When Jennifer Yong was promoted to become Managing Director of Bayer Taiwan in January, she and her team had no idea what the following six months would have in store. At that point, what would soon become the global COVID-19 pandemic had yet to spread much beyond China.
By then, however, the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-educated pharma professional had already racked up 20 years of experience at the German multinational. Nearly half that time was spent at posts in Bayer New Zealand, Bayer Philippines, and Bayer’s Singapore/Malaysia offices. She therefore felt comfortable taking on the myriad new challenges the coronavirus eventually gave rise to. Not one to shy away from difficult situations, Jennifer likes to quote former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
Jennifer is now helping Bayer to implement its new global vision, titled “Health for All, Hunger for None,” in Taiwan. The first part of this objective sets out to ensure that patients have access to high-quality, innovative medical products. The second component seeks to promote sustainable agricultural practices among the company’s cooperating farmers, allowing for enhanced production and a more ample food supply.
The company is striving to meet these goals through the work of its three divisions: Pharma, which collaborates with stakeholders across the healthcare community and donates funds, medicines, and equipment around the world; Consumer Health, which supplies vitamins that help boost immune system function; and Crop Science, which helps farmers increase production to satisfy consumers’ nutritional needs.
The ethos behind Bayer’s “Health for All, Hunger for None” vision has never been more relevant than right now, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect communities and individuals across the globe. “COVID-19 has shown us how critical health and nutrition are,” says Jennifer. “I’m so proud to be working for Bayer as we join forces with the global community in fighting the virus.”
One step Bayer has taken since the outbreak began is cooperating with health authorities in different countries by providing them with the company’s available stock of products that have potential efficacy in treating patients with COVID-19.
In addition, Bayer has joined the World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator initiative, which was launched to swiftly find and make available diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines globally. The company is also performing diagnostic test at the Pharma division’s headquarters in Berlin, mass producing disinfectant agents, and on a case-by-case basis releasing Bayer healthcare professionals to volunteer fighting COVID-19 in their communities.
“The highest priority for us as a pharmaceutical company is to protect our employees, patients, and communities, and to ensure we maintain our current supply lines and production and use our existing knowledge to actively combat the virus,” says Jennifer.
In Taiwan, the company is working to register its innovative products in the market as early as possible. “But getting the license approved for each product is just the beginning,” Jennifer adds.
“More importantly, we need to see that patients are treated, and ensure that they can afford the treatments,” she says. “Therefore, our ultimate goal is to have more of our products receive reimbursement from the National Health Insurance program, as this would allow patients to have better access to innovative treatments.”
Despite the challenges she’s encountered, Jennifer considers herself lucky to be given the opportunity to work in so many different places but notes that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” To the new generation of young leaders that wish to go abroad to work, she offers some sage advice.
“First, take steps to improve yourself every day,” she begins. “Only by doing this will you be able to grow and move beyond your comfort zone.
“Second, income is important, but it should not be your biggest priority. Rather, focus on building your credibility and value, and making contributions.”
Lastly, Jennifer says, study the language and culture of each place you’re assigned to and learn to value diversity. “The mark of a good leader is the ability to make the mix of different backgrounds and viewpoints in a diverse organization work for the benefit of everyone,” she concludes.