#Call4.0Leaders | Claudia Fleischer (Roche Romania): When leaders and teams have a strong agile mindset, a successful operating model will emerge

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 29/03/2022 | 15:22

It’s been one year since Claudia Fleischer, General Manager at Roche Romania, took over at the pharmaceutical company, but with almost 18 years under her belt with the Swiss group, it’s no wonder she already established herself as a leader, not only for her company or the pharma sector, but for the Romanian industry as a whole. For this reason, we wanted to sit down with Claudia Fleischer and ask her the four questions of the new Call For Leaders 4.0 interview series.


What projects have you carried out over the past year to make your company’s operations more sustainable and resilient?

We are constantly seeking to act sustainably in everything we do and this is also embedded in our business strategy. By acting sustainably we are contributing towards the development of people and society and our greatest contributions to this goal are our innovative medical solutions. Sustainability means also providing a rewarding workplace, being a responsible and compliant partner, and engaging in the communities we work in and with.

In terms of our local activities, the past years were marked by two major challenges – the Covid-19 pandemic and more recently the war in Ukraine. We can say that these two “Black Swans” taught us the importance of resilience and acting sustainable.  Starting in March 2020, when the pandemic struck, we quickly adapted our distribution channels to ensure continuous supply of our medicines and diagnostics to hospitals, laboratories and medical institutions, for both Covid-19 and other diseases. True to our mission, we also partnered with the health authorities to make sure our life saving solutions reached patients in need, regardless of the challenges posed by the pandemic.

At the same time, together with patients associations, NGOs and other partners, we implemented projects designed to answer some of the patients’ most pressing needs, like free transport to treatment centers during the first waves of the pandemic, psychological counseling, call centers and many more. We also supported the sustainability and resilience of the healthcare sector by supplying instruments and diagnostic tests to answer the healthcare needs of Romania, not only for Covid-19 but also many other testing needs, such as blood banks. It is this sustainable behavior in business that enabled us to create value for all our stakeholders, despite these once in a generation challenges.

On the other hand, resilience is what allows us to behave in a sustainable manner as an organization, it is like the other side of the same coin. Especially when considering the challenges mentioned above, resilience is key to navigate uncertainty. As lack of predictability and stability become more and more the norm in our fast-evolving world, facilitating mental health and well-being of our people is of critical importance. We take this seriously and offer a variety of support programs for our colleagues, ranging from online courses to manage stress, upskilling, fitness and other support mechanisms. We also offer our employees flexibility in their working schedule in addition to days off for emergency situations, to help balance work/life in an appropriate manner.

These measures helped boost our resilience as an organization and strengthen our efforts towards a sustainable business. And that is a valuable contribution we bring to the Romanian healthcare system and society as a whole.


How can we find the right balance between intelligent machines and human intelligence in the new business reality of accelerated automation and digitalization?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has radically altered our personal and professional lives. Yet, the full potential of AI has moved beyond automation of simple tasks to being a powerful collaboration tool between humans and machines. Accordingly, I believe there will always be a place for both human and machine intelligence in successful AI deployment because what comes naturally to people, like interpersonal skills, empathy and moral judgment, is difficult for machines — while analyzing mountains of data at scale is nearly impossible for people.

One of the key areas that could benefit from the promise of AI is the improvement of healthcare processes and outcomes. The World Health Organization estimates that there is a worldwide shortage of around 4.3 million physicians, nurses, and allied health workers. And care is often unavailable where it is most needed. Worse, with the so-called “diseases of civilization” like diabetes and obesity on the rise, healthcare costs are expected to grow even faster. Adding up, the current practice of medicine becomes simply unsustainable. The American Medical Association estimates that over $300 billion is wasted through failures of care delivery and outmoded treatments that don’t benefit patients.

Disruptive technologies have the ability to transform the current healthcare systems and our societies as a whole. But to get to that singularity moment, we need to digitize the delivery of care, i.e. aid and augment health services by disruptive technologies. Current healthcare systems are dominated by paper-based processes, which cannot be measured and analyzed as easily as digital ones to foster improvements along different dimensions. One of the most striking examples is Japan, which until recently used fax for reporting Covid-19 cases. Even if a medical system is digitized today, it is fragmented and cannot be simply accessed across systems, platforms and locations.

