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Mantell Associates Network: Q&A with Peter Worsöe

​​​As part of the Mantell Associates Network podcast earlier last year, CEO Alessandro Mantell welcomed Peter Worsöe.

​On Episode 16 of the Mantell Associates Network Podcast we welcomed Peter Worsöe, CEO at AstaReal. In this episode Alessandro Mantell speaks with Peter Worsöe, covering everything from leadership during COVID-19, the best ways to motivate a team, and how AstaReal is unique in the Pharmaceutical market.

Alessandro Mantell: Hi all, thank you very much for joining us on episode number 17 of Mantell Associates Network. I'm glad to be joined today by Peter Worsöe, who is the CEO of AstaReal. AstaReal is a growing organization in the pharmaceutical space and are based in Sweden. They were actually acquired back in 2003 by Fuji chemicals and have been growing and growing and growing since that time. Peter it is absolutely great to have you on here. Thank you so much for joining us and I guess it would be great for you to kind of talk us through a little bit on AstaReal, what the company does and what makes the business unique?

Peter Worsöe: Thank you very much! So the the business is based around nutraceuticals and an algae called the Haematococcus Pluvialis which is the base for Astaxanthin Assassin and is a nutraceutical that we sell in different areas in the retail environment but also in business to business where you can put it in different ingredients. We also have a pharma side which is smaller here in Europe but much bigger in Japan. What the company has been doing for the last couple of years, for the last 10 years, is actually really developing the market around this ingredient, which has a very strong antioxidant oxidative properties both in terms of anti-inflammatory but also in terms of preventing different conditions like heart diseases etc etc. We have in Sweden a production site where we grow the algae's, we also have the sainstable in Sweden. We are all based around the Stockholm area so this product is coming from the archipelago of Stockholm, this algae that we are producing. What is nice about this is that algae's and that kind of ingredients are growing in interest all over the world because it is very environmentally friendly and sustainable but it also has very very good health benefits. That is what we are working with to expand the market and what we are doing also here in Sweden is that we are also responsible for the European operation but also the Chinese operation as well so we are actually expanding a lot in China as it is right now. 

Alessandro Mantell: Wow, you at the moment, you've obviously got everything which is going on in Sweden, then you've got the operations which are growing in China, you've got the operations in Japan as well. The business is obviously sitting at the forefront of life-changing illnesses for human beings and helping them overcome them. Talk me through real life since Covid-19, being a CEO knowing that you've got all of those things that are huge priorities and all of those operations to manage and and really kind of how you've managed all of that?

Peter Worsöe: Okay a big question ahaha, but I think when it comes to the Covid-19, we were kind of lucky. I'll start with the Chinese operations, we actually had the opportunity to visit China a couple of times before Covid-19 or the pandemic started which meant that we had a base in terms of the contacts, so that has been very beneficial. But what has happened is that we have gone from being not so advanced when it comes to using teams and zoom to being professionals on it as we have been using it so frequently. I have also implemented more frequent updates nowadays both from information for the whole staff but also the management team. We actually have what we call the daily check gap which is only 10 minutes that we do every day, just to keep people you know close to you. We also did the same thing exactly with China, we do two China updates every week which means that we have probably more contacts with China than we would have if it wasn't for Covid-19 to be honest. It has been very natural to have these kind of meetings, so that has been good. Then I think in terms of keeping the staff motivated, keeping them healthy and so on. I think it has been very important to try to do different activities despite Covid-19 so we had for instance a Christmas party, we had that online, we have had different quizzes in order to engage people. That is one of many things that we have done,  we have also started a number of competitions since we are working from home for example with health and sustainability. I think it is extremely important that we live as you teach. So what has been very important then is we have had step competitions for instance. When we check you know how many steps you do per day, we also have when the Covid-19 situation was better,  it's quite bad now in Sweden and it's actually getting worse. I mean we have not been traveling, very little traveling in most cases no traveling at all. But when it was a little bit better we had some activities outdoors so you could meet your colleagues outdoors so we have done that as well. We had a barbecue outdoors, where we have it covered, secured and safe, it's a combination of everything. 

Alessandro Mantell: What I have loved about everything that you have said, it really is a combination of everything. What I loved is really inline with the motivation aspect of keeping the team engaged. If anything, communicating more with China than you had even before Covid-19 which is brilliant. That is one challenge which a lot of Business leaders have faced, is how to keep staff motivated. What other challenges have you faced as a Ceo of AstaReal during this incredible time and how have you adapted to some of these challenges?

