Bold, brainy and beautiful, Olaide Soetan is not your run-of-the-mill pharmacist. A former regional manager of Biofem Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited, Soetan is a product of Olabisi Onabanjo University where she bags her B.Pharm. The pharmacist also holds an MBA in Business Administration and Management from Business School, Netherlands. In this interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Soetan bares her mind on why she left Biofem Pharma to explore the world of wholesale pharma business and some challenges associated with running such venture.
Why did you leave Biofem Pharmaceuticals?
I had put in over 9 years in Biofem and I was becoming quite comfortable in the organisation. There was an urge to leave my comfort zone while I still had the strength and resilience to try something new. I joined the company as a green horn after my NYSC and was able to rise to the position of regional manager before my exit. While in Biofem, I enjoyed tremendous support from the management and my team members. Having always been passionate about allowing younger ones to drive change within organisations and institutions, I needed to demonstrate this in practice. It gladdens my heart that a lot of great things are happening in the organisation and my former team members are part of it.
There was a time Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP) organised a programme titled “The Land is Green” for young pharmacists. As an assistant co-ordinator of the Young Pharmacists arm of the association, we tried to stem the tide of the exodus of young colleagues to other sectors of the economy. So, I equally needed to make an impact to demonstrate what I believe in hence the decision to start something new. To me, there was no better way to demonstrate it than to practise it.
Of all niches, why did you settle for wholesale practice?
Deciding the field to venture into did not come overnight. It took a few months to come to a final decision. During this time, we had to conduct some research and soul search in order to know the path to tow. The final decision was influenced by where we identified gaps and where my experience could be best deployed to the benefit of the potential customers we aimed to serve.
For a long time, the wholesale sector has been dominated by non-pharmacists some of whom are not in tune with the need to ensure that some minimum standards are put in place when handling drugs. Most of these people approached (and are still approaching) pharmaceutical business purely from the trading angle. It goes beyond that. Just as pharmacists go the extra mile to provide pharmaceutical care for their patients, so also should their businesses receive that extra care and at NHC Pharma, we are positioned to offer that extra care to our customers’ businesses.
Is NHC Pharmaceutical any different from other wholesale businesses around?
We didn’t come on board to do things the same way everyone has been doing. The industry can’t move forward that way as we would not be making any impact. We aim to raise the bar in the way wholesale business is being practised. As much as possible, we want to help our customers to run businesses that can grow to become institutions. Most of our activities are geared towards this. NHC believes strongly in adding value to everyone along the supply chain and not only is this reflected in our vision and mission statements, it is the epicentre of all our activities. Our promise to our customers is that they will witness wholesale practise in a new dimension.
How did you hope to achieve that?
One of the things we aimed to achieve is to give some dignity to the way drugs are sourced. We provide the right ambience for people who want to stock their shelves and enable them to do so from the comfort of their offices via our e-ordering channels. By doing so, our customers are able to spend quality time attending to their patients while we ensure that their shelves are adequately stocked with what they need to achieve this. We provide our customers with the right tools to enable them run their pharmacies as businesses and not as traders.
In response to the current economic challenges within the country, where pharmaceutical businesses are not spared, we have introduced insurance cover for our customers. We are helping our customers to shoulder some risks that come with running a business. NHC pays the premium on behalf of its customers. In addition, from this quarter, our customers will start getting some form of rebate on their transactions at the end of the quarter. I am not aware of any wholesale practise that pays dividends to its customers. We equally have sales promotions from time to time. All these are meant to give some succour to our customers who remain loyal to us. Those intending to start new outlets are equally not left out, we have special packages for new outlets.
Tell us about the challenges you have faced so far
It has been two years since we started operations and that has not come without its own challenges. We have experienced the usual teething problems associated with most new businesses. An instance is our e-commerce platform. We started out with an e-commerce platform and the sheer resources (manpower and material) required to keep it running is enormous. The current instability in prices has equally not helped matters. We have had to make a decision to focus on our core strengths while allowing a third party to handle that. Through all the challenges, we have enjoyed tremendous support from our customers and that alone has given us an impetus to carry on.
Are there other value added services that comes transacting business with NHC?
Asides insurance cover and dividend pay-out that were recently introduced, we will be bringing Christmas goodies early to our customers. There is a bumper package that NHC is planning for December and it will blow their minds away. NHC is also partnering with some third parties to add more value to retailers. It might interest you to know that some entrepreneurs with innovative solutions for the retail sector have received grants from donor agencies and some of them are willing to work with retailers to ease some of the burden that they bear in running their businesses. From early next year, our customers will be able to manage their inventory by plugging directly to our software. This can be done from their mobile phones and it can also be deplored to monitor operations in their pharmacies. That way, even retail pharmacies that don’t currently use software to manage their operations can plug in to this.
We also intend to start quarterly trainings (free of charge) on different areas of managing a business. These trainings will be hands-on and handled by seasoned professionals in these fields. I am a product of several trainings and some of the things I have learnt have been very helpful to me in running NHC. I am a recipient of a World Bank Scholarship for female entrepreneurs and had the privilege of being trained at the Enterprise Development Centre of Pan African University. Some of the management principles learnt there will be cascaded to our customers through these training.