A veterinarian by profession, Ljiljana’s career took an unexpected turn after graduation into the pharmaceutical industry, where Ljiljana Žunjanin developed into a manager capable of leading markets in several countries at once. Her appearance is youthful, accessible and calm and she acts with maturity and confidence, both attributable to the fact that she has gained all the necessary experience through hard work and he unyielding thirst for knowledge and development. Ljiljana is dedicated to her family, but her work is never far behind and never out of the picture. Her job tile is Regional Manager at Astellas Pharma, marketing and distribution of pharmaceutical products. The company is part of the global pharmaceutical company with headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

What is your area of expertise and what is your job?

I am the Country Manager for the Adriatic section of the Adriatic-Baltic region. My territory includes Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our headquarters are in Ljubljana. The Croatian office employs nine and the Bosnian office a further two employees. My job is to manage and lead employees in all three countries, a total of 23 people. We cover marketing and sales, ranging from representatives in the field to project managers and managers of representatives. We represent medicines for different therapeutic areas while medicinal product development takes place at a global level. The therapeutic areas we cover are oncology, urology, transplantations and anti infection. As a manager in a multinational corporation I also need to understand finances.

How did you arrive at this point in your life?

I graduated at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine so I am a veterinary doctor, but I never worked as one. After graduating I could not get a job, so I found my way in the pharmaceutical industry, which later proved to be a very good decision that I have never regretted. People often ask me if I am sorry that I never worked as a veterinarian, or how come a veterinarian works in pharmacy. The fields are not so different. My education was very helpful in my work in pharmacy. When we talk about a medicine it is important to understand its effects on the organism, indications, side effects. Pharmacokinetics, pharmacodinamics and distribution of the medicine in organs take place in much the same way in human and animal organisms. Plenty of research also takes place on animals before it reaches clinical testing on humans. Knowledge of the organism as such is very helpful in communication with physicians and it is what I learned at the faculty. I did have to learn the financial side of my job, there was none of that in my graduate program. Furtunately I had good colleagues and healthy common sense so that I could learn to draft and interpret financial documents independently.

Where did your work in pharmacy begin?

I begun my career as a sales representative in the field with Servier Pharma. I visited doctors and presented medicines, this was 15 years ago. I also worked as a product manager at that company. At Abbott I worked as the head of marketing, head of business unit and national lead and than later at Mylan as leader for several countries; Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Kosovo and Slovenia. There was a lot of traveling involved at the time and it was very much incompatible with a private life - I lived on airplanes. This was one of the reasons why I joined Astellas Pharma where I have been working for the fourth year now. My work here is more centralized. I still travel, but much less than before. I am proud that I advanced gradually in my career and conquered each position step by step. This gave me time to develop and get to know each of the functions that I am now responsible for. I have also developed as a person through my work in pharmacy. It was tough in the beginning, but my work enabled me to develop new competences, such as communication skills, ability to decide quickly, a sense for organization and building relationships with clients and colleagues. All of this helped me advance in my career and also proved very helpful in life in general.

Do you feel your work contributes to saving lives? How? And what does it feel like?

I always worked in companies in which the patient came first. Even internally, when we discussed things, we always focused on the patient. Patients are also my greatest motivation. The better I can present the benefits of a medicine, the greater the benefit will be for the patient because I can do my part in making sure patients receive the medicine they need. If the medicine improves the course of a disease and extends life, I am always happy. In this way I see myself sharing responsibility for the patient’s health. Of course it is the physician that decides which treatment the patient receives.

What did you want to become as a child?

As a child I always spent all of my pocket money for test tubes, petri dishes, funnels. I was always interested in science. I wanted to be a scientist. I thought I would be working in a lab, discovering new molecules and potentially discovering a new medicine. All my savings were put towards small laboratory equipment. At home I had a play area which was my laboratory and that is where I did my small science experiments and observed insects and plants under a microscope. I borrowed many books on the subject from the library and my parents kept supporting me. That is also why I decided to go to the Bežigrad secondary school which focused on natural sciences, and then on to the veterinary faculty. I never wanted to become a doctor. Veterinary medicine was my first choice because I loved animals. We had pets at home and as kids we would pick up stray cats from the street while we played. Now I do not have any animals, they take time and my working day pretty much never ends. I am just the type of person that never stops. I keep thinking what else I could do, what I could do better and I am highly motivated.

