IBSA between 1985 and 2000: a successful entrepreneurial story (part 1)11 August 2022
“Small companies can survive only if they are smart, that is, if they manage to solve problems that for their larger counterparts are often insignificant. And the only way to get there is research, which must be targeted on the users’ needs. We cannot compete with the giants. What we can do is to turn to compounds whose basic actions are already known and identify indications that are not used or exploited, optimising resources for research. We understand what are the needs of the doctor and the patient, and we are able to find new pharmaceutical forms that allow an easier use”.
- Arturo Licenziati, President & CEO
We are pleased to take you with us on a journey to discover the beginning of IBSA’s history, how the company evolved over the decades and how it intends to continue its path in the years to come. Many are the events, the emotions and the objectives to tell, hence we decided to split our story into two distinct parts: in this news, we will tell you about the years from 1985 to 2000; in the next one we’ll touch on all the events from 2000 to date.
THE DAWN OF THE COMPANY
It was 1988 when Arturo Licenziati – current CEO and President of the Group and a little over fifty-year old at the time – told in a few sentences his personal entrepreneurial vision, the one that would have revived a small pharmaceutical company in Lugano founded in 1945 which he had acquired a few years earlier, in 1985. A company that then had 40 employees, a turnover of 5 million francs and few strategic resources, but which by the end of the 1980s – in just 5 years – had radically changed its pace, reaching 60 employees, a three-fold turnover and a manufacturing plant in Massagno, where the production of a treatment for osteoarthritis had paved the way for the development of the company.
Today, IBSA is a large multinational, present with its products in over 90 countries on 5 continents, with 17 subsidiaries, over 2,000 collaborators, 90 patent families, and products covering 10 therapeutic areas. A lot of road has been covered since the early days, when the Research and Development department was in a laundry room, there was only one fax for the whole company and the (few) collaborators, including Arturo Licenziati, took care of everything, even product packaging.
COURAGE, CLEVERNESS, COMMITMENT AND… CHANCE
What happened in recent years? How did a small company close to bankruptcy manage to transform into a large, solid and competitive one, still growing and expanding today?
Everything that IBSA achieved over the years has been the result of commitment, determination and other factors which, as our Founder often likes to remind, are known as the 4Cs:
- Commitment, in pursuing the set objectives;
- Courage, to make choices (also against the general trend) and to take difficult decisions;
- Cleverness, that is, the ability to understand the context and see a step ahead of others;
- Chance, since the opportunity to exploit events and situations is always beneficial, in order to optimise the outcomes of one’s commitment.
GROWTH, SUCCESS, EVOLUTION
The years from the end of the 1980s to 2000 have been a continuous race, an evolution characterised not only by the growth of the portfolio of products – which in the meantime have become increasingly more, in several therapeutic areas and with new pharmaceutical forms – but also by the desire to leave the Swiss borders and expand into other markets.
Arturo Licenziati started from neighbouring countries: in France, in 1988, he entered into a partnership with Laboratoires Genevrier, a small pharmaceutical company in Paris, which today is IBSA Pharma SAS, the French subsidiary of the IBSA Group, with 200 employees; this was followed, in 1992, by the establishment of IBSA Farmaceutici Italia SrL, which at the time was a simple post box, while today is the largest subsidiary of the IBSA Group, with over 500 employees.
In 1994, almost ten years after the start of this great project, IBSA boasted 9 product registrations, characterised by 29 pharmaceutical forms and 50 presentations, which allowed the company to rise in the Swiss market from 163rd to 38th position, with a turnover of 30 million francs and 120 employees.
And with the growth, several awards for IBSA products began to arrive: in 1995 Il Sole 24 Ore rewarded the mucolytic syrup with the “Golden Walnut”, the “Oscar” for the most innovative packaging, and in the same year in Paris the medicated fabric plaster wins the “Prix Medec ’95” of European Research as medicament of the year. And new expansions and acquisitions around the world followed, as well as the establishment in 1998 of Qingdao Huashan Biochemical Products Co. Ltd., a new production site in China, and the relocation of the Swiss Headquarters to the Collina d’Oro.
TURNING CRISIS INTO OPPORTUNITIES
Unfortunately, even in the best success stories, it’s not all fun and games. The first real moment of crisis came in 1999, when a big fire broke out in Massagno, leaving behind a semi-destroyed factory – with damage estimated between 15 and 20 million francs – and causing the interruption of production for several months in one of the crucial departments of the company.
Despite its seriousness, this dramatic event had a positive side, as it helped generate momentum in the investments aimed at acquiring new buildings in Lamone and Manno, for the construction of new manufacturing plants.
Furthermore, what could have been a setback for the entire company, paved instead the way to a new, fortunate intuition: Arturo Licenziati decided to embark on the adventure of gonadotropins, the hormones of fertility, building in Lamone a factory exclusively dedicated to this production, with an investment of 25 million francs and with particular attention to the study of plant engineering and to sophisticated management and control systems. This choice proved to be more than ever appropriate and far-sighted, given that today IBSA is one of the leading companies worldwide in the field of reproductive medicine.
From these first 15 years of IBSA’s history, Arturo’s philosophy and vision, shared today by over 2,000 collaborators worldwide, clearly emerge: that of a company that is always looking at the future and is ready to face any challenge, both in the pharmaceutical market and in the therapeutic field, in personal care and beyond; a company that pushes the limits of its possibilities further and further, willing to take paths not yet travelled; a company that has not yet stopped. We will find out this in the next news, in which we will tell how IBSA evolved in the years following 2000.