Article: ‘Digital transformation is the harbinger of a new paradigm of work’


‘Digital transformation is the harbinger of a new paradigm of work’

Christopher Tay, Group Chief Admin Officer & Member Board of Directors, Menarini Asia Pacific Holdings, talks about the silver lining of COVID-19 crisis, in an interview with People Matters.
‘Digital transformation is the harbinger of a new paradigm of work’

Christopher Tay, Group Chief Admin Officer & Member Board Of Directors, Menarini Asia Pacific Holdings has almost 25 years of experience. He has worked with companies like Singapore Airlines and HP. Currently, at pharmaceutical company Menarini Asia Pacific Holdings he provides leadership and strategic direction for a broad spectrum of key corporate services functions including Human Resources, Corporate Secretariat, Legal, Compliance and Intellectual Property, Corporate Branding and Communications, Information Technology & Facilities. 

In a recent interview with People Matters, Tay shares how Menarini APAC is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on business, people, and work. He also talks about the digital transformation the global health crisis has led to. 

Here are excerpts of the interview.

Among all the sectors, healthcare and pharmaceuticals have gained maximum attention as the world battles one of the worst global health crises ever seen by the history of mankind. What challenges and opportunities has the pandemic brought for the sector?

Enough has probably been said by now about the unprecedented economic and business challenges the pandemic has brought about and so, let me approach this question more positively by looking at the opportunities that are often the flip side of the challenges we face.

In my view, the biggest opportunities through the current global crisis have probably been two-fold. 

Firstly, as governments and the private sector race against time to develop a vaccine and more efficient testing and treatment options for COVID-19, healthcare companies are aptly placed to rise beyond the normal call of duty to devote their best resources into research and development to serve the betterment of society. These companies can make a generational difference to humankind because if not at moments like this, then when? Hence, the channelized attention we are getting even though, just like other companies or industries, each of our businesses may be hurting to varying degrees.

Secondly, I see the acceleration of changing mindsets about telecommuting and digital transformation as the harbinger of a new paradigm of work that will leapfrog many companies into the “virtual reality” age, pardon the pun. For at least a couple of decades, companies have tried to go paperless, operate virtually and leveraged more technology to reduce business travel. Many have succeeded but brick and mortar companies have traditionally faced an uphill challenge to transform because of varying forms of resistance. However, in the blink of any eye, suddenly all these things have become possible and employers who have been resistant to this change in the past have begun to realize that all they needed was a nudge (perhaps with even some government support) to operate in the new world environment. It took a virus for us to finally realize that and we must not lose this momentum!

Has the pandemic enhanced your digital transformation journey in any way? 

At Menarini Asia-Pacific, over 70 percent of our 3,500 staff across 13 major healthcare markets comprise sales and marketing staff. When our medical representatives could no longer visit doctors and hospitals where most of our interactions and knowledge sharing with the doctors took place, it exacerbated the immediate switch to virtual connections with doctors and webinars to facilitate the sharing of product and disease knowledge with our healthcare professionals. The delightful upside was that our representatives were able to channel their commute and often long waiting times to more productive activities, including leveraging technology to better support knowledge sharing.

A subtler challenge for employers was demonstrating care and shoring up employees’ morale during prolonged work-from-home policy. As various lockdown measures took hold, employees suddenly found themselves physically and socially distant from co-workers and other key stakeholders. Recognizing this, we immediately launched Menarini FM, a weekly virtual broadcast to help our employees stay virtually connected and engaged. The platform delivered key leadership messages, addressed topical subjects like WFH more productively, staying mentally fit, juggling work and family at home and how to live out our brand promise, Invigorating Lives, even during a lockdown. Overall, COVID-19 was an opportunity for employers to renew the moral contract between employer and employees, one premised on mutual trust and respect that every employee desires to do their best always regardless of circumstances when they know their employer has their back, come what may.

How has Menarini Asia-Pacific been dealing with the new challenges brought on by the pandemic? Can you give an overview of how you have been managing the crisis and ensuring business continuity for the diverse markets in APAC?

