Inclusive, family-oriented leadership helps Roche seize the opportunity in Myanmar


Myanmar is a country with 53 million people, with 70% of this population living in rural areas. So perhaps it is not that surprising that its medical system is combines allopathic healthcare with more traditional medicine.

As a developing nation, it is striking that it has a literacy level of 94% and a projected growth rate of 7.7% for 2017. This strong growth is expected to extend into the drug and equipment markets – a recent survey of the region estimated demand to grow by 15% for the next five years. It is heavily dependent on imports for both drugs and equipment. 

Roche has been one of the earliest Pharma companies to recognise the potential in Myanmar, so we asked Mark Lewis, General Manager, Roche Myanmar, for his take on working in this developing country and his advice for those considering it.

Q: How would you describe the state of the pharma industry today and what are the main changes you have seen in the two and a half years since you arrived in Myanmar?

ML: If I contrast the market two and a half years ago with today, very few multinational companies operating independently of wholesalers were present in the country. Roche had an open field with regard to access to the market. Smaller companies dominated the market with their sales and marketing teams but there were few product specialists. At that time, Roche had many business functions that were not integrated or working towards a vision. What I see now is far more players in the market; we currently have eight multinationals operating in Myanmar and the number of wholesalers has increased exponentially too. Product specialists have quadrupled over the last two years, challenging access to the market. Some hospitals are limiting access to doctors and pharma companies are having to create value added options to ensure they receive access to medical professionals.

Q: What are the main trends in the pharma industry in Myanmar in the foreseeable future?

ML: Illicit trade continues to be a thorn in the government’s side but we are seeing the government enforce regulations to limit the impact of illicit trade. To go back to an earlier point, as the number of product specialists continues to proliferate, more and more hospitals and doctors will limit access and only companies with a defined value offering will reach the healthcare professionals. 

Q: How do you think the large multinational pharma companies in Myanmar can contribute to the development of the country?

ML: Too often these companies go into a country without understanding what the country needs. It’s a better idea to understand what the country requires, from a regulatory as well a healthcare point of view, and show how your company can help achieve that from your product portfolio. 

Q: How does Roche work with the government?

ML: I spend a lot of time building a strong network with key people in other companies as well as the regulatory body to share learnings and engage in cross-collaboration. The government has also indicated they’d prefer to work with an association rather than individual pharma companies and various companies have come together to establish the International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Myanmar

Q: You are known for innovative ways of leading your staff and organisation. Can you describe how you use your leadership experience to achieve this?

ML: I’m often asked this question and I always think of three pivotal moments when I reflect on my leadership journey.

  • The first was when I moved to the Philippines and had to manage an organisation of 520 people
  • The second was when I started my own business and had to engage and motivate a group of people and provide an income for them
  • The third was when I came to Myanmar

All of the leadership principles can be applied here if we recognise that Myanmar is a very inclusive, family-orientated society. Corporations who want to succeed here need to highlight that they have a value of inclusivity and show teams they are working collectively towards a vision. Embrace the diversity in Myanmar to move forward.

Q: What advice would you offer international executives setting up in Myanmar?

ML: To start with, I’d refer to a saying that is prevalent in the international community, “VUCA”. This stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This is a good definition for Myanmar. Executives who want to succeed here need to have a clear vision and real clarity in their purpose. Agility is also key to make the most of the opportunities that will come your way. Finally, be aware of your unconscious bias as this will get in the way of success.


Contact Details: 

Linda Gadd and Michael Coyet are Partners in Signium Myanmar. If you would like to discuss this article or any of your Executive Search needs, please contact them at the phone number or email address included in the bio.