Digitalization, Adaptation, Reinvention
Interview with Zhivko Mukaetov, President of the Management Board and Chief Executive Officer of Alkaloid AD Skopje for AmCham
1. What initiatives has Alkaloid taken in the last few months in order to be recognized as a company leader in the country?
Needless to say, just as all the people and businesses around the world, Covid-19 pandemics completely transformed our company overall operations on all levels.
Functioning in the healthcare segment imposed even higher burden of responsibility. In the beginning of March this year, perhaps overnight, Alkaloid adapted most of its internal functioning procedures. The opening of an internal Covid-19 hotline, led by two doctors employed at the company and an external expert epidemiologist was the first step in the process of shielding the company’s health and safety. We trained our sales personnel to be able to cope with the production segment operations, we organized parallel teams in all administration sectors who are still working on weekly remote rotation systems, we switched the production plans from perfumes and shampoos to disinfectants, antiseptics and sanitizers, we introduced 6 privately paid bus lines for our employees who were using public transportation and lot more similar internal measures.
However, in times of crisis, we cannot overlook the community in which we live and function. Alkaloid was the first company that donated a sum of EUR 200.000 to the COVID-19 account of the Macedonian Ministry of Health, and supported few initiatives in the surrounding countries too (ex: Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria). We reduced the prices of almost 200 products from our portfolio, which are necessities in times like these, and we are constantly making various donations of disinfectants, pharmaceutical products and other necessities from our production program to individuals and organizations in need.
2. What was the main motivation for those initiatives?
Pharmaceuticals production imposes strict regulations in normal circumstances, but maintaining virus-free environment in times when there are high numbers of new cases on national level, can be a huge challenge. Workforce is our most important asset and we are determined to do whatever it takes to protect their health and maintain intact production processes at the same time. In line with our company moto ‘Health above all’ – keeping safe our workforce, ourselves and our families remains our top priority in all regards.
3. Which steps in digital transformation have been adopted in the last period?
In the past period, most of our communications were moved on various digital platforms, including communication within the company, communication with medical/pharmaceutical experts and communication with the consumers and the public in general.
As SAP operated company, in the past 5 months we were working on conversion to the next generation SAP S/4HANA software, which would enable better, real time analytics in an unpredictable environment.
For internal and external communication, whenever physical presence is not an option, we use Webex. For our medical marketing teams, Alkaloid frequently organizes online gatherings with medical experts, which as I note, are widely accepted and attained.
In light with enhancing the communication with consumers, Alkaloid started focusing more on digital communication and segmenting the communication channels through brands and/or popular topics instead of using a robust communication portfolio. We recently launched a Facebook/Instagram page in Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia called “health without prescription” intended for the wider audience and created for the purposes of informing the public of our over-the-counter products. We undertook similar activities for creating online resources for our kids vitamin brand Becutan.
4. What were some of the biggest challenges you came across and how did you address these challenges?
This crisis was not described in any business literature so far. Not so long ago, we all imagined that things like this can only happen in fiction, but unfortunately, fighting an unknown virus became our new reality. Due to the scarce resources and huge unpredictability, in the very beginning, our decisions were in trial-and-error mode, but that actually made us exit the comfort zone, and later thoroughly calculate all risks and act briskly. Another huge challenge was keeping the stocks of raw materials on the necessary levels, when the usual transport corridors and supply chains were (and still are) not working normally. We were aware that we must not succumb to the ‘levied’ isolation but find alternative ways to keep normal stocks of products and stay in touch with our colleagues, collaborators and all stakeholders. The level of communication was raised on a much higher scale inside the company as unobstructed flow of reliable information is crucial. After all, this is a health crisis and it demands human response. In times like these, we all must show empathy, solidarity, mobility and adaptability.
5. What is your message to other companies during these uncertain times?
As every crisis, this one cannot last forever… Even though the last 9 months were a serious stress-test for all of us, we must stay safe and strong! In times when the world economies are facing serious consequences, loss of jobs and product placements are our reality, transformation would be the first step to endure and try to surpass this crisis. Reinventing processes, finding alternative ways to reach and communicate with the consumers, sustainable adaptation to changes – would probably be on the top of the list of things to start with. Nothing is easy, neither for companies nor for individuals but hard times require hard decisions and smart actions.