An incurable optimist in China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am

Having been in the health care business since the early 1980s, Al Gabor has seen some dramatic changes in that sector. Most notably, he has played a big part in bringing international-standard pharmaceutical operations to the China market and is still guiding initiatives to provide better health care for millions of mainlanders. As Pfizer's regional president for north Asia, Gabor is also responsible for expanding the company's activities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Pakistan and Indochina. His experience and expertise have led to a number of roles with influential industry bodies. These include being vice-chairman of the Asia senior executive committee of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of America, and co-chairman of the body's China task force. He has helped to shape industry policies, expand market access, and improve operating environments to drive growth for the sector. He talks to Jan Chan.

What are the key management lessons you have learned?

In my 20-plus years of work experience, I have learned a lot about how to run a successful business. Perhaps the most important lesson is that strategies and plans are important, but execution is everything. I see this reality almost every day in China, where many of our competitors are pursuing similar strategies. The ability to execute better, day in and day out, is what gives Pfizer a competitive edge.

How do you deal with criticism and setbacks?

I have learned to accept setbacks and respect criticism. Both often help me to see things from different perspectives and to 'recalibrate' for future success. Also, as long as I have a strong belief in my ultimate objective, I can remain confident in the face of setbacks or negative comments, allowing me to retain my peace of mind and remain motivated. There is only one way to go and that is forward, so I choose to keep moving and focus on the future, with the firm belief that the patients we serve always come first.

How do you get the best out of individuals working for you?

Everyone is unique in terms of personality, interests, life goals and so on. I find it is important to respect them as individuals, take a strong interest, and help in their personal development. Sometimes, this is by coaching and mentoring. Often, it is just by rolling up my sleeves and working alongside someone towards a common goal.

In practical terms, how is it possible to make people enjoy their jobs?

This starts with ensuring they have the resources, competencies and direction they need to succeed. After providing suitable encouragement, it ends with recognition for a job well done. I'm a big believer in celebrating success even when it is just small steps, because recognition has an amazing way of inspiring people and recharging their batteries.

Which experiences most shaped your attitude to work and life?

Living and working in China has probably been the most influential factor. The sheer size of the country and the magnitude of the changes have made me realise that, to make a difference, one simply can't do it alone. You have to reach out and, in this respect, the company has been fortunate to establish partnerships with many key players in the health care arena. Seeing China's remarkable emergence on the global stage has also made me an incurable optimist, believing that anything is possible with the right plans, partners and investment.

What are the comparative strengths of young people today?

Our company's young leaders are very clear about their career expectations. They also have a grasp of IT that connects them to much broader sources of information and knowledge than I ever had as a youth. Other very positive attributes are their awareness of issues related to corporate social responsibility and a willingness to take action in support of their beliefs. My general advice is to follow your dreams and be patient in making them come true. Success is usually achieved one step at a time, so make every step count.

By the way

Gabor received the White Yulan Award from the Shanghai Municipal government in 2008

He believes that success in execution requires engagement

He is inspired by China's historic transformation