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Back with my journey over the years……
It was beginning of 1999. I had closed shop on my marketing business and was looking for other options. Basically, I was looking for a job.
Lahore had a handful of pharmaceutical companies who were doing organized marketing and sales. There were several smaller companies who didn’t have marketing and sales structure; they did business through other channels such as wholesale market or government institutions.
Some time in February I was sitting with an old colleague when another acquaintance dropped by. During small talk he asked me if I had seen the ad for the position of Marketing Manager in CCL. I said I hadn’t. He said he would bring the newspaper clipping to me. He was very kind to bring it next day.
CCL is an old company; in the same league as Schazoo and PDH. The acronym CCL stood for Consolidated Chemical Laboratories originally. Later, the name was changed to CCL Pharmaceuticals.
I sent in application and got a call a few days later. We met and discussed. Then we met again and then a final time again. I was taken for the position of Marketing Manager. I joined in April 1999.
CCL had a successful history with flagship brands like Pulmonol and Furadil and Fosomin. The structure was traditional, like most Pakistani companies who had been in business for 25-30 years.
My predecessor was Zubair Khalid Nagi, a well-respected marketing professional who came from Highnoon. He worked for about three years and made several changes in team structure, work methodology and business segments. He introduced some new brands. I heard that he faced a fair amount of resistance from the long standing team members. It was understandable. Bringing fundamental changes to any organization is strenuous, both physically and emotionally.
When I joined, I received a well-placed sales and marketing structure. There was an NSM, RSMs etc. and there were product managers. I did not head the entire sales and marketing in the beginning. I was responsible for marketing fully, and sales partially.
Since the beginning, I had worked in multinational companies. It was a switch in the real sense. Many things that we took for granted in MNCs were not there.
Late 1980s and 1990s were a defining period for the pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan. This is a whole subject worth writing about, and I shall do it over time. As a beginning, I can point out four epic trends which catapulted the Pharma Industry. If you look beneath the surface, you will see that these were interconnected and interrelated.
- Latest Generics. Local Pharma was historically manufacturing their own formulations or simple generics. Own formulations were generally recognized as flagship brands; Pulmonol from CCL, Eplacherry Tonic from Epla, Urodonol from Opal, and so on. Simple generics included tetracycline, chloramphenicol, sulphadiazine, chloroquines and so on. These were all mass-use, low cost products, whose innovator brands were 20-30 years old. Then came the shift. Local Pharma brought in generics of current innovator products such as Ofloxacin, Ciprofloxacin, Omeprazole, Famotidine, Ranitidine, Cephradine, Cefotaxime, Ceftriaxone etc. Interestingly, some generics performed even better than innovators. The latest generics had higher prices and were accepted rather quickly, in spite of initial reservations. When other companies saw this success, they followed suit. Soon the race among local Pharma was to bring the ‘first generic’ of innovator brand. Next was price competition. The share of market between innovators and generics changed rapidly in favor of generics. It was 80:20 (MNCs: Local Pharma) and it came to 20:80. It is an epoch-making change.
- Customer Selection. Wen local pharma was selling old generics, their target customers were different. They could not take new generics to this set of customers. They were forced to approach the same customers who were traditionally innovator products’ customers. These included senior doctors, consultants, Professors and so on. The local Pharma was not accepted immediately, but they were consistent and made inroads. Now, virtually all barriers against generics have fallen and innovators and generics sit in the same prescription. The access of local Pharma to senior doctors encouraged them to bring more such products and the portfolios grew quickly.
- Work Orientation. They say ‘if you want to be friends with camel-owners, you should make your doors tall’. The work philosophy, orientation and methodology changes with the customers you approach and the markets you enter. It had to happen and it did. Many old local Pharma metamorphosed themselves into something completely new. Those who did not, became irrelevant; if they still exist, it is at a bare level. These effects were generally positive and upgrading. Around this time, there was a mass shift of people from MNCs to local Pharma. These women and men were highly trained and they helped the local Pharma to adapt themselves to new requirements, new standards and new practices.
- Channel Selection. Another major impact was on market channels. Pharma business had two major channels; wholesale and retail. MNCs always depended more on retail while local Pharma did the opposite. With the new generics, retail market became more important per force. Wholesale market did not die but changed in many ways. Those wholesalers/ retailers who did not understand and identify with the market changes, lost business and were even forced out of business. The rise of retail pharmacies, including the concept of chain pharmacies, is rooted in the ways the Pharma business changed in Pakistan.
It was during the same phase when I landed into local Pharma. It was not the beginning but it was around the peak……