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Coming to Canada: Six lessons in six months

Publish Date

22 JUL 2021


Manuel Zafra


What are the lessons for leaders arriving in a new market? Manuel Zafra shares his learnings for success.

Moving halfway across the world from Spain to Canada to lead the EMD Serono business excited me, however, doing it during a pandemic also scared me. To make the transition successful, I knew I had to build connections with my new team quickly – which is even more challenging in a virtual world.

When I arrived in Canada, I received a warm virtual welcome (despite the weather!) from the team and quickly learned that Canadians are not only friendly and caring, but also some of the most committed and hard-working people I have worked with. I’d like to share six learnings from my first six months as I reflect on my journey so far:

1.     Assess the market quickly – and stay agile

Before I arrived, I worked quickly to understand the Canadian landscape and market. But it wasn’t until I could immerse myself with the team locally that I gained a true understanding of our stakeholders’ needs and could identify growth opportunities for the organization. I knew that to make an impact on Canadian patients we had to continue pursuing innovation across our therapeutic areas. But the pandemic created a detour on our journey, and we had to quickly change the route. If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Your original strategy may not go according to plan due to factors outside of your control; staying agile and being ready to pivot is a key to success.

2.     Play to your strengths

A proudly people-focused company, EMD Serono brings specialized therapies to patients. We are well suited to this dynamic market where we have the potential to make a real difference in the lives of others. To be successful, zone in on your strengths as individuals and collectively as an organization, focusing your attention on priority categories. For us, that means being efficient, highly targeted and executing well – staying laser-focused on the ‘why’ we do what we do, as we aspire to create, improve and prolong lives.

3.     Let your people fuel your success

People make a company. We believe when curious minds get together, they inspire each other to deliver on their fullest potential – for patients and for the organization. We encourage our people to share ideas, voice opinions, give feedback and to support each other, and this drives our innovation and success. When I see my team being great professionals, going the extra mile for each other and developing in their careers, I feel confident that the business will benefit overall. 

4.     Build a winning (and caring) culture

Great cultures attract and retain the best people. An innovative and collaborative culture empowers employees to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians. Having a team of caring, motivated individuals who love their work has been a huge help in adapting to a new market and hitting the ground running. Prioritize building a culture of growth that makes people feel good about where they work and let them drive your success.

5.     Nurture your (global) talent pool

Develop and nurture talent – investing in people’s growth and giving them the opportunity to expand their roles across the business is critical. In Canada, our people are given responsibility early and grow quickly within the organization, developing as leaders and helping to drive innovation. Those who wish to can establish paths to other markets abroad within the company. I like to think that I’m a beneficiary of that culture. For me, it’s a win-win and you can see the benefits as talented employees develop their skills and bring their expertise to other markets across the globe.  

6. Teams that stay close, win

Close collaboration and respect have kept us centred and focused in the virtual workplace during the pandemic. In a post-COVID world, bringing that closeness back through face-to-face interactions will be important for the team. We will continue to prioritize building a tight-knit network of colleagues as a key part of our formula for success as we navigate our new normal.

My first six months in Canada have filled me with joy – and I can’t wait to get working in-person with the colleagues I’ve already created a great bond with and to continue innovating for Canadian patients.