Transformation is an overused word in the modern business lexicon, so it’s refreshing to hear a business leader, in the midst of what many would consider a legitimate excuse to use the T word, talk instead about continuity and stability. But Krisztina Varga, CEO of the newly rebranded Oximio (previously The SMO Group) is as much a breath of fresh air in the corporate world as her company’s new brand.
“I realise that transformation is very sexy terminology in the business environment at the moment,” she says, adding that after almost 20 years in the IT industry, from the time of Y2K to today’s gig economy, she has experienced plenty of transformations. “I had good and bad experiences, both as a leader and an employee. I tried to bring onboard my experience to Oximio, but we also must not forget what this company is about. There was already a good heritage and a clear strategy here when I joined. My role has been to initiate, drive and foster new thinking, but while we work to elevate what we do – and I prefer this expression to transform – we have to remain focused.”
For a logistics business in clinical trials industry, there is nothing more important says Varga than making sure every package gets delivered when and where it should. Lives often depend on it.
And Oximio is focused on continuing to deliver excellence in clinical trial logistics and services for some of the biggest clinical research organisations and large pharmaceutical firms. And while there may be a new brand to celebrate, Varga is clear that this is very much a continuation of the company’s nearly 20-year heritage; during this time it has grown from humble beginnings to a large global player with a presence in all the worlds key regions.
Start on the inside
While the most obvious change is the external switch of brand from The SMO Group to Oximio – the new name referring to the fresh, airy and open world of modern logistics, as well as sounding pertinently clinical – the biggest lesson Varga has taken from previous projects is to put internal stakeholders at the heart of the programme. “We have placed ourselves in the centre of the elevation and not the external environment. And we have mirrored that with client needs, patients’ needs. We’re making this change because we want to and we believe in it.”
Varga says failing to bring colleagues from different functions together is one of the most common mistakes leaders make. “I didn’t want to create another organisation to handle the change programme, for example. It’s us who are doing it and that means every individual in the company, and they all need a clear understanding of what we do and why we do it.
I really wanted to make sure there is a strong link between the strategy, which has a multiple-year dimension, annual objectives, and individual goals. This clarity is the essence of any evolution or elevation, or indeed any transformation. You have to always keep this connection.”
Another connection Varga says is vital is that between employees and the bigger Oximio mission. This is the connection between everything every Oximio employee does and the objective of creating better health outcomes for patients on clinical trials. As medicine advances, so the trials that underpin new treatments become more complex. But Varga is unphased by such complexity – her background in IT, as well as a long career in finance help her cut to the nub of any problem. “It’s very interesting because complexity is a key characteristic of this industry. And one of the best answers for complexity is to be stable. It might sound strange, but this is what I’ve been experiencing with Oximio. It is essential we remain a reliable partner, concentrating on our expertise. We make sure we can remain reliable in the face of any complexity. It is very important that we sense the complexity, know and understand what is going on and have our eyes wide open. But at the same time, we must stick to what must be done, because in clinical trials the last thing you can afford to do is to lose control or focus.”
Varga is equally happy to slay another business shibboleth – the idea that creativity is the key to solving complexity. “Let’s not use creativity to solve complexity. It is not what this industry is about. Creativity is required in a different level in our company, in the form of innovation, but not in responding to operational complexity. In a warehouse with a double-blinded trial, everyone needs to think about on what needs to be done and do it in the right order and at the right time. Every employee starts the morning by thinking about the patient who needs the medication.”
This desire to build on continuity, reliability and stability – not the most on-trend business catchphrases – marks out Oximio’s simple-but-effective approach. It was an approach that was tested a lot in 2020, and one that helped the company react quickly to the Covid-19 outbreak, which almost overnight added layers of complexity to the global clinical trial logistics industry. Varga reflects on the events of a year ago in simple terms, “Our company was really able to immediately make all the adjustments, whether it be moving online or adjusting how we ran our warehouses. Faced with many physical restrictions, we were up and running and able to respond to any sort of requests from clients.”
There had to be a lot of quick adjustments for a company whose board and senior management are spread out across Europe, with leaders in the UK and Ukraine and Varga herself in Budapest. A regular business traveller until a year ago, Varga has only just resumed the occasional trip, after a year being grounded by Covid. She says, like many businesses, they have just had to adapt new ways of working, and news ways of leading.
Putting people first
Varga’s line in no-nonsense logic extends to a statement that from someone else might sound a little trite, that there is more that unites clients, employees and patients on a human level than separates them. To Varga the most important aspects of the company’s culture is its focus on developing people through continual learning. This doesn’t have to be structured learning, but it is managed enough to be run through a digital learning platform.
“I have paid a lot of attention to the people,” she explains. “This resonates with the company’s client focus and patient focus. We all are humans. If a project manager is discussing with a business manager on the client side, it is two people talking. The culture of learning and a people focus have been embedded over the last two years. It doesn’t need to be academic MBA stuff or a definite course, but everywhere you should find a good thought, which can open up other ideas. Employees have welcomed this and we have a platform for it that is part of our HR ecosystem. Paying attention to continuous learning and development is extremely important.”
When it comes to the future, Varga says the whole company is focused on the exciting opportunities that the next chapter of The SMO Group and the launch of Oximio brings. “What excites me is that I see enthusiastic people around me in the company. One of the most precious things a leader can get; to feel he or she is trusted. This is what gets me up in the morning; I want to do things that create belief. That belief creates performance which creates achievement and that in turn creates engagement. As a team we all share a common goal and as a business we know we can support humanity with valuable services.”