The #CEOView project launched by Adecco, the world's leading workforce solutions company, introduces the thoughts and experiences of successful Slovenian business leaders. In this edition of #CEOView, Martina Perharič, the CEO of Medis, was invited to share her insights on the role of a leader within the challenging business environment of the pharmaceutical industry. Discover Medis' vision, Martina's perspective on what contributes to achieving our mission, and her advice to aspiring professionals by reading or watching the interview with Martina.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word "business"?
I think of medicines and health. Because if we are doing well and doing business well – we are doing good. We are saving, prolonging and improving the quality of life of the patients. That is why it is even more important in our pharmaceutical industry that we grow responsibly and healthily. In other words, in a way that we are all OK in this business. On one hand, our partners and suppliers who have developed these medicines and whose interests we represent in our markets, then of course the owner, the employees, the customers (doctors, pharmacists, professionals), and finally the user, the patient. Last but not least, the whole environment and, of course, society must also be healthy.
How would you describe yourself if you had to use just three words?
I find it difficult to describe myself in three words, but I will try. They say I'm demanding but very human, I'm certainly incredibly creative, I think my curiosity is a result of that and it makes me feel like I am still a student. Then there is one more thing that I would put on this list, and that is that I build trust. Between people, with people, with partners and with clients. Firstly, because I am a very trusting person – trust seems to be the key to being a leader in general. And secondly, because trust is the only thing that gives us hope and vision, so we build trust to create hope.
What advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
Ask questions and plan. That may be one piece of advice, but there is a bit more to it, I should explain more. When I say ask questions, I would give that advice to all colleagues, and especially to younger colleagues, and I mean, first of all, to seek feedback themselves, not just to wait for it. This is how you will learn most. When you do something, you go to your mentor or manager and ask: "What could I have done better here?" Don’t just wait and get annoyed when no one gives you feedback or praises you. That's what it means to ask questions.
But when I say plan (I didn't do that), I think it's good for every younger person to think a little bit about what the next step is, where they see themselves in the future. Because that, if nothing else, kind of removes the limitations and the beliefs that we have in our head when we think that something cannot be done. When you have a plan, you are able to regulate things like that.
How would you describe your ideal colleague?
It is difficult, because I don't think an ideal colleague exists. I think we can be great at one thing and very bad at another. Therefore, a leader can count it as a success when they put together functional and ideal teams. Teams that are in harmony, that complement each other well, teams that have very different individuals, both in age and expertise. It is really good to see how such teams, made up of different people, work really well. I could also say what I appreciate most about my colleagues.
What I appreciate most is actually when they are honest, open and genuine, and are themselves. And of course, they are learners, because I am one myself and I am happy when others are curious. And, finally, hard-working. Because it really takes many hours of work to learn something and to master something. You have to appreciate that, and once you have mastered something, this brings personal and professional satisfactions that leads you to success. Therefore, I recommend everybody to join the world of work, because you can learn a lot when working.
Why did you choose to work for the organisation you lead?
I came to Medis 22 years ago and stayed for the same reasons. Firstly, because I saw a lot of potential in it. It's a company where we can all create, not just me, we can all come up with new things. It is quite rare to see that nowadays. Now imagine that you are in a small country such as Slovenia and you are part of a corporation that we have created ourselves, because now we are a strong regional player. But you are still at home, not somewhere in Switzerland. And you can still proudly say that what we have done, we created ourselves. That's what means the most to me.
Then there is one more thing. I am a pharmacist. And when I look back to the point where I have been able to make the biggest contribution as a pharmacist to improving healthcare in the 18 markets or countries where we operate, I have been able to do that through Medis. Because at Medis, we persuade manufacturers of excellent new medicines, which could be located in Japan, America, Switzerland, wherever, to bring to our markets those medicines that are just as important here and which we then take care of. But, in principle, these are somehow overlooked markets, and I am fighting all the time to make sure that these markets are not overlooked by drug manufacturers. And at Medis we have done a great deal to achieve that.
How would you describe the role of a leader during the time of changes?
Despite change and uncertainty, the leader must provide some stability. How to do that is sometimes difficult, but I think it can be done with discipline and courage. Otherwise, changes have to happen, I don't think I have seen a period without changes. Because I think that without change there would be no development. And if there was no development, there would be no change. So, it is a positive vicious circle that is going on all the time. And we have to realise in all organisations, including Medis, that we are all change and development. Because imagine if all employees were just waiting for us, as managers, who are supposed to know a little bit more, to tell them what changes are on the horizon and what needs to be done.
I think it is the responsibility of every employee to observe, to see trends, opportunities and threats, to point them out and then to adjust the game accordingly. Like, for example, basketball players on the court who simply cannot wait for the coach to tell them from the court what has changed in the game. They have to see for themselves and react. We need to work more on teaching people to notice changes and to react independently. That is the role of the leader.
What are the main challenges in your industry and how are you tackling them?
In our industry, the main challenge has been the same almost all the time, and I have already hinted at it a little. The region that we cover, predominantly Eastern Europe, are overlooked markets for the manufacturers of medicines, especially those for rare diseases. And what is happening is that there is a delay in the introduction of these medicines in our markets.
So, for the last 22 years that I have been here, the biggest challenge has been to shorten this introduction time. So that we will, even in small countries such as Macedonia or Estonia, introduce these medicines. Because the manufacturers are hesitant, they are a little afraid, they have a little more work to do, and the insurance companies that pay for these medicines sometimes feel that it is just one giant cost, and at the end of the chain are the patients. It could be your mother, your son, your brother and so on. We cannot waste time here. And if these patients can get something that can cure them early on, then these patients are not a cost. They can work, they can live well and they can be useful to society. That is, in fact, our biggest challenge.
How do you see your company and your role in the future?
Medis is now 33 years old. We have been doing well and growing all the time, and I can say that we are doing well. In these markets where we operate, we are a brand, so to speak. People know us, they know that we work well and that we are professionals. It took a while to get here, but now we have it all together. We have world-class teams, knowledge, access to customers, technical competence, we have digitalised our business – it feels like having an incredibly well-equipped car. And now it's just a matter of driving and using it. And drive it on the road, with as few bends as possible. With as few accidents as possible, and if there are going to be accidents, they are going to be minor ones from which we will learn and move on. And I think we can only go up. But without panic, and safely. That has been the philosophy of Medis for all these years.
We don't jump at every business opportunity. We have been working with some pharmaceutical partners for decades, or at least for many years, and when these partners come to visit, they are still amazed at what we can do and what we have done for their medicines that we represent in these markets. They always say that this is even better than if they had their own company here. I think that more and more companies will decide to enter these small and complex markets with a local and strong player. Because that is the right model.
Why should talent become part of your company and team in the future?
I find it interesting to hear and meet new talents when they come for an interview. First they sit for a bit, they are asked questions, they talk, and then they come to me and I ask them how they feel. Why do they want to come to the Medis? And they make statements that are both surprising and obvious to me. But when a candidate says that at Medis, everybody says hello, I say, yes, of course everybody says hello. And the candidate also comments how everybody is relaxed, nice and friendly. Of course, how could you possibly work in an uptight environment where you are watching what is going to happen behind your back? That is not efficient. And not the way we work at Medis.
And we reward the victories and results a lot. Whether it's some kind of a recognition, financial reward and so on. There is room for someone who wants to learn a lot, to teach others and to also give a lot back. All doors and all paths are open. You just have to say what you want to do and in which way you want to develop. We very much appreciate people who express this desire. I think Medis is a great place for people who are a bit more adventurous and braver. But also, for the cheerful, the relaxed and the bright. It will be great for them to come to us.