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Mantell Associates Network: Q&A with Marc Funk

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

As part of the Mantell Associates Network podcast earlier this year, CEO Alessandro Mantell welcomed Marc Funk a Pharmaceutical Leader, Ex-CEO of Lonza and recently appointed CEO at Recipharm. In this episode, Alessandro Mantell speaks with Marc Funk about the past year and the challenges faced by the Pharmaceutical industry during the global pandemic. Marc also shares his thoughts on the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine, how the digital and pharma worlds converged in 2020, and offers advice for business leaders.

Alessandro Mantell: Hello and thank you for joining me today for episode 10 of Mantel Associates Network, I am joined today by Marc Funk. Marc Funk is a leader across the Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences. He is going to be starting a number of new appointments in the upcoming year so these are very exciting times.
For those of you who don’t know Lonza, Lonza is an organisation of just over 15,000 employees and is a leader in the Cell and Gene and Biologic’s Viral Vector manufacturing space across the globe. So this is hugely exciting to have you on Marc. Talk to me about what life has been like for you during COVID-19 in terms of work life, family, new opportunities and also leaving a company where no doubt you were busy all of the time.

Marc Funk: For sure, whatever I had planned at the end of 2019 definitely didn’t happen in 2020 but I guess 8 Billion people are also in the same situation so that is not news. It was certainly very interesting in early spring, I started to think about how I needed to organise my life differently and adapt. I think this way worked for me very well but it was also very much linked to the different seasons. In spring everything was new, you had to stay inside your house, you had to learn how to live differently. Being inside was interesting because you had to live with your family which I hadn’t done for the last 20 years so that was very interesting, it was very enjoyable and it still is. On the outside you had no idea what was going on, you didn’t know whether you were going to have food, all of these different kinds of things.

After a few months things got more into a routine and you started to get used to it. In the summer, we had a little bit of hope that this was going to go away and people started to relax a little bit, go on holidays, have their summer. But then came Autumn and the second wave. You have to reorganize yourself in that new parameter knowing that whatever you plan to do in 2021 might not even happen. In winter we will most likely have vaccines but there is still the unknown and uncertainty of everything and that’s what you have to live with and this will likely be the case for the entirety of 2021. 

Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely. You mentioned the food side of things,  I remember when the first wave of lockdown in the UK hit. All of the shops were empty and everyone was rushing to get things. Finally people have started to relax a bit more and the situation has changed. You mentioned about not planning things or it being difficult to plan for the year ahead or even the years ahead. Someone like yourself, you’re going into a brand new venture and going into a brand new organisation. Being a CEO of an organisation or being a leader in the pharmaceutical industry,  your job is to forecast, to plan and set goals for a business. How do you get your head around doing something like that during a time like this? 

Marc Funk: I think it goes back to some very basic rules. You have to deal with the known and the unknown, you have to put this into different baskets and then deal with it in a very systematic way. You have to somehow find the best possible route for that situation. Our industry is very different from others where what we do is very much in demand and we do not have exactly the same challenges as other other industries have. The challenge of manufacturers, the challenge of critical medicines, is not the same challenge as running a low-cost airline company.  It’s a bit different so of course on that side this industry is very fortunate. But it doesn’t mean that it is easy, it is certainly extremely interesting. 

Alessandro Mantell: Extremely interesting and you said the word fortunate as well. I have family who work in coffee shops, who work in logistics, and things like that and they have been impacted massively.  It’s not just my family, you hear about, there are many families, friends, who run companies or work in businesses that have struggled massively but the Pharmaceutical Industry has thrived the most. What challenges have you faced being a leader in the pharmaceutical CDMO space and what challenges do you forecast for other leaders?

Marc Funk: We have to make a distinction between innovative future medicines and established medicine biologics small molecules generics. In innovative medicines, the challenge is to provide answers of possible new therapies in technologies. These would not yet have been proven to be efficient. There is a lot of supply chain issues with investments that need to be done as fast as possible so you can do trials or even a commercial product. So that’s one big challenge and then on the more established medicines there is quite an increase in demand in general on medicine. For example, Antibiotics, Antibiotics have dramatically increased this year and will probably next year too but that’s a bracket that will end. Whereas the innovative one, they are likely to continue I hope and as much as possible we will try to make sure that the new therapies will continue to come at the service of medicines and patients.  