Overall, whilst the pandemic may have taken a slight toll on our business this year, the impact was a far cry from how it has torn apart some other industries and companies.

Though it all, our paramount consideration has always been the health, safety and well-being of our employees. Hence, our employees were reassured of their job security, fully enabled to work from home until the environment was deemed safe enough to return to office or the field. More so as a pharmaceutical company, we believe we also have the responsibility to inculcate the right behaviors among employees to remain confident and contribute to society. To exemplify “Invigorating Lives”, examples of what the company has done include:

  • Demonstrating employee care in word and deed: As a family-owned company, we truly believe that every employee is part of the Menarini family. At the onset of the pandemic and upon realizing the impact it would have on the populations, the leadership quickly closed ranks and first and foremost reassured employees that we would do everything within our powers to keep their jobs safe during this time of need. This outright assurance reverberated with many employees, especially our field force, who felt comforted and cared for in an environment where the future appeared bleak.
  • Supporting Healthcare Heroes: We launched an #ImStayingHome campaign on Instagram across Asia intended to reinforce camaraderie and provide an opportunity for our employees to pay tribute to the frontline healthcare heroes for keeping us safe.
  • Voice of the Workforce during COVID-19: Beginning with Singapore first, employees participated in a corporate pulse survey to assess employees’ sentiments about WFH and the challenges they were facing. The survey provided the management with timely data as it reviewed how best to adjust policies and take meaningful actions to suit the new normal going forward.

Employers who had been resistant to change realized that all they needed was a nudge (perhaps even some government support). It took a virus for us to finally realize that and we must not lose this momentum!

In a time of economic regression and global health fears due to COVID-19, the reputations of pharmaceutical companies are on the line and their impact on the fight against the virus will not be easily forgotten. What does it mean for your business and workforce?

As a pharmaceutical company, this is an opportunity to show how the entire healthcare industry is racing to support society during a time of great need – in big or small ways. Our diagnostic arm has been working tirelessly to identify a high potential vaccine candidate and a more efficient testing kit. At our plants in Italy, we have also converted production capacities to produce sanitizer gels.

As pharmaceutical companies take center stage, what skills do you think will be critical in 2020 and beyond? How are you building a strong talent pipeline to meet the new demands of the sector?

When the future is unknown and uncertain, especially with unprecedented events, scenario plans often get tossed out of the window. What businesses need to respond to the new normal depends on how the businesses must evolve. At such times, strong leadership, resourcefulness, agility and empathy would be core attributes for leaders to adapt their businesses to the new normal. At Menarini Asia-Pacific, we seek to attract and retain talents with these attributes so that come what may, we can rely on our talents to be resilient, adapt and move forward.

Overall, COVID-19 was an opportunity for employers to renew the moral contract between employers and employees, one premised on mutual trust and respect that every employee desires to do their best always regardless of circumstances when they know their employer has their back

How are you dealing with this crisis? What are some personal challenges you think leaders often face these tough times? How are you ensuring that you keep calm, sail through and help others also in these tough times? Share your tips.

Stay positive and believe we can. Leaders must see a silver lining in every crisis and encourage their teams to hope and believe that together we can overcome. There are rich lessons to be learned  from every crisis and we can turn every crisis to an opportunity.

Communicate incessantly with your teams and appreciate them. Build, not erode, TRUST in all you do.

Going forward, how are you looking to use technology as a transformation driver for better employee experience, organizational productivity and business growth?

Digital transformation and going paperless for sustainability reasons are finally becoming a reality for most businesses today and we must leverage this momentum caused by COVID-19 to evolve as a 21st century workforce. We are no exceptions, even at Menarini, despite having done much to tap technology to improve business processes, we will keep working towards providing tools and enabling staff to be more productive and stay well connected with their stakeholders. We realize that much more can be done to advance the total employee and customer experience.


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Topics: Technology, HR Technology, #ResetwithTech, #COVID-19

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