Actelion Austria – Celebrating it´s 10th anniversary
Martina Schmidt highlights the achievements of the Austrian affiliate in the last ten years. Of course, there were also challenges – for the company, the affiliate and personal ones. The Austrian team has done a great job and is one of the three strongest markets of Actelion worldwide.
Congratulations, your affiliate is just celebrating the 10th anniversary. Looking back what were the biggest achievements of the affiliate?
I guess, of course, the principal decision to be founded in 2002!That was the beginning of a 10-year success story. You have to ask my predecessor Michael Danzl, it must have been an indescribable feeling to sell the first box of Tracleer in September 2002 and to have the first real patient on therapy. Another key step was in 2007 when we penetrated the 10 Mio € sales barrier or even in 2008 when we moved to our new office where we are still located today. Our old office was very fast too small and very hot – up to 44°C during summer!
What are the main challenges for a GM of an affiliate?
For me personally, the main challenge is to be a good leader besides all the other tasks I have to fulfill within a mid-sized affiliate. I am convinced that people management and leadership are the keys for a longstanding success of an organization. This goes beyond marking presence and giving directions: As a GM you have to take the time to listen to your team, and try to understand the needs, behaviors and motivations of your employees. You have to treat all of them equally, give them the chance to develop, grow and have their own responsibilities and tasks. Of course, good leadership means also to take decisions, also hard ones, such as ending a contract with an employee. That’s also part of the job. Especially tough is the role model function a GM needs to fulfill. In my view, a GM has to have a warm heart, a cool head and, most importantly, working hands. You cannot expect something from your team that you are not willing to do by yourself – that’s my key principle!
What were the biggest challenges for your affiliate?
One of the biggest challenges in my time within Actelion was our pricing procedure with the Austrian sick fund to get Tracleer reimbursed for Digital Ulcers. In order to apply and have a chance to get reimbursement we had to decrease the price by 10% in advance. However, this didn’t give us the guarantee to get a positive reimbursement for the extension of the indication. And: a 10% price cut means that you lose 10% of all your sales, even in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension!It was a risky strategy, but we succeeded thanks to excellent teamwork, meticulous preparation and high level of experience in negotiating with authorities and public bodies.
The second big challenge was end of 2010 when our Phase III study with clazosentan failed and Actelion was attacked by the hedge fund called Elliot. This was one of the most challenging times for me personally. The challenging situation also led to the departure of some of our key employees within only some months. For me personally, that was an experience of heavy working overload, self doubts, grief and demotivation. But at the end, I came out with a new strength, confidence and motivation that I could transfer even to my team and to the newcomers joining Actelion within the next months. The very important learning of all of this was that after turbulent times the sun comes out again. We have just to be patient and think positive!
What role has the Austrian market come to play within Actelion’s global strategy?
I am convinced that Austria plays a key role within our region but also within Actelion. Austria is a country that offers remarkable business chances for the pharmaceutical industry within a transparent and calculable environment. Of course, there is always a price pressure too, especially with expensive drugs, but nevertheless our system gives us certain warranties, nothing happens from one day to another. That’s a big asset of the Austrian market.
Besides, I am of course very proud to emphasize that Austria is one of the three strongest markets for Actelion worldwide with respect to the penetration rate (patients per million inhabitants). That’s the result of our consequent job we have done over the past 10 years.
As you strive to grow and develop this affiliate, what are you most looking forward to over the next five years?
I am really looking forward to the new challenges that we are actually facing. With macitentan, we have a great opportunity in our hands but the market has changed over the past years, we have more competitors than ever and we are expecting the first generic drugs within a foreseeable while. Therefore, we have to position macitentan in a very unique way very quickly. That’s the key challenge for the next months and years. Besides, we have to take care of our most loved Tracleer, to defend its market leader position until macitentan can replace it.
That’s the second challenge. We are operating on a very high level and that’s where I see the third big challenge I am facing for the next three to five years: to defend our actual sales level and market leader position within the PAH market by keeping the team motivated, inspired and focused.