Drawing on over a dozen interviews with C-level pharmaceutical industry executives in Turkey, PharmaBoardroom has compiled a strategic overview of Turkey’s pharma talent potential, including what local talent can offer to global organisations, why the well-educated and cost-efficient domestic labour force is so important to the Turkish pharma market’s future, and how Turkish leaders are doubling down on diversity and inclusion.


Özlem Türeci and her husband Uğur Şahin founded BioNTech in the western German city of Mainz in 2008. A little over a decade later, their company’s name is known all over the world because of the development of its successful Covid-19 vaccine in partnership with Pfizer.

Özlem and Uğur are both children of Turkish immigrants. Uğur, the CEO, was born in Turkey and moved to Germany as a 4-year-old boy after his father got a job at a Ford plant in Cologne; Özlem, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, is the daughter of a Turkish doctor who emigrated from Istanbul.

The couple’s breakthrough accomplishment has inevitably put a spotlight on Turkish talent. “[Özlem and Uğur] have really made a great innovation… their work has helped the image of Turkish science. Turkish people have it in their genes to take action to create things,” Bayer’s general manager for Turkey, Ingrid Drechsler, told PharmaBoardroom. Read on to find about more about Turkish pharma talent.


A talent exporting machine for multinationals

Seyda Atadan, Takeda’s general manager for Turkey, asserts that her firm is “able to attract the best talent because they know that there is an opportunity to contribute to the rich history of the company.” Thee numbers given by her to PharmaBoardroom appear to back that up. In the last three years, Takeda’s Turkish organization has “exported” 11 employees to global positions in different countries, including the United States, Switzerland, CIS countries, Ireland, and Germany.

The situation for Novartis is quite similar. In the last three years, the Swiss company’s affiliate has developed over 30 Turkish employees that have assumed global leadership positions. “Talent development is crucial,” says Avinash Potnis, Novartis pharma managing director in Turkey.

Menarini’s general manager, Uğur Bingöl, gives a similar account. “Particularly in pharma, we have incredible talent which is reflected in the number of CEOs, researchers and managers taking on regional and global positions.”


A well-educated and cost-efficient labor force

“There is a strong labor force of well-educated talent that are looking for a job in an international environment; the benefit-cost ratio is very high in Turkey because labor is not as expensive while having the same quality,” contends Novo Nordisk’s general manager, Burak Cem.

Uğur Bingöl from Menarini says that Turkey is a promising place to do business regardless of the controversial pricing system precisely because of the talent available. “There is a generation of young talent that is very capable… We have a good education system that is turning highly qualified people; unfortunately, we have to work on giving more opportunities to less fortunate people.”

For Novartis’ general manager, the values shared by Turkish society are a perfect match for the company. “Authenticity, humility and honesty are the three values of respect, and these values are abundant in Turkey; everyone shares those values,” said Avinash Potnis.

Philipp Haas, CEO for DEVA, a leading Turkish company, agrees with Potnis regarding the values of Turkish people: “The Turkish people are very hard-working, conscientious and honest. They have ideal characteristics for the pharmaceutical industry.”


Not a market for first time general managers

While Turkey presents a great business opportunity for global pharma companies given the USD 8 billion in size, it is a lion in sheep’s clothing for general managers.

“What has helped me personally in this context is my previous mistakes in managing complex markets; Turkey is surely not a first country manager job for anyone because you need both people and performance agility. You have to balance all the different counterbalancing forces: strategic vs operational, global vs local, and people vs performance,” explains Avinash Potnis from Novartis.


All in on diversity and inclusion

Three women leading global top 15 pharma companies in Turkey all coincide that diversity and inclusion is a cornerstone of their management strategy.

“Bayer is working and investing heavily on diversity, inclusion and sustainability. When I say diversity and inclusion, I do not only mean a male-female ratio, but also gender, geographical origin and generation. Generation is particularly important because I believe that younger people are more capable than we give them credit for; we just have to give them tasks and see the energy they have,” says Ingrid Drechsler who herself has a vast international experience after stints in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Iran.

In the Turkish affiliate of Janssen, the pharma arm of Johnson & Johnson, the workforce is composed of 50 percent female employees, including the leadership team.

“We, at Janssen, are proud to work for an organization that provides everyone with the opportunity to succeed regardless of who they are or where they come from… We do not have to begin working on diversity and inclusion but rather continue building on our strength,” says Demet Russ, a Turkish-born executive that previously served as CFO for Janssen EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region.

For Seyda Atadan, Takeda’s general manager, it is not only a question of adapting to the times but also about making better decisions: “There is ample evidence that diverse and inclusive companies are more likely to make better, bolder decisions.