Peter Worsöe: I think when you look at for instance our Chinese operations, it is, of course, a major disadvantage that we cannot go there and travel and meet people. We have actually hired new people in China without meeting them in person, I've only met them via teams and that is, of course, a challenge and it is what you miss when you don't meet people. You miss all these soft things that go on in the corridors or that you pick up, you miss that because you don't see what people have, how they really feel and in order to try to compensate for that is to have much closer contacts with your team members as I mentioned. One thing is to have these daily updates and I follow up much more closely today than I did before because you need to be close to your direct reports but also to the rest of the personnel. Another thing that we have seen now with the Covid situation is that actually new businesses, new leads have been a little bit on a standstill or a lot of customers are waiting or not waiting as they don't dare to take the risk of jumping to something totally new or with a new supplier. So instead of taking a risk they work with old suppliers etc etc. That has been a disadvantage that you cannot attract these new businesses in the same way as you could before I think. On the other hand that has been then of course an advantage for the you know the business where you have it up or running because then they stick with you. 

Alessandro Mantell: Yeah absolutely, I was gonna say as well I mean speaking of new business, selling the organization, getting out onto the market. You spoke brilliantly at the start explaining exactly what AstaReal does as an organization, all of it seems fairly unique and complex to me but if you were to pinpoint what makes AstaReal unique and how you really kind of differentiate yourselves on the market what would that be?

Peter Worsöe: I think that we come with this fantastic natural resource that we are producing in a sustainable way. It is something that is unique and it has fantastic properties so it is something that we are really proud of. We are also seeing that it is really appreciated by the customers, so we have this unique quality and also this unique heritage. Of course I mean we need to be on our toes as we are not alone, you have a number of different competitors out there, so we need to find ways to always improve, to develop and to be the best in the market. That is something we are trying to work on all the time.

Alessandro Mantell: Incredible and with everything that's going on, i guess would you say that right now this past year has just been a blur. Would you say that right now is your most challenging time ever as a leader, as a CEO of an organization. Do you feel that the world is challenging leaders and leadership more than ever? 

Peter Worsöe: Yes I think so, I think yes and no. I would say yes in terms of it's extremely difficult to keep everyone healthy and in good spirits during these very challenging times. At the same time I think you avoid some of the friction that you usually have in an organization since people are not meeting as much now. It's true from that perspective it is maybe somewhat easier in that respect. But I would say in terms of you know the overall situation it is extremely challenging and it is also really challenging to have your whole team with you and looking at the future in a bright way because I mean it's changing all the time. It has been very frustrating a number of times, I think it is the same for everyone. We start to see the cases go down, things loosening and going back to normal and then all of a sudden you have another wave and the damage is increasing which puts you back into lockdowns.

Alessandro Mantell: 100%, you had mentioned as well about some of the really positive changes that you've made since the beginning of all of this in terms of how you're dealing with the team, more meetings and things like that. Something else which I've come across when speaking with other people on the podcast is that when you're a smaller organization, 40 employees or so, as you guys are, a lot of the creativity really comes, the spark really comes and the energy comes from being in a room with those people and bouncing ideas off of each other. Of course through doing the meetings that you've set up and zoom calls and conversations that are as close as you're gonna get in the best way. I guess what I'm trying to do is put a positive spin on everything and the changes that you've made internally into AstaReal but in terms of changing externally what are some of the most exciting changes that you see coming in the pharmaceutical space as a whole?

Peter Worsöe: Yeah I think one thing that this pandemic has really contributed to is that everyone is now professional when it comes to using digital tools. We have now experienced exhibitions and congresses  in person and digitally. I would say these events have been very productive even though you only have 30 minutes with the people you are connecting with, you are really interested and invested in that time. You have a totally different output from these events then maybe you would have standing at an exhibition. I think it has been really good in that sense and I think that you will see the changes in the future or after this pandemic where you will use digital tools much more. I'm not saying it will replace everything because it won't but it will replace some of it and be a complement to you knowing the other activities you can do. I think that is something that this pandemic has really contributed to.

Alessandro Mantell: Brilliant, you had mentioned as well earlier on the fact that business development has been a lot harder in terms of generating new sales, bringing on new accounts. This is a common theme everywhere across the globe, in pretty much every industry. Something that someone else has said to me, who had the exact same challenges that you'd had, which is not uncommon. Is that actually by not having the business development, the sales and not having a lot of new business coming their way it has given them the opportunity to re-evaluate their current accounts and the businesses that they were working with and improve the services that they had and the quality of the service that they were giving to accounts that was so important to them.  Have you done that as well at AstaReal? 

