Little known outside its native Philippines, the cultural trait of bayanihan is unwittingly practised the world over. Wherever selflessness and communal cooperation are employed to achieve a goal, wherever helping one another without expectation of compensation has become common practice, bayanihan is there.
While unspoken in many parts of the world, the Philippines has made the humility of bayanihan an integral part of its culture. Citizens are encouraged from a young age to adopt it into their being and, as a result, kindness and the desire to lend a helping hand have become a part of the Filipino identity.
Raised in a rural area of the Philippines, where villagers would band together to help those in need, Jose S Romana, known to many as Joey, was introduced to bayanihan early in life. “I adopted a lot of insights from my years growing up in such an environment,” he recalls.
“I particularly embraced bayanihan because I could see the value in helping others.” In fact, Joey has based his career around bayanihan. Today, he is President Director of PT Darya-Varia Laboratoria Tbk, one of Indonesia’s premier pharmaceutical companies.
“Darya-Varia is committed to improving the quality of life and health of the communities where we operate,” he says. “I saw in Darya-Varia an opportunity to continue my purpose of working towards a healthier nation.”
For us, it’s a mission to build a healthier Indonesia one person at a time.
It was a purpose that had carried a young Joey beyond the dense wilderness of the Philippines and into its cities. “I was fortunate to have started my career as a Brand Associate with Unilab,” he says. “I believed in its vision, which is to provide access to affordable and quality health care for every Filipino.”
The nurturing and professional working environment of the biggest pharma company in South-East Asia turned out to be a natural habitat for bayanihan. “The passion for health care is so vibrant in the Philippines because we have so many citizens who can’t even afford basic care,” Joey says.
“So while there were other options before me at the time, I believed the best way to serve my country was through the pharmaceutical industry.” Joey’s background in finance and marketing served him well as he journeyed through Unilab.
“I had the opportunity to handle consumer insight and media services, demand planning and local area marketing,” he says. “This helped me prepare for and later tackle my current role at Darya-Varia.”
Established in 1976, Darya-Varia Laboratoria has become one of the stalwarts of Indonesia’s pharmaceutical industry. It operates two manufacturing plants: one for liquids, medical plasters, ointments and creams, and one for tablets, capsules and sterile injection products.
“You could say we have the same products, the same target market and the same program as any other player in the industry,” Joey admits. “The big difference is the dedication of our employees, without which we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
When the chance to take the post of Vice President Director at Darya-Varia arose in 2015, Joey had little in the way of hesitations. The company, he explains, has a vision to be the best provider of quality health and wellness solutions in Indonesia. “For us, it’s a mission to build a healthier Indonesia one person at a time.”
One thing that helped Joey make the move was the familiarity of Indonesian culture. “There are more similarities to Filipino culture than differences, actually,” Joey says. “The environment outside the urban cities is the same. There are minor differences, but I didn’t find it difficult to adjust to doing business here compared to back home.”
More importantly, Joey recognised the spirit of bayanihan at work within Darya-Varia’s operations. “I had some idea of what to expect when I first arrived at the company, because it has a good corporate image within the industry,” he explains.
“But what struck me most was its people – I saw proud and dedicated employees united by the culture of gotong royong, which is Indonesia’s version of bayanihan.” To Joey, it was providence. “We were blessed to have these traits,” he reveals.
“But despite this and although we had good equities, when I arrived, Darya-Varia was not performing to its full potential.”
What was required, Joey says, was a transformation that would futureproof the company. The new Vice President Director found himself tasked with ensuring the continuity of growth in an industry characterised by a growing generics segment and competitive pricing.
We may have accomplished our goal of getting into the top 10 in five years, but now we want to get to a higher ranking.
“We had to revitalise our brands and we had to review communications; how we were able to better relate to our consumers,” says Joey, who poured his marketing experience into the job. As a result, Darya-Varia’s portfolio – including skincare brand Natur-E, multivitamin Enervon and cold and flu combatant Decolgen – received a revamp and, eventually, an expansion.
“We launched new products to fill gaps in the portfolio. This strengthened its DNA and improved our brand equity,” he confirms. Next, Joey set his sights on improving Darya-Varia’s partnerships with its stakeholders. “We’re trade partners with hospitals, doctors and other industry professionals. So we looked at opportunities where we could grow by capitalising on these relationships.”
A five-year mission
Giving this effort direction was Joey’s 10-in-five plan, an initiative that he hoped would thrust Darya-Varia into the top 10 of Indonesia’s pharmaceutical industry, in terms of revenue, within five years. “We were 16th place when I arrived,” he says.
“I knew we could do better and I made this direction clear to everyone.” Once that goal was in place, Joey and his team of “DVL warriors” set about enacting the strategies, programs and action plans that would see it through.
“We call our people the DVL warriors because they have such heart and passion,” he explains. “More than enough to achieve our goal.” The five years that followed were a dervish of activity and progress.
