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Mantell Associates Network: Q&A with Luigi Trussardo

​As part of the Mantell Associates Network podcast earlier this year, CEO Alessandro Mantell spoke with Luigi Trussardo.

As part of the Mantell Associates Network podcast earlier this year, CEO Alessandro Mantell spoke with Luigi Trussardo. Luigi Trussardo is CEO at Olon Ricerca Bioscience, a US-based CRO/CDMO supporting the development and manufacture of APIs and performance materials in support of clinical supply, market development and commercial distribution. Olon Ricerca Bioscience has a broad range of Specialty Chemical Manufacturing capabilities to suit your needs for Chemical Based Industries.

Luigi has more than 30 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare business, working for multinational companies in the field of clinical diagnostic, medical devices and fine chemical business. Luigi Trussardo received a BSc in Biology from Milan University.

Alessandro Mantell: Thank you all for joining us today for this episode of the Mantell Associates Network podcast. I am joined today by Luigi Trussardo who is the CEO of Olon Ricerca Bioscience. Olon are a business who not only cover the CDMO part but also focus on the Preclinical side of the business, and they have sites all across the US and Europe as well.
Luigi is someone who Mantell Associates, as a business, has known for a while now and I’m interested to really deep-dive and find out a bit more about you and the company. So thank you for joining me on the podcast Luigi. 
There’s going to be a lot of leaders and employees in the world right now who are feeling uncertain and are going to be interested in what other businesses are doing right now. With you leading hundreds of people across the globe at Olon, I’m interested to find out what your life has been like since the start of COVID-19. Obviously you’ve got work and home life – how’s it all going and what does your average day look like at the moment?

Luigi Trussardo: Hi Alessandro, thank you very much for inviting me onto the Mantell Associates Network. Yes, the last few months have brought massive changes in my life in terms of both business and personal life. But luckily our kind of business is considered essential here in the States so we have remained open during most of this Coronavirus outbreak in the area. So we are still working on site although we have of course adopted a lot of preventative measures. Life has definitely changed for all of us, we have had to change some of the procedures internally in the company so it has been more difficult than before.

My personal life is changing in the sense that, of course, with my wife, we try to be away from crowded areas, restaurants, all of that part of life is forgotten for the time being. So we stay at home most of the time, we are not travelling, one of our most preferred things to do is travelling around the states and visiting the sites and especially the nature that we have in the United States. In the last two months, we have adopted a different style and we are offering something that is going to change in the future, but of course we are prepared to be safe and healthy.

Alessandro Mantell: Amazing, amazing. I think everyone is feeling the exact same and with you based in Ohio, I know that things have started to open up in terms of bars and restaurants. In terms of the working day, how are you getting through, what does it look like, day in – day out for you and your staff. 

Luigi Trussardo: Personally my working day was not changing much. I am an early bird so I am coming into the office, 6am – 6.15am and I am leaving at 6pm, so it is a normal 12 hour day that all the managers are used to. The business is changing because the relationship with employees is more virtual via phone or video conferences. We do not have meetings inside the building anymore.

It is very important to rely on your employees to understand that they are working efficiently in the company but at the same time, some are independent in terms of what they are doing day by day. It is important to keep in contact with them and as I said organise phone calls and video conferences with the 1st line of management of the company as well as with Italy, the mother company.

All of the Olon Ricerca group, in general, are already in the pharmaceutical production of drug substances so we have to keep our activity going to serve our clients and not to interrupt our services. Especially because our group is involved in some of the projects that are against COVID-19. 

Alessandro Mantell: You mentioned something earlier about clients and how you have been dealing with the client side. How has business been for you guys since the start of this? 

Luigi Trussardo: We weren’t really expecting this but the business was growing more than before, that was crazy from our side. I don’t know if it was related to the situation, or the client who was going to be more involved in the clinical trials. We are involved in 2 to 3 clinical trials for COVID-19. There may be some slowing down in terms of funding of the business and clinical trials themselves because hospitals worldwide are more focused on the COVID-19 clinical trials then others. The contact with the client was constant with our BD in the field, of course, they were working from home. They were contacting the client through phone or video conference and in the last 2 – 3 months our activity has been really increasing inside of the company. 

Alessandro Mantell: That’s amazing to hear and you are not the first person who I have spoken to, who has said that. You were so honest there, you had the exact same outlook that I had, at the start I was expecting everything to get worse and was preparing for the worst but actually, out of the situation, it’s turned out to be a positive for you guys which is brilliant. What kind of changes have you personally made inside the business of Olon Ricerca to adapt to COVID-19 and the new working conditions or new working style? 

