The Business Year

Carlos Polo

PANAMA - Health & Education

Brand Aid

General Manager for Central America & Dominican Re, Johnson & Johnson


Carlos Polo is a senior executive with extensive experience in consumer goods at iconic, global, billion-dollar brands. He has worked extensively in general management, finance, marketing, and business development spanning strategic planning, M&As, project management, and process improvement. He has almost 20 years of experience at Fortune 150 companies, including Gillette, Kimberly Clark, and Johnson & Johnson. He has a degree in Industrial Engineering from Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.

"I believe that the key for the success of our products, brands, and organization stems from our purpose."

What is the history of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in Panama and what has its growth strategy been here?

One of the first regions in which the company decided to expand its international businesses was Latin America. The first country in which J&J set foot in Latin America was Mexico in 1930 and after that Brazil and Argentina followed in 1937. We started operations in Panama through the acquisition of McNeil Laboratories in 1959. J&J comprises three major sectors. People know more of J&J through its consumer business, but the biggest sectors of the company are the pharmaceutical and medical sectors. In terms of strategy, one of our pillars is to grow in emerging markets, and that is where we play a very important role for our corporation.

Which are the most in-demand products in Panama?

We have a well-established business in Panama for the three sectors. For the consumer, our biggest brands are Johnson’s Baby, Listerine, Lubriderm, Splenda, Tylenol, and Carefree, and we have recently launched one of our global star brands, which is Neutrogena.

“I believe that the key for the success of our products, brands, and organization stems from our purpose.”

What has been the key to the success of your products?

I believe that the key for the success of our products, brands, and organization stems from our purpose, which is to enable our consumers and patients to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. This inspires us to give our best every day, and represents also a responsibility to deliver the best quality products and solutions around the world. This is also perfectly aligned with our credo, which is a set of values that guide our decision making. Our credo was written by Robert Wood Johnson in 1943, long before anyone ever heard the term corporate social responsibility. We believe it’s a recipe for business success.

Which country in Latin America represents the largest source of income for J&J?

Our biggest operation is our Brazilian consumer company, which for the consumer sector is the second largest operation in the world. This is a very exciting year for us and for our Brazilian operation even more, since we are sponsoring the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which we all know will be held in Brazil. We also have big and important operations in Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico, among others. In Panama, we have one of the highest market shares in most of the categories in which we compete, and last year Panama was the fastest-growing country in the region. Our operation in Panama is very important for us, because we have well-established and strong brands, a very strong team, a solid logistic infrastructure, and a great environment to do business, which are all essential to build a successful and profitable business.

How would you evaluate the level of innovation and infrastructure in Panama?

I believe Panama is becoming an example for other countries in the region. The level of progress in different sectors of the economy that you see and the improvement in infrastructure are famous. Panama is world class in transportation and logistics and financial services, but is also progressing at a fast pace in other sectors such as tourism, health, and construction. Internally, we are working to capitalize on all those strengths that Panama is offering. We are taking advantage of the logistics capabilities the country has to offer to be able to operate more efficiently with other countries in the region. One other example may be a new digital application for our Lubriderm product line (SunStop by Lubriderm), which helps people understand the risks of sun exposure. We were very impressed by the level of support we received from different health institutions (Funda Cancer, Hospital Oncologico, and Asociacion de Dermatologos), as well as many other stakeholders.

How do you evaluate the importance of public-private-partnerships in Panama’s health sector?

There is a positive alignment in general between the public and private sectors. To give you an example, the Minister of Trade and Industries, Ricardo Quijano, has invited the presidents of companies from various sectors to discuss how the government can help us to grow in Panama. The most positive aspect of these meetings is the fact that we can actually see the government moving in the directions that are good for the country’s development.

What are your expectations for Panama in 2014?

We continue to experience consistent and strong growth in Panama. We foresee that this trend will continue in 2014 and in the years to come. When we analyze internally how to allocate our resources, Panama always comes out as a top choice.

© The Business Year – April 2014



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