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Agility, adaptability, and courage: Stories from Covid-19

By Suresh Pattathil, ‎Managing Director & General Manager, Allergan India (an AbbVie Company)

Suresh Pattathil, ‎MD & GM, Allergan India

The one word that was repeatedly used over the last year to describe the devastation wrought by Covid-19, was ‘unprecedented’. It described what we collectively faced as an industry, as did all the other industries as well. Covid-19 tested us on our readiness to change, our staying power and our capacity for finding sustainable business and marketing solutions. AbbVie was no exception. However, we were able to sustain operations this past year because of our ability to be agile, accountable, and courageous in the way we did our business.

Here are some business lessons and operational measures that guided us through these perilous times:

1. Growth may be delayed but does not have to be derailed

Globally we stayed on course to complete the acquisition of Allergan by AbbVie and stabilised the merged entity to ensure that the coming together of two strong companies would provide more solutions for unmet medical needs.  The new AbbVie will be a well-diversified leader in many important therapeutic categories, including ophthalmology, with both on-market and pipeline assets, and our strength in research and development will enable us to continue to invest in innovative science to serve the unmet medical needs of patients who rely on us.

While the pandemic initially delayed our acquisition plan, the leadership teams were determined to see it through despite the challenging circumstances. And their hard work and single mindedness worked. The merger went through very successfully and smoothly and was launched digitally across the globe.

  1. ‘Smart and sure’ decisions can ensure business continuity even during difficult times

The pandemic pushed us into making decisions that were smart, in time, and benefited our key stakeholders: employees, doctors and patients. For our employees, we were one of the first pharmaceutical companies to announce a work from home policy, even before the March 2020 lockdown in India. We encouraged employees to engage digitally with healthcare professionals and colleagues to ensure their safety.

Keeping pace with the evolving Covid-19 protection measures, we provided our employees with Covid-19 care packages and user manuals on how to keep themselves and their families safe during the pandemic. Even when the lockdown eventually lifted and travel restrictions were relaxed, we worked together with our employees to ensure that the use of public transport was minimal and that they travelled only when necessary.

  1. Digitization was an inflection point that overturned traditional perceptions of how we do our business

If a pandemic of this nature had hit us 20 or 30 years ago, it is possible that all businesses would have been hit a lot harder than they were in 2020. The single most powerful difference between 1990 and 2020 was the widespread availability of digital tools and resources, which could be quickly adapted to suit remote working, aid supply chain management and enable digitally distanced discussions and knowledge sharing. In a short amount of time, we were able to set up a system that allowed our field force to interact digitally yet meaningfully with doctors, in a safe way. Internally, we harnessed these tools to connect with one another within the company. This was especially critical during the integration of Allergan with AbbVie. It also helped break down silos, giving employees the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues beyond their own teams.

At the level of doctors, we found that telemedicine, using a digital interface, was widely and successfully used by patients to seek diagnosis and by doctors to provide treatment advice.  I believe that this could continue to be a cost effective and efficient way to ensure follow up consultations in chronic therapy and it is here to stay.

Digitization also broke down geographic barriers. We were able to organize several external webcasts, webinars and programmes that allowed over 5000 ophthalmologists from India to participate and even interact and learn from leading experts around the world. In fact, some doctors agreed that this format was more conducive to purposeful interactions.

We managed to engage employees with fun and wellbeing programs online, to ensure that we maintained a sense of bonhomie in the absence of physical interactions. In a ‘normal’ world, it would have been a challenge to bring together 600 employees under one roof for cohesive assimilation, however during Covid-19, we managed to do it with just a click!

Now that there is new hope on the horizon with the arrival of several safe and effective vaccines, undoubtedly, all businesses will return to full operations sometime soon. It will be interesting to see how many of these digital operational models that emerge can be sustained after the melding and merging that Covid-19 forced on us.

At AbbVie, we are proud to say that all through the Covid-19 turmoil, we did not lose our operational energy, kept our innovative spirit high and honoured our commitment to stakeholders to maintain delivery of medical support without breaking down or compromising on safety and quality.

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