K-Recruiting: Mr. Antonic, you have been working in the Sales Department for Pharma and Medical Devices for many years now. And you have seen endless Sales organizations, improved them and left them after the projects was finished. What are the challenges you meet before and during your assignments?
Antonic: I think you can give exactly 3 answers to that question. First of all, it is key to win the trust of the employees. When coming to a new assignment, I am the stranger, the new one and more often than not people see me as a threat. People fear for their jobs and are thinking nothing good comes from new things. I am able to put the employees at ease quickly, because I am a sales-oriented restructurer so to speak. My primary goal is certainly never to shed jobs. But besides the unfounded fear of losing the job, there is also the concern about change. But I deal with that very openly and actively. I talk to the employees about it, making the downright promise that they will change!
Secondly, I need to understand how the company operates and thinks. The single employee is one thing, but their interaction with each other is something quite different. This is where my pet subject comes in, the “rules of the game”. My core question is always: what are the internal sacred cows, which rules and dogmas restrict the organization and which of these can you throw over board to make the company more agile and free.
Now to the third topic, where the customer of my client comes into play. Very important for me: How do we interact with the market, how can we become faster for and with the client and what can we do more efficiently and more agile.
K-Recruiting: You are a successful interim manager – in your opinion what are the success factors? What defines a good interim manager?
Antonic: Interim manager as I see them are people with responsibility for employees and results. Clients call on us to improve performance and efficiency, maybe even to save the whole company. Therefore we are almost always forced to make decisions on the spot. I believe that you can only do that, if the executive actually has the ability to quickly make decisions. What does that mean? I need to be excellent concerning technical and market expertise. This means having theoretical and practical knowledge, but also being very close to my inner values. I need to know what I think is right without having to think about it too long. A great analogy for this is the Captain on the Titanic steering towards the iceberg. You can’t call up a meeting or set up a steering committee to find out what to do. Time is of the essence.
Conclusion: A good interim manager needs to combine an inward integrity and being very clear about content and ethics.
K-Recruiting: The classical sales force as it existed in the life science industry 20 or 30 years ago is no more. Where do you see opportunities for now and in the mid-term? Where is the difference between restructuring sales organizations compared to other departments?
Antonic: Please don’t ask me to compare sales with other divisions. As much as I know about sales, as little do I know about R&D or production. The main challenge in sales? Well, to be honest, even if it does not sound too nice, the main task are actually two: You need to ask yourself what to do with medical representatives you do not need as much as you used to. The doors of physicians close and the influence of the HCPs on regulations decrease. At the same time – not really popular – you need to convince those who still cling to the field sales force out of pure traditionalism. What you need to achieve in the medium term is a remodeling of the field force so that it becomes more relevant to HCPs, a relevance that goes beyond information, congresses, regional networks etc. My request at this point: the medical representative must be a valued business partner. This might not yet be possible due to regulations, which is the usual reaction to that opinion: We can’t do that! And this is where the main problem of the industry shows: Lack of agility by decades of success. I say: Gear up your corporate steamships and make them finally flexible, agile and weatherproof.
K-Recruiting: Could you quickly sum up a practical example, which could showcase the difference between a classical and a sales reorganization?
Antonic: I know the classic reorganization as primarily reducing costs. In short: Costs down, especially among the workforce. If it is almost already too late, there is nothing else you can do. A sales re-organization works differently though. For one, it needs more time. Because no matter which actions I take, it takes some time to show their effect. Supply agreements, pricing and customer relationships all that won’t take root overnight. In addition, you have to be very careful how to handle the relationship to the customer when reorganizing sales. Let’s look at an example from the medical device industry: I am head of the field sales force of a diagnostic market segment. Position: market leader in price and quality. Prices where under pressure and many of the employees understood customer orientation as the concept of enforcing the highest price. One key element of the change was to show the employees the business model of the laboratories (their customers). Like this I could change the perception of the employees concerning agility, resilience and negotiating skills.
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