Seasoned executive Mohamed Nasser currently oversees 16 markets for Amgen across the MEA region, including its most important – Saudi Arabia. He shares some of the key skills that pharma executives overseeing his region need to succeed.
As region head for a company that is only 40 years old, Nasser is facing challenges that his counterparts at other more established pharma firms are perhaps not. “Amgen was born at a time when many companies were already active in the Middle East,” he explains. “We began our Middle East operations just a few years ago through a distributor model and are now establishing a direct presence market by market. Therefore, my mandate is to look at the best possible ways to enhance the company’s footprint in MEA to reach more patients.”
This direct presence has already been established in Saudi Arabia, where Nasser has appointed Saudi national Trad Elkhelaiwi – a 20-year veteran of the local pharma market – to head up local operations. Sourcing and nurturing local talents like Elkhelaiwi is a topic close to Nasser’s heart and one which he feels is crucial to success in MEA.
“In MEA, customer relations and market experience are key pillars of doing business,” he opines. “This makes human talent a much more significant influence. The increasing migration of young professionals to the West means that team formation-performance cycles are influenced and the hunt for talent seems here to stay.”
Another key element of Nasser’s management strategy is agility. “Achieving business results in MEA is not only subject to familiar global business drivers,” he outlines. “Supply chains could be disrupted at any moment, tenders can be delayed or reassigned at the last minute, customers may change their working hours without notice, and overdue receivables can be the norm, meaning that the list of possible complications is endless. All of the above requires cheetah-like agility to change direction with a moment’s notice at full speed.”
A third important skill that Nasser feels all MEA regional managers should hold is the ability to de-mystify the region to corporate headquarters. As he explains, “Many international companies either do not know what to expect from MEA or are overwhelmed by the region’s volatility and stream of crises. MEA leaders need outstanding skills to summarize and succinctly demystify what is happening compared with original assumptions in a way that corporate can comprehend and include in its overall forecast.”
A fourth and final skill is a horizontal focus across all business drivers. “A top-down ‘vertical’ rank that identifies and acts upon the top priorities of the business works well when the environment is relatively stable but is less appropriate in a constantly shifting situation such as that of MEA,” notes Nasser. “There are more than three things moving at any given time and perhaps in different directions. In trying to determine the top three priorities, other essential ones are likely to be missed. MEA leaders need to take a horizontal view across the business drivers and understand what moves the needle on each.”
Nasser concludes, “a final crucial ingredient is a sense of humor, fun, and adventure! Setting a positive example and maintaining an open, joyful atmosphere, especially in the middle of a crisis, builds resilience within the organization and helps keep the team motivated.”