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February 25, 2016

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GSK Consumer Healthcare dives deep in the China market

“WHY GSK’s Consumer Healthcare is poised for a sizable growth in China?” Zubair Ahmed has his secret weapon to win.

As the head of GSK Consumer Healthcare (GSK CH) business for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMA), Ahmed brought his expectations, visions and confidence during his current market visit to China which is a priority market for GSK CH.

“The sheer importance of China to our business is humongous,” said Ahmed, who sees great potential for GSK CH in China, even though he thinks China is the toughest market to crack.

GSK CH is a new company, which integrated GSK’s Consumer Healthcare business with the OTC business of Novartis. Positioning itself as Fast Moving Consumer Healthcare, it combines the capabilities of FMCG with OTC expertise.

This balanced portfolio is Ahmed’s invisible secret weapon. Undoubtedly, this overarching reconstruction creates new momentum for GSK CH’s growth, which will also depend on GSK CH’s “people” and “performance” focused new corporate culture.

During his week-long visit to Shanghai earlier this month, Shanghai Daily sat down with Ahmed at GSK office for an exclusive interview to unpack the venture’s business prospects in the region, measures to tackle competition in the consumer healthcare market and his personal ambition.

Q: What is China’s role in your AMA business landscape? What is your winning strategy in this dynamic market?

A: China is the single biggest market in the AMA region in terms of size, and is certainly the one with the biggest growth potential. Currently it sits in second place in terms of sales volume, following India, but China is definitely my top priority market.

I admit it’s not the easiest market to tackle and you have to be here for a long time to succeed.

A good place to start with is that we have leading brands in four categories we compete in: Sensodyne in the oral healthcare, Fenbid and Voltaren in the pain segment, Bactroban in the skin care, and Flixonase and Contac in the respiratory segment. Each of these categories is huge in size.

In China, we’re undertaking three main initiatives. The first, and the most important, is the “access agenda”: We want to be above leading brands to be available in as many outlets and cities as possible and at various price points to suit different tiers of consumers. At the same time, we want to build brand awareness and better connection with Chinese consumers via lots of consumer insights work on our products.

Second is finding the right talent. Attracting and retaining the right people is the key for us to execute our strategy.

The third part is to be stronger in cost effectiveness and agility compared to local companies, which are increasing their presence in China. You could say these are challenges but if turned around, they could also become great opportunities for GSK CH.

Q: How do you integrate science-led innovation and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) capabilities to drive growth in the region?

A: We have strong agility and speed, market knowledge as a fast-moving consumer-goods company, and we also have a solid science background backed by our expertise.

If you look at the China market, we have the first CRM Hub in China, which collects consumer feedback and combines these findings in our Innovation center in Shanghai.

We have built a steady flow of innovations that are backed by consumer insight and developed through a science-led pipeline. For example, Fenbid is the only brand and product in China that gives consumers a 12-hour sustained release, because our insights show that China consumers want a sustained release. We also have Fenbid chewable. Sensodyne Repair and Protect are another two excellent innovations I would name.

I firmly believe that truly effective consumer healthcare products backed by superior science will finally win in the competition globally and especially in a large market like China.

Q: How do you interpret and embed the new “People & Performance” corporate culture into the organization?

A: The new corporate culture is all about performance and our people. Generally speaking, we want to create an environment employees enjoy. Firstly, according to our research, as leveraging digital and social media proves to be welcomed by our employees, we introduce more and more digital elements.

In addition, we also offer clear career visibility for employees. For example, a brand manager will know exactly what tasks should be achieved before he or she would become a marketing director through our career development program. That is to say, we encourage a performance-led culture and provide more rewards for those who deliver more satisfactory results.

Thirdly, we create clear differentiation between a high performer and a low performer. We are cultivating a “performance focused” culture; people get the rewards as they deliver. We also offer more flexibility in the workplace such as flexible working hours and location as an example.

In the new corporate culture, employees can “challenge” each other and take risks. The organization is becoming more transparent with hierarchy. I believe new young generation would like to see those values coming through.

Q: How would you comment on your own career path and your future work at GSK CH?

A: I’ve become familiar with fast-moving consumer goods through my previous work and I’d say consumer healthcare can really touch on people’s lives. I joined GSK CH because of the huge opportunity for the product category in India. I also love to grow businesses and this new role is exciting because the AMA region covers 72 percent of the world’s whole population and is a region where the economy is accelerating and the opportunities are extremely exciting for me.


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