Conversation with Maleša Sidjanski, Head of IBSA Swiss Business Operations at IBSA Group13 May 2021
Transforming a pharmaceutical company deeply rooted in its local area and community into a global multinational is certainly a challenging endeavour. In the attempt to gain a position on the global market, you run the risk of losing your identity and neglecting where you began. IBSA, which has made improving the status quo its raison d’être, has transformed this risk into an opportunity. It has never considered the company’s growth, often in the double-digits, as overcoming its “local character” but as a way of exporting the local best practices from where it got its start. In this way, the company has maintained its identity and local roots while establishing itself as a player in more than 80 countries and 5 continents. Maleša Sidjanski, Head of Swiss Business Operations, is here to tell us about this process. He manages the company’s development where it all began, in Switzerland.
What is the secret behind the success of IBSA’s Swiss branch?
I’ve been working at IBSA since 1992. We started out as the 167th pharmaceutical company in Switzerland and now we’re 23rd. We generated roughly 4 million in revenue and now we’ve reached 65 million. To accomplish this, we have always relied on our focus and strategic decisions: picking the most “unique” products with the greatest potential in order to gain a foothold in the right markets for these products, carefully selecting customers, prices and promotional and communication initiatives, and we always make the most of our most important lever. I believe that the secret behind IBSA Switzerland’s success is choosing the right focus and then going all the way. At the start, we concentrated on key products (see above), and it was 15 years before we gradually expanded our scope to include other strategic products, without ever losing the necessary focus or wasting resources. It is crucial to focus our attention on a product, without any distractions, and present it with honesty and passion. Another important strategy is always keeping the team happy, stimulated and highly motivated, so that it identifies 100% with the firm and with its products. Every year we outline in writing and sign 5-7 key factors for the success of our products and then everyone is free to develop their key projects. The third fundamental element is never giving up and showing grit. For example, we spent seven years knocking at the door of the Zurich burn injuries center to get in with our Ialugen Plus, and finally, after seven years, the conditions were right and we were able to get our foot in the door. You need to always be present, but also be respectful. For instance, you should never put too much pressure on doctors, but listen to them to gain a clear understanding of your customer’s needs, you need to speak clearly and honestly about your product, based on scientific evidence, and then let the product do the convincing for itself. The perfect formula is “try it and you’ll see that what we’ve promised is true.”
How does this translate into your way of running IBSA’s Swiss branch?
“It is very important to me to create the right circumstances and cultivate a work environment that enables everyone to grow. I believe it is essential for everyone to be glad to come to work. Suffering at work, feeling unhappy and then going home at the end of each day with a sense of frustration is truly terrible for everyone - workers and their families alike. This is why it is crucial to find out what is important to workers, how they would like their relationships to grow both within the various teams and between colleagues on different teams. I believe that honesty, listening and respect are fundamental. These are the values that I personally put above all others.”
Switzerland is a small country, with fewer than 8.5 million residents in 26 independent cantons. How do you create a national strategy in such a segmented country?
“To achieve success on the market and, especially, to inspire trust in people, doctors or patients, IBSA must be seen as a Swiss company, near its people and characterised by the highest level of quality for which Swiss products are known. Another factor we need to focus on, here in Switzerland, is multilingualism. Since the Swiss speak Italian, French and German with slight differences from the languages spoken in Italy, France and Germany, when we draft our materials, we need to focus on the details, not only in terms of language, but in our visuals and slogans too. To put it simply, something that might work in German might not necessarily work in Italian or French, so we always seek to improve and adapt it. This focus on details and the relationship that is created with people through language reverberates in every facet of the way we work, from how our teams are managed to how we forge relationships with doctors and hospitals, and even with health institutions. In this sense, the “Swiss model” can help others understand how to value differences and meet global needs like healthcare by respecting local and personal identities.”
In this process, where does the company draw the line between national and corporate?
“It is a matter of effectiveness. We don’t see having a headquarters as limiting our independence. Our founder, Dr. Licenziati, tends to trust others, and the better things go, the more trust and freedom he gives us. The downside could be a lack of coordination with too much freedom. But that is not how it is at IBSA. We have achieved a steady balance between everyone’s freedom and the company’s overall needs. For local problems in Switzerland, we work independently, because the closer we are to the problem, the more effective our solutions are, whereas when there is an issue that affects everyone, we look for an overall solution that works for all the company’s branches.”