Luigi Trussardo: I don’t know if this is the right expression but we took advantage of the fact that we have an Italian mother company that was affected by COVID-19 before us. It is sad to say because Italy was highly affected by COVID-19. It was atraumatic situation over there and for some time we had a very very difficult situation especially in the area around Milan where most of the factories of Olon Ricerca are located. But Italy was first affected so they were informing me about what was going on and was going to happen in the near future. The virus was not stopping by borders, it was not stopping by distance, so the virus was expected to spread everywhere. So I was informed before, by the action that was taken in Italy so I adapted it to fit over here in Olon Ricerca. 

We started to inform our employees, I remember the date, it was March 9th, even before the state of Ohio was declared to be in a state of emergency. We were already acting before anyone else in the state was asking us to act. We were informing the employees that some changes were going to happen and which prevented measures to adopt week after week. We would follow the guidelines of the CDC, of the Ohio Department of Affairs and implement more and more measures, allowing us to keep our people safe. We were also very very strong in suggesting to employees to adopt the same measure at home, outside of the workplace because, again, the workplace is part of your life. Often life is outside of the workplace so it is important that you are very attentive outside with family. It is important to stay safe for you and for your family, the company as well, but it is you and your family that is the most important part of staying safe and healthy. We started to adopt the measures and started to advise people to stay at a social distance, to clean hands, not touch their face, and clean around. 

We then adopted more measures, we started working in shifts, departments with more people working inside the building, would work in shifts so there were less people in contact with each other. We also invited people who had the possibility to work from home, to work from home so that we could have less contact between employees. Then we adopted the measure of having fever control at the entrance in the mornings, people were monitored so that we knew who was entering the building, as this was a symptom of COVID-19.

We adapted week after week with this information from Italy, as they had experienced this before us. It was important to have this connection, I had to be very honest and trust them with COVID-19 and the preventive measures. Everyone was looking at me like I was a crazy man because we were talking about this virus that we had never seen before. In the US, the information about the virus in February was still that it wasn’t going to happen, it was going to disappear after 3-4 weeks or in the summer. So the information was not exactly scientific, so the people were looking at me like a crazy man but after a couple of weeks, they realised that we were lucky to adopt everything in time. 

Alessandro Mantell: That’s amazing that you were able to have that insight into what life was going to be like before a lot of your competitors or even people in the state. As you of course have family, have ties and have business over in Italy. So you would have been able to be pretty exact with the information. You are the first business leader that I have spoken with who has said that you brought in fever control, which is really interesting so how does that work, how is it tested every single day? 

Luigi Trussardo: We have adopted a system where we have a single point of control for all of the employees. Even if we have two different buildings on our site, all of the employees will have to come to one building and there is a specific external person that is testing the fever, allowing the people to enter or not enter the building based on the temperature control. We are also doing this with external contractors entering the site, we have for example, maintenance people, making laboratory equipment, repairs of the equipment, they have to be tested and declare they were not visiting any site with any affected COVID-19 people in the 14 days prior to coming to our site. 

Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely, you mentioned earlier something that I liked, family and friends always come first and you have to look after those people and then after that comes work and how to adapt to it. Something else that you touched upon was working remotely for staff, some have got to work from home and some were able to work from home. How did you identify who could work remotely, what was the split? How have you adapted as well as a leader in the Pharmaceutical Industry to managing staff remotely? 

Luigi Trussardo: We have in Olon Ricerca lots of different activities that are related to analytical departments, that are using instrumentation and they are testing different drugs substances and of course, using equipment, so you would need to come to the site. For example, once they have run the tests with the equipment, they can then visualise the result and discuss this with the team at home not strictly staying in the site. The engineers have to write batch records, for example, but they can do that at home. The quality assurance people have to check batch records, certificate of analysis but also this kind of activity can be done at home.

We do have activity that is done in the labs, which is one that we can’t avoid, for this department we adopted the division and the splitting by shifts, one for 6am to 2pm and the other one from 2pm to 10pm, that let people in at the same time in the labs. But for the rest of the employees, accounting, purchasing all of this can be done at home.

Personally, I am not sure of the term but sometimes I see myself as the Captain of the boat so I have to stay with the boat. I decided to come into the office and not stay at home but other executives were working partially from home and partially here in order to divide the risk. We cannot afford to have all the management affected by the Corona Virus and not work. 

