Emerging Pharma Leaders: Georg Toufar - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Emerging Pharma Leaders: Georg Toufar


Georg Toufar, Chief Marketing Officer and Board Director, Mundipharma International Limited

 Not many execs make the move from chocolate to innovative medicines but Georg Toufar is proud to say he has done just that. His first job was with Mars, persuading the hot dog vendors of Vienna to sell perishable confectionery at their stalls. He proved so good at that he rapidly rose to "one of the most prestigious positions in the Mars portfolio"—Marketing Manager for Chocolate at the company's UK office. Before long he was receiving unsolicited calls from headhunters, one of which, in 2003, brought him into the pharma realm. The then-CEO, Pharmaceuticals Division, Novartis AG, Thomas Ebeling, wanted some fresh blood with consumer marketing expertise; Toufar was duly installed as go-to-launch leader in the United Kingdom for Novartis's new hypertension treatment, Co-Diovan.

This career leap was not as unusual as it may sound. Toufar had been sizing up the pharma industry, sensing it "would undergo changes not too dissimilar from what consumer goods went through in the 1990s"—namely, a slowdown of growth, an increase in competition, and the rise of "own labels"—in pharma's case, generics. The challenge, as far as Toufar saw, was "to reach target customers with an ever smarter marketing mix."

Co-Diovan presented this and other obstacles, not least because of skepticism among some UK-educated doctors about fixed dose combinations. So Toufar focused his sales efforts largely on doctors educated outside the United Kingdom, and Co-Diovan became one of Novartis's most successful launches for a decade. By then, Toufar had definitely "caught the pharma bug."

By 2005, Toufar was Novartis's European franchise director for Dyslipidaemia; the following year he became the company's head of marketing & sales, northern & central Europe. In 2008 he joined Mundipharma International as director, European marketing & sales, and was promoted to chief marketing officer and board director just last month.

But he hasn't forgotten his career roots. "At Mars, the customer is center stage," Toufar explains. "And it's a very flat organization: just a few people, but with big responsibilities. Not a lot of hierarchy. It's not run by staffers, so things can move incredibly fast. A bit like a biotech."

This is the kind of culture he has been instilling at Mundipharma, which is based on the philosophy of pharma sans frontieres—pharma without borders—and is driven forward by the company's high percentage of Generation X-ers. "There are no old-school, Baby Boomer attitudes here," he adds. "We understand that technology and the ways we reach customers have changed, that if we cannot tell our story to a payer in 30 seconds, then it's probably not a good story."

For Toufar, much of the rest of the industry "is still on the psychiatrist's couch." He explains: "I was at the Economist Pharma Summit this year and it felt like 'Groundhog Day'—a lot of the talks used exactly the same script you would have heard a couple of years ago: 'My payer doesn't understand me,' etc. But the industry is changing. Just bringing out slightly improved products and expecting a premium price is not going to wash. The solution is not about ever-smarter black box models that payers often struggle to decipher, but about honest, easy-to-understand propositions."

With that philosophy as a driving force, Toufar has overseen the expansion of the Mundipharma portfolio, supplementing its analgesics business with treatments across respiratory, rheumatology, and oncology, "reinventing the way we finance research, partnerships, and marketing strategies." The three product launches he has been behind—Targin, a follow-on pain treatment; Lodotra, for rheumatoid arthritis; and flutiform, for persistent asthma—have helped to drive the company's staggering recent success, achieving double-digit growth over the last five years. Mundipharma, Toufar points out, is now "on the way to becoming one of the top 25 pharma companies in Europe, with one of the youngest portfolios."

Indeed, dealing with such "hyper-growth," as Toufar describes it, can be challenging in itself. "We used to be a one-product, northern European company; now we're a pan-European portfolio company—that is scary enough." he says. But he embraces challenges. "Being able to pilot a new way of operating that is leaner, faster, more honest, more fun—for me, that's really exciting," he says. "The moment we start to ossify, that's the moment I will leave!"

—Julian Upton

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