The Ideal Pharma Country Manager: South Korea (DHR International)

March, 2019

In the Media

Looking at what it takes to be a country manager of a multinational pharma company in some of the world’s most challenging markets. DHR International’s Helen Park outlines what she looks for in potential candidates for country manager positions in South Korea.


What are the qualities you look for in a South Korea Country Manager?

The South Korea pharma market is categorized as a mature market along with Japan in Asia, which is ranked between 10th and 13th in terms of size for most global pharma companies, which generally have around 30 years of experience in the market.

The major agenda for these global companies for Korea is commercial execution. The key qualities of the country manager can be categorized into four frameworks of competencies:

Technical framework

    • Good understanding of pharma market dynamics in Korea.

Functional framework

    • Proven track records of profit & loss growth.
    • Ability to manage multiple stakeholders internally (in global matrix organization) and externally (should be able to know how to influence key opinion leaders, the patient community, industry associations, government authorities, and business development partners through leveraging his/her team).
    • Previous international work exposure.
    • Ability to deal with the issues of labour unions, which has been getting tougher in recent years. Labour unions in the Korean pharma industry are organized by salespeople and are getting stronger and larger every year.

Leadership framework

    • The most frequently selected Leadership competencies by our clients in the Korean pharma industry these days are:
      • Foresight
      • Managing Complexity
      • Results Oriented (Driving Results)
      • Problem Solving & Decision Making
      • Collaborating

Cultural/Personal-Fit framework

    • The most frequently selected Cultural/Personal Fit competencies by our clients for their pharma country managers in South Korea are:
      • Creativity/Innovation
      • Empathy
      • Accountability
      • Integrity


Is there an Ideal Profile/Professional Pathway?

Since the pharma industry is highly regulated, direct sales/marketing experience with a solid career progression to become a business unit’s profit & loss manager is a basic requirement.

On top of that, regional/global assignment experience and track records of business turnaround and talent development can be good evidence for high potential leadership talent.


What are the Main Challenges they’ll Need to be Ready to Address?

P&L growth in a mature and highly competitive market

    • In the case of companies with a lack of R&D pipelines, while losing the exclusivity of their main products, they need a proven turnaround leader who is good at both top-line and bottom-line control while managing risks.

Market Access (How to get a good reimbursement price)

    • Korean Healthcare System is based on National Health Insurance (NHI) with universal coverage with single-payer system. Also, it adopted a Positive Listing system (Health Technology Assessment) in 2006, in order to increase the affordability of medicines and the sustainability of its healthcare system. Getting a good reimbursement price for a new drug is critical for a global pharma company’s sustainable business in Korea. Therefore, country managers should be able to orchestrate the effort for a successful outcome.

Labor Union issue

    • Global Big Pharma companies had in the past dominated the marketplace but have recently suffered from the fall-out from the loss of patent protection on their bestsellers in Primary Care. Therefore, they have restructured their organization to use sales forces in local pharma companies by making co-promotion deals. It has created strong labour unions in a number of MNC pharma companies in Korea.


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