was previously a Colombian for four years. The important thing is that the general managers of those countries, together with their teams, know better than anyone sitting in the US or elsewhere what needs to be done.”
Diversity also relates to experience in other industries. “People from other countries help develop new perspectives, as do those from outside the medtech sector,” remarks Villegas. “For example, our Central LatAm leader previously worked in consumer healthcare and has several years of experience in Western Europe, China, and Asia-Pacific.”
A more diverse team brings in fresh perspectives, challenges us, and creates greater adaptability and flexibility
Allan Finkel, Novo Nordisk
Novo Nordisk’s LatAm SVP Allan Finkel broadens this definition of diversity even further, asserting that “Novo Nordisk LatAm is extremely diverse with team members coming from Asia, Europe, and various countries within the region. Diversity is crucial for us, not only in terms of nationality, but also gender, culture, and religion. A more diverse team brings in fresh perspectives, challenges us, and creates greater adaptability and flexibility. Those with a long-term experience of living in a volatile environment can bring a lot, but those who come from more stable countries can also contribute.”
For MSD’s SVP and LatAm President Sarah Aiosa, diversity comes with a sense of duty. “As the first woman chosen by our company to lead this diverse region, I have a responsibility not just to other women, but also to diversity, inclusion, and equity more broadly,” she exclaims.
LatAm has been performing well in terms of gender diversity in recent years, with International Labor Organization data showing that the region, along with Europe, leads the way in increasing the percentage of women in management positions, with more female than male managers in several LatAm countries. This is having an impact not just on diversity and equality, but on companies’ bottom line, with McKinsey studies consistently showing that companies in LatAm with one or more women on their executive committees outperform those with all-male committees.