"Starting a company feels a lot like raising a child"
Medis Pharma Lithuania celebrated their first year anniversary this past December, of 2020. Izolda Areskiene, Country Manager, and her team of dedicated professionals concluded a successful year, having made a turnover more than €900k, which is 26% above budgeted. Medis Pharma launched a number of new initiatives, managed to build a strong business network, worked on creating a positive public image, supported disease awareness initiatives and activities together with patients organizations.
Izolda, originally a medical practitioner, after working within the pharmaceutical industry for 20 years holding various managerial positions, in 2019 joined the company Medis Pharma. In her interview she explained that this way there was an opportunity to get to know the organization of the pharmaceutical company at its core. Her experience was a tremendous help when she joined Medis Pharma, and it aided her in the starting of a regional branch here in Lithuania. Joining the new company itself was very pleasant, says Areskiene, as it had a welcoming atmosphere and a friendly team, making it easy to integrate into the company. Areskiene sees Medis Pharma as a team of professionals, working with whom becomes an inspiring experience.
In this interview, Areskiene reveals the main challenges she’s been facing, she talks about obstacles that were hardest to overcome, and explores the great successes that she and her team have been able to achieve in the short one year of business.
After an exciting year of leading Medis Pharma in the Baltics – how would you evaluate the success and challenges of the organization?
The main challenge I faced last year was the founding and establishing the regional branch in Baltic States from the very beginning - having to create a network of connections and putting Medis Pharma on the map of the pharmaceutical landscape as a reliable and recognizable company in our region.
What is it that you are most proud of after this past year of hard work?
I would definitely mention the fact that we are finally on the map.
Your career so far has been diverse and interesting. Tell us more about it.
After being a medical practitioner in pediatric pulmonology, I started working in the pharmaceutical business in the beginning of 2000, first as a sales representative, and then have worked my way up to the current position. My personal experience allowed me to get to know what is important to my customers. At that time I joined the pharma world, international pharmaceutical companies had only just begun appearing in the Baltic States. Everything was new and unknown, nobody really knew how everything was going to work. But we all were very eager to bring the best and the most innovative medicine to all our patients.
After 1990ies, when the three Baltic States regained their independence, everything was changing very fast, including the pharmaceutical world as well. The sudden changes created a gap of specialists in the pharmaceutical business. Therefore, it was very natural that the doctors or people practicing medicine joined this industry and created this new field. For us doctors who were working in this new pharma field, it was very natural to feel that the patient must be first. We were very interested to provide all the available therapies to our patients. We also were eager to learn and share our knowledge with the local physicians.
I started at Abbott Laboratories, American company, which was very keen on ethical business sense. There I learned how important is that aspect of the business, and that principle became one of my core values while in this industry. To me, the respect to customers, local regulations, legal requirements and business transparency is really very important.
What sort of culture would you like to create in this company? What is crucial, even for a small team like yours?
Our priority is always the responsibility for the customer. Everyone in the group represents not just themselves but the company. They are the face not only of Medis Pharma but of the whole pharmaceutical industry. Therefore they bear a big responsibility not only for what they offer but how that is represented and delivered to the customer.
I also highly value the real team spirit, working together, and open and mutual understanding.
Trust, honesty and teamwork are often mentioned in regard to the work environment.
Working well as a team makes a solid base for high achievements - as do trust and honesty. Also, it is equally important to try and create a pleasant work atmosphere, where no one is afraid to speak their mind, where everyone’s ideas count, and everyone is involved in the decision making process.
Do you miss your days of working as a medical doctor?
No, not really, because my work is still closely related to medicine. I keep track of all the latest high-tech medical product developments, research and information. By working in this industry, I have the option of going more deeply into them to analyses and discuss them when needed.
Although I am not by a patients’ bedside, being in direct contact with novelty medicines gives me the feeling that I am helping them regardless. I had occasions when I received phone calls from physicians asking me for advice regarding certain medications. So in my book, I am indeed close to patients, and their needs always come first, definitely before commercial interests.
