What it takes to be a biotechnology General Manager from home during COVID-19

08 Jun 2020

What it takes to be a biotechnology General Manager from home during COVID-19

As the world works from home, what additional leadership pressures are faced by a General Manager like Marika Murto, of biotechnology company Amgen The Netherlands?

What does your work situation look like during this pandemic?

As General Manager for the Netherlands’ operations, I have been working from home.

It has now been over 2 months, so we are getting used to it. As a biotech company, our first concern was ensuring that we are able to supply our medicines to patients who are in need.

"Every patient, every time", that's our motto. That was followed by ‘how do we take care of the safety of our team’?"

We have many people who normally would go to the hospital to meet the physicians and the nurses; they have not been able to go there for two months.

And we have ongoing clinical trials in various hospitals in the Netherlands, so that's something we needed to manage to carry on doing virtually.

So what happened is that early on, the most important thing was making sure that supply is not at risk. So, the people that stayed were the people who are essential on-site to make sure that the patients are supplied. The rest, we sent home.

We needed to manage the transportation from the Netherlands to other countries in Europe. That was a big effort in the beginning, because, at that moment, Italy was having a really big problem. Luckily, we have been able to manage it really well, so that's a good thing.

What insight(s) has this COVID-19 situation given you personally?

What has been a positive surprise to me is that when you look at it, the pharmaceutical industry has to be the ultimate solution to COVID-19. Will it be a vaccine? Maybe and hopefully, there will be some kind of a treatment, and also help for those patients who are infected and who are in a severe condition. Amgen is for example collaborating with another company to develop antibodies to treat or prevent COVID-19.

“It’s not just pharmaceutical companies focusing their efforts to solve the situation, but also hospitals and physicians. Everybody's working together in order to solve it”

That's been really great. What I find interesting is that existing product(s) of different companies could help, and these trials are ongoing. Also, I look at the kind of scientific approach. For example, Iceland, where they have studied the virus at a genetic level on how it spreads and mutates, what can we learn from them? And, could we help society to cope with the situation?

To me, it has been amazing how flexible people are. Because normal life has changed overnight. With our people now working from home, we've been able to organise their monitors and all the virtual tools, and it works very well.

What do you like and what do you find difficult about the disruption caused by this pandemic?

I like the amount of innovation that is out there. There are amazing stories, like telemonitoring of patients' conditions and pharmacists bringing medicines to patients' homes.

“I like these kinds of quick fixes and quick solutions that people just manage to do under pressure”

Furthermore, we are somehow closer to each other through this crisis and that's what I appreciate.

What advice would you give other CEOs facing the COVID-19 leadership challenge?

When it's a really uncertain situation, you need to communicate what you know, what you don't know, and then build as clear a picture as you can, but also admit that not everything is clear and things will change.

We now have weekly all-staff calls, with more than 100 people every Friday morning, to discuss what the situation is and what we have learned this week. That has turned out to be really useful.

The final thing that I found really important is to look at the company values and identify ‘what is our purpose in this situation’. That tells everyone to focus on the important things, basically.

Thank you, Marika Murto, for your compelling insights!