Article as featured in The Commercial Courier.
Founded by three passionate pharmacists, Prohealth has been distributing and marketing pharmaceuticals, Dermo-Cosmetics and medical devices to pharmacies and hospitals across the island since 1995. The company’s founders, as well as some if its longest-standing members, tell Martina Said about Prohealth’s early years, its bustling working environment, and future ambitions.
Since starting out as a part-time project among three friends with a mutual passion for pharmacy, Prohealth has come a very long way, and today represents some of the most respected international brands, including La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Ursapharm, and Galderma. “Many products that include Anthelios, Dercos, Hylo-COMOD, Hysan, Ocean Spray, and Muciclar are now to be found in many Maltese households,” says Peter Apap, co-Founder and CEO of Prohealth. “In 2004, Prohealth also started its export business in Libya and has over the past few years been exploring opportunities in other export markets.”
Mr Apap asserts that Prohealth’s origins are what differentiate the company from others in the industry. The three co-founders, Andrew Paris, John Jaccarini and Mr Apap himself – who, together with Joseph FX Zahra form the Board of Directors, with Mr Zahra as its non-executive Chairman – are all pharmacists who had a dream over 20 years ago of branching out into the business.
“We had no capital, some experience, and no idea of what setting up and developing a company would entail,” he explains. “Growth in the first 10 years was steady but calculated, and we have always been hands-on and immersed at all levels of the day-to-day running of the business. We hope that our direct involvement and daily work ethic has had a positive effect on the rest of the team, as well as the company’s positive culture. Besides, having rolled up our sleeves and done most of the jobs needed over the years ourselves has given us priceless insight into how to conduct our business, and how to interact with all stakeholders.”
Mr Apap asserts that Prohealth’s three main pillars – its people, primary customers and strong portfolio of brands – are what drive the company forward. “Our people are our greatest asset. We have seen this vital ‘asset’ appreciate over time thanks to the positive contribution of many individuals over the years. The second pillar is our loyal primary customers: pharmacies and medical doctors, including an array of specialists and health care professionals, who have supported us from day one. This base has grown exponentially over the years, built on our belief that a great product includes equally excellent customer service and honest relationships. The third pillar is the portfolio of foreign brands with diverse, high-quality products that we market and distribute exclusively in our territories, which is the cornerstone of our company.”
The company has grown from three directors juggling their brand new business with other full-time jobs together with one full-time pharmacy salesperson in 1995, to a staff complement today of 45 persons in Malta plus 10 overseas. “Milestones that come to mind are our first sale ever invoiced to a pharmacy in Zurrieq back in March 1995, the start of our business in Libya in 2004, our appointment as Vichy distributors in 2007, the move to our new stores and offices in Zebbug in 2011, the set-up of a Medical Devices Business Unit in 2015 and our first sale to Sudan this year, to name a few,” says Mr Apap.
Speaking of the company’s export operations, John Jaccarini, co-Founder and Executive Director, asserts that the Libyan market was, and still is, a very important market to them. “At our peak, sales reached 50 per cent of our turnover. The ongoing political turmoil has caused big disruptions, posing a significant threat to the country’s business climate. However, we have kept our channels open within the constraints we’ve been facing. Perhaps because we’re emotionally attached to the country, we see Libya’s potential in the future, and we are confident that it will revert to being a good country to do business with. When this happens, Prohealth will make sure to come back even stronger than before.”
Mr Jaccarini adds that the 2011 revolution in Libya was an eye-opener for the company too, as it exposed an over-reliance on the Libyan market to complement its home market activity. “The challenge was to reinvent ourselves while working through the chaos created by the crisis. In the post-revolution years, we embarked on our first proper re-organisation within the company. We started looking at other potential export markets, and Africa was a logical avenue. After many years of preparatory work and registrations, we have finally started selling in Sudan, and are currently in negotiations to expand into other sub-Saharan markets.”
The restructuring of a strong board and executive committee, good governance, an HR strategy enabling the recruitment, retention and empowerment of good people, together with the formulation of the company’s Vision 2020 have enabled Prohealth to achieve the goals set out for it in Malta as well as export countries. “Today, we have systems in place to fuel further growth, but what remains at the core of our success is our passion and drive to succeed within our limitations, creating the best possible long-term relationships with all stakeholders involved, whether they are local or foreign.”
