Sandra Orta: An explorer in the pharmacy

There is a situation in my career that periodically repeats itself.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
20 April 2024 Saturday 16:48
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Sandra Orta: An explorer in the pharmacy

There is a situation in my career that periodically repeats itself. When I take my daughter to the park in a new city, other children's mothers ask me where my husband works. And I have to tell you that I am single and that I am the one who came to work in this country.” Sandra Orta (Terrassa, 1976), has been general director of the pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) for Spain and Portugal for a year, after an international career that over the last 15 years has taken her to live in 11 countries in three continents, as directors of multinationals such as Novartis, Pfizer or Roche. She graduated in Pharmacy from the UB “soon saw the possibilities that the industry offers to have a great impact and transform the world.”

In 2022 she returned to Spain, first as director of marketing and strategy at Almirall, and then went on to direct BMS. “I had spent the two years of the pandemic in South Africa, from where I managed Roche sales in 21 countries, without seeing my family. My grandmother raised me, while my mother worked to support me, and her health had worsened a lot, so I felt that she had to return.”

At BMS, Orta takes on the challenge of piloting the strategic turnaround of the company, which has reduced revenues with the loss of the Revlimid patent and is rebuilding its drug portfolio with the purchase of companies: Mirati Therapeutics – anti-cancer drugs, RayzeBio (radiopharmaceuticals) and Karuna (neurodegenerative diseases) -. "Now we focus on launching drugs for very specific ailments, which affect few patients, but which have no treatment and where the impact of our medications is immense", mainly in oncology, hematology and cardiovascular. "In 2024 we will launch 4 new products and 7 new indications in Spain." Despite this, he acknowledges, recovering sales will take time.

Beyond the renewal of the product portfolio, Orta is focused on transforming the corporate culture of BMS. “We have to change the leadership. Companies are too hierarchical, but the whip does not work. “People put on a mask, hide their emotions, and kill creativity.” Instead, she says, as a manager she tries to “be one of the team, give them a voice and think about how I can help them.” This strategy, she says, “has worked for me everywhere: people feel more supported, they work harder and with more enthusiasm.”

Another challenge for companies, he says, is to change the way they work to be able to incorporate more diversity. “I, for example, as a single mother, didn't fit in. Fortunately I had the support of my bosses for small changes. For example: being able to travel with my daughter and instead of going to hotels, staying in Airbnbs. So, anywhere in the world, at least he was with her at night, to put her in her bed. I say it with pride: I am a single mother in a leadership position. Now I can introduce those changes to BMS myself. “I would like my legacy here to be to have left people happier.”

Work – “I am passionate about it, I like people and I love what I do” – and family absorb his time and somewhat relegate his hobbies: traveling, horseback riding and skiing. His latest challenge is the bicycle: he is preparing to participate in the “Country 2 Country 4 Cancer”, a solidarity bicycle march for BMS employees. “It is 300 km, between Girona and Toulouse, so I will do what I can. And I have installed a stationary bike in the office to train every day.” In her opinion, “the world is not for the smartest or the richest, as we are sometimes told. But of the brave ones.”