Having commenced his journey with American giant Lilly in 2008, and after almost eight years working in the company’s Japan organization, mostly on digital marketing, Dimitri Livadas crossed the Pacific Ocean to work in Lilly’s home market and the largest pharma market in the world, the United States, first in the Atlanta area as director of sales for diabetes, and later in the Indianapolis headquarters as diabetes senior director for strategy and operations. With HQ experience under his belt, in March 2021 Livadas took on a new challenge in a faraway but highly promising market, Saudi Arabia.


At a global level, Lilly a breakthrough 2020 with an increase of 10 percent in revenue. Reaching USD 24.5 billion in revenue, the company’s growth was driven by a 15 percent increase in oncology, 6 percent in diabetes and an astounding 37 percent in immunology. While not active in the business of vaccines, Lilly studied and received Emergency Use Authorization for three therapies for Covid-19 patients: baricitinib, bamlanivimab, and the combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab.


Livadas’ globetrotting experience with Lilly, he says, is a testament to the company’s commitment to talent development, where a career grows through sustained performance over time.


But having never been to the Middle East prior to accepting his latest assignment, Livadas braced for tough conditions given the “perception reflected in foreign media” about Saudi. To his surprise, the reality was everything but. “The reality on the ground could not be more different: it is a genuinely beautiful country, and the people are truly amazing. There is a level of positive energy that I have not seen in any other place around the world,” he told PharmaBoardroom in a recent interview.


Beyond the country’s conditions he describes, it is incontestable that Saudi Arabia is set to become a hugely profitable market for Lilly. After all, the kingdom has one of the highest diabetes prevalence rates in the world with over 18 percent of the population suffering from the condition and, most importantly, it has the financial capacity and the necessary infrastructure to diagnose and treat them. From a regional outlook, the diabetes population is expected to double in the Middle East by 2045, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).


It is no wonder then that Lilly’s Saudi affiliate is the largest within what they refer to as the SAMETA (South Asia, Middle East, Turkey & Africa) region.


His appointment to the largest country in the Middle East in 2018 coincides with the “logical step”, as he says, to become one of the first Big Pharma companies to establish a fully owned legal entity. “We are committed to a future in, with, and for Saudi,” Livadas contends.


As proof, Lilly became the first pharma company to sign an MoU with the Ministry of Investment to establish new regional headquarters in Riyadh. In a country where the government has such weighty sway over industry, indeed it seems like a logical step.


In Saudi’s fast-moving environment, Livadas had to hit the ground running after arriving in 2018. The first item on his plate was the government’s mandatory Saudization, where the obligation was set of having all sales representatives be Saudi nationals by June 2021. To comply, the 2014 Lilly Japan Marketer of the Year had to rebuild a company that was already up and running from the ground up while generating growth at an uncertain time: “We had to carefully rethink our approach to recruitment, engagement, and retention of professionals.”


But contrary to a few of his colleagues, or so he says, they did not look at as a problem and embraced the Saudization strategy from the beginning. When the effort began, the organization was made up of only 8 percent Saudi nationals and mostly man; today, it has more than 70 percent Saudi nationals of which more than half are women and three quarters millennials.


“The biggest surprise for me was that the talent in Saudi Arabia is absolutely world-class; they are highly educated and extremely hard-working. They have a high sense of purpose, and are very engaged. I expect and predict that soon the Lilly Saudi affiliate will become an exporter of talent to other Lilly affiliates around the world,” he conveys.


Having a diverse organization, Dimitri’s Lilly organization, following the 2019 establishment of the legal entity and the articles of association, appointed two seasoned Saudi executives to its board of directors, Dr Mustafa Al Jawadi and Dr Ahmed J. Al Buraidi. “We were also very proud to bring not only one of the first highly qualified Saudi physician on board as a medical director, but also one of the first women, Dr Mona Obaid.”


In line with other Big Pharma general managers in Saudi, Livadas praises Vision 2030, calling it “compelling” and a “once in a lifetime opportunity”, creating an enhanced role for the public procurement company NUPCO and laying the path towards a knowledge-based economy. “We encourage and welcome the authorities’ actions to create a stable and predictable business environment,” he maintains.