Alessandro Mantell: Incredible and thank you so much. It must be hard speaking about different types of medicines and going to patients with something that wasn’t planned for. It is hot in the press today in the UK. If you turn on the news all you see is Boris Johnson, Sky News, BBC speaking about 40 million doses of a vaccine which is due to be coming to the market very very soon. Does any part of you feel that obviously for many different drugs FDA approval takes many years and this has been very very quick. Do you have any concerns about something like this?

Marc Funk:  You have to, that doesn’t mean that it’s high risk or whatever but you have to be extremely diligent, not just in the manufacturing but in what goes around the supply chain, the registries of whomever needs to take it etc. You can think of so many things and to roll this out in such a short amount of time you have to be super diligent so that it goes as flawlessly as possible. Can we do it? Yes of course, but when you do things for the first time usually you never do it right. 

Alessandro Mantell: That is such a good point to make and it is absolutely true that it is concerning but hopefully these people, who are far more intelligent than me, who are working on this have got it right the first time and that is the aim. Speaking in terms of the positivity, the encouragement and the incredible size of the future to come. What are some of the most positive or exciting changes that you can foresee in the pharmaceutical world as a whole in the future, maybe even coming from this pandemic and what we have learnt from it?

Marc Funk: I think that for the last 10 years, I have heard that the digital world and the pharma world will somewhat converge but it has never really happened. In 2020 things started to develop in that space and that is possibly a milestone that will likely continue. The second thing is very interesting, is innovation, take COVID-19, did not come from large Pharma’s. They came mainly from small companies, then of course large pharma helped during the course and  helped accelerate it. But that is something that we have seen for the last few years. This is a very important example of where innovation comes from – small companies. I think it’s very good that companies can work with people, a small group of people with good ideas, help the capital and bring things to the table that can in this case save the planet. I don’t think we have seen that before. 

Alessandro Mantell: Wow, it is incredible! Especially with smaller companies who are coming up with new ideas, pushing the world forward in the pharmaceutical space. Obviously I have not worked for this space anywhere near as long as you’ve worked in this space. But we’ve seen and heard from speaking with hundreds of thousands of people that this year in particular, has been a year where private equity organisations and VC firms have been investing in smaller companies and projects more than ever before. It is because of exactly what you said about innovation which is being made across these types of businesses, so this is hugely exciting for the future ahead. In terms of leadership and leading businesses and leading people. Do you think that, obviously,  it’s challenging different people in different ways? I lead a company of 15 people and you have led a company of 15, 000 people which is a little bit different. But do you think that this time period has been especially challenging for leaders and why?

Marc Funk: To lead large organisations if it is in the manufacturing space, an important element is for leaders to go onto different sites, see the leaders on the manufacturing side, go to town halls, talk to people however, this is something we couldn’t do. That was a challenge but everybody understood this so people were using video conferences and so on which was totally acceptable. You can do this for now but you can’t do that forever. This is a risk, if one assumes that you can continue to live with those technologies and be a leader, it might be a problem. Hopefully very soon we will be able to be a bit more mobile, leaders will have to be very cautious not to think that the digital world is enough to bring guidance and leadership and motivate people into the right direction. We really need to pay attention to that. 

Alessandro Mantell: At the moment Mantell Associates are still in the office in Central London, we are speaking with manufacturing companies that have had to be in. Manufacturing staff who have had to be in working but keeping their two meter distance and so forth. From a kind of working from home basis and making the world more digital as you mentioned, do you think that this is going to stay? I guess for you, in the new companies, where you’re going to be sitting on the board, where you’re going to be leading the organisations. What do you expect to be doing and approaching and what do you think is the right way?

Marc Funk: As much as possible try to de-digitize yourself. We have got into the habit of living and working from the living room, I live, I do my job in my house. You have to make sure that this habit changes again. That’s very important. 

Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely and being in a business and being around your team is so important and also for the different ideas that is exactly where innovation comes from. Being around different like-minded people who are all thinking about different ideas and working towards a common goal. If you’re working from home you have got to video call them every time you have an idea whereas if you’re in that same space it’s easier that is incredibly important. Thank you so much. How do you define good leadership, no matter what size of the company?

