As part of the Mantell Associates Network podcast earlier last year, CEO Alessandro Mantell welcomed Jonas Skjødt Møller & Gregor Kawaletz.
On Episode 14 of the Mantell Associates Network Podcast we welcomed Jonas Skjødt Møller, CEO & Gregor Kawaletz, CCO at Albumedix. In this episode Alessandro Mantell speaks with Jonas Skjødt Møller & Gregor Kawaletz, covering everything from challenges faced by leaders in the past year, the exciting changes coming in the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology market, and how COVID-19 has affected business and life in general.
Alessandro Mantell: Hi all, thank you very much for joining me for episode 15 of Mantell Associates Network. I am joined today by Jonas Moller, CEO and Gregor Kawaletz, CCO of Albumedix. Albumedix is a Service Provider Pharmaceutical which is based in the UK and has been growing rapidly with huge success. They have been doing a lot of work on the frontline of COVID-19 and have really been developing that. Today I am joined by both of them. I want to get straight into it, in regards to questions and find out about this year, last year. It has been crazy for everyone so it would be good to start with you Jonas and really talk about what life has been like since the start of COVID-19, being a CEO of an organisation.
Jonas Skjødt Møller: First of all, thank you Alessandro for inviting us to participate today on your podcast. It is good to see people sharing and we are very much interested in sharing our outlook as well. Back to your question about what it has been like, it has been different. I think that’s probably the word that everyone has been using, challenging as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has really challenged all of us in ways that we would never have imagined and that is true withAlbumedixas well. As I have said to our organisation a number of times during the pandemic, we were kind of left with a choice. We could either fight for the old ways or we could embrace the situation of having to build new ones and that is really the philosophy that we have applied to Albumedix. We can not change the fact that we are in a pandemic but we can certainly work together to build new ways of growing and getting the success that we are always destined to reach. Being part of the Biotech and Life Science industry has also been immensely rewarding, immensely rewarding to see the industry coming together. We are humbled and honoured to play our part in it.So working together with other Life Science organisations and truly being pulled back to the core of what our industry is about. Doing something for society and making a better impact on people and I have really seen that throughout the pandemic.
Gregor Kawaletz: I was just going to say what changed was just the digitalisation. So whatever we are missing, this face to face, jumping into an office and having a chat, everything now needs to be very well structured, having appointments and videos and this is a big swing to what we have had in the past.
Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely and do you know what in regards to what you said about digitalisation, I have actually seen more of Albumedix since all of this has happened. Beforehand with the deals that you guys have been doing, which we will come to later, that has been the case for everyone. You mentioned Jonas about having that choice to fight and so far you have seen the companies that are fighting and are fighting to push forward. I wanted to ask you in that fight, what sort of challenges have you faced during all of this. How have you as a business overcome them?
Jonas Skjødt Møller: Thank you for that question Alessandro. As a manufacturer of critical ingredients to the pharmaceutical industry, it was never really an option for us not to proceed because there were too many lives at stake. We play a vital role in that chain so for us it was very much protecting the safety of our employees and their families and then remaining an unbroken supply chain. So we were quick, even before the politicians were telling us to do so, social distancing, isolating our facility. I have not been in that facility for 6 months if not more. It was kind of really pinpointing out the critical business processes and people in our facility and our organisation and then protecting them at all costs. We obviously were not in this situation before but we had fridges and freezers put into the facility with food because people were stealing and hoarding in the supermarkets. So we were protecting them so they did not have to expose themselves to the chaos that was happening outside so that they could protect their families but also keep the supply of our pharmacy.
Alessandro Mantell: Incredible, I love what you said about the value side of things and it’s something that makes your company unique. Gregor, how else would you say that Albumedix differentiates itself in the market aside from the value, aside from all of that as an organisation?
Gregor Kawaletz: Albumedix has a unique product, this is our recombinant Albumin which is the best in class, there is nothing better than our material. As Jonas mentioned we are in the range of critical material which is delivering our product to critical industries and at this point in time the pharmaceutical industry with vaccines. So we are supporting our material, COVID vaccines. We are supporting our material diagnostics which are showing whether someone is infected and our clients are using our materials in medical devices areas. Where they are surfacing with our material, artificial products and all of these fields are related to COVID-19 at this point in time. However, we see that with our positioning and our unique material and our know-how, we are able to support our clients also with enhanced services using our know-how. Helping our clients overcome their challenges so this is not a typical cdmo activity, it is rather something to bring speed to market with our know-how using our recombinant albumin and this is the secret of our success where we are playing a more and more important role in this field.
Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely incredible and on top of all of that Gregor you mentioned a lot of the work that the Albumedix is doing at the moment focuses on COVID-19. Your background comes with many years working for a CDMO which specialised in vaccines and viral vectors so you're really able to position yourself in that way which is incredible. Jonas I want to lead on here and Gregor as well. Let's start with Jonas, being a leader in the biotechnology industry and having to adapt to everything. I know that I struggled and my company is not as big as the one that you have. How have you adapted physically, mentally, adapting to work, family life with everything that’s going on and having the pressure of running a business?
Jonas Skjødt Møller: I guarantee you at the centre of what you went through and what we went through, is the same, it doesn’t matter about the size of the business. We as human people are all dealing with the same situation, I was feeling the same, I'm still feeling the same and we all had to adapt. So the most obvious one was family and work. It was not no longer a balanced work-life balance, there's no way about it anymore and it's become integrated. It's been about having to deal with that and from a positive perspective as well. Work is not where you go, it's it's what you do, it's what the value you bring. You can do that in different ways than what we had originally imagined. I think that has been a transformative journey for a number of our people, myself included and I think that is a lesson that we'll definitely take away from the pandemic for sure. I think it would be wrong to say it's not always on the forefront of our minds but as leaders I think it has been a very healthy reality check to be reminded that businesses are not the financial outcome. It’s not the products and services we provide, it's the people, it is the people that make up our business. You were really reminded of the true stakeholders of our business, be it the clients we serve, ultimately the patients, the benefits but certainly our employees and so that's been an important life lesson.
Gregor Kawaletz: What we see especially is our female employees, they have had a real hard time, especially if they had children in the school. Children having to be home-schooled, needing a home office, having to work from home so it was double challenging for them. We as a company were trying to help them to overcome the challenges by being very flexible on one hand although we were unable to reduce the workload. So we are really appreciating that we have very motivated ladies in our company who are trying to combine this hard family life with homeschooling, professional life as Jonas said there is no balance, there is a kind of unification. But there is no difference and no border in between.
Alessandro Mantell: I completely understand, it is something which we are balancing as well. I couldn't be more on board and it is hard at the moment for literally everyone. I love Jonas in particular. Before the podcast started we were talking, you mentioned you were having a conversation with someone and they said they were busy and kind of seemed out of breath when they said it. You took a really positive spin with the way that they said they were busy and that positivity really shines through with Gregor. It is the way that you both are. It leads nicely to how do you both feel at the moment that the world is challenging leaders in particular right now, especially from a management point of view.
Jonas Skjødt Møller: Yes so back to what I was saying earlier, you have to appreciate that every single one of us is in a different situation and so the flexibility and the agility that you have to apply as a business as a leader is now off the chart and I think it's healthy. As a leader what has been the biggest change is that you are having to make tough calls because you are dealing with livelihood here and safety. So there's black and white decisions which have to be made to recognize the ripple effect that it has because every single decision has point mutations that are different for every single person. We're now put in boxes that we were not necessarily meant to be in and so it's having that wiggle room as a leader to acknowledge that while you have to be in this block for safety reasons, we have to then find a way of working around the fact that you have that yeah I could have had my kids on the call as well, so we all have to adapt and work together.
Alessandro Mantell: Yeah absolutely and Gregor I guess from a leadership perspective, it's testing leaders more than ever. You lead the entire commercial function and I know every job is hard but sales and business development is right up there.
Gregor Kawaletz: Indeed, I think this is a very challenging moment for all of us. The other day I had a chat with Jonas and I said it would be so good if we could sit together and develop these new things physically and not just by video. It makes the job much harder and indeed the plan was to be in the UK more often but I haven’t been able to. Now everything is done remotely, we need to keep the team motivated, I think it is not the moment to criticise people, it is just to show a good example on how it could work which will then help your team members to be successful and this is what we are doing for now. It does not release you in any way from making hard decisions if needed, so on one hand it is still the same, motivate and make everyone as successful as possible, for everybody who wants to be successful. People who are not willing to do that or just make other decisions you still need to be very concrete in your statements and indeed to do it by video or by phone it is more challenging than doing it in a face-to-face discussion.
Alessandro Mantell: Fantastic and it is good that you are able to be there to help them. People often during this time need that sort of support and that guidance. I wanted to find out as well from both of you which is a big one. The world and the pharmaceutical industry has been more in the light than ever before, everywhere you look there are new exciting projects which are coming up in this space. What are some of the exciting things that you see coming up? I will start with you Jonas.
