Talent Overview: Mexican Life Science Sector
By Johannes Viholainen

During the past several years, we have seen a few key talent trends and shifts in the Mexican life sciences industry. Obtaining access to the public healthcare market is a complex situation and has increased the quest for experienced experts who can achieve feasible solutions. Several roles that have previously been considered single-function focused, such as regulatory and medical positions, are increasingly collaborating with other company divisions and thus becoming more attached to the core business. Moreover, the pharmaceutical industry has been welcoming external talent and looking for individuals from non-healthcare focused industries to diversify and broaden its employee background mix and pool of expertise. The points mentioned above have also shifted the need for the core competencies companies are seeking to bring in today.

Problematic Access to Public Markets

As pharmaceutical and medical devices companies face challenging market access conditions in the public market, caused partly by healthcare budget cuts and the generic-medicine focus of the federal government, businesses have set greater focus on hiring individuals that can create innovative solutions and strategies to overcome current barriers. There has been a scarcity of professionals with these capabilities in the local market and a unique and complex structure of the Mexican public healthcare sector which impedes finding an easy plug-and-play solution of foreign talent without experience in the Mexican market. This has had two consequences locally; the salary level of the most experienced access experts has increased over the past years and organizations have set greater emphasis on developing internal talent to close the existing talent gap. Despite the companies’ efforts to adapt to the situation, there exists a clear gap between supply and demand.

The market access role has become a more strategic role and therefore a successful executive in the field has the capabilities to design and implement plans aligned with the overall company operation and current market conditions. Today, the access operation is not limited only to transactional internal and external activities before government institutions but is more commonly extended to the field which has been known as government and policy affairs. Companies focus more of their access related activities on influencing and increasing awareness among the policymakers and the institutes that provide funding for the public healthcare sector. Market access leaders should be able to create innovative medium and long-term plans that secure market access today as well as in the future. Some companies, for example, have already introduced new performance-based and risk sharing models in the market.

Attention to the Core Business

As mentioned above, another trend that can be noted in the Mexican life sciences sector is the growing attention to serve the core business despite the position title. Business partnering has become a common term for professionals that hold legal, HR, medical, and regulatory roles, which have been known as support functions in the past. These roles understand they are expected to act as enablers and internal consultants with the overall business in mind and should constantly measure how their activities impact the results of their organizations. Successful executives holding these roles understand they are expected to act as enablers and internal consultants with the overall business in mind and should constantly measure how their activities impact the results of their organizations. These individuals proactively look for ways to partner with other areas across the organization and seek opportunities for collaboration to improve the performance of the divisions and the entire company.

Additionally, matrix and lean organization structures, that have previously been more common among smaller biotech companies, have boosted the development of business partnering and cross-functional cooperation among the larger life sciences companies. Collaborative skills play a more important role in organizations where direct reporting and local hierarchy are a disappearing reality. Individuals need to know how to engage their colleagues from other departments and obtain their buy-in for cross-functional initiatives.

Foreign Talent in the Local Market

The influx of foreign talent into Mexico can be expected to remain high in the future as the importance of the second-largest if not the largest, market in Latin America maintains various pharmaceutical and medical device companies. As a result, businesses prefer to place experienced executives with a successful track record to the key roles in their local affiliates. In 2017, we estimated that approximately 30 percent of general managers at multinational pharmaceuticals based in Mexico were Mexicans. The high number of foreigners can be explained by their background in similar roles in small and midsize markets in the region. This experience has naturally prepared them for scaling up and undertaking leading roles in a larger market, such as Mexico.

When Mexican executives are interviewed and asked about their willingness to relocate to another country, many times the USA, Europe, and Asia are their target destinations. Other Latin American countries aren’t seen as attractive options even though they might provide promising professional opportunities and serve as an investment in one’s personal growth. Cultural aspects and family matters naturally influence decisions to move abroad after a job. There is great local talent in Mexico and recently more Mexicans, including Mexican women, are in top positions in the life sciences sector.

New Sources of Talent

According to human resources executives and business leaders, the life sciences sectors have become more open and interested in attracting talent from other industries, such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). While the transition from FMCG to OTC/CHC can be considered easier due to the similarities between the two sectors. There exists curiosity as well to bringing in candidates to manage Rx and high specialty products outside the pharmaceutical industry without intermediate steps. In addition, external talent in the sector holding production and operation roles may be expected to increase in the near future, without mentioning positions, such as HR and finance, where cross-industrial movements have already been common in the past.

HR professionals often wonder where they can find talent that can fit in the pharmaceutical sector. There is a growing desire to change the status quo and find alternative solutions for existing talent needs. The focus should not, however, be only on the candidate characteristics but also on understanding how organizations can facilitate the transfer from another industry into the life science sector. Adequate onboarding and mentoring help to soften the cultural shock and pave the way for a quick adaptation. Also, an internal sponsor, such as general manager, who supports and oversees the change is highly recommended. People need to assume the new mindset, be open to receive disruptive ideas, and see things from a new angle. Also, technological innovations will change the way we do our jobs at an accelerating pace. In all this, the sponsor plays a crucial role. The most open-minded and forward-looking organizations are already shifting their focus from technical skills and industrial background onto finding the right leadership capabilities and executive intelligence.

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