What was it like making the switch from Procter & Gamble to Omega Pharma?
“It was relatively easy, because the field is very similar. Before I worked at Procter I started at Hogan Lovells. That switch took some getting used to! From mergers and takeovers to a world in which it is all about the people. From a highly abstract level to a very visible, practical field. One of my first projects was launching Dreft’s dishwasher tablets. It doesn’t get more tangible than that. This resembles the over-the-counter (OTC) and personal care business at Omega Pharma. Also when it comes to approach there are many similarities. Procter focuses on striking a balance between fact-based analysis, intuition and creativity. The same goes for Omega Pharma. There are contextual differences, but the approach is the same.”
So Omega Pharma is really an FMCG-company.
“Yes, that is what it boils down to. Consumers think in terms of solutions for their daily troubles. Washing powder should get you clean clothes, coughing syrup should stop your coughs. That’s it. I am not especially fascinated by products or brands, I find it enthralling how simple products are solving consumers’ real problems in their everyday lives. At Omega Pharma I am like a kid in a candy store, with brands such as Davitamon, Biodermal and XLS Medical. There are so many opportunities and that doesn’t even include the international portfolio, with nearly 2000 brands all over Europe. “
Are there any discernable differences between OTC and FMCG?
“OTC is less promotionally driven than traditional FMCG products. With us it is more about the effectiveness of the products and the communication surrounding it than about the price. That’s what makes it even more interesting in my book. There is a lot of added value for consumers, the retailer and the supplier.”
And then its pace. FMCG is always being praised for its swift pace, am I right?
“For Omega Pharma specifically its pace in terms of decision making is very fast. No long trajectories and processes, but making decisions and trying them out for size immediately. A number of our clients asked for our help in two categories which were still unchartered territory. Now, five months on these new brands are hitting the stores. The assortments were developed, sourced and produced within that time frame. We determined the marketing and commercial mix and came up with the communication strategies both on TV and online. In short, our products hit the stores within six months, their commercials run on television. Our clients expect it, they want to tap into consumers’ needs all the time and have us come up with effective new products. We have got the scope needed to make that happen and the culture to do this more quickly and we are more business savvy as well than most of our competition.”
How do you manage to move so quickly?
“We made our organization extremely simple, everyone is entirely responsible for their own part in the business. We almost completely obliterated the middle-management layer. Responsibilities are cut up into little pieces. That means there is a lot more freedom for entrepreneurship. Everyone has their own shop. The organization is flat: 90% reports to the management directly. “
And how do you grow?
“Growth is not about an extra feather in your cap, but it involves real learning, instead of another title to add onto your business card. Due to our exponential growth, flat organization, international and cross-functional opportunities everyone is being challenged all the time. You do not walk the well-trodden career path with us, you get to create your own.”
Why work at Omega Pharma?
“That is for everyone to decide for themselves, but its quick pace, entrepreneurship, without limitations in terms of management layers and bureaucracy seem to be its definite pluses. From experience I know that at a large FMCG company you run the risk of having a smaller impact once you climb the corporate ladder. When you don’t pay attention you suddenly spend a huge portion of your time on processes, politics and bureaucracy, and a lot less on people or business. We organize our company in such a way that we manage to dodge these pitfalls.
How do you select talent?
“Primarily on its cultural fit. We prefer well educated people with a number of years of experience at the top in FMCG- or pharma companies. People with a great education who discover they miss the speed, entrepreneurship and personal impact once they have made steps in their career. These people we welcome with open arms at Omega Pharma. We have the quality and professionalism of a large company, but try to keep it simple when it comes to solutions, as would a small entrepreneur.”
You recently managed to bring in a lot of talent.
“Yes, that’s correct. Over the past year some very good people started at our company, from very different backgrounds, yet with the same cultural fit. On the board Erik Soeteman started as our Marketing Director. He was responsible for marketing at AbInbev in the Netherlands. Hans Geerts became our Finance& Operations Director and he used to worked at Biotech Pharmaseutical AMGEN. And Jet van Koten has now been appointed as our Commercial Director. She gained a lot of experience at Unilever in personal care and the pharmacy-business.”
What is it you expect them to add?
“First and foremost on a cultural level. We are at a cultural advantage compared to our competition. Everyone at Omega Pharma is responsible for safeguarding that culture, but that goes for the MT most of all. Moreover, they have the important task to help professionals, to coach and guide them in their development, in a company that lacks most of the middle management. By the amount of experience they bring to the table, I expect them to be able to help everyone at Omega Pharma to move forward.”
And what is your part in all this? You are one of the youngest General Managers in the Netherlands.
“For me personally the process all came naturally. I never focused on hierarchy but on fun and things I could learn. Omega Pharma is a company where age or years of experience hardly matter. It is truly about skills. In terms of content, but also your people skills and other character traits such as courage and entrepreneurship. That’s what’s so great about our company. You don’t need to work for forty years before you get to make decisions. I recommend making the switch to anyone.”
What is it you still want to learn?
“Haha, good question. I haven’t planned it like this, but there are hundreds of thousands of things which I hope will come more easily to me next year than they do now. For the moment I hope to have a lot of fun in this position. I have learned that when you truly have a great job, your need for forced career planning is off the table. I learn new things every day. Everything else will come later on.”
Back to Omega Pharma for a bit, how is the business doing?
“Very well. Our ambition is to double in size over the next three to five years, but we are highly exceeding expectations in that regard. Our strategy is simple: good content and focus on speed. Our organization had been built on that, as I was saying. We are able to react quickly to opportunities. For instance by introducing new innovations that consumers want.”
What are your expectations for the future?
“Very rosy indeed. First and foremost that is due to the market. It is very refreshing to work in a market which hasn’t yet reached its peak. Consumers are much more aware of a healthy lifestyle, governments place responsibility on the individual and our ageing population results in more ailments, for which we have developed and sell cures. This is a great moment in time to enter our business.”
2015 – present
General Manager, Omega Pharma
2014 – 2015
Commercial Director, Omega Pharma
2012 – 2014
Channel Leader Hyper & Supermarkets, P&G
2011 – 2012
Team Leader Food, P&G
2009 – 2011
Customer Business Development, P&G
2006 – 2009
Brand Manager, P&G
2005 – 2006
Tax Lawyer, Hogan Lovells