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‘Novo Nordisk Korea has no plan to downsize’CEO vows to improve perception of insulin shots
  • By Nam Doo-hyun
  • Published 2018.02.13 15:46
  • Updated 2018.02.13 15:46
  • comments 0

Multinational pharmaceutical companies have recently struggled over labor disputes due to the management’s push for restructuring and voluntary retirement amid declining revenues.

However, a Danish drugmaker’s Korean unit head confidently says the company has no plan to reduce the number of employees, “thanks to strong pipelines.”

Rana Azfar Zafar, the general manager of Novo Nordisk Korea, said he would employ more workers this year, after hiring 22 new employees last year.

A continued release of promising products will make workforce reduction unnecessary, said the CEO in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Novo Nordisk Korea is leading the local anti-diabetic treatment market, securing more than 20 percent of market share, with its next-generation insulin Tresiba.

Also, the company plans to launch other drugs, including obesity treatment Saxenda, anti-diabetic combo drug Xultophy, and fast-acting insulin Fiasp this year.

While serving as general manager of the company’s Pakistan unit, Azfar Zafar boosted not only the company’s size but its revenue as well. Before being appointed as CEO of the Korean unit in December 2016, Azfar Zafar worked as general manager of Novo Nordisk Pakistan from October 2009 to December 2016. The number of employees at the Pakistan unit spiked to 230 now from 35 in 2009. He also worked as sales director for Eli Lilly from October 2008 to October 2009.

In Pakistan, Azfar Zafar led efforts to improve perceptions about insulin injections.

Azfar Zafar said he would take initiatives to publicize the need for the use of insulin at early stages in Korea, where people have a strong prejudice against the insulin use. To do so, the company’s workforce needs to keep growing, he said.

Rana Azfar Zafa, general manager of Novo Nordisk Korea

Question: How would you assess your achievement in the past year?

Answer: First, I’ve done a lot to promote Tresiba’s efficacy. I’m getting positive feedback from doctors and patients.

Second, I expanded the size of Novo Nordisk Korea, and third, I focused on staff training.

As a result, the company’s revenue grew 11 percent last year from 2016, and our market share went up by 3 percent. Overall, it was a successful year.

Q: What made you so successful in Pakistan?

A: In Pakistan, many patients would not receive insulin treatments, which was an opportunity for us. In many countries, insulin is the last treatment. Because it comes as an injection, people are scared of it.

Such perception is quite active in Korea mainly because people do not understand the real value of insulin. In Pakistan, helping people recognize the insulin’s value worked well.

In Pakistan, however, people are less educated than Koreans, and there was a lack of awareness of diabetes itself. In contrast, Koreans are much more educated. So, it is essential for us to promote insulin’s benefits and break the prejudice here.

The value of insulin is simple. You develop diabetes because you lack insulin. So, you have to take insulin injections. If you consider insulin as the last treatment option, you can’t fully benefit from insulin.

We’re delivering the message to doctors and patients that you should start insulin injections early to enjoy tremendous benefits.

Q: As you mainly increased the size of the company in Korea, do you have the same plan in Korea?

A: The number of employees at Novo Nordisk was 132 in 2017. When I first came to Korea in 2016, it was 110. In one year, the number increased by 22. I’m planning to hire more workers going forward.

Novo Nordisk Korea has good pipelines coming up, including anti-diabetic combo Xultophy and fast-acting insulin Fiasp. We need more workers to support new products.

We don’t have to reduce employees and don’t have any plan to do so. We’re at a time when we have to nurture talents and expand the company size. In this sense, Novo Nordisk Korea’s future is very bright.

Companies cut workforce because they lack good pipelines. We have excellent and prospective products, which gives us no reason to cut workforce. Just like last year, we will keep expanding this year.

Q: Do you have some principles in personnel management?

A: Korean workers are very competent. I find it hard to decide whom to hire.

When I find talents, I see two things. First is a right attitude, in other words, whether the person has an ambitious goal and approach. Second is whether the person can learn fast.

If a person has both, we hire him or her to provide Novo Nordisk Korea’s best talent development training program.

Korean workers have potentials to become much more excellent if they get access to opportunities for talent development and training. Indeed, I’ve seen many examples.

Q: What is your strategy for Xultophy, which is a latecomer?

A: Tresiba is a long-acting basal insulin, which reduces the fluctuations of blood glucose and maintains the blood glucose constant.

Ryzodeg reduced the inconvenience of patients -- who had to take three to five insulin shots a day under a conventional basal-bolus insulin therapy – by cutting the number of injections to one or two a day. Likewise, Xultophy was made for patient convenience.

As Xultophy has such strength, I will try to advance the release of the product.


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