Darya-Varia solidified its dominance of the body resistance and vitamin E markets, and improved the market share of its secondary brands, while Joey was promoted to his current role of President Director.
“We put DVL top of mind among several MD specialties, we won awards for our manufacturing facilities and became the manufacturer of choice for global companies,” he says. “We grew our business faster than industry.”
We doubled our business in six years, and we did it with the support and commitment of our DVL warriors.
The hard work also achieved Joey’s 10-in-five goal; in 2020, Darya-Varia cracked the top 10 Indonesian pharmaceutical companies. “We’re the ninth biggest pharmaceutical company in the country. We doubled our business in six years, and we did it with the support and commitment of our DVL warriors.”
Now, he says, Darya-Varia must elevate the business to an even higher level. “We have no doubt we can do it if we put our hearts and minds to it once again.”
Healthcare in crisis
Despite this spectacular success, there was no way to anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic that would alter the global healthcare industry forever.
When it hit, Darya-Varia immediately took advantage of digital engagements and implemented a COVID-19 committee under its Business Continuity Program to adapt to the changing conditions and put the appropriate health protocols in place.
“First of all, we committed to job security,” Joey shares. “We froze hiring, except for critical positions, but we also froze lay-offs. We standardised COVID testing procedures, modified the workplace to protect our employees, and provided PPE, health kits and vitamins, not only to our workers but to medical professionals, taxidrivers, journalists and communities surrounding our plants.”
Increased demand for vitamins and minerals meant Darya-Varia was forced to increase its production capacities. “We secured inventory of critical raw materials to prevent disruption at the plants,” he says.
“It was only through the dedication of our plant workers that it was possible to keep production running 24/7 to meet Indonesia’s health needs.” This included an ongoing partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Health, not only on COVID-19, but also on the country’s other health crises such as stunting.
“We see through various communities that there are many instances of stunting, so we provide children with nutritional food and vitamins,” Joey adds. “And we’ve been doing so for several years already.”
In essence, Darya-Varia remained focused on its goals without sacrificing the welfare of its employees. “The pandemic has altered the way we work; it’s changed consumer/patient behaviour and it’s affected the entire industry in general, but none of that changed the fact that we had to cope,” Joey admits.
“It has been the biggest challenge of my presidency, but I was able to face it with the support, dedication and inspiration of our people.” As remote health care and telehealth rose to prominence, Darya-Varia staff were trained in its operations to enable the company to stay ahead of the game.
“We had to speed up the digitalisation of our processes and arm employees with modernised tools of trade to cope with these changes,” he tells. The results, he says, speak for themselves. “We’re outperforming the industry even during this period of pandemic. Again, the only difference is our people.”
Power of the people
Assembling such a dynamic team – and retaining the best talent – has become another great challenge of Joey’s tenure. The cultural fit is front of mind during every hire. “And, of course, the competency follows because we make sure that our recruits are aligned with our culture,” he points out.
“We move as one, but at the same time, we can step outside of the system to define their roles and provide leadership.” The resulting system is, Joey believes, akin to a tightly wound orchestra.
“A conductor creates beautiful music while giving independence to individuals to develop their own music,” he reflects. “But once they’re playing together as an orchestra, beautiful music is created regardless.”
Similarly, the managers and leaders under Joey’s supervision are given the freedom to achieve the company’s goals and realise its vision in their own way. In doing so, he hopes they’ll forge their own path to the top.
“We have a good succession plan,” he says. “That’s why we put such an emphasis on training our people.” Even at the height of the pandemic, the training continued, particularly in evolving fields such as digitalisation.
“We have to provide them with the right tools to do their job and progress through the company,” he says. “Investing in human capital to ensure the continuity of our pipeline of talent is the only way we’ll continue to grow.”
In practice, this growth is an extension of DaryaVaria’s 10-in-five plan. “We may have accomplished our goal of getting into the top 10 in five years, but now we want to get to a higher ranking,” Joey says.
To aid that growth, Darya-Varia will release further COVID-related products over the next 6–12 months and invest in further expansion of its production facilities. “Darya-Varia will continue to grow faster than industry and will remain a significant player,” Joey predicts.
“Through partnerships with relevant stakeholders, we’ll remain true to our vision of making Indonesia healthier one person at a time.” At the heart of this mission, bayanihan or gotong royong remains.
“It’s the guiding principle in our operations, an integral part of our success. To instil it, you have to lead by example and practise it in words and action,” he asserts. In doing so, Joey relies upon an important piece of advice received from a manager early in his career.
“He told me to always maintain a high level of integrity and honesty,” he says. “I’ve strived to do so ever since.” As for his own journey, Joey believes he’s at the peak of his powers. “I think this is the pinnacle of my career. I’m doing my best to help people and help the company achieve greater heights,” he smiles. “I found the best job and stayed with it.”
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