Pharm. Chibuike Uchemmadu Agaruwa is the CEO/Superintendent Pharmacist of Euromed Limited, a highflying indigenous pharmaceutical company, specialising in importation, marketing and distribution of pharmaceutical products.
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the 1976 graduate of Pharmacy from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) recalls how he received and nurtured the Euromed vision to take the company to its current leading position. He also offers insights on the state of pharmaceutical manufacturing in Nigeria, while recommending success strategies for young and aspiring pharma entrepreneurs. Excerpts:
What motivated you to start Euromed? How did you get the vision to set up the company?
After my compulsory National Youth Service programme at the General Hospital, Ogoja, in the old Cross River State, I joined Ciba-Geigy organisation as a medical representative for the old states of Anambra and Bendel. That was from 1977 to 1980. I grew up from medical representation to product management, and from there to marketing management and general sales management.
As a general sales manager, I was in charge of sales and training management, until I left Ciba-Geigy to join Link Pharmaceuticals Limited as the general manager in June 1992. While working over the years at Ciba-Geigy, I had received some inspiration from the history of the company. CIBA means Chemical Industry of Basel, in Switzerland. Dr Geigy was an individual researching on anti-rheumatics, and he developed Voltaren and Butazolidin brands. At a point, CIBA merged with Geigy to form Ciba-Geigy.
I drew inspiration from Dr Geigy, as an individual who developed a wide range of products in the anti-rheumatic market segment. Then I said to myself, “If an individual could do that, I too can do that but it will take some time.” When I got the vision, I did not rush into it. I tried to gain experience by working with people and observing what was happening in big companies, and I kept on that vision by making sure I did my work very well at Ciba-Geigy and within a short period, they brought me to Lagos as a product manager over and above people who had joined the company earlier.
When I came in as a product manager, I was assigned to prepare the launch of an antirheumatic brand, Tandagesic, after a team of officers came from Switzerland to tutor us on how to launch products. They asked me to make a presentation on product launch. By the way, I had not done a product launch before. They gave me one week to do the presentation. What I did was to buy the marketing management book by Philip Kotler. It’s the standard book in marketing management. I read through it and then prepared a launch plan, which I presented to the company’s management and the team from Switzerland.
The team from Switzerland called me and asked: “You said you had not done product management before, how come you were able to do it?” I told them that I bought a book by Phillip Kotler, read it and, to the best of my knowledge, came up with the product launch plan. That year, they went through the plan after my presentation, made a few corrections and approved it.
We launched Tandagesic in 1982 and it was acclaimed the third best product launch for that year by Intercontinental Marketing Services (IMS), a British marketing audit company that was auditing the Nigerian market then. IMS recorded the leading product, the competing products, the companies behind them and how much the market shares were in that market segment. That feat earned me a third prize award at Ciba-Geigy Pharma international. Ciba-Geigy Pharma International then included Ciba-Geigy companies from Africa (apart from South Africa), Latin America, Middle East and Asia.
The success of Tandagesic in Nigeria encouraged the launch of Rengasil, another anti-rheumatic. Rengasil was recorded by IMS as the best product launch in 1984 and that earned me a recommendation to work in the market planning department of Ciba-Geigy, Horsham UK, for 10 months. On returning to Nigeria in 1985, I was made the product manager, Special Duties and later, marketing manager, Ethicals.
Following a reorganisation in the company, I was appointed general sales/training manager in 1990. In that position, I was going to Kenya to train the field forces of Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, as well as our local staff, on a modern sales technique known as SSTC.
In search of a higher job challenge, I left Ciba-Geigy in 1992 for Link Pharmaceuticals Ltd as general manager. I worked there for seven years and left to establish Euromed Limited. But, first, I started with Dubin Plc. (a UK company, based in London) as a partnership programme. We commenced business in 1999.
I was surprised on 1 April 2004, they sent me an email, saying that, in view of the changed circumstances of the Nigerian environment and the fact that, having worked with me for about four years, they believed I could set my objectives and priorities, they were relinquishing the business to me and that there would be no claim from either party thereafter.
I read the mail several times and said: “Could this be true?” then I took up the challenge. That time, we had a residual amount in former Ecobank, which was N209,000. That was how we started Euromed Limited. Initially, it was B&S Dubin. It was really God’s favour.
So you can see how I kept and sustained the vision through discipline, dedication and determination to succeed.
How has the journey been so far? Have there been challenges?
The road to success is characterised by challenges one has to overcome to make progress. The initial challenge we had was that of funds. We didn’t have enough funds to start the business, except for the residual stock and the residual cash; but I quickly encouraged myself. I didn’t borrow any money from any person.
I hired a medical representative and a secretary and we started up with Clomid, which we registered with NAFDAC. Later on, in 2006, we got an agency from a company called Orchid Pharmaceuticals to market their range of products, with the major one being Spizef 250mg and 500mg.
Finance was the major constraint that I had because I needed finance to broaden the scope of our operations. When I approached banks, they would ask for collateral and I didn’t have any. Notwithstanding, finance did not constrain my efforts.
What are the challenges currently facing local pharmaceutical manufacturers and how can they be surmounted?
There are challenges of the environment and personnel commitment. The pharmaceutical industry is also facing stiff competition from fake and counterfeit products offered at low prices. The general public succumbs easily to low prices because of the prevailing weak purchasing power.
Next is the lack of commitment of staff, especially the sales force, to duty. In most cases, the staff are preoccupied by material acquisition over and above diligence, dedication and determination to make a career in the company.
Also, the custom duty on imported finished goods is presently too high. It should be reviewed from 20 per cent to 15 per cent, while raw materials/API should be pegged at 2.5 per cent to encourage local manufacturing. For both finished pharmaceuticals and raw materials, VAT should be scrapped.
Moreover, access to funds from banks is highly constrained by unfavourable lending rates.
Bank lending rates should be reviewed down to about 15 per cent to encourage local manufacturers. Indigenous companies that will eventually go into manufacturing will need funds at a favourable interest rate to start up a manufacturing outfit.
What about the regulatory environment and the state of infrastructure? Are you satisfied with them?
Concerning the regulatory environment, NAFDAC is doing its best but you know in this country many people erroneously see pharmaceutical business as the easy way of making money. If you are retired from your job, the next project you want to embark on is pharmacy business because people erroneously believe that it offers easy entry and returns on investment.
I would want to seek more support of the police force to assist NAFDAC to fight the menace of fake and counterfeit products in our market. Also, the pharmacovigilance unit of NAFDAC should be strengthened to be more effective in tracking and identifying fake or counterfeit products.
Euromed has been around for some time now. What major achievements has the company recorded and where does it plan to be in the nearest future?
We have expanded our product portfolio to achieve a balance in key therapeutic segments. We have acquired an acre of land in Ogun State as a starting point to commence local manufacturing in the medium-term. Through sustained discipline and dedication, we have tried to do things in a moderate way because we want to build our organisation on our own internally generated resources. This is not to say that borrowing is wrong but through fiscal discipline, we have been able to build up our own funds to sustain the operation to the level we are now.
What is your advice to young and aspiring pharmaceutical manufacturers?
I will advise them to develop and sustain a vision of enduring success. They should be patient to acquire the required skills and build the character of discipline, dedication and determination to succeed.
What I have seen in young people is that they are too much in a hurry to acquire wealth. They should realise that for life to be purposeful, glorious and joyful, they need the fear of God. They need His favour and grace, to go through hard work, trials and dangers. “No venture, no success” – there are no other ways.
I will advise young people to be more patient in the pursuit of their career through discipline, dedication and determination to succeed, without cutting corners.