From your perspective, what is currently the biggest hurdle of the market?
I would say that the biggest problem is that we still do not have direct and open communication between the governmental medical care facilities and local authorities and the pharmaceutical industry. I am missing a dialog where the patient comes first, and the willingness and effort from both sides of how to achieve that and get the best results. We need to work together to find the best way for a sustainable healthcare system in which every patient will receive the best and tailor-made treatment.
Where do you see Medis Pharma in the short- and mid-term? What are your goals for the company?
This year, I am on the mission to make Medis Pharma more prominent, which means a bigger and more diversified portfolio based on the needs and requirements from the local practitioners. I would like our company to be perceived as a reliable partner with high ethical standards.
Medis Pharma is a multi-cultural company with affiliates in many different countries. Did you have an opportunity to work with any Slovenian or Balkan company before? What is your impression about this part of Europe now?
I see some differences between us. I would say that Baltic people are perhaps more like Scandinavians, we are more timid and less talkative. We focus more on fulfilling the task on our own. At least, that’s my impression. But then again, I could be wrong.
I find the people of Slovenia to be very emotional and open hearted. I would say that they work well, maybe we could learn from them to have that energy in our team. We could learn from their openness and willingness to support each other. I really enjoy working for Medis Pharma the multicultural company, to get learn from different cultures, to work with many different people to share all our differences. It makes us all better and more experienced.
You have set up Medis Pharma Lithuania from scratch, therefore you have a very good overview of what has happened over the past year. What is your first impression if you think back?
I would compare this whole process to raising a child. There are a lot of sleepless nights filled with worries about your baby and how you will see him grow and develop. There are indeed a lot of similarities in starting a business. And, the same as having a child, nothing can prepare you for that arrival and unknown. The same goes for starting a new company-even though Medis Pharma belongs to a well-developed network of branches throughout Europe, there are so many things that a new manager has to do. I had a vision as to what I wanted to achieve, there were and still are many new things I encounter and need to deal with. Every morning when I come to work, I am aware of my responsibility for my “baby” and all of its needs, and I find myself constantly thinking of what I need to do to make my “baby” become a respected, independent subject with high integrity.
Has raising your “child” been easy so far?
I have to say, sometimes it's very difficult, as one cannot always be sure what the right step to take next. I think a lot about what our next move is and how to do it. Looking back on the past year, I am proud to say that we as a team have achieved a lot and have done it right. My customers and their feedback is the best validation for the work that was done. I am happy with our achievements, so I can proudly say that all those sleepless nights have paid off. I believe we have made the right decisions. Now it is time to grow further and we are ready to take on more responsibilities.
In the future, what will be the crucial factor of success in the pharmaceutical industry and in Medis Pharma?
I would list things like flexibility, the ability to swiftly adapt to changes in the market, experienced and diligent employees as well as earnest and dedicated work ethics.
QUOTATIONS OF CUSTOMERS
What is your first impression of Medis Pharma Lithuania?
Medis Pharma Lithuania wholesale Oribalt Vilnius - “It is a great honour for us to be able to cooperate with the Slovenian company Medis Pharma in the Baltic States – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – and to be responsible for supplying medical preparations, commercialised by Medis Pharma, in the region. Our cooperation has been going on for almost a year now and we are proud and happy to be able to support Medis Pharma in their great mission to sell innovative pharmaceutical products – medicines and medical equipment designed for patients with special needs to ease their lives.”
Elene Lasiene (nurse, Vilnius University Hospital Santaros Klinikos) – “Medis Pharma is the trustful company! Nice and easy cooperation!”
Lina Gumbine (cardiologist, Vilnius University Hospital Santaros Klinikos) – “A reliable and customer-oriented company.”
Virginija Kalinauskaite-Zukauske (pulmonologist, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Kaunas Clinics) – “Patient-oriented approach and being when needed. They have a communication and business strategy that creates a sense of security.”