Marc Funk: Do you know how many books have been written about that? I don’t think anybody can read every book, every magazine, every article that has been written about this question, certainly not me. What is interesting is that so many people have spent time trying to answer that question and still you still have this unknown and I think that has always amazed me. I cannot recommend anything but I will tell you how I see it and it’s probably very simple. It’s about a good organisation, a company, a private company or whatever, it is basically differentiating itself by the quality of the people who make it. This means that you have people who have really great talent abilities that will help with whatever challenges you face and  are capable of working together. That differentiates one company among others. 

The second thing I think is that there are probably no good answers to that question, otherwise people wouldn’t keep asking it. It is about what extent the people who work together are successful in taking risks. Some people do take risks and phenomenally succeed and some people take success, they take risks and dramatically fail but they have all had the same approach. The border between success and failure is sometimes extremely thin. Think about  your friend Churchill. I mean how much risk did that guy take and how close was he to total failure. He was so close and in the end he succeeded and he is now considered a  leader amongst other things but that is a really good example. 

Alessandro Mantell: Thank you.  That is actually an amazing example between the thin line and if it wasn’t for actually not even Churchill but America assisting he probably wouldn’t have succeeded. The line is so thin and it comes down to the assistance that you get when teams work well together. I actually think your answer to that question,  your reaction to that question was probably the answer. When I asked you what defines a good leader or a successful leader your reaction was,  I’m not even gonna begin to answer, there have been how many books that have been written about it. Actually I think it is about being human, being humble not arrogant and just accepting that we’re gonna make mistakes. Accepting that there is no book that’s ever gonna write the correct answer, just do it, just learn, work as a team, take risks and make it work. Amazing, thank you and one final question for you today Marc. What piece of advice would you give to other leaders in the pharmaceutical space or other leaders across any industry right now and all people as well,  advice for people to take with them?

Marc Funk: Okay, I don’t want to appear as a priest, I don’t want to give big advice or whatever. What I have observed in general in this part of the world, is that there is not enough attention to try to understand Asia. We don’t spend enough time in general trying to see what is going to be the future of this world in business. When Asia and the West are going to be more or less equal, in terms of wealth, in terms of growth and so on. We in the West are very much biased on that and I don’t think that’s good. I’ve spent quite some time on it this year and I really think that this is a big problem. As leaders in whatever industry need to spend more time I think in trying to understand how you can better understand how the people work in Asia, what can be done to work together better. 

Alessandro Mantell: You even notice, I know it’s a small example but when we go to conferences like the CPI, CPHI conferences, you even see the divide there. You have got the actual stand for different locations and you don’t often see interlinking business. It seems that they do the business amongst each other and we do, in terms of we,  I mean the Western Society, does business amongst each other but Asia is a powerhouse. How do you think we get around that?

Marc Funk: We shouldn’t get it around, we should go together. But to go together you need to spend time with them, to understand how they work, what are their challenges, how can we do things better together and so on. That is not enough, I have been to Asia, I have done business in Asia, I have big plans in Asia. I have my company in Switzerland and I need to make sure that I have growth and I need to go there to sustain my growth right. I’m not sure that this is the best way to approach it.  You can take simple metrics of how many Asian people we have in Western boards compared to how much they sell there or how much they manufacture and you see the imbalance. Forget gender discussions this is dramatically worse and I think that this is something that is concerning because that could lead to further problems in the West because they will grow and they might even bypass us in terms of competitiveness and so on and we will struggle with that. Also there is a lot of misunderstanding about how people work in their culture and so on and that I think is something we really have to pay attention to in general. 

Alessandro Mantell: That’s amazing, and that’s probably the most different answer that I’ve ever had to that question on this podcast. No one’s ever pointed out anything like that and that’s probably the problem is that people kind of are left and people ignore it. I look at Mantell Associates most of our workers are  in the US 60% in the US,  40% in Europe, nothing in Asia.  Maybe a tiny little bit of business here and there with odd large manufacturers but then that’s just looking for people in Europe for Asian organizations so still it’s untouched and it needs to be broken into. I think the media hasn’t helped that situation because people like Donald Trump don’t make you feel like you’re together. He walks around calling it the China Virus and that creates division. It’s not true.

Marc Funk: I  said to my kids, they are in college. I don’t care what you do but you are going to live in Asia because you have to understand how it works there

Alessandro Mantell: Wow,  I absolutely love Marc. It has been an absolute pleasure having you on today. Thank you so much,  all the best and we will be in touch soon. Have a good day, thank you and take care. Goodbye! 

If you missed Marc Funk’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, contact us on +44 (0)20 3854 7700.