Dear Colleagues!  This is Asrar Qureshi’s Blog Post #715 for Pharma Veterans. Pharma Veterans welcome sharing of knowledge and wisdom by Veterans for the benefit of Community at large. Pharma Veterans Blog is published by Asrar Qureshi on WordPress, the top blog site. Please email to for publishing your contributions here.

This article takes some insights and the title from INSEAD articles by Ayman Jawhar whose links appear at the end. The original articles are not about pharmaceuticals.

The management thinking worldwide has changed and is still changing constantly. As new challenges appear, new strategies are required to tackle these. The most recent example is that of COVID19 which led to prolonged work from home which is still continuing in most places. The unprecedented rise of all things digital has changed the landscape of market, customer choices, and service parameters.

Pakistan pharmaceutical industry is not keeping pace with international developments in any way. We are not even considering going into manufacturing of biological products, or innovative therapies, or new thinking that has been emerging. Our management style is traditional and maybe fifty years behind the world. We have strong aversion to updating ourselves. I do not expect much from the business owners most of whom are now decently qualified, but not willing to apply it to their own businesses. I understand there is an insecurity among them that if they do something quite different from the norm, they may be rejected by the customers and industry. Everyone, therefore, is sticking to the same model. Reading is our weakest area as a nation anyway, so we miss the opportunity to know lot of new things which are happening in so many areas.

One would expect that the qualified managers would do better because they have the background and credentials to do so. However, it is not so. They are repeating the same things. For example, the format for a new product launch meeting is the same in all companies. There would be matching dresses for all, or polo shirts with the product name that everyone shall wear, there will be cake cutting ceremony, a little bit of training, and lot of noise created by everyone together. If you have followed twenty launches in recent times as reported on the LinkedIn, not one has deviated from the pattern, as if it had been ordained by an act of law. These programs are owned, produced, acted, and directed by the Product Managers. My primary reference and focus are the local pharma industry which has over 80% market share.

Product Managers’ Present (Traditional) Role

When the Marketing Head wishes to pamper the PM, he/she would tell her/him, ‘you are the brand owner, it is your baby’. When things are not doing so well, the language (and tone) changes, ‘you are responsible for the product, you must ensure that you are doing things after discussion and input from seniors.’

In smaller pharma companies, one PM is responsible for a set of products which may include 10-15 brands, or even more. There are three major expectations from the PM.

  1. Develop promotional materials such as promotional folders, stickers, gift items, give-aways, campaigns, launch meetings, etc. In some companies, he/she may be involved in product design and packaging.
  2. Prepare training manuals, slides, and run the training. Even where there is a training department, the product training remains the responsibility of the PM
  3. Follow the business of the product(s), go in the market, work with the field force, extract data from IQVIA if it is available, if not, then try to get some data from somewhere, and be answerable if the product sales are not picking or going down.

Keep these expectations in mind, and we shall realize that we have put the PM in a narrow lane which forces to go only in one direction and does not give space to move around.

Another important aspect is the history of product management in Pharma in Pakistan. As mentioned on previous occasions, it started from no product management and then evolved over time. Many people contributed greatly to evolve this portfolio and it became a strength for the companies. It is also pertinent to mention that the local product management was allowed in the MNCs by their parent offices after quite some time; local corporates had very little in the name of product management. When the parent offices allowed, it was done in a controlled fashion. The promotional materials developed here were sent to the parent offices who would vet it and approve it or ask for changes. In a way, it was a training through which the nascent product management evolved in Pakistan. When things changed and a constant exodus of professionals from MNCs started, they were welcomed by the local corporates. They used their previous training to evolve the same function in local corporates. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jim Collins said, ‘Good is the enemy of Great’. It is so true in so many instances. The good product management in newly growing pharma companies gained importance and made a permanent place for itself. As the business schools grew in number and more people with business degrees became available, the corporate had choice and ease of hiring. The format of product management was well-set, the new PMs came in and religiously followed the things prescribed by their gurus. In few years, they became guru themselves. They developed belief and conviction in what they were doing and became contented with ‘Good’; the Great did not happen.

Product managers are currently in a straitjacketed role which expects them to keep doing the same three things as mentioned above. The PMs are contented, their bosses are contented, and the higher ups are also good with it.

This is where Product Management in Pharmaceutical industry is now. In the next post, we shall look at the basic argument of Ayman Jawahar.

To be Continued……

Disclaimer: Most pictures in these blogs are taken from Google Images and Pexels. Credit is given where known; some do not show copyright ownership. However, if a claim is lodged at any stage, we shall either mention the ownership clearly, or remove the picture with suitable regrets.

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