Alessandro Mantell: The main thing about that, even though you are choosing to come into work every single day and you are splitting it up with the management team, the main thing here is the choice that you are giving employees. You are giving people the choice as to whether to come to work or work from home based on how they are feeling or based on the work that they are doing, which is brilliant! Just briefly, I’ll touch on something because Mantell Associates are a headhunting firm, predominantly we have seen during this period of time, companies which haven’t given their employees choice and you think business development directors, sales directors, commercial professionals, don’t need to be in the office all of the time. When COVID-19 came about there were a number of applications that we would see where despite COVID-19, and despite the fact they were sales professionals, they had the laptop, they had the phone, they were still being demanded to come into work. Which is not really the ideal situation, because these companies could prevent that.
It’s great to see that you have given your team that choice and I guess that leads on nicely to the next part. Being a CEO, you obviously come from a commercial background yourself being in sales and business development and working your way up to CEO. You’ll know from commercial point to now being a leader in the field, everything, running a business comes down to control. I know you touched on one point earlier that because you had your ties in Italy you were able to identify, and control to the best of your ability, the situation that was going to be happening in Ohio or could be happening in regards to COVID-19. Another thing is, how have you handled maybe not being in control of everything in the business because so much of the world is out of control right now. 

Luigi Trussardo: The most important part is to have a team that you can rely on. From the commercial part, in the US, we are already working remotely because we have BD’s in 5 different areas, even before COVID-19, we have areas in the West Coast, East Coast, in the Midwest and they are working from home regularly. So the most important part is to have contact with them. For example, we organise a weekly meeting with our BD team for an update of all the different areas and what’s going, to keep control of the situation. If there is something that is not going as you were expecting, to make corrective action as soon as possible. The commercial part for me is the most important part of a business anyway, you can work more efficiently in the site, you can reduce your cost but if you are not increasing the business there is no way that the company is going to be a healthy company. 

The most important part is the entry of projects in the company so this is the area that we were focusing our attention on in 2020 and we have a team of BD’s that are very efficient. The most important part, as I said before, is to keep contact with them and for them to feel that they belong to a company, that they are working for a group that is efficient in the work and also working on projects for the motherland company located in Europe. It is important that all the connections are working efficiently, as some of the business is working directly with Europe as well as working from home during this period. We need to have regular contact with everyone and be aware about the situation and how it is evolving inside the company and in the market. 

Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely and touching on sales and business development and the commercial aspect, aside from all of the staff that are working from home, and used to working remotely anyway, a large part of the job would have been, going out meeting clients, knocking on doors, picking up business. How have you and how have Olon Ricerca adapted to the current situation in terms of sales and business development and innovation in that space. How have you found the market in general on the sales and business development side?

Luigi Trussardo: You are right, one of the targets with the BD team is how many visits are you going to have, how many face to face meetings are you planning this month and are you travelling, which area are you focusing on. This disappeared within a week because then the state was closed and the customers were not allowing any visits at sites and so the situation was changing dramatically. I have to say that the BD were adapting pretty well to the situation and the client managed to adapt as well. If you have a project that has to go on, of course you have to organise yourself in order to be efficient and be in contact with your supplier in the best way possible. I have always said that in this business especially, for the small biotech, even before COVID-19, many people were working remotely, the biotech were located on one site officially but many people were already working from home quite a lot so they were already used to this kind of activity. 

Today I am convinced more than ever that this kind of activity is required, face to face meetings, because in my opinion it is important, the human contact in every activity is commercial but also technical. However, we have the capacity now and electronics to do this sort of activity remotely as well. It is affecting the business in some parts, yes, because we are losing the human contact in the business that in my opinion is still important. It may be an old style and not millennial, I was not born in the 2000, I was born much before that. Human contact is still important but I guess everywhere in the world, everybody was adapting to the new style and business contact was continuing and it may be more efficient. Now the contact is really important in perhaps understanding what is the next step, the next movement that needs to be done. Maybe it is reinforcing the fact that the client is relying on a specific supplier or service that they were satisfied with in the past. In this period, you cannot visit and audit so you would have to rely on what was done in the past. We were well accepted in the past and we were providing a good service to customers, so people were returning to us because they felt they could be helped in the best way and also for the future. 

Alessandro Mantell: Great, thank you for that! I just wanted to touch on something else that you mentioned, you used the word efficient in terms of the organisation and the way you have been dealing with COVID-19. Do you feel that COVID-19 has made your business more efficient in some ways, whether that be commercially, operationally? The reason I ask is because I spoke with somebody just the other day and he had mentioned that because of COVID-19 coming in we have had to bring in all these different ways of working during this time, that maybe after COVID-19 might make the business more efficient. How have you found that and do you agree with his statement? 

Luigi Trussardo: In terms of efficiency, in a commercial sense, contact is made through phone and video calls, strictly to discuss the next step of the business or project and what has to be done. Internally, some of the efficiency may have been lost, organising people in shifts, so you are losing a person in job efficiency in some cases. What was important to remind our employees was that again, we are working in a particular kind of business, pharmaceutical, so our work is impacting patient life. It is important to keep control of what we are doing and to provide to the client what they are expecting, if we are involved in any project for COVID-19, this is even more important to be efficient, to be on time and to provide what is possible for the client.

