Róbert Wessman

Founder of Alvotech

Róbert Wessman is Chairman & CEO at Alvogen, and founder and Chairman at Alvotech.

Róbert’s vision was made clear early in his career: to improve people’s lives by increasing access to affordable medication. To realize his vision, Wessman and his teams have successfully launched and scaled both industry leading generic pharmaceutical and biosimilar companies all over the world.

In 2009, together with collaborators and investors, Róbert Wessman founded Aztiq, a company focused on investing in pharmaceutical and health-related industries. In that same year he also founded a new generic pharmaceutical company, Alvogen.

Alvogen has received multiple industry awards and other recognition, including CPhI Company of the Year Awards, and multiple service awards. As their Executive Chairman and the CEO, he elevated Alvogen from being a small, USA based contract manufacturing business, into a top 15 global generics player operating in 35 countries.

In 2013 Róbert founded the biopharmaceutical company Alvotech. Alvotech is a biopharmaceutical company with fully integrated R&D, API and fill-and-finish capabilities with brand new state-of-the- art facilities. Alvotech has biosimilars in the making which will be launched at patent expiry.

Operational experience, industry know-how, and the ability to create and develop industry leading teams lie at the heart of his growth strategies. Companies led by him have a collective annual average revenue growth rate of more than 60% (1999-2016). He has led over 50 strategic acquisitions and partnerships and established operations in over 60 countries around the globe. Róbert’s achievements have made him the subject of three Harvard Business Studies, titled “Robert Wessman and the Actavis Winning Formula” (2008) and “Alvogen” (2015).

Alvogen and Alvotech have been proud to work in partnership with UNICEF over the years and sponsored numerous programs under the umbrella of our Better Planet charity work. These have included supporting UNICEF’s COVAX project, a COVID-19 global vaccination initiative.

Where did the idea for Alvotech come from?

I have always had a passion for medicine and business, but it was my desire to improve people’s lives by providing easier access to affordable medication that led me to founding Alvogen, in 2009. I was meeting with investors in a restaurant to discuss this new pharma business model and I literally was writing down my ideas on a napkin – I still have the napkin to this day! I knew I wanted to open up my own biosimilars company, but also had a keen interest in prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medicine. Luckily, my vision resonated with the right investors, and we have been able to build Alvogen, Lotus and Alvotech into the companies they are today.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Promoting a healthy lifestyle is a core part of our company culture, so for me a typical day includes physical and mental activity, and time spent with family. I have a passion for sport and exercise, particularly cycling, so every day I make time for exercise. Work of course keeps me mentally active, as I am always very busy at work, operating businesses across different time zones from US, Europe and Asia. So often my workday starts when I wake up and finishes when I go to bed. I have five kids living with us in London, so I always find time to spend with the kids in my hectic schedule. I guess I would say typical days are very full and rewarding!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think I bring a very optimistic outlook to my work and that helps bring ideas to life above all else. I struggled badly with dyslexia from an early age, and this experience shaped me to be very solutions oriented and a strong believer in creating your own success. Many people have great ideas but very few have the courage to act on these ideas and make their dreams come true. That has never been my issue. A good idea, wherever it comes from, from me, family or from someone at work, I do not hesitate to execute in turning a potentially great idea into reality.

What’s one trend that excites you?

A few things: first, I love anticipating trends and predicting how the world will evolve and then participating in the change. Second, I really like to build things. You can see where these two things intersect in my work, as I have built multiple pharmaceutical companies throughout the years with a great success by betting on change in the industry. Each of those companies follow the trend in the industry at any given time. I would say another thing that excites me is the opportunity to work with my wife on a project as well! We are active in the France Wine industry and enjoy thinking how to evolve the wine industry going forward.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

You’ve got to take care of the details. Having responsibility for running such a large enterprise doesn’t always leave me with time to be so detail-orientated, but I honestly believe that only by understanding the particular aspects of the business you unlock some area for improvement. All leaders need to have vision, need to know how to execute, but also know their numbers, people and business. In an addition to this, whatever happens I never dwell in the past. In all businesses we go through tough times and its important to understand why the business is not doing well; the key is to focus on the solution and how to move successfully forward.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t wait so long to get into what I was passionate about. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I made the move to pharmaceuticals, but I knew long before then that it was what I wanted to do.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

If you had asked me eight years ago, I would’ve told you that it would be for us to go into the business-to-business market. I think most people around me not only disagreed with me but thought I had gone mad. But through great effort and focus, great team of people, particularly driven by growth around Lotus and what became Adalvo, we have made a success of that.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Focus on what is most important and stay positive. If you make a mistake, or someone else does, don’t dwell on it, put the focus on how to correct the mistakes and prevent the same mistake from happening again. Use the time to listen to people, remember to ask questions because a solution to a problem is often just one question away. Surround yourself with a good team, make sure that the task at hand is clear and remember execution is in the end what counts.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Throughout the early part of my career, I was in cleaning, worked in bars, did dishwashing, was a paper boy, a chef, even worked in the construction industry. All along, and still today, it is all about mindset. How do I make the most of the opportunity? What can I learn? How can I grow? Of course, this has been easy since I’ve worked with so many good people, but keeping that mindset of always wanting to make the most of any opportunity has been vital.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

At the beginning of October 2008, I bought shares in the Icelandic bank Glitnir. Within days, the Icelandic financial crisis hit. It was money that I might has well have thrown into the sea. Do I regret it? Of course. Could I have known that the international financial system was about to crash? Certainly not. I’m just glad that in the aftermath, I stayed and continued to build from Iceland.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Biosimilars are a fantastic growth area which I think will only continue to thrive.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My family’s PCR tests just before Christmas! We were lucky enough to make it over to France this year to spend Christmas as a family (just before border restrictions came in). It was my wife Ksenia and my first Christmas since together we were married in August 2021, so I’m glad everyone’s tests came back negative.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I guess I am a little old school as I’m not using a lot of online tools. If I need an answer and no one at the office can help, then I’ll often turn to that well used resource Google.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’m dyslexic, but I need to read a lot every day. For me, reading books has never been of a great interest and I rather read news or watch TV if I have few minutes available to catch my breath and relax.

What is your favorite quote?

Don’t take no for an answer. In business we all face obstacles but if you want to become a successful businessperson, you cannot take no for an answer. Successful business is never easy and if it was easy, everyone would be successful. So, I always say if you want something, and you believe that’s the route to go, and you get a no for an answer: don’t give up on it. You might need to find another route to get to the outcome you want, but stay focus and don’t take a no for an answer.

Key Learnings:

  • Bring an optimistic outlook to work and focus on this mindset. How do I make the most of the opportunity? It is all about mindset.
  • Have the courage to act on your ideas and make your dreams come true. Don’t wait a long time to get started!
  • You’ve got to take care of the details. Make sure you understand them and remember to ask questions – oftentimes a solution to a problem is just one question away.