A Global Leader in Health


Laurie McAllister is a man with a mission. He arrived at the Australian headquarters of a global leader in pharmaceuticals early this year from the world’s best-known FMCG brand…

So his enthusiasm for the growth and the potential of the consumer healthcare sector is understandable. Likewise, it is only to be expected that he exudes a sense of frustration at the starchy rigidity of the framework surrounding Australia’s medical health sector, including the PBS.

But although those two interwoven but highly divergent markets have captured his attention, what captures his imagination is the very simple ambition of rendering his company’s name into a household word. In short, no one knows Sanofi – and Managing Director Laurie not only believes they should, but promises they soon will.

Sanofi reckons it is “the most diversified healthcare company in Australia and New Zealand. No other healthcare company in Australia can match our suite of products and services,” says the company. However, it is a major global player too, with more than 110,000 employees in 100 countries, and 18 research and development (R&D) sites. In Australia and New Zealand, the company employs more than 1,000 full time staff members.

“Diversified” in this case means operating in the sphere of prescription and over-the-counter medicines; vaccines; vitamins, minerals and supplements; and animal health products. The company’s history dates back to 1718 and the two principal legacy companies for Sanofi as it stands today are Sanofi-Synthelabo and Aventis. Sanofi-Synthelabo was formed in 1999 by the merger of Sanofi, founded in 1973 and Synthelabo, founded in 1970. Aventis was formed in 1999 by the combination of Rhone-Poulenc and Hoechst, two of Europe’s best-known chemicals-related brands. This history of mergers and acquisitions brought together today’s range of innovative treatments for many chronic health conditions, including type 1 and type 2 diabetes, various cancers, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, conditions of the central nervous system and thrombosis.

In 2008, Sanofi acquired vitamin, mineral and supplements (VMS) company Symbion Consumer Healthcare and it is now the largest VMS manufacturer and distributor in Australia; its brands include Nature’s Own, Cenovis, Ostelin, Telfast and Betadine. In 2011, Merial became Sanofi’s dedicated animal health division and the company also acquired Genzyme, a pioneer in the development and delivery of transformative therapies for people affected by rare and debilitating diseases.

The group is quite well known through Nature’s Own alone, with its current ad blitz featuring British adventurer Bear Grylls, one of the most recognised faces of survival and outdoor adventure around the world. He is someone who seizes opportunities, is inspirational and authentic, and is known for overcoming adversity with enthusiasm and energy, values that are shared by Sanofi. The partnership sees the Man vs Wild star appearing in a range of television, print, out-of-home and in-store advertising. In the ads, Bear is challenged with finding (and catching) all the ingredients in a Nature’s Own vitamin via the wilderness alone. Products featured to date include fish and krill oils and sleep aids.

The potential in this consumer-health market remains significant. Laurie quotes impressive growth figures, but he agrees it is not just a matter of market share. “There looks like several more years of growth at the current rates for the entire sector; we are not just fighting for share,” he says. Partly this growth is driven by innovation as new vitamins, cures or trends develop; but nowadays everyone is interested in living better – not only for themselves, but also, increasingly, for their four-legged or feathered friends too, for whom Sanofi also caters.

Laurie himself arrived from Coca-Cola and must have found it odd that his new company’s name was so little known by comparison. In the months since settling in at head office in Sydney, he has orchestrated a number of initiatives to change that situation and leverage the background of the brand and its values in a long-term push to make it a household name that will benefit all the divisions. But it’s about more than simply stamping the name on all the ads and labels, he says; that would add little to anything except the graphic designer’s bank balance. There needs to be an educative process to enlighten the general public and the healthcare profession about the significance of the Sanofi name and what stands behind it.

The company’s staff have some serious degree of autonomy within the global framework, not least because of the vitality (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the VMS market and the local manufacture. The company just completed a major refurbishment of its factory in Virginia, Queensland, which employs 213 people locally and produces 2.7 billion supplements annually.

The challenges in the consumer health sector are appetising and in principle familiar to someone so well acquainted with a top FMCG brand. However, Laurie is also getting to grips with the much less familiar and more complex equation that is PBS-related medicine, and is determined to effect change for the better.

It is admitted that, as one of the leading healthcare companies in Australia, Sanofi has not been immune to the challenges the industry has faced in recent years. “You’ve seen companies downsizing and unfortunately many Australians losing their jobs. We saw these challenges coming up a number of years ago and, in response, we totally transformed our business to ensure its future sustainability. Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. It has become more difficult to get a recommendation from the PBS assessment panel and this has resulted in a decline in the listing of new medicines on the PBS. At the same time we’ve seen major budget constraints on the government.”

To add to this, a Victoria University report in May 2013 showed that the pharmaceutical sector will return almost $18 billion in savings to the government by 2018. Sanofi points out that the automotive industry is expected to receive a $5.4 billion assistance package by the year 2020.

“The budget savings we deliver to the government do not come without job losses in the sector,” Laurie shares. “Since signing the 2010 MoU, the sector lost 300 staff at the end of last year and another 120 in May. Overriding all of these concerns is our key concern: ultimately it’s the everyday Australians – mums, dads, children, grandparents and families – who are at risk of not getting the best healthcare treatments that are available.

One senses the impatience with which Laurie was waiting for a new federal government to be elected. He is champing at the bit to sit with whoever gets to Canberra to thrash out a better way to deliver healthcare at affordable prices. His key strategy is collaboration, and he says he has already had a number of “very encouraging” meetings with counterparts willing to go down this collaborative route as soon as government is ready to talk. Laurie is convinced that the pharmaceutical industry can put aside its own sectarian and competitive differences for enough time to bring about a better solution to delivering health to the population, with its ageing ‘time-bomb’ and pressing challenges in areas such as obesity and diabetes.

The latter disease is one of Sanofi’s specialities, with 90 years of expertise in its treatment. “We believe the way forward is to understand how people think and feel about their disease and develop better treatments and ways to manage their condition,” says Laurie. Accordingly, the company developed the iBGStar, the first blood glucose monitor that connects directly into an iPhone or iPod Touch. By using the app, people with diabetes can email their blood glucose results directly from their phone to their doctor, which allows them to have a more informed discussion about their health.

Sanofi’s Genzyme arm focuses on researching and developing treatments for people with rare diseases and multiple sclerosis. “People with rare diseases often have to cope with many years of misdiagnosis and we want to be able to give them hope for a cure. The areas we’re currently focused on include treatments or enzyme replacement therapies for Gaucher’s disease, Pompe disease, mucopolysaccharidosis type I, and Fabry disease.” Genzyme is also addressing unmet medical need for people who have multiple sclerosis – the second most frequent debilitating neurological disorder in young adults after accidents.

Another brand of impeccable lineage is Sanofi Pasteur, which develops vaccines. The organisation is “a recognised partner for governments and national health authorities, the World Health Organization, and the major international funds involved in vaccination campaigns in developing countries.”

Ultimately, whether you are taking a prescribed course of medicine or your budgie is off its millet, whether you need a vitamin tonic or you have a rare and serious illness, Sanofi is a company that can help. And one of Laurie’s aims is for the name to be known as such.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:27 AM AEDT