Conversation with Virginio Cattaneo, Head of Human Resources at IBSA Group

04 August 2020

Emergencies stimulate new dynamics, especially those geared towards safeguarding a precious asset, such as people's health and integrity. It is a lesson that will remain deeply rooted at every level of IBSA. A lesson learned during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and applied day after day.

Virginio Cattaneo, our Head of Human Resources, tells us what has happened since 23rd February and what it really means for a company to innovate while keeping people at the centre and keeping up with the times to create the 'perfect job'.

The COVID-19 emergency has seen a huge paradigm shift in the world of work. How has IBSA responded?

‘We have needed to be reactive and to organise ourselves quickly through effective measures and accurate communications. We have continued to work in teams despite the difficulty of connecting remotely, we have become more aligned and efficient than before, always bearing in mind the values at stake: the health and safety of people within the company. One great innovation linked to the pandemic period was of course the adoption of remote working, which went from something that was almost unheard of before to around 500 employees on average connected remotely. This experience has allowed us to continue our work effectively and without falling below our standards at all levels of the company. IBSA, as a pharmaceutical company, has a duty to preserve therapeutic continuity for the patients who use its products. A supply chain with no critical issues and an equally effective production chain were therefore immediately ensured. This was achieved in a completely safe way, adopting the instruments and provisions laid down in the various countries, and constantly applying a specific approach aimed at safeguarding the integrity and health of everyone, first and foremost those who were required to work in person. Various authorities outside our company, who have been involved in checking working conditions in recent months, have confirmed that it has been working well: IBSA may therefore be considered a benchmark thanks to the way it has organised itself.

The differing approach entailing remote working, which we have experienced extensively during the pandemic and which is in part still in place, is now one of the central topics around the world. Remote working shouldn't be the only method, but it is necessary to find the right balance taking into account roles, positions and the fact that it is essential to achieve a so-called work-life balance, with a view also to environmental sustainability. The right mix is desirable in view of the fact that today, unlike 10 or 15 years ago, the real results indicators are the objectives achieved.’

Beyond emergency response or extraordinary interventions, IBSA has always included among its key values that of putting people at the centre of its ecosystem. What does this principle mean for those involved in human resource management?

‘First of all, it means trying each and every day to put in place strategies and proposals to improve the quality of life and the working environment for all our employees, regardless of their job or tasks within the company. IBSA is characterised by an impressive production and logistics system, but over the years the commercial structure has also grown a lot, with particular regard to sales networks, which have developed considerably as a result of internationalisation. This has led to a rebalancing of activities between the industrial area, marketing and sales. No less decisive is also the growth of R&D activities, due to the large number of projects in the different therapeutic areas we are known for.

The consequent work of adapting or rethinking organisational structures involves reviewing the relationship between HQ and local units, acting on governance rules, reviewing processes, studying and improving the ways people interact with each other, and correcting any past practices which may cause misalignments and inefficiencies. All whilst keeping people at the centre of our work. IBSA has focused on people from the very beginning and this propensity is an essential value in ensuring internal harmony. No organisation is perfect, including ours, but there’s definitely a concerted effort to continuously improve it in order to build a calm working environment where everyone can feel comfortable in the role they play’.

Perhaps we could also talk about innovation in this area, as this is one of the cornerstones on which the entire company rests. How exactly do you go about creating innovation in a field as regulated as HR?

‘We always try to keep up with the times and predict the major trends. From last year to this year, IBSA has undertaken a major project to analyse, review and reorganise its work processes, organisational structures and operational flows, all with the aim of having a significant impact on the future and ensuring that the company is increasingly able to retain a market presence. This also involves increasing operational efficiency, strengthening organisational structures and, ultimately, improving its competitive positioning and industrial, commercial and financial performance. This project, known as ‘RATIO’ is the biggest and most exciting project I've been involved in since I joined IBSA in 2011. Although I’ve worked in large corporations before, I’ve never had an experience like this one. Multinationals usually manage this type of activity in a very centralised way, with local levels being passive and merely executive. At IBSA it's different: we innovate processes by paying the utmost attention to the impact not only on the company, but also on its employees. Innovation with people at the centre: an almost perfect alchemy’.

There’s another aspect that’s fundamental to a company’s development, and that is the ability to attract and retain the best talent. What is IBSA's formula for this?

‘Talent acquisition and retention remains a very important competitive leverage. For a company like ours, geared towards internationalisation and also with a presence in contexts with a strong turnover, this means giving new opportunities and motivations compared to expectations and ambitions. This is all the more relevant the younger people are. With the corporate transformation process started in recent months, younger employees (40 years old) have been placed in new positions thanks to the additional functions created. This talent management effort allows the vast majority of people to reconsider their options and allows the company to look after its best resources (those who have demonstrated their value through the goals they have achieved), giving them the opportunity to try their hand at new roles, responsibilities and projects. In principle, no-one should rest on their laurels and we all need to make every effort to prevent this from happening, ensuring the value of our human assets and obtaining the capacities required of our company, as any other, in order to stay competitive and successful’.

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