Thus, in the end it’s about striking a balance between automating for efficiency, faster information generation and offering a personal connection. The sweet spot, I believe, lies in augmenting. In short, technology in healthcare can support physicians to collect and analyze disparate data using AI in order to make smarter, best  informed decisions and scale up efficiency gains.



Are flatter, more agile structures better equipped to succeed in the new reality than their more traditional and rigid counterparts? How would you describe your organization in this regard?

The “digital revolution” is transforming industries, economies, and societies. In the early 2010s, this transformation began to challenge the long held views of seeing  organizations as “Machines”. The pandemic has also been a powerful catalyst for this revolution by accelerating acceptance and adoption of digital tools in Healthcare, which has allowed patients to get the monitoring and care they need while minimizing risk of exposure.

Yet, when traditional organizations engage with the new environment, which is defined by fast evolving conditions, constant introduction of disruptive technology, an accelerating digitization and democratization of information as well as a next level competition for creative knowledge and learning-based talents, it usually doesn’t work as planned. This is because traditional organizations are built around a static, siloed, structural hierarchy, with operational models going back decades optimizing efficiency compromising agility.

Reflecting on this, we have taken a bold decision to embark into a holistic transformation towards an “organism”. So we are consciously moving away from silos, functional and top down focus, towards small empowered teams with accountability for results, from internal organizational chart orientation to patient and external focus and from management as “command & control center” to leading by vision, architecting the system, coaching and catalyzing change for the organization.

However moving to an agile operating model is not easy, especially for established companies like ours with 125 years of history. However, reductionist hierarchical management techniques no longer work as well as over the past decades, because the world has become too complex for any one person to make all the decisions. Applying an empowering leadership style, where our small teams operate as a network with a shared vision and every member is empowered to execute, the importance of investing in culture cannot be overstated. Agile is, above all, a mindset. Without the right mindset, all other parts of the agile operating system can be in place, and yet one will see few benefits. In contrast, when leaders and teams have a strong agile mindset, then a clear aspiration alone is often enough for a successful agile operating model to emerge and makes all the difference. It is a journey, not a destination.


Is the business world evolving from a mindset of competition to a co-opetition one and how integrated is your company in this regard, what can you tell us about the partnerships you carried out with other organizations?

Despite extraordinary innovation in technology and medicine, healthcare systems are not always able to deliver and capture their full value. Health disparities and inequality of care persist, exposed and compounded by an ongoing global pandemic. Healthcare is complex, and no one can solve intrinsic challenges alone. The breadth of medical challenges today requires a collaborative effort from companies, scientists and physicians, patients associations, and payers. For patients and society to achieve better health outcomes, all stakeholders need to overcome individual interests and come together. By pioneering partnerships that are built on trust, flexibility, shared values and a passion for advancing science, we are making a lasting contribution for people’s health.  Only by partnering with the brightest minds in science and healthcare, can we serve patients with difficult-to-treat diseases, both now and in future. Together, we can do more and we are committed to doing our part to make this promise a reality.

As for the second part of this question, at Roche, we are driven to help global health systems work better for individuals, healthcare providers, payers and society at-large. Again, no one can bring this vision to life alone. We like to say that “A great idea is a great idea, no matter where it comes from.” Evidence of that is that roughly ~40% of our total pharmaceutical sales globally come from partnered or in-licensed products. More so, we are involved in around 250 global partnerships, fostering diversity of research & translating science into breakthrough medicines.

Our focus is always on partnerships that have the potential to make a significant difference for patients and thus to societies. We strongly believe that the key elements to a successful and lasting partnership are trust, shared values, eager- and openness.  Our ideal partners share our passion for breakthrough science and the vision to make a lasting contribution to people’s health.

Locally, we actively partner with the entire medical ecosystem –  healthcare providers, regulatory authorities, patient communities, NGOs, academia and technology companies – to create lasting partnerships that advance patients needs in areas such as personalized healthcare, immunology, infectious diseases, neuroscience, ophthalmology, rare diseases and more.

Our role in these partnerships is to tap into the extensive range of capabilities our company has to offer that can help patients along their entire journey, from diagnosis through late stage treatment. Our partnerships range from partnering with promising start-ups in healthcare and supporting fast access to treatment, to facilitating medical education and awareness campaigns. We hope that with these partnerships and collaborations, we can make innovative medical solutions more accessible and build a better future for Romanian patients.

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 12/04/2024 | 17:28
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