Two Big Pharma SVPs with responsibility for the entirety of Latin America weigh in on the management challenges inherent in LatAm and what they look for when appointing country managers in their region.
LatAm’s regional pharma market of USD 98 billion looks set to be the fastest growing in the world over the next few years. IQVIA estimates that the Latin American pharma market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 10.1 percent up to 2025, well above both developed markets like North America (3.1 percent) and Europe (3.9 percent), but also other developing regions like Africa (6.5 percent), Russia & the CIS countries (8.9 percent), and the Indian subcontinent (9.4 percent).
However, this is a region beset by political and economic volatility, with frequent and dramatic political swings from left to right, currency devaluations, and nationalisations of key industries. For Allan Finkel, formerly Brazil country manager at Danish diabetes giant Novo Nordisk and now SVP for the whole LatAm region, volatility is unavoidable but does come with certain upsides.
Volatility also creates opportunities for growth and teaches our teams to be flexible, experimental, and creative. For this reason, professionals who have experience working in LatAm often perform very well in other geographies
“As I tell my colleagues, there are things that we can change and things we cannot,” he notes. “Volatility is one of the things that we cannot, meaning that we need to find ways to perform in a volatile environment. I was born and raised in Brazil and so I have experienced this volatility all my life, understanding the need to adapt. Volatility also creates opportunities for growth and teaches our teams to be flexible, experimental, and creative. For this reason, professionals who have experience working in LatAm often perform very well in other geographies.”
Luis Arosemena, SVP for emerging markets including Latin America at GSK, agrees but adds that “Volatility is not only a Latin American issue. On the business front, looking internally as a company, we understand that volatility is a characteristic of emerging markets. Internally, we have built capabilities to cope with it in terms of decision making, looking to focus on the things we can control and be agile when changes come.”
He continues, “Having said that, there are certain things in Latin America that help us have consistency which go above political circumstances. Countries can switch from left to right and back but there are certain fundamental institutions that remain consistent over the long term.”
“This happens in Argentina, for example, where inflation and devaluation often take the headlines, but we know that the country’s healthcare system is quite mature and developed. Of course, you need to be alert and ready to act which is why the role of general managers is key. If you have a sound portfolio of products and reach patients, you are creating a sustainable solution that will help the system navigate short-term variability.”
In terms of assembling teams best able to thrive in the challenging LatAm market both Finkel and Arosemena are unequivocal in their foregrounding of diversity.
Finkel explains, “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 also those who come from more stable countries can contribute.”
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
Looking more specifically at the qualities he looks for in country managers in LatAm at GSK, Arosemena also highlights those with a varied history and skillset. “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,” he proclaims. “We also look for people with the right attitude and that are eager to help patients, also people that are accountable for the impact they bring through their role.”
“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.”
Arosemena concludes, “A good example is our general manager from Brazil. He is Brazilian, was business unit head in the country, left the country to go to London, then Italy as business unit director, general manager of Romania, managed a cluster of East European countries and went to do a global role in vaccines.”