We understand that we are changing the life for our employees. Working from 6am-2pm or from 2pm-10pm is not the same as working in normal working hours so family is affected and so on. But it is the reality that the virus is changing life, there is no doubt about that so you cannot avoid it. It is changing life in the workplace, in the family, children are at home, children are not in school so you have to change your mindset in terms of living with the virus for the next few months. The efficiency may be improving week after week because we are having to adapt to the new style. As I said, there were some areas that may be less efficient in our operation but at the end of the day we were able to continue. Also if you are working from home sometimes, you are working every hour so we are starting at 6am and working until 10pm, so you can say that working from home is also increasing the number of hours that they are working is the reality.  

Alessandro Mantell: I 100% agree with that, I always find that working in a sales office, because you are around different people all the time you can get distracted. Of course you’re working, of course you are doing your job but you’re communicating with different people. Whereas when you’re just sitting at your desk at home doing your work, your focus increases, your distractions are limited and you have the calls that you have to have, zoom calls, telephone calls, business calls. Apart from that, I have found it for myself and my team that it has increased our productivity overall, working from home but I am definitely not going to stick with this for life because I love being around people. But I completely agree with you and the really honest answer that you gave, so thank you so much for that. Being a headhunting company, I have to ask you, what has your stance been on recruitment during this period and how have you adapted to it?

Luigi Trussardo: In Olon Ricerca we were not changing our intention or our plan for the personnel, we were maintaining our personnel 100%, so the business was allowing us to do that. We were continuing our search for employees that we were planning to have in 2020. Again like before, we were having video and phone calls with candidates which we continued to do but also, with local hiring we would have had face to face meetings but instead it was virtual. I would say we were not changing our plan for this year, we were continuing with the help of recruiters, Mantell Associates, and we adapted pretty well to the situation. Of course nowadays this is a little more challenging because of travel and moving from another state. Especially for some of our personnel people who are coming from outside of the State of Ohio.This could be a cause of our hiring slowing down in the last few months. However, Ohio is reopening and the US is reopening. Starting from June, people will be more free to travel between states and to the US which will help them in joining our site. 

Alessandro Mantell: Amazing, it is great to hear that, even though, like almost all businesses preferring to have it face to face, you are willing to do it via video call and telephone call just to keep the process moving and bring the right talent into the business to move forward during this time period. Thank you for everything you have gone over. I have got one final question which is huge, in terms of what other leaders, other employees are looking to, so what piece of advice would you give other business leaders right now during this period, within the pharmaceutical industry? 

Luigi Trussardo: The pharmaceutical industry was one of the less affected by COVID-19, on the contrary, everybody was looking at the pharmaceutical industry as a solving industry for this situation for the future. Personally, I think all my colleagues worldwide should feel lucky to be part of the pharmaceutical industry at this time. We are really the moving factor that could be of help to the world and improve the situation for the future. We should look after our responsibility even more than before and to keep our work going, working with the client in the most efficient way, not a profitable way but in this case, profitable way for the world, to help the life of all the patients.

We have to realise that we have been the lucky industry because we know that many other industries were affected by this virus very heavily and we were not. So I suggest that we have to keep adopting preventive measures, where possible, to keep our workplace safe as much as we can and to allow our employees to work as much as they can efficiently in the work site. We should avoid employees having any doubt of the safety at the workplace and come to the workplace open minded and ready to cooperate with the company and the client in order to improve the situation. So, no fear, understand the situation, keep the counter measures that were requested, do not underestimate the situation and the virus because it is going to stay. I mean, my colleagues that are working on vaccines, they are very efficient and will be able to provide a new vaccine in 6 months but it is going to be very challenging but it will not arrive before the end of the year, maybe next year so we will be with the virus for a few more months. So be responsible, be positive and be optimistic for the future and work everyday in terms of improving the situation. 

Alessandro Mantell: I absolutely loved that, it is 100% going to pass, it is going to take it’s time but I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for putting such a positive spin on it, there are going to be many business leaders that are going to be grateful that you said what you said. This seems to be a very common approach from leaders at the moment, whether that be a CEO, a Managing Director, any type of leader – trying to have a positive outlook. You’re 100% right that we are blessed and lucky to be in the pharmaceutical industry. You more than me of course because we are of service to the pharmaceutical industry and you’re specifically in it, so being able to change lives, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on Luigi. Thank you very much for your time today! 

If you missed Luigi Trussardo’s original podcast and would like to listen, please click here!

Mantell Associates is a specialist Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Recruitment organisation founded by CEO Alessandro Mantell in January 2019. If you would like to find out more about how we support finding you the right talent or the right opportunity, reach out to Alessandro on alessandro@mantellassociates.com or give us a call on +44 (0)20 3778 0990.