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Evelio Hernández Salazar – Sanofi

Adapting to the “new normal” when it's anything but

Even in high school, Sanofi Legal Counsel Evelio Hernández Salazar knew he wanted to make a career of helping people. When he joined Sanofi, and the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, he certainly got his chance.

Working for the global life sciences pharmaceutical company from his office in Panama City, Hernández says COVID-19 turned the world upside down in his region, upsetting distribution of medication badly needed for diabetes, heart disease and rare illnesses. In the face of this, it’s up to Hernández as legal counsel for Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, to guide Sanofi’s business—especially when it comes to administering vaccines and treating rare and infectious diseases.

Evelio Hernández Salazar – Sanofi

“It’s a serious matter,” says Hernández. “As professionals, we have to adapt to this ‘new normal’ and invent new ways of doing things. As lawyers, our job is to make sure those changes are legally compliant, but as businesspeople it is our job is to make them effective; it’s a difficult balance.”

Getting connected

While the Paris-based company is working on a coronavirus vaccine in Europe, Hernández is focusing on ensuring crucial medications are available to patients in South America while complying with regional legal guidelines.

Before the pandemic, Hernández says the pharmaceutical businesses—like many others—relied on in-person visits. Now with an abrupt shift to conducting business electronically—primarily through Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls—he says it’s been challenging to develop rapport.

“In Latin America we were caught by surprise because we weren’t familiar with the electronic means to do businesses and we had to adapt,” says Hernández. “The pandemic changed our way of working. For lawyers here it’s so important to build a relationship and trust with a client. We’ve always found the best way to get results was by face-to-face interactions.”

Another major transition is changing from physical to electronic signatures for large volumes of documentation. Though successful, the endeavor was complicated with different regulations in the region. For some countries a simple electronic signature is sufficient, but other countries were more challenging to work with, he says.

Evelio Hernández Salazar – Sanofi

At Sanofi, Hernández is part of multi-disciplinary task force in his region. On it are doctors, professionals in the medical sector, accountants, engineers, and a marketing team, among others. Each group is tasked with something specific—everything from contacting hospitals to deliver medications, to safely administering medicine and connecting with private pharmacy chains.

“When COVID first hit, it felt like how I lived after an earthquake. It was isolating and impacted everyone’s personal life and work,” reflects Hernández. “But with our team and our new ability to interact, it makes me feel comfortable and connected. I go to bed happy knowing that at my company we are doing our best to overcome this situation.”

Gravitating toward a goal

Born in Venezuela, Hernández joined Sanofi in 2016 after spending most of his career in private practice, where he focused on intellectual property issues and administrative law.

It was through his last master’s program at the Universidad de los Andes where he developed his honors thesis, “Trade Secret, Regulation of Test Data in Venezuelan Regulation,” around the pharmaceutical industry. It was through his research that he first connected to the pharmaceutical industry and saw the need for best-in-class medications for patients. Not only did he earn a degree in 2007 in intellectual property; he also got a job.

“My desire was to make a difference with my work, and I felt a greater social connection in the pharmaceutical business,” he says. “At Sanofi I fell in love with the way with the business units worked together in the company in covering a wide number of diseases with specific therapies for a huge number of patients.”

Initially Hernández worked at Sanofi’s office in Venezuela, which when combined with a nearby manufacturing plant has around 800 employees. Due to political and economic issues, Hernández was part of a team coordinating a corporate reorganization. That resulted in sale of the site to a local laboratory, with the transfer of employees to the buyer.

Evelio Hernández Salazar – Sanofi

In the process, Hernández moved to the company’s Latin American headquarters in Panama City and became part of a regional team there. More recently, he picked up duties as legal business partner with the Specialty Care business unit (focused on rare diseases, rare blood disorders, multiple sclerosis, oncology and immunology) for a new cluster in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela Caribbean, and Central America.

Moving into pharmaceuticals was a departure for Hernández after working for 16 years as an associate attorney. When he made the change, he left Estevez Misle & Asociados—a boutique Venezuelan law firm—where he was a partner in the 40-year-old practice, handling corporate law and intellectual property.

“I owe all that I am today to my previous positions and do not regret the decision,” Hernández says. “What is most meaningful about my work now is knowing I am helping others by creating better pathways for the treatment their diseases by complying with local and international regulations. The best feeling is knowing when a project is finished there’s a tangible result in the number of people you helped.”

Published on: March 31, 2021

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