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I came back from Saudi Arabia in February 2005 and took over as General Manager Commercial and Business Development at CCL. My responsibilities were somewhat diverse. I was heading Procurement, Regulatory Affairs, In-licensing and International Marketing and Sales. I would share my learnings and experiences in these areas over time. Let us start with International Business.

History of International Business

Most Pakistani Pharma companies were not active in international business. They probably had enough business in Pakistan and did not want to look outside.

Afghanistan invasion by Soviet Union happened in 1979. Three million refugees came into Pakistan and stayed here for a long time. This was a huge incident which had huge implications for Pakistan socially, politically, financially and commercially. The population swelled in NWFP (now KPK) and Baluchistan. Many refugees were people of means and brought good money with them. It had positive effect on businesses. The pharmaceutical business in these areas increased manifold. Peshawar teams never missed any target for many years.

When refugees started going back after many years, then the pharmaceutical stocks also started moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan. This was the beginning of ‘Export’ to Afghanistan, and the beginning of ‘international business’ for a large number of companies. Majority of Pakistani companies are still doing international business in Afghanistan only.

Enough said about Afghanistan business. My last comment is that it is not truly international business. We move on.

Among exports from Pakistan, Pharmaceuticals were never a priority for the government. The Export Promotion Bureau focused on Textile, Leather goods, Surgical instruments etc. Starting International business was more of a corporate initiative rather than national effort. I must mention Younus Batla sahib who is among the pioneers of international business in Pakistan Pharma. He started international business from Geofman Pharmaceuticals in early 1970s. Later, he shifted to Nabiqasim Pharmaceuticals and continued in international business till his retirement. I believe he is among the most knowledgeable people in Pharma about international business. I had the opportunity to travel with him in some delegations and he was always kind to share his knowledge.

CCL had been ‘flirting’ with international business since late 1990. Nadeem Rehmat, who handled BD at that time, appointed distributors in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Philippines. Registrations were done, and business started. The volume was very small though. Export to Afghanistan started in earnest in 2000 and continued growing.

Previous Model of International Business

The standard model prevailing till early 2000s was that the exporting company appointed distributors in target countries, and applied registrations through them. After registrations, the distributors imported stock and sold the way they considered fit. The principal company did not influence the marketing and sales in the importing country. This model was cost effective, convenient and safe for the exporting company and hence remained popular. It is still practiced by majority of Pharma companies who enter international business even now.

Getz was the first company who focused on international business as a strategic priority, and also changed the model.

Changed Model of International Business

Getz took a leap of faith and went for international marketing. They appointed distributor as distributor only. They installed their own sales team comprising of local staff and promoted their products with proper marketing plans. It worked extremely well for them and Getz became number one exporting company from Pakistan.

CCL decided to adopt ‘Marketing Model’ when I took over in 2005. The first country where we started from was Sri Lanka. It was the first country I visited after taking over. CCL distributor was from a large business group. Pharma was a smaller business for them. We tried to continue with them with changed strategy but six months and two visits later, realized that it would not work. We dissociated from them after an amicable process and moved to another distributor along with existing registrations. They were also a large group, but their Pharma was very active and aggressive. We hired a local manager and launched our first team comprising of five medical representatives.

Sri Lanka has been a fruitful market for many companies. Pakistan has a favorable image in SL generally. Sri Lanka population even now is just about 22 million. Colombo contributes about 80% business while 20% comes from the rest of the country. Indian Pharma companies are very active and all major MNCs are also represented.

For CCL, Sri Lanka proved to be a game changer. The business grew so rapidly that very soon a second and then third team was launched. Today, CCL is among the top ten companies in Sri Lanka and has a major share in overall international business.

To be continued……

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