Conversation with Enrico Gasperotti, Head of Pharmaceutical Clusters at IBSA Group21 April 2021
There is a sign in an IBSA office in Lugano that reads “NO COMPLAINING”. It’s the office where IBSA’s production units are managed every day. And it is a factory in the true sense of the word, in that it is where projects, ideas, research and investments become products. 500 people, the ‘line’, report to that office. It manages production, which is to say it makes sure that demand from the market is always satisfied, no matter what happens. And it coordinates all the facilities. While it might seem simple described like that, it is anything but, because in addition to the everyday problems of managing high-tech plants, there are all the complexities of complying with regulations and procedures laid down by the ministries and health authorities of so many countries. Enrico Gasperotti, Head of IBSA Group Pharmaceutical Clusters, runs this office and he is the one who put the sign on the wall.
“I saw that sign on a trip and I liked the spirit it embodies: thinking positive is what leads us, more than anything, to achieve results, especially in production, where problems - even unexpected problems - are always around the corner. A machine that breaks down, a technical issue, an unexpected request can all create a lot of stress. Sometimes, all it takes is a positive attitude and a healthy dose of optimism to ‘get over the bump’. Where I’m from, we say, ‘heaven helps a happy heart’ and I think of that often.”
Is being positive really enough to manage something as complex as the production system of a pharmaceutical company?
Positivity certainly helps, especially when combined with expertise and, above all, respect for people’s work. Pharma, like electronics and precision machines, is one of the most complex sectors you can work in. This is why it is so difficult to find people willing to take on the challenge and why we value our colleagues’ work so much. A job is not just work we do for a paycheck; it’s something that brings meaning to our lives. People’s work is extremely valuable and carries the weight of substantial responsibility, at all levels. A worker on the production line who materially handles the production of a pill or a vial of fluid for injection, for example, is not just executing a task. That worker is directly responsible for what they are doing. Even with all the control systems behind production, the human factor is fundamental. The vast number of control systems, which indeed meet the highest safety standards and prevent the sale of pharmaceuticals that fall short of the level of quality needed, still cannot completely replace the ‘human factor’ and the skill with which our colleagues work every day. Human labour is at the heart of the entire production process, and each individual worker determines the performance of a certain quality parameter. This is the value of our work.
What else do you need to excel in this field?
Dynamism. Take IBSA for example: In 1995, there were 70 of us, and now we are group with over 2,000 people. What made this exponential growth possible, in addition to our founder’s intuition, was the ability to jump at every opportunity and the speed at which we were able adapt, build and expand our offer. So, the company’s dynamism. I remember spending the longest days installing plants and getting them to start, so I could be part of this ‘thing’ that was the creation of new processes. And not because it was financially rewarding, but because back then, nothing like that existed. It was just for the thrill of being part of the business, working, rising up thanks to my work. I was recently talking with a colleague who has been with the company even longer than I have, and we were saying that at IBSA there is always a flurry in the halls, it’s never still. You need to hold down the papers on your desk or everything will blow away. We’re a dynamic company, from every perspective.
Naturally, to do all this, ownership needs to invest considerably, and ours has always provided the necessary resources with great trust and courage.
So, with all this dynamism, how can we picture IBSA’s future?
The challenges we face consist of maintaining our high quality standards and satisfying ever expanding demand for products from the global market. To succeed, we need to consolidate the substantial investments we’ve made in facilities and production sites, while always keeping up-to-date in terms of production and compliance with health regulations. In fact, compliance has a huge impact on production, especially when it comes to approval to start activities. We might have a production line ready to go, but it remains idle for five or six months while we wait to receive the final green light. Until ten years ago, there was more distance between pharmaceutical companies and the authorities, whereas now there is more collaboration, and this enables us to guarantee the utmost safety of pharmaceuticals to the patients who use them.