Why Hiring Local is Important at MSD

I started my journey in the Pharma industry in 2006 at Schering-Plough. I fulfilled roles in sales and product management. Coincidentally at the time Schering-Plough had a commercial partnership with MSD at the time and was later acquired by MSD as a result some of my early sales training occurred at MSD and all of the products that I managed are actually now in the MSD portfolio. I then moved to Adcock Ingram as a brand manager in 2009. I spent about 8 years at Adcock Ingram and during that time I held many roles including Business Unit Manager for HIV, Business Unit Manager for Cardiovascular/Respiratory/Dermatology, Head of Sales & my last assignment was as Commercial Head at Adcock Ingram Critical Care. Between 2017 & 2019 I expanded my continental experience and moved to East Africa and assumed the role of Sub-Saharan Africa Key Account Head at Cipla. This was an incredible time in my life, and I managed to travel extensively across the continent and learn the ins and outs of the African pharma market. Upon my return to South Africa I spent 12 months with Merck Biopharma as Head of Marketing for all English and Portuguese speaking African Countries. I joined MSD on 1 Jan 2020 as Business Unit Director for HIV & Vaccines and during that time is contributed to defining the Subsidiary of the Future, as well as developing the commercial model for MSD’s COVID-19 & HIV assets across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, we have a large and complex business across approximately 42 different countries in SA & SSA. Our business in these countries is a mix of private sector business, government funded tender business and donor funded programs in the lower income countries. From a revenue perspective our subsidiary contributes over $250m per annum.

One of the key things that attracted me to MSD was its mission to broaden access to its innovative medicines. This is will remain a focus area for MSD under my tenure as MD. No patient must be left behind, we must help more people! In order for us to achieve this we have to develop innovative access and affordability solutions that go hand in hand with our scientific innovations. As an organization we are Invested Today In Africa’s Health Tomorrow. Our metric of success is a bit more nuanced than the usual sales achievement vs. target. Internally we ask ourselves the following fundamental questions:

• How many people do we help?
• How much help do we give those people?

When we maximize these 2 things then all the commercial metrics will follow. So, as we look for areas of opportunity as a business, we are essentially looking at areas with the most need. Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest need for our healthcare solutions so we will continue to investing and providing solutions.

We are also committed to diversity, inclusion and transformation, and we have committed ourselves to creating economic opportunities for more people. One of our top objectives is to attract and develop a highly capable and diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve while creating a culture of inclusion, equity and empowerment. To get there, we all have a role to play regardless of where we sit in the organization. Our unique backgrounds, experiences and leadership qualities can have a significant impact in improving not only our company, but our communities as well.

Under my tenure as MD, I’d love for MSD to be known as the American company with an African soul. We must transform our business to reflect the society in which we operate. Our people are the lifeblood of our organisation. They are the ones that must innovate and keep us moving towards our organisational ambitions. We want to attract, develop and retain dedicated and highly skilled local talents, who work passionately together. We are doing this by offering our employees a climate of responsibility, accountability and respect where every employee can excel and develop to their full potential and bring the best version of themselves to work. MSD’s Overall Ambition is to:

• Build a workplace where people can work from anywhere
• Provide a “home away from home”
• Create an environment that encourages collaboration and teamwork

But all of this starts at the top. As a leadership team, we understand that we cannot just pay lip service to diversity and inclusion, we must live these values!
With this in mind, my leadership team has made the following commitments:

We will oppose discrimination in all its forms. Our Diversity and Inclusion engagements helped us to understand that there are many components to building an equal society. We tend to emphasise race and gender inclusivity, but people also face inequality due to their sexuality, age, disabilities and cultural background. We will work to dismantle discrimination wherever it exists – in MSD, in our sector and in broader society.

We encourage all of our people to speak out against discrimination. Racism, and gender-based violence are two of the biggest challenges facing our society. We encourage all of you to share your views on these matters and to suggest ideas to help address them. We also encourage you to help others who may be less fortunate using every success – as individuals, and as an organisation – to create more opportunities for others.

We are committed to transformation. As the regulated framework for socio-economic transformation, we wholeheartedly support the B-BBEE framework in empowering black people, women, people with disabilities and small business. We have invested millions of Rands in empowerment initiatives and are committed to investing more to achieve this.

We will fight inequality and contribute to inclusion for all. Race remains a fraught issue, particularly as it is often a proxy for inequality and for lack of opportunity. In our engagement with government and industry bodies, we commit to working for a healthcare policy that is fair, equal and just, and that empowers all our people to succeed. Our diversity is one of our strengths, but it does not automatically mean greater inclusion. We commit to working through our internal platforms and initiatives to ensure that all our people are heard and that they have the opportunities and the support needed to reach their full potential.

We will build a safe work environment. We must continue building diversity and an inclusive environment, so everyone feels safe to bring the whole of themselves to the workplace – not just the piece of us we think the workplace wants. We must each feel safe to uncover our true selves.

We will measure our performance. We are making progress with our transformation programmes. However, we must keep refining our plans, creating goals and objectives to measure ourselves against. In this way we plan to track, share and celebrate our growing organizational contributions to transformation.

In support of our commitments above, we have implemented the following programmes over and above those that are already in place:

Skills Development: By creating learnership opportunities and through our small business training programmes, we have given hope to dozens of graduates and small businesspeople respectively. We have delved into the skills value chain and developed a graduate programme and an adopt-a-school programmes to continue to empower learners and students.

Uncovering Talent: A New Model of Inclusion: Training is being rolled out to address the issue of “Covering” which impacts employees at all levels of the organization. “Covering” occurs when an individual downplays a part of themselves to “blend in”. Creating an inclusive work environment that enables employees to feel comfortable being themselves can positively impact performance.   Energy spent “covering” takes away from energy that is needed to deliver business results. 

Unconscious Bias – From Awareness to Action: This training programme develops employees’ abilities to identify and manage unconscious bias. It builds on prior training investments in unconscious bias sensitivity training in our organization.

These are the commitments of the Leadership Team of MSD and I am proud to lead it.


About the author

Zwelethu Bashman

Zwelethu Bashman

MSD, Managing Director SA & SSA

Zwelethu Bashman’s career in the pharmaceutical industry spans 15 years during which he held different roles, starting as a sales representative at Schering-Plough in 2006 before its merger with MSD, and going on to Adcock Ingram where he was Business Unit Manager for HIV and vaccines and later head of sales before moving to Tanzania where he worked for Cipla as head of key accounts, setting up the company’s value chain across Sub-Saharan African. Returning to South Africa, he joined Merck Biopharma as head of marketing for English and Portuguese speaking countries before his appointment first as business unit director for HIV and vaccines and on 1 February as MD of MSD’s operations in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

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