Conversation with Carmen Vigorelli, Senior International Sales Manager at IBSA Group15 May 2020
Establish a pact of mutual trust and growth based on shared goals and underpinned by a common win-win approach. This intuition is what allowed a Swiss pharmaceutical company and an Egyptian distributor to grow together over the course of more than 20 years, together becoming the market leader in Egypt in Medically Assisted Procreation (MAP), in constant competition with international pharmaceutical giants.
The protagonist of this story is Habib Scientific Office, our partner in Egypt and to tell us about a particularly winning partnership is Carmen Vigorelli, IBSA Senior International Sales Manager (International Business Operations).
“The adventure began in 1999, when IBSA brought the first product in the field of Human Reproduction to the Egyptian market. This was a field that the company had only recently began working in”, says Carmen Vigorelli. “That strategic launch was thanks to the intuition of Dr Licenziati (President & CEO of IBSA), who was the first to understand the opportunity that entering the Human Reproduction field in competition with pharmaceutical industry giants represented. In 1999, IBSA’s turnover on the Egyptian market was just 60,000 Swiss Francs. But two years later, in 2001, we achieved the first one million dollars. Habib staff, Dr Licenziati and IBSA staff met in Lugano. It was a real party atmosphere because we had opened up a new market”.
In collaboration with Habib HSO, IBSA now has a turnover of 25 million Swiss Francs in Egypt and a 55% market share, with local sales of 3 million ampoules of gonadotropins per year out of an annual IBSA production of 14 million ampoules. These figures put the Lugano pharmaceutical company among the top 4 gonadotropin producers in the world. The history of partnerships and successes between IBSA and Habib will continue in the coming years and will be enhanced by a new chapter, as two more products are soon to be launched on the Egyptian market. The pain and inflammation therapeutic area is also to be expanded. It was its privileged relationship with IBSA that launched HABIB HSO to the top of its local market. A relationship that is defined as ‘different’ to relationships the Egyptian distributor has with other companies. “What we have with IBSA,” confirms Saad Ibrahim, CEO of Habib HSO, “is a business relationship, but also a relationship of friendship based on mutual esteem and trust between people”.
HSO Egypt: (from the left to the right) Ihab Tawfik (Cairo Sales Zone Manager), Saad Ibrahim (HSO General Manager), Mohamed El Hadad (Delta Sales Zone Manager), Rafik Ramy (Sales & Marketing Manager), Michael Mounir (Product Manager)
The Egyptian case study is just one example of the philosophy behind IBSA’s relationships with its partners. The company’s regional expansion is made possible by the creation of solid relationships with its distributors and the achievement of shared goals. IBSA is one of the few pharmaceutical companies in the world that has had the same distributors for a long time, some for over 20 years. Vigorelli explains that, “The reason for this longevity, a true case history of our sector, is very simple: at IBSA, distributors are considered real partners and are directly involved in various processes. IBSA has grown together with its partners and vice versa, in a relationship of lasting reciprocity, the foundation of which is based on shared values: quality, loyalty, trustworthiness and responsibility. IBSA builds solid relationships because its regional expansion strategy is built on them. It has always been this way, right from the start: our partner distributors feel part of IBSA, they ‘promote the product’ as if the product they distribute were their own, i.e. the distributor becomes an expression of the company in the region ”.
So is this a recipe that is applied to everyone, across the board?
“More than a recipe, I would say it’s a real way of understanding the value at the base of the pharmaceutical industry: caring for people, attention to their well-being and the constant search for quality. These values are reflected in everything the company does and only those who share them can support our effort to pursue them at all times. IBSA began its regional and international expansion 30 years ago. Our President, Arturo Licenziati, understood the potential of IBSA products outside of Switzerland and the importance of starting to build a solid image for IBSA abroad and in as many countries as possible. In 2001, when I joined the company, we started working with small distributors in Europe, Africa and Asia and then we got the fateful FDA approval to enter the biggest market: the USA. One thing I learned from Dr Licenziati is that it is often better to favour smaller partners over the giants because they are more determined and willing to put themselves on the line than others. Working side by side with these partners is a wonderful experience. It’s really exciting to launch the first product on a market and then see the whole range of products emerge and excel in a market that previously seemed closed and ironclad."
Does that not make IBSA a company that is too restricted, stuck inside stable relationships? Where does innovation come in where you have relationships that last on average more than ten years?
"Actually, it’s quite the opposite. IBSA’s real strength has always been its flexibility and not holding itself back. IBSA has always been agile and quick to respond and has therefore managed to grow rapidly over the years. A proven team of people who have always worked with the same goal: to make IBSA a solid international company. The stability of our commercial relationships and the fact that we can count on a network of trusted distributors is exactly what allows us to ‘dare’. More than new faces, at IBSA we are constantly looking for new, effective, excellent ideas and practices. If we manage to achieve all of this with a partner who we also consider a friend, it gives us double satisfaction. IBSA relates in a professional way but without losing its humanity. Values such as loyalty and respect are part of our DNA, including and above all in the commercial arm of our company. Our ultimate goal is not to sell, but to care for people and this should never be forgotten”.
What is the benefit of being an IBSA business partner in particular?
“Never being left alone, never being treated like numbers and really being able to count on a two-way partnership. IBSA very much appreciates the work of these partners in helping us to promote our image and products of excellence. We share with them moments of glory and success, such as the launch of a newly registered product or the achievement of first place in terms of market share. But we also share difficult times, such as the devaluations of local currencies or the more recent one we are still experiencing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, I think that becoming an IBSA partner only brings advantages, I really do!”.