How is Zoetis caring for animals in the age of antibiotic resistance?

13 Jun 2018

Dr Luis Rojas. Image: Zoetis

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Dr Luis Rojas discusses the challenges faced by the animal health industry today, and how Zoetis is tackling them.

Dr Luis Xavier Rojas is head of international commercial strategy and operations at Zoetis, a global animal health company.

Prior to this role, he was general manager for Zoetis Korea, where he was responsible for the day-to-day management of the operation, sales, and setting marketing and business strategy for the company.

Before moving to Korea, Rojas was the regional marketing director for Pfizer Animal Health in Asia Pacific based in Shanghai, China.

He has an MBA in strategy and corporate finance from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He received his PhD and a MSc in animal science from the University of Florida and a BSc in agriculture from the University of Tennessee.

Rojas recently spoke at the first event of Accreate Invites, a series of events offering business leaders the opportunity to gain insights from industry experts and network with their peers.

Describe your role and what you do.

On the commercial strategy side, I am mainly responsible for supporting the optimisation of the go-to market business model in the countries where we operate. Zoetis has 45 markets where we have a direct presence and our products are sold in more than 120 countries. We must ensure that we are maximising our sales resources as well as our distribution partners to continue to drive sustained growth.

For the operations side, I am responsible for removing obstacles or roadblocks in the organisation. Our on-the-ground commercial teams are working diligently to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers. The last thing they need is to face a lack of product supply or a systems or resources issue. I work to connect people and to provide that broad level view across the organisation to capitalise on opportunities.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

As you might imagine, supporting 45 direct markets in 12 different regions can be challenging. Everyone has unique needs and requirements. If I only prioritised based on economic metrics (which is the first pass), there would be many unhappy colleagues. I try to resolve issues quickly and if I can’t, I make the connections to the right colleague that can. It is never easy to prioritise because a relatively small issue for the company can be a huge issue in a small market, so we have to decide on many fronts.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Animal health is a really interesting space that is growing very well. There are a couple of big issues facing the industry. One is the increased focus on antibiotic resistance and the need to work with multiple stakeholders to educate and support the responsible use of antibiotics. We have multiple initiatives at the R&D, regulatory, manufacturing and commercial fronts to tackle the challenges of antibiotic resistance and still ensure the care and welfare of sick animals. Like people, when they get sick, animals need medicines, too.

The other challenge is the diminishing resources to produce animal protein due to population growth and also environmental restrictions. Farmers need to be more efficient in managing their operations in a sustainable way, producing more and better with less available resources. Thanks to our large product portfolio including medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and genetic solutions, Zoetis is well positioned to support them through the continuum of care, from disease detection to prevention and treatment.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

We have three major macroeconomic drivers:

  1. A growing middle class leading to growth in the numbers of households with companion animals. Zoetis is a market leader in this sector and we continue to launch innovative products to meet the needs of pet owners and increase the level of care for their small companions.
  2. Improving economic conditions impacting overall demand for animal proteinAs mentioned above, Zoetis has a vast portfolio to support the livestock producers in producing safe and healthy meat, dairy and eggs.
  3. Consolidation of animal production operations. As backyard farms disappear (which, in emerging markets, can be significant numbers) and production shifts to bigger customers that tend to be more sophisticated (veterinary clinics and farmers), Zoetis realises the benefit of the shift.
What set you on the road to where you are now?

Personally, I have had many very diverse experiences in Zoetis and the industry, but what set me on the road is my entrepreneur mindset. I went from being a scientist, to being a producer, then a general manager (GM) of a transport company (all before joining Zoetis), to an R&D consultant, to a marketer, to a country GM, to finally be where I am now.

When I joined Zoetis (Pfizer at the time), it was my first time in a corporate environment. I brought to Pfizer the broad perspective of a business that one gains from being a GM, one which many of my colleagues lacked because they had only worked within their units or functions.

I also think that my educational background has helped me get the right footing to prepare me for my career, in particular the MBA from a top institution in the US.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I think my biggest mistake was setting huge expectations for a product in one particular market without identifying a big barrier to the implementation. This resulted in overproduction and the need to scrap the product. From this experience, I learned that one can never be complacent in making assumptions and that one needs to continually pressure-test the expectations, especially with people on the ground.

How do you get the best out of your team?

In my current position, I don’t have a direct team that reports to me; I work with my peers and their teams. Influencing without direct-line responsibilities is at times even more challenging. To best work with my peers and the colleagues from whom I need support, I show them that I am fully vested in their objectives, that I am here to work with them, to help them grow and to remove obstacles. Yes, I might challenge them at times but in the end, my goal is to help them be successful. Once you establish that credibility, and especially if you resolve issues or support them quickly and efficiently, you will definitely get the same level of support the other way.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

Yes, there definitely are opportunities to have more diversity in Zoetis, in particular at the GM level. We are working hard to attract, recruit, develop and retain diverse talent. I think that, traditionally, this industry has not been very attractive to women – however, times are certainly changing. These days, in many countries, there are more women veterinary students than men. I think we need to continue to highlight the attractiveness of the industry and especially Zoetis.

Who is your role model and why?

I try to learn and grow from every interaction I have with people and my bosses. Each one of them has played (and will play) a role in my development. However, if I was to name one role model, it would be my dad. My father is an exceptional, accomplished and persevering person that has faced many challenges in life and has overcome them. In addition, he is a believer in humanity; a kind and generous and fun person that will easily trust and be trusted. He has given me all I needed to start life: values, education, fundamentals and lots of love!

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I really liked Jack Welch’s Winning. It is amazing what he did at GE and where GE is today since his departure. I really liked the people management part of the book and the 20-70-10 segmentation of employees for specific management.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Being connected is a big thing for me, especially because I like to promptly resolve issues. There are the 200 or so daily emails, but also the meetings and phone calls. My iPhone and my Lenovo laptop help me a lot with catching up and multitasking. Also, when one works across multiple time zones, it also helps me to give things one last check before going to bed to ensure nothing gets delayed for two days.

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