Ramkumar Rayapureddy, Global Chief Information Officer at Viatris, tells us about successfully managing a large consolidation during a worldwide pandemic.
The formation of pharmaceutical company Viatris has followed an atypical path. It was created in November 2020 through the combining of pharmaceutical firms Mylan and Upjohn, a Pfizer subsidiary. But when the combination was first announced in July 2019, no one could have predicted that the world would be fighting a global pandemic less than a year later. The IT team, led by former Mylan CIO and current Viatris CIO Ramkumar Rayapureddy, played not only a key leadership role in the successful integration but also had to help shift an entire company to working remotely on the journey to becoming Viatris.
Integrating companies is never an easy task, and the Viatris transaction is no exception. For starters, this integration involves three companies instead of two – Mylan, Upjohn, and Upjohn’s parent company, Pfizer. The companies’ first order of business was the separation of Upjohn from Pfizer; following that separation, Upjohn and Mylan could combine to become Viatris. As Day 1 approached, timelines were tight, legalities were instrumental, budgets were analysed, and technologies had to function without a glitch.
Rayapureddy shared his thoughts on what energised him and his team about the integration and their critical role to stand up a new kind of healthcare company: "At Mylan, we had the global scale, but we saw certain pockets where we could benefit from having a broader reach. Upjohn brought iconic products and a strong presence in Emerging Markets and Greater China. This is how we complemented each other. The coming together of these two great companies created a new kind of global healthcare company well-positioned to achieve its mission of empowering people worldwide to live healthier at every stage of life."
The goal was to create a global company that brought together the firms’ scientific, commercial and operations expertise and portfolio of more than 1,400 approved molecules to more than 165 countries. The question facing Rayapureddy was defining a technology strategy to support the business strategy.
"It looks magical when it happens, but there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes," Rayapureddy says. The first thing he did was to create a command centre of leaders from both companies and task them with driving the business alignment of the twenty-two workstreams required to get Viatris to a successful Day 1. Viatris’ workforce of nearly 45,000 employees spans the globe, and Rayapureddy set the expectation from the start that there was to be no business disruption during integration, and everyone was to collaborate on the same Microsoft Office365 platform.
The core integration team followed a key set of principles to keep them accountable, which ultimately made the integration's Day 1 a success:
The team established a strong governance model necessary to coordinate effectively between the companies. This model was used to establish and track workstreams, drive timelines and provide overall guidance. Bold decisions were made from the start, and any exception to the plan was evaluated with the expectation that it may not be accommodated.
The team was strategically integrated with business partners to ensure cross-functional needs were met. Understanding business dependencies were actively managed.
A strong change management program was established with proactive and targeted communications and training.
Then came March 2020. The challenges of any integration are complex, detailed, and personal. When the pandemic hit, teams had to shift to working remotely overnight, adding an unimaginable layer of complexity. To address this, Rayapureddy quickly divided his team in two – one to focus on the shift to remote work and one to keep integration planning moving forward.
The remote work team ran disaster drills and upgraded infrastructure to ensure adequate bandwidth and that everyone had the right equipment to work from home. Operations moved into the cloud, using Microsoft Office 365, and communications shifted from Skype to Microsoft Teams. "We had been planning to roll out Teams as part of our long-term strategy, and that would have been a one-year exercise if things were normal. In fact, we moved to Teams in seven days, our workforce was very supportive, and the transition happened smoothly," Rayapureddy explains.
As the full team could no longer meet in person, Rayapureddy and the integration planning team took the approach of “smaller, consistent, and concise.” Any planned in-person workshops were now conducted by smaller teams who could work remotely and focus upon very specific outcomes.
The team was equally focused on employee engagement. Every Thursday morning, they held an informal check-in call. These were unrelated to work and purely to share stories or swap skills with colleagues. Rayapureddy’s team came up with the idea of department-wide IT Challenges consisting of quizzes, Microsoft whiteboard Pictionary games, and virtual coffees with colleagues once a month. These events helped bring people together, Rayapureddy says, particularly given that their staff span the globe and come from a variety of cultures.
“One of the other things we did was tell people that we will come out of this. Humans are very resilient, and if history has taught us one thing, it's that humans respond and adapt to change. I always told people to keep looking forward and to start planning for that."
Despite these challenges, there was some advantage to being a global company, as team members were accustomed to working collaboratively in different time zones. And in November of 2020, Rayapureddy and the team were able to take their hard work and celebrate a successful Day 1 at Viatris. Given all of the integration planning and pandemic challenges the technology team delivered on their mission – Day 1 at Viatris saw zero glitches.
"I remember Michael Goettler, our CEO, telling me how we made a highly complex process look simple. The team across the three companies, Mylan, Upjohn, and Pfizer, did a fabulous job for countless hours and for more than 12 months. And then obviously, so did our partners." To top it off, a live town hall was broadcast to the entire global workforce, welcoming everyone to Viatris.
The 22 workstreams and 141 cross-functional workstream technical teams were able to deliver 50+ business applications, configure over 100+ applications, launch a new company website (www.Viatris.com, which is live today in 33 countries), launch an upgraded intranet site and collaboration tool for 45,000 users, hold over 30 training sessions, and, in the span of a few hours, provide every employee with a new email address, all while working remotely.
Viatris’ Day 1 would not have been such a success if it weren’t for Rayapureddy’ s leadership style, which created the foundation for the IT department and aligns with the Viatris mission. Despite the stresses of the last year, Rayapureddy says he never saw any finger-pointing during tense moments. "People said, Okay, we have a problem. Let's go see what we can do about it." We want to be flexible enough to adjust to the changes that are happening in the world," he adds. "The entire world has changed because of COVID-19, and this has an influence on how our business operates – we have to be nimble enough to make sure we can react quickly to those changes."
How well the team collaborated throughout the entire integration process and during the pandemic helped to contribute to what Rayapureddy calls “The Viatris Way.” "It is a focus on people being performance-driven, but also being highly engaged in the diverse and inclusive culture we are building together. I’m really proud of the contributions of our IT team to the culture we are building.”
In the future, Rayapureddy envisages a hybrid working structure, where some people continue to work from home while others return to the office, potentially on a part-time basis. "We are now experimenting with different technologies to see how we as a group can facilitate that," he says.
For now, the team can celebrate the successful launch of Viatris, whose mission is to empower people worldwide to live healthier at every stage of life. “Access is part of our global mission, making high-quality medicines available to everyone, regardless of geography or circumstance,” Rayapureddy says. “If we don’t have the solution, we build partnerships so we can bring the right products to the right people. My team takes that same approach. We’re a pharma company, not an IT company, so we find partners with the technology to help us support our goals and who can provide the innovative solutions to give Viatris a competitive advantage as we deliver on our mission.”