Andrew Paris, co-Founder and Executive Director at Prohealth, asserts that one of the company’s greatest challenges has been brought about by its very own diversification and development. “Such diversification and development require strong Regulatory Affairs and Supply Chain Management, because each brand has different realities which need to be tackled, and each market has different challenges which must be faced. Malta offers the challenges of a fully regulated regulatory framework, both for pharmaceuticals as well as for medical devices, while, being an emerging market, African countries offer different challenges in these fields,” says Mr Paris. “Further still, the product mix offers a diversification in itself, as it comprises pharmaceuticals, medical devices, health products and cosmetics which are often classified differently in individual markets. Supply Chain Management is another area which will offer challenging scenarios as the number of references and markets grow. Once again, Malta being a stable home market offers trends that are easier to monitor when compared to emerging African markets, where trend forecasts are not high on people’s agendas.”
Looking ahead to 2018, CEO Peter Apap is aiming to consolidate the company’s double digit growth trend in Malta, driven in 2017 by Prohealth’s dynamic Pharma Business Unit, leading Dermo-Cosmetic brands and further development of the more recently-established Medical Devices Business Unit. “These positive figures were partially offset by a decline in exports due to the difficulties in the Libyan market. In Malta, we are confident that we should be able to maintain double-digit growth in 2018. With regards to export markets, we should start reaping the fruits of what we have sown over the past three years in countries like Sudan, whilst simultaneously persisting in trying to overcome the difficulties being faced in the formerly-lucrative Libyan market.”
A Word from…
Jackie Vella, Vichy Brand Manager
“I have been working at Prohealth for ten years, selling and visiting our customers to promote Vichy. After a year, I was offered the position of Vichy Brand Manager. Before joining Prohealth, my perception of the company was that it was dynamic and professional – and working here confirmed this. Always aiming to be professional in doing business, Prohealth makes a conscious effort to maintain a good relationship with its customers, as well as being supportive of its employees. Through personal experience, Prohealth gives its employees the opportunity to advance in their career. Staff members vary in age, from young to more mature (but young at heart!) members, as well as young employees in managerial positions. At Prohealth, the weeks roll by very fast – we work in a busy, enthusiastic and fast-paced environment to meet our objectives, and we are always open to embracing new technologies and challenges.”
Rita Caruana, Store Keeper
“I’ve been working as a Store Keeper at Prohealth for 11 years, and have seen the company grow significantly. When I started in 2006, we were 12 people (including the directors) working together in a small warehouse, with a much smaller portfolio of products. However, things rapidly started changing with Prohealth’s acquisition of the Vichy brand, which immediately saw us bringing in more people. Things only kept growing from there, and with that so did my responsibilities, our office space and stores. Looking back, I cannot imagine working anywhere else – not only because I enjoy my job, but also because of the great environment.”
Ritianne Cutajar, Consumer Marketing Assistant
“I started working with Prohealth as a Sales Assistant in their pharmacies in 2001, until I was promoted to Front Office Receptionist in 2011. During this time, Prohealth was expanding and many more staff members were being recruited. In 2014, I was promoted to join the marketing department as a Consumer Related Marketing Assistant due to my extensive knowledge of the company’s products. I had my daughter a couple of years ago, and the support I got from the directors has been astounding. I was given the option of working part-time, and my manager does his best to be flexible when child-related emergencies arise and I am totally stuck. It’s not all work at Prohealth – the directors also support a number of charity initiatives and fun activities within the company. As part of the Social Committee, I help organise various activities throughout the year, and at the end of the year, our directors double the amount collected, with all proceeds going to various charities. We are currently making preparations for our upcoming event, a dog walk in collaboration with The Island Sanctuary, with all proceeds going to this animal shelter.”
Kristina Vella, La Roche-Posay Medical Representative
“At Prohealth, we focus on making sure our interactions with doctors are consistent and of the highest quality. This is what builds confidence in our organisation, ensuring that our clients and doctors feel valuable to our business. In the Dermatology field, we reach out to doctors on a monthly basis, providing useful information which assists them in offering a better service to their patients. We make it a priority to respond to any queries or requests efficiently and in a friendly manner, which is one of the most important things that sets our company apart.”
Michael Montebello, Sales Representative
“Throughout my 25 years of experience as a sales representative, engaged in the sales of pharmaceuticals and other products, I can say that the job itself requires good communication skills and a relationship of trust, so as to ensure the satisfaction of the pharmacist. One of my main duties is to make my consumers’ needs a priority, on a daily basis. This involves urgent special deliveries, seasonal bonuses, the replacement of expired items, and other negotiation matters. My work motto is that patience and persistence are key to providing the best possible service.”