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  • From accountant to BUD, a leadership from diverse experience
  • by Eo, Yun-Ho | translator Byun Kyung A | May 28, 2020 10:08am
Interview with Chon Sewhan, a CVRM Business Unit Director at AstraZeneca Korea
 ▲ CVRM Business Unit Director Chon Sewhan
When seeking for the right people to work with, companies require the qualities of being both outstanding in one specific area and competent in various areas.

And as a next step, companies provide diverse experience to a competent employee in specific area to train them as a leader to take control over various areas. Such trend has been prominent in global pharmaceutical companies.

Numerous pharmaceutical companies are giving opportunity to employees from marketing, sales, human resources, finance, legal, medical information, government access, regulatory affairs and quality control departments to switch their position. In the same sense, the companies are shifting away from the old norm of setting essential prerequisite of marketing and sales experience when reviewing CEO candidates.

A former CFO and now Business Unit Director (BUD) Chon Sewhan, is a great example of the shift in the trend. Although he started as a financial accountant, he is now leading marketing and sales in the Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic Diseases (CVRM) unit.

After majoring in business administration at Korea University, Chon received a MBA from the Wharton School University of Pennsylvania and started his career at a global accounting firm PwC. He then joined the pharmaceutical industry as a finance manager at Abbott Korea, and gained more diverse experience in the industry working at Novartis headquarter and the U.S. office, and then at AstraZeneca Korea. Based on his rich experience in finance, R&D and business development, Chon was appointed as the CVRM BUD in 2018.

AstraZeneca’s CVRM BUD Chon Sewhan met with Daily Pharm to talk about his experience.

-Your case is still a rare case. Seems like you have been in charge of other various areas at AstraZeneca before taking the current position.

I joined AstraZeneca Korea September 2015 as I was offered a position of CFO. Taking a step further from finance, IT, and purchasing areas a typical pharmaceutical industry CFO would manage, I had to manage more extended areas including business development (BD) and commercial excellence.

Personally, I am grateful to AstraZeneca for the terrific opportunity I’ve had so far. After former Country President Korea Liz Chatwin returned to her home country, I was serving as an acting Country President for six months. There were crucial missions I had in hand like coverage on second-line Tagrisso, but I was glad I could see satisfying outcome despite many obstacles we faced.

After then, I was appointed as a BUD in the CVRM unit. Diverse experiences I gained through out those years in different countries are now my asset in the business.

-Based on your experience in offices in Korea and overseas, would you say there are differences between them?

After spending many years living and working in other countries, it is hard to tell if it is the unique quality of AstraZeneca or the Korean culture. I am sure working environment in Korea has gone through countless changes over the last decade.

In my opinion, people taking the leadership in Korea seem to be in the tough spot. For patients’ healthcare access, Korea’s healthcare system is far advanced. But from a business perspective, the drug pricing system can be inconsistent depending on the government’s policy, while the labor environment has more than enough to consider.

I think the Korean leaders in such dynamic market with numerous uncertainties are doing an excellent job growing the business and seeking for opportunities, regardless of the challenges.

-Let’s talk about the business unit you are in charge of now. CVRM seems to be covering a wide area including Atacand that recently ended the co-marketing deal with GC Pharma. Could you elaborate more on the unit?

To explain more on the unit, I should start from the AstraZeneca headquarter’s approach. Understanding why so many areas of products are integrated under the umbrella of CVRM shows how the company prioritizes the strategic approaches.

The company introduced the notion of ‘CaReMe’ from early on, which aims to recognize the fact cardiovascular, renal and metabolism have commonalities and overlapping disease areas. Accordingly, the integrated unit was named CVRM from 2018.

It means AstraZeneca’s business focus in chronic disease area has shifted from product to patients. Pondering on what would help the patients the most, the importance of comprehensive management is addressed and the company has vowed to raise the awareness of it as widely as possible.

In process of realizing CaReMe, the decision on Atacand was also made taking account of how to approach and help patients in more convincing fashion. From 2020, CVRM unit would directly take care of the Atacand sales. No, the company’s sales are expecting to create synergy effect between Atacand, Brilinta and Forxiga by intricately corresponding to patients and healthcare providers’ demand and situation.

Our effort would be propelled by newly added clinical evidences and updated indications. Based on the DECLARE study, Forxiga has confirmed it is the only drug to show first-line preventive effect in type 2 diabetic patients’ renal disease and heart failure. As antihypertensive angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB) Atacand is indicated to treat heart failure and has been confirmed to demonstrate other benefit in renal conditions, the two drugs are expected to generate even bigger benefit.

-What is then, in detail, short-term goals CVRM unit has?

Forxiga again plays a key role in achieving the CaReMe approach.

Currently, a variety of clinical studies are in progress with a diverse research designs, and we are anticipating to provide even more treatment benefit to patients. Of course, Bilinta and Atacand are crucial parts of the CaReMe world as well.

However, such vision and approaches of the business unit cannot be achieved only with a good drug. Internal competence is extremely important and fitting organizational culture is required. We are putting much thought into communication and trying to build the idealistic culture.

-Do you plan to stay in the pharmaceutical industry?

I personally have a deep connection with the industry. And it would probably remain so for a long time. As my father is fighting against brain tumor, I am seeing the value of helping the patients get back to their daily life. Beyond the face value of a pharmaceutical company, I have spent some time pondering deeply about why I am in the pharmaceutical business.

I still remember the words of gratitude a patient’s family told me when I was a part of sales in the U.S. I asked why I should get their warm words when I was not the one who developed the drug. They said a person in charge of finance would put the resource into good use to develop a good drug. I have learned many things from those words.
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