Jonas Skjødt Møller: There is a lot happening. I think just staying again with the pandemic but we can then move away from that as well. We can look at the next generation of vaccines that we are seeing coming online that has to fundamentally change the vaccine landscape as we move forward. These non-viral based vaccines that have shown a very impressive performance and safety profiles is something I think will be more explored as we move on. Every single executive in the pharmaceutical companies will be having to ask themselves now, we did something, we're doing something that nobody ever thought was possible. I always say I’m talking about developing vaccines, treatments and medical devices in a ridiculously short time frame and it was only possible by the right people working together, the right organisations. Obviously we have to ask ourselves what lessons can we take from that, maybe not in such a short time but does it really have to take 12 years to develop a new drug. So I think those will be some of the discussions that will be happening. Separate to that, Coronavirus, the lessons we're taking from that, we are seeing a lot of development on the curative treatment funds, the vein therapy, where we are playing a large role. But then also the merge of the device sector and the drug sector coming together, we are seeing much more of that interplay being a companion device together.
Alessandro Mantell: Incredible, how have you found the market Gregor, you actually joined Albumedix during all of this. So you came onboard as the CCO and maybe went to the UK a couple of times before all of this happened and all this has then gone ahead and happened. How have you found the market in terms of sales and business development throughout.
Gregor Kawaletz: If you don’t mind I would also like to spend some time on the previous question as I think we need to be aware that we are witnesses of the technological and scientific revolution. We are now in a transition period which is I think quite important to be witness to and we are lucky to be part of that. With Albumedix we are supporting all of those gene and cell therapies where we see a big big demand to be there and I think even seeing this difficult global situation, we are jumping to the next level on what will happen to us. This is a very very important moment for us and I think we need to spend a few seconds thinking about how good scientists are making this change. Let me come back now to the market itself. I think the global pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical market is growing incredibly fast. To be successful so far is not a challenge, it is just doing it in a smart way. From a business development point of view I see individuals that learn to work on those new modern technologies using videos, approaching people via different channels as they did in the past. It is very important to get all of those contacts and approach people. The challenges will stay with us but the business development area never will, at least for the next 20 years, be completely digital. Physical face to face are so important as humankind wants to see faces , wants to hear the voice, wants to interact and see all aspects of a human being and this will help to see if we like or dislike someone. It will help us determine success in business or not and this won’t be replaced with any digital tool in the next couple of years.
Alessandro Mantell: Agreed, do you think it has enhanced the potential for business, the way that we are doing it now?
Gregor Kawaletz: Absolutely yes, so you know I am 5 minutes older than you are haha. We were starting with telephone books and reading whom we could call and we started contacting via that. Sometimes it was not easy to approach people. Now we have loads of different platforms on the internet, in the press and other media, you have much easier access to approach the right people and this is possible by using those other technologies. Therefore yes it is a kind of enhanced possibility to approach these people but you still need to have the right character and right individuals to be able to do that.
Alessandro Mantell: Fantastic, thank you so much for that. You guys had a recent big announcement that I saw in regards to a new partnership which has happened to Albumedix. It would be great to find out a little bit more about that and what it means for the business and for the world as well.
Jonas Skjødt Møller: Yes, I’m sure you are referring to the Catapult relationship/partnership that was recently announced. We are extremely excited about it, being a UK based business and Catapult is a household name in particular in the advanced therapy field, with a mission that we strongly support which is to create a world leading advanced therapy environment in the UK but also with global impact. That is certainly something to be proud to be involved in, it is a very scientifically driven partnership as well. Where we will be focusing and exploring innovative approaches to improve some of the challenges that are faced by gene therapy and biovaccine drug developers, it will be very exciting.
Alessandro Mantell: It will be! Incredible and thank you for going into detail on that and for everything you guys have said throughout. I wanted to ask you both one final question, each will have completely different answers I imagine. Start with Gregor, what piece of advice would you give to other business leaders at the moment looking to optimise their response during this crisis.
Gregor Kawaletz: I’ll start with speaking just about the biopharmaceutical industry as there may be other answers for different industry sectors. Flexibility is incredibly important especially in this time, you cannot rely on business models like you have done in the past. Life is changing massively and very fast so you need to be close to the market, close to customers to see what changes are happening. You also need to challenge your strategy, adjust your strategy, go forward being motivated and loving what you do, otherwise you will fail. You also need to be very close to your team members because they are also driving the business globally.
Jonas Skjødt Møller: Thank you Gregor, I agree and I think you have covered the business cycle and let me stay with the people. As a leader you really have to make sure that you as a leader and other leaders are focusing on people's intent rather than behaviour because we are finding ourselves in a situation where everyone is stressed to the max. So we are not always getting the best kind of communication, the best behaviour or approaches from people. You need to really have that mentality to reflect on people's intentions and that is what you should be focusing on and that goes for private situations as well as business situations. I think that is what will drive business relationships as well as personal relationships forward.
Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely love it! Guys thank you so much it has been an absolute pleasure having you on here and thank you for your insight and your incredible work that is going on in your business at the moment. We will talk soon, thank you very much! Take care!
If you missed Jonas Skjødt Møller & Gregor Kawaletz's original podcast and would like to listen, please click here!