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Enriching, enhancing, and extending lives
NOT many companies can say their work is a matter of life and death, but Pfizer is one of the distinguished few. The pharmaceutical giant's medicines enable people to extend and significantly improve their lives. That's a task Enver Erkan, Country Manager, Pfizer Singapore, doesn't take lightly. "We have 'Patients First' culture at Pfizer, and so we ask everyone to always keep in mind that what we do - anywhere in the world and at any time - makes a meaningful difference to patients' lives. It is a big responsibility when you think about it," notes Mr Erkan.
In fact, Pfizer - the company behind drugs like Prevenar13, Ibrance, and Lipitor - has even changed the course of history. Back in World War II, the company manufactured penicillin in bulk, saving millions of Allied soldiers' lives.
Indeed, the pharmaceutical giant has a long and storied history, having been founded in the US over a century and a half ago, in 1849.
Pfizer opened its Singapore offices in 1964, a year before the country gained independence. "We take pride in being one of the pioneer companies," says Mr Erkan, who has been with Pfizer for 15 years. Prior to his move to Singapore in October 2017, he worked across Pfizer's Turkey, UK, and Europe teams.
No matter where he goes, he is committed to making an impact in two ways: internally on Pfizer's culture, and externally on Pfizer's patients.
On the internal front, Mr Erkan says: "The biggest impact I can make is to further foster our 'Patients First' culture, and ensure all of our colleagues feel connected with this greater purpose to make Singapore a healthier nation."
Externally, he is looking at ways to expand access to Pfizer's medicines in Singapore. Mr Erkan explains: "After our medicines get local approval by Singapore's regulatory agency, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), it sometimes takes years to be listed on local formularies. If we can reduce the time taken for a medicine to gain widespread awareness and use in Singapore, this would ensure all patients can benefit from the latest treatment options available."
As vice-president and chair of the Public Affairs Committee of SAPI - the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries - Mr Erkan engages with key stakeholders to further the conversation.
"We continue the dialogue with the Ministry of Health and all key players in the healthcare space, to find solutions for access challenges for medicines - while considering the affordability challenges in an ageing society," he adds.
Today, Pfizer boasts a solid pipeline of new medications. As at May 1, it has a total of 96 R&D projects - with 12 of them being in the registration phase, and 50 of them at the human clinical trials stage. In fact, a substantial number of clinical trials - 15 to be exact - are taking place in Singapore. "This allows Singaporean doctors and patients to have first-hand experience of cutting-edge new treatments," notes Mr Erkan.
In the midst of all these lofty endeavours, Mr Erkan stays grounded in his leadership approach when it comes to Pfizer Singapore. To him, leadership isn't complicated - it is "as simple as followship".
"A good leader has followers not because of authority, but because people believe in the leader. And this followship happens over time because a good leader actively listens to their followers, sets the vision, understands their needs, builds trust, inspires confidence, admits mistakes with humility, and develops their followers.
"During the finite time we occupy the roles we sit in, my motto has always been to make a positive impact to the organisation and its culture, ultimately leave behind a lasting legacy with positive memories. How people remember someone is the ultimate test for one's legacy, and I always advise everyone to think about this before starting a new role," emphasises Mr Erkan.
What's more, he believes that every person is a leader in their own right, gifted with their own unique set of strengths. He adds: "As leaders, our role is to ensure those strengths are maximised, and that colleagues are provided with opportunities in order to develop and grow themselves to realise their potential."
To that end, he invests in talent development initiatives - some of which are recognised regionally as best practice - to enable staff to learn and grow. This is especially key in an office like Singapore, where the relatively small market size means fewer promotion opportunities.
"This creates the misperception of fewer developmental opportunities. But this is merely a perception, not the reality - because our talent development initiatives allow colleagues to grow and gain new skillsets on the job. These do not require a promotion," observes Mr Erkan.
As a company, too, Pfizer is constantly looking to stretch itself and innovate. Mr Erkan is most excited about the firm's precision medicines and targeted therapies, which will enable personalised treatments after genetic testing. "With the advancement of artificial intelligence, diagnosis and accuracy rates will also increase - and patients will be provided with personalised treatment options.
"Ultimately, patients will gain the most, by having longer and higher quality of lives," Mr Erkan emphasises. "We are committed to developing medical solutions that will matter most to the people we serve."