What motivates you? Do you have a personal motto you adhere to?

Personally my greatest motivation is my son and my personal motto is “never give up”. Daily life sometimes sets us traps and we get sucked in by trouble, but sometimes we need to find a way out of the drama and simply keep pushing forward. This applies to all areas of life, including food, sports, aging. The body must always support the spirit because you cannot give anything to society and the people you love unless you are healthy. For me it is all connected, everything must be balanced, so I do a lot of sports. Lots of running helps me detoxify mentally and in winter I visit a gym and always make sure I am in motion. I am the type of person that chooses stairs over elevators and I like doing things on foot and with my hands. At work I always had to first of all believe what I was representing. I was always driven by the potential of a patient receiving the best possible treatment for their disease. This is our mission and the main motivator for me to keep doing what I do. The pharmaceutical industry always allowed me to express my talents and dormant potentials. It also gave me enough time to develop them. I always liked working with people and my work allows me to do just that. Another major motivator for me is my team. I like working in places where I can leave a mark on people. This gives a person satisfaction in the knowledge that they did something good.

Was your decision to take up this work influenced by any personal experiences? Could you tell us about them?

As a young woman I was not communicative. I was shy and always tried to blend in with the background. That is why I deliberately chose this industry because I had a vision of learning what I lacked through work. I am often thankful to pharmacy for teaching me just that. Pharmaceutical companies provide plenty of opportunities for education which I gladly took, but certain competences I learned just from practice. I can see that I am more confident in certain situations than I used to be and can deal with things much easier. People who I have known since I was young often tell me that I changed a lot and now communicate and present myself much better and more confidently.  

Which aspect of your work do you wish people knew more about? What is the most common misconception regarding your work?

It is a major misconception that we do nothing for society, that we are very unethical. In fact this is a major topic in the pharmaceutical industry. We have very strict self-control, are very critical to ourselves and among ourselves and strive for the highest ethical standards. It is also wrong to say that we see everything through numbers. Of course we are not a social establishment, but we spend the vast majority of our time talking about patients, not profits. We also educate ourselves so that our motivation arises from patients and the treatment of their illnesses and quality of their life remain our primary objective. For me personally it is very important that I sell good medicines that will save lives. Pharmacy does a lot of good. Nowadays people can live quality lives with certain chronic diseases such as hypertension or AIDS, which was simply not possible some years ago. Of course I firmly support the position that we can do the most for our health ourselves, by preventive action and a healthy lifestyle.

Are you optimistic about the development and future of human health? Why? Which areas do you believe will see the greatest changes?

Yes, I am optimistic. Development is heading towards prevention of certain diseases. Genetic medicine is developing fast as well, which will determine the tendency towards certain diseases which can then develop or not. A part of medicine will of course remain focused on curing diseases, but it will need to redefine old age. If a women at forty was once considered mature or even old, the limit will shift up considerably due to prevention.
I believe that in the future medicine will focus on the quality of life of patients during the treatment process. Remote treatment in a patient friendly (home) environment filled with positive feelings is certainly a challenge for new approaches. We should not forget information technology which empowers patients with knowledge, devices and accessories and places them in an active role in the treatment process. The use of artificial intelligence in treatment processes will most likely be the new norm for our children.  

How do you see our society in a few decades and how will your current work contribute to our future society?

Things in healthcare are moving from the secondary to the primary level. There will be less specialist treatment and hospitalisations and more work on prevention and day clinics. To state an example: chemotherapy used to require patients stay in hospitals. Now they come into a day clinic, receive their intravenous dose of chemoterapy medicine and go home. Patients will become increasingly scientifically educated, informed and confident. They will take active control of their health and treatment and will become justifiably more demanding and better informed users of pharmaceutical and other scientific products.
In the future pharmacy will need to confidently, proudly and sincerely raise awareness and prove that our goal is improved public health again and again. We need to talk more about this and the mentality of people working in the industry, because we truly and sincerely strive towards our goal of healthier and more satisfied people. It may sound like a cliché, but I do not think we emphasize this enough.