Updated: Jun 29
All of us are locked down somewhere in the world.
As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic handcuffs nations and borders, I'm serving my sentence in Melbourne. All this while, I've been receiving and exchanging stories of lockdown with friends from all over. I spoke previously with Allan Timlin who heads the APAC finance function of Global Blue in Singapore.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.
Ricardo Marek is President of the Growth & Emerging Markets Business Unit (GEM BU) of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd, the largest pharmaceutical company in Asia and one of the top 20 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world by revenue. He lives in Singapore with his wife and daughters but is currently locked down in Brazil.
Affluent Society (AS) spoke to him about his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil.
AS: What is the lockdown like in Brazil?
I have been in Sao Paolo, Brazil since March when I traveled here for business but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am so far unable to return to Singapore, where I have been based since 2017.
Brazil currently has the world’s second-highest number of cases, over 700,000, according to the Johns
Hopkins university site, and has overtaken Italy, with more than 35,000 deaths (as of 9 June 2020).
The pandemic has triggered a variety of responses from federal, state and local governments. On 27 March, Brazil announced a temporary ban on foreign air travelers and most state governors have
imposed quarantines to prevent the spread of the virus.
Singapore so far has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia primarily in
dormitories housing foreign domestic workers. In response to the growing number of new cases, the
government announced on 3 April a set of preventive measures called "circuit breakers", which ended on 1 June, with reopening to be done in three stages.
These two governments have adopted contrasting approaches to control COVID-19 cases, and now we
see Singapore’s daily number of cases slowly coming down, especially within the community outside of the foreign domestic worker dorms. Brazil, with its wide geographic spread and large population, is still working hard to battle the virus.
AS: What challenges did you face when the lockdown started?
I am from Brazil originally, and I am lucky that my family is in Sao Paolo, so I have been staying with my daughters since the lockdown. I originally flew to Brazil for a few days to do a business review with my Brazilian team, but due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, I had to prolong my stay and have been working from home for the past three months.
While Sao Paolo is my home town, and Brazil a key market in the Growth and Emerging Markets (GEM) region I run, I had not expected an extended stay here away from my leadership team, the majority of which is based in Singapore. However, Takeda globally and in the GEM region, have quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’, and we have been a frontrunner in the pharmaceutical industry to using digital technologies and platforms to stay connected with colleagues and customers around the world. It is probably more challenging for my leadership team members who are based in Singapore and Asia. Due to the time zone differences there are now more evening and late night meetings for them to accommodate my schedule.
Overall I am very impressed and proud of the resilience and focus of our employees during this challenging times, and due to our quick adaption to digital or virtual communications, my work and our business have not been hugely impacted. In fact, despite the impact of COVID-19, GEM BU still delivered strong growth in Q4 FY19, driven by demand for our highly innovative products and our ability to continue engaging with our customers in more innovative ways than we used to during face-to-face interactions.
AS: How are you coping with the lockdown?
As I constantly remind myself and my people, is it critical to remain optimistic and resilient during these unprecedented times, especially as leaders of the organization. It is not easy when lockdowns and quarantines have forced us to change our way of working and limited our personal, business and social interactions, but it is vital that we find ways to stay connected. For example, turn on the camera during video calls so we can still see each other to enhance the personal connection, rather than only communicate via emails and calls.
When we are in lockdown, some of us have had more time to ourselves with no daily commutes or
business travel to navigate. It is a time when we are all forced to slow down, to think of families,
ourselves, and the way we do things. I am taking this time to pause and reflect and try, as best I can to
Outside of work, we also need to be creative in finding ways to relax and keep up with exercising,
especially now the line between work and life has blurred due to extended WFH. For example, I have
been practicing my golf putting skills in my living room as a way of unwinding after long conference calls.
AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?
Having more time with my family is definitely the unexpected upside from my stay in Brazil. I am
grateful for this time since I have been based in Singapore for the past few years and traveled
extensively for work and didn’t get to spend much time with them. I am also thankful that I have a great group of leaders in the GEM region to help me keep the business running, and more importantly, keep our employees safe and healthy, which is our top priority during the global pandemic.
The challenges of lockdown and working from home (WFH) has prompted me and my team to not just think outside the box, but to ‘create a new box’ in going digital so we can continue to deliver our
business objectives and more importantly, serve the doctors and patients that need Takeda’s innovative
medicines and treatments. For example, we have launched an important region-wide initiative called ADAPT to use innovative digital solutions to maintain and enhance engagement with our customers (healthcare professionals and organizations such as doctors, hospitals etc) so that we can continue to deliver on our commitment to patients whose lives depend on Takeda’s life-saving/changing medicines.
This situation has given us a huge opportunity to change the way we work and operate, in business and in our personal lives. It’s created momentum in our organization and with our people to be active and resilient. We need to stay agile and flexible as the global environment may change forever.
AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?
The COVID-19 situation is likely to continue globally and in GEM countries; even after restrictions are lifted, we won’t be all going back to the office soon or at the same time. Nor will things ‘return to
normal’ – our ways of working, engagement with customers and serve patients, how we rethink working in the office, will all change.
Our approach for returning to the workplace will be rolled out in phases: therefore, it’s important that
we exercise caution as we resume operations in our offices, laboratories and the field. This means that our new workplace and ways of working will be very different from what we experienced before the pandemic. It will be reflected in our physical facilities and how we use them, as well as through a greater emphasis on virtual rather than face-to-face interactions.
Even as governments and Takeda plan for gradual safe return, COVID-19 continues to circulate around the world, and the majority of people everywhere will remain susceptible in the absence of an effective vaccine. As such, we will still need to observe social distancing measures and good hygiene to keep ourselves, our families and the community at large safe and healthy.
While COVID-19 has disrupted our previous ways of working, it is also a huge opportunity for us to
review how we operate our business, how we interact and engage with stakeholders, and how we as a
team and a company connect and work together.
Next up: We speak with Cristina Vigilante about her COVID-19 lockdown experience in Singapore.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including Jason Marine Group Limited, a leading marine electronics systems integrator and support services provider for the marine and offshore oil & gas industries listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange.