You may have heard me, or someone say before that Change is the one constant we have. And to embrace it will make life much simpler going forward. However, in terms of impacts, “an Abrupt Change is one that takes place so rapidly and unexpectedly that human or natural systems have difficulty adapting to it”. The COVID-19 pandemic has made a huge impact on our personal, work and business lives. Our first thought is personal – for those immediately and physically impacted. And our second turns to the challenge of maintaining critical pharmaceutical supplies to faraway lands under global lockdown conditions. We have been between a rock and a hard place.

So, facing the strange, Masters has gone the extra mile to ensure general vital medicines are delivered safely, during a challenging time where flight schedules are decimated and the disruption to the supply chain makes planning a pipe-dream. The business has had to endure increases in freight and other supply chain costs. We have done this without passing them on to the developing countries and institutions we serve, who are not geared up for change. Our human response was to absorb this cost to ensure more people do not suffer indirectly from this pandemic. Continuing to provide services to customers in these extraordinarily difficult circumstances has garnered both respect and appreciation.

The collapse in both oil volumes and prices led producing countries to review their purchasing models, insisting that purchases go through a central buying agency, meaning that some of our biggest institutional customers disappeared overnight. And closer to home, the pandemic prompted the UK government to introduce export bans on hundreds of medicines that were perceived to be in short supply. To compound this, public sector buyers in all our regions focused on buying COVID related products and diverted their budgets accordingly. Coronavirus priorities lead to further difficulty; in submitting dossiers for registration, the cancellation of government tenders, a reduction in specialized procedures/treatments and national bans on the supply of certain medicines.

What did we learn?

Throughout the pandemic it has been noticeable that people have been more considerate of one another. For example, in Brazil the lockdown started a week after our regional management change, necessitating home working and the integration and reorganization of processes in a more challenging online environment. It completely altered the way we interact, forcing meetings to take place remotely and in isolation.

However, from that isolation came a shared understanding and renewed sense of purpose. From having to confront new operational challenges to collaborating with our colleagues, suppliers and customers across the world; every single person has been affected by the crisis. The knowledge that we have all been going through this together gives more meaning to the work we do each day: providing vital medicines to patients in need. Because it really does hit home that we are all in need.

Many of us have missed the workplace and the participation in innovative debate as well as general discourse. The types of interactions that leave you with a sense of achievement and the knowledge that you have engaged with others during the day. On a more human note, the window that video conferencing has given us into the personal lives of colleagues and partners, valiantly balancing professional and household obligations has been rather entertaining at times, particularly when children or pets have made an unexpected appearance. In that respect, the pandemic has been great for breaking down barriers and revealing a side to each other that typically would have been hidden.

What did we achieve?

The focus for everybody has been ‘what needs to be done’, rather than ‘what would be nice to do’. This change has hampered discussions that may have progressed more quickly in “normal” times. Nevertheless, at Masters there are so many positives to share:

  • Record breaking Gross Margins in October from the Caribbean
  • Winning a hugely important tender award in Jamaica (NHF)
  • First ever supply of a “Masters” product (Bortezomib) in the Caribbean region.
  • Awarded a tender for the supply of COVID-19 products in El-Salvador
  • Concluding four Licensing and Distribution Agreements with global partners
  • Regulatory submissions in CenAm and Brazil, obtaining MA’s for 2 products as well as COVID-19 Rapid Test Kits.
  • A new company and regional office in Dubai with a Business Unit Head and Sales Manager
  • Working with a partner manufacturer to start business with Libya
  • A new company in Colombia with plans to expand on the regional resources to enter the market
  • Renewal of our Service Agreement with the HMO in Brazil with better margins and increased number of patients.
  • A new team including General Manager, Marketing Manager, Sales Manager and four Sales Reps in Brazil.
  • Neuropad product launch in Brazil
  • Refreshed company branding and website
  • Reputation as a reliable company – our existing customers are now referring us to new customers as being the ‘go to’ company.

The outliers

The Warehouse and QA teams across the organisation deserve special recognition for working on-site throughout the pandemic. By forming their own operational ‘bubble’ and self-managing transmission risks – for example, walking to work instead of using public transport – they have barely taken a day off work. The QA department have been flexible, adaptable, and understanding of the problems we face daily.

There is nothing our customers needed more during these stressful times than for the Customer Service teams and Key Account Managers at Masters to remove some of this burden by solving any problems, and just being there. They made that possible. Indeed, the entire company has risen to this very challenging year and I would like to personally commend and thank each employee by showing my gratitude and admiration to their hard work and dedication.

2021

I believe 2020 and the Abrupt Change gave us an opportunity to better organize our business tasks and plan the future in a more mature way. Masters is going to come out of this ordeal stronger and refurbished. The focus remains the development of new enterprises in each region, expanding market share; and in the medium-to-long term, we will seek to extend the portfolio of our own products. We will continue supporting our existing customer base and never overlook the fact that there is a patient at the end of the chain that needs our help.

Personally, I am excited for our future and will intensify strategic rigour to ensure business growth continues along the trajectory set by 2019. We will need to embrace digital solutions by becoming more familiar with video conferencing and executing business online. Nevertheless, in a world driven by technology, it is our relationships with people that are paramount to our growth. We must focus, ‘stick to our knitting’ and resist opportunities that are not in our field of expertise.

Masters has been around for 36 years and has experienced many peaks and troughs over this time. To be able to weather a pandemic in the fashion that we have, has shown robustness and fortitude. As we go forward, this is something in which we should all take immense confidence. We should be proud that our global subsidiaries – where the virus has hit hard -have maintained operations and survived to tell the tale. When all is said and done, we must be very thankful that our business was still able to operate (and even thrive in certain regions). This pandemic has had a major effect on several industries, but thankfully, pharma has, for the most part, endured.
There are many unsung heroes in our industry and a continued commitment to saving lives that defines our purpose at Masters.

May I take this opportunity to wish you and your families wherever they are, the very best for the year head.

Best wishes
Zulf

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