Peter Worsöe: I think one thing that you realize when you have this pandemic, is that since you're not traveling anymore you free up time to do other things. Take China for example. I mean it takes you know one full day to go there, one full day to go back from China so that’s two full days traveling. That time has now been used  to really consolidate, to analyse, to really look into different accounts. Are they profitable or they're not profitable? How can we develop the service here in a better way and so on. So yes I think that this has been a time to reflect and do some proper analysis. I think being present is something you can do more of now because you have more time.

Alessandro Mantell: Brilliant leadership! That is something that  I'm definitely still learning and you've been in leadership positions for many many years now. What are the secrets to good leadership and I guess it would be great if you could convert that into not only AstaReal but other businesses that you've worked in as well?

Peter Worsöe: I think what good leadership is for me, is a person that is inspirational. Someone who can really gather the teams in a positive way, that can really show you a vision that can be broken down to pieces so everyone knows what to do, when and so on. It is someone with a great ability to motivate people which means that you're not micromanaging but you are really looking at how you can develop people in the best possible way. It should also be a person that can challenge you so you can test your capabilities and develop. I think making sure that people develop is something that is extremely important when you work in leadership so you have a learning organization because the world is changing and so on. I think what is also extremely important is that you're predictable in terms of, you are not a moody manager. I have had some mood managers throughout my career and I think it is important that you create an environment where people feel like they are not afraid of making mistakes. You can learn from those mistakes and it should be an environment where people can develop and grow. At the same time the leader should be predictable in terms of demanding. One thing that I think is that you shouldn’t be full of prestige, you should be down to earth. I think these are the characteristics of a really good boss, someone that you know is down to earth with a big portion of humour as well. I think that it's not bad at all. 

Alessandro Mantell: Love that! I like what you said about the moody aspect and everything you said was in line with what I've also heard about serving the people who you're working with. You mentioned trying to find ways to develop them, trying to find ways to ensure that they are being pushed. I've never had that answer about the moody part and it is true because you need people to feel secure and feel confident and not feel that one day they're going to come in and that person is going to be aggressive. Next thing, I guess a question for me is if times are stressful and if business is as difficult as it is right now, 100% from sales and business development. How do you go about as a leader AstaReal and in other positions ensuring that you maintain that level? 

Peter Worsöe: I think one thing that I didn't mention here as a great leader, something that Jack Welch from GE said, he said that a great leader is someone who can have a six billion dollar lawsuit but at the same time can really focus on someone coming in and discussing the parking lot right so you have both of these aspects. I think that is also connected to this moody but also being able to go from being very strategic about very big things to smaller things and that you can you know go up and down from that. I think that is also something that's extremely important in these times where it is very stressful but you can still be down to earth and also can focus on the small things.

Alessandro Mantell: I love that, just being able to completely shut off and say that was then, that's something completely separate we leave that and we focus on what's happened. That is a skill in itself like a serious skill and difficult. I've loved all of your answers to everything and I wanted to ask you one final question. What piece of advice would you give to other business leaders right now who are looking to optimize their response to the crisis and are looking to grow their organizations and keep positive?

Peter Worsöe: I think this pandemic will be over soon, in the way that we can start to meet again and so on. I think now it's the time to prepare the organizations to really accelerate for when the pandemic is over but also that there is a lot of great business out there right now. I think it's a little bit of this mass psychosis as well, if everyone is talking about how bad everything is then it becomes bad. If you stay positive and you're trying to really accelerate it will be like these rings on the water. It will grow all over and I truly believe that. I mentioned China but China has not been hit as hard as Europe has for instance when it comes to this pandemic. What you see there is this spirit of almost like business as usual and they are very positive and you know growing the business. Here in Europe maybe we have had a little bit more of a negative spiral and so I think we should learn from the guys over in the big country in the east and stay positive because there will be new times and I think the ones that have prepared in the best possible way will win the race.

Alessandro Mantell: Absolutely I'm a huge believer personally in the law of attraction and you become what you think about and think positive. During everything I think actually aside from Covid-19, in life, in business, in relationships and everything I think that's crucial because how you are with people is how they're normally going to be a reflection of you. I think again if you're going for new sales, new business development and you're always going in positive, always have that mindset then eventually something's going to come. Whereas if you are  just completely shut off and go no it's a horrible time we can't do it then of course nothing's going to happen.  Thank you so much for everything. Thank you so much for sharing everything in regards to your experience, how you've dealt with everything leadership AstaReal. Peter it has been an absolute pleasure so thank you very much and we will talk very soon! 

If you missed Peter Worsöe original podcast and would like to listenplease 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.