Pádraig Hoare: The Monday Interview - Big pharma talks up its local roots

GSK in Dungarvan produces more than six billion tablets for the global market every year. Country manager of GSK Consumer Healthcare Ireland, Dave Barrett tells Pádraig Hoare why its Irish plants are key

GSK in Dungarvan produces more than six billion tablets for the global market every year. Country manager of GSK Consumer Healthcare Ireland, Dave Barrett tells Pádraig Hoare why its Irish plants are key

In an era where big pharma is viewed with as much scepticism in the media as the political establishment or the banking sector, GSK Consumer Healthcare Ireland believes boosting its 1,800 staff in Dungarvan, Sligo, Cork and Dublin is a way to heighten public trust.

More than six billion Panadol tablets are made in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, annually, exporting to 70 countries around the world, emphasising the town as the global home of the over-the-counter painkiller is a worthwhile campaign, said GSK Consumer Healthcare Ireland country manager Dave Barrett.

Mr Barrett said its recent PR campaign to focus on those employees was a way for the public -— and by extension, its consumers — to identify with them.

The Cork site produces active ingredients for a range of medicines for diseases such as childhood cancer, depression, diabetes, HIV, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis.

Sligo produces around 30m skin medicines and products every year, including Oilatum and Physiogel, exporting to over 65 countries.

The Dublin offices are home to its pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare businesses.

“Some 10% of the population is employed directly in Dungarvan. If you live in Dungarvan, you will be related to or know somebody who works on the site. That is powerful. The work ethic of the people on the site led us to think that we had a story to tell. When you consider Dungarvan is down the road and all the statistics of what is produced, then you have our campaign,” he said.

Mr Barrett said GSK wanted Panadol and its other products to become as synonymous with Ireland as Tayto or other easily recognisable brands.

“The Irishness part is important. When you think of traditional Irish brands like Tayto or Kerrygold, the Irishness is very important to consumers when they are making that choice on the shelf. Sligo is the home of our skincare — there are 30m skincare products made in Sligo. That’s something we should be very proud of and we should be telling consumers that.”

Like other pharmaceutical giants, the UK-headquartered GSK has had its controversies worldwide.

A $3bn (€2.5bn) fine by US authorities in 2012 for promoting Paxil with false claims was among the most high profile. Mr Barrett insisted GSK Consumer Healthcare in Ireland was above reproach.

“It’s important we deliver our business in absolutely the right way. I have never come across a situation personally where I have ever been challenged around values.

“At the heart of our business, all decisions taken are with the best interests of the patient in mind. Yes, the shareholders are there to be satisfied but decisions are made on what is right for the consumer and the patient.

“I’m proud we are a transparent organisation. Things like transparency are important — so patients and consumers know what we are doing. There is this legacy of big bad pharma but there is a lot of good stuff also. We’ve got to work hard to amplify some of the good stuff we are doing,” he said.

The emphasis on its employees and how Irish operations were performing in the regional economy are key to enhancing the public image of GSK, he said.

“When you look at the sites in Ireland, to say they are jewels in the crown of manufacturing community would probably be a fair comment. The investment has been there. Dungarvan and Sligo really are that good. GSK’s commitment to Ireland is steadfast and rock solid.

“The importance of employees is paramount. Are we listening to what teams are telling us? That goes across all the sites and the commercial businesses. The engagement for me means they are clear on what their role is, how it adds value to the strategy of the business. They leave the day’s job feeling they have contributed and they have had a chance to have their voice heard. I’m not concerned that we are not hearing our employees.”

said Mr Barrett.

With the threat of Brexit looming, firms big and small have got to prepare accordingly.

That means planning for something that may never happen but such an approach is prudent, said Mr Barrett.

“There is uncertainty there but I am reasonably sure that the uncertainty will be less and less as we go on. That will take time. We’re trying to be really proactive at the moment in trying to understand where the pressure points are, where the risk could be — scenario planning. Some of it may never happen but I’d rather be prepared and on the front foot.

“The most important thing around Brexit is that we ensure customer and consumers are not affected at the end of this, and that we have a product on the shelf with full availability as we have now.

“There is a lot to play out but we are getting great support to scenario plan and mitigate risk, but we are trying to plan for something that may never happen.”

he said.

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