Ahead of stepping into his new phase in life, retirement, we talked to Armin Thur, the CEO of Livisto Group. We took a look back on his long, successful career, and asked him to share his views and visions on the role and impact of the generics sector and our association.
For those who have not had the privilege of knowing you Armin, tell us a bit about yourself.
As I will turn 64 this summer, I take the opportunity to retire. I am married for 30 years and we have three children. With a business economics background, I had worked in various industries – furniture, homeopathics, sports medicine, human pharmaceuticals, music and animal nutrition before joining aniMedica, now Livisto, in 2002.
How did you end up in a veterinary medicines company?
I actually received a call from a headhunter who told me about the job. I did not even know that animal pharmaceuticals is a business! At home, we did have animals on our backyard, chicken and rabbits, but they never needed medicines.
Looking back, what have been the biggest changes and challenges in the animal health sector you have witnessed during your career?
The first milestone would be the year 2002, when the first generic products came on the market. aniMedica was one of the first companies to receive a marketing authorisation to one of their products. Being among the first was significant. It marked a change in business. This coincided with a legislative change that required companies to review and complete all their files until 2005. The generics soon started to replace a significant part of the business of aniMedica.
In 2011-2012, the livestock antibiotics in Germany moved away from oral powders and premixes. There was a strong pressure from NGOs and German authorities to reduce the use of antibiotics. At the same time research helped improve practises in animal care. These led to a reduction in antibiotics sales, which to date is more than fifty percent.
Still, it is important to keep in mind that not all diseases can be prevented with vaccination. Animals do still get sick and need treatment.
The most recent development has been a turnover shift from livestock products to companion animal products, which is likely to continue. People will get more pets, and the livestock farming will grow in quality instead of quantity.
What has been the most rewarding in your work?
I have enjoyed seeing people grow in their capabilities and the business grow into new markets. I am also grateful for not having to deal with mergers and closings of companies in the last 20 years, which in the past always meant having to lay off people. In aniMedica/Livisto we never had to do that thanks to our business development policy. I have also been able to feel like an entrepreneur, with a lot of freedom from our shareholders, to act and build the Livisto business.
What has been your most important achievement at work? What are you most proud of?
It is obviously building of Livisto to what it is today and creating the corporate brand from scratch in 2015.
When I started, aniMedica was practically German company with 80 percent of business in antibiotics, and 80 percent of products targeted for pigs. We had to broaden the scope of products and species. Since 2003 we set up a company in Poland and invested into companies in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy which helped to reduce the risk. Still today, antibiotics constitute a half of our sales but now they are sold to more than one hundred countries.
Last year, we reviewed our strategy and now we will start implementing it. We do not have an active plan to reduce the production of antibiotics as they will always be needed. I assume, however, that the share of antibiotics will further decline as Livisto continues to invest in other therapeutic areas.
I am quite satisfied with what the company has achieved during the last twenty years. Livisto is now an international company. But even more important for me has been to see people grow. All business is based on human interaction. Building the company is just a side effect, even though important one, and it is a result of a joint effort of many people.
My successor took over the operational responsibility at the beginning of this year. I have still provided my input when needed while worked on several projects. The arrangement has functioned well. We have had sufficient time together to prepare for a smooth handover.
What have been the most significant changes in work culture? Have they been for better or for worse?
The biggest change came with the pandemic – the move to home office. The speed of this change, and having the technology to support it, has been outstanding and unbelievable. It practically happened overnight. People were flexible and adjusted to the situation while companies provided the necessary framework.
It is no longer one way or the other. Our top management cut down travel substantially and meets only a few times in person and the rest online. Certain talks, such as HR development discussions should, however, always be held face to face. The lack of social contacts with colleagues was the negative thing, but fortunately this is picking up again as people, at least partly, return to the office.
I have also witnessed a change from decentralised to a centralised management system. In the past, decisions were mostly made at the local level. Now they are made at the headquarters level and might not even be questioned or discussed. This can be good or bad. Either way, my father taught me that if I have an opinion, I might as well say it. I followed this advice for the last 45 years. Obviously, it was not always liked.
Talking about the EU context, what has your company gained from being a member of Access VetMed?
We are a member of the German industry association which is a member of AnimalHealthEurope. For us in Germany, it is helpful to be in the local association for local support. At the same time, this is the reason why Livisto is also a member of Access VetMed which represents local mid-sized generic companies vis-à-vis the European Commission. We need a balanced voice in Brussels.
Access VetMed has represented its members’ interest and defended our position in the preparation of the new legislation, for example in data protection. I have followed the process quite intensely and I know what has been done. I also know that all members of the association have done their best. We all need to be part of the game and Access VetMed is the best organisation to consolidate our positions.
How do you see the future of generics and animal health? What developments are foreseen?
I see challenges for the generics business. There are too many products out there competing mostly with price and I guess this will continue in the future. At the same time, the cost for product development and registration is going up. Originators have established very creative strategies to fight against generics, which means the generic companies need good strategies themselves. Competition can be fierce.
The big buying groups will change the market further. The industry will have to adjust its commercial strategies to cope with this, nationally and internationally.
Unfortunately, the new EU legislation is a disappointment. I would love to be proven wrong, but the objectives set at the beginning many years ago are not met. We were supposed to have one legislation for the whole EU, but the member states can still add additional national requirements.
We were promised lighter administrative burden. According to the feedback I have received, that appears to be far from reality.
Access VetMed was founded as EGGVP twenty years ago. How do you see the association’s role in the future?
I think EGGVP, now Access VetMed is a very good success story. First, the association struggled to be seen and heard, but with the increasing membership base and quality work, it gained the respect of the EU partners.
To have an association with the right people in it, is the only way to influence discussions and decisions of lawmakers. It is always better to be part of the process than to live with results and complain. We need to collaborate with other organisations and associations when that is possible and helpful. That said, it is also important to be clear about the issues in which we have a different stance, and to work on them separately.
Access VetMed should continue to proactively think about solutions and influence the legislation where possible. It should continue to grow – the more companies, people and turnover, the stronger the voice.
Finally, what plans do you have for your new next phase in life?
My wife, who has Multiple Sclerosis, has been my support and company throughout the last 36 years while I have been working and travelling a lot for work. Now it is time for me to pay back and be fully with her. I loved my job, but the priority has always been my family. We have planned to do some travelling together.
My advice is, if you have a special need and you are transparent about it, people will understand. I have always told my colleagues and shareholders about my wife’s condition and the fact that she comes first. They have been understanding and supporting me when needed
Finally, let me thank the team of Access VetMed and the colleagues from other companies for the time we could share in all these years. I hope the business continues to develop in the way we all have seen it in the last 20 years. Take care and stay well.