Original published at Bangkok Post on May 4, 2010

Earlier this year, Patr Bhalakula, a talented young Thai pursuing a Master in Marketing Management degree at IE  Business School, and his team won the second prize in the Novartis Masterminds Challenge in Spain. 

The challenge is a competition involving the London Business School, IESE (Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa) Business School, Insead (Institut Europeen d’Administration des Affaires) Business School, Esade (Escuela Superior de Administracion y Direccion de Empresas) Business School and IE Business School. It aims to stimulate innovative approaches and raise interest in executing marketing plans for the pharmaceutical industry. More than 170 competitors of over 40 nationalities participated in the challenge.

“I wanted to find out if I could combine my marketing experience with what I learn here at IE Business School and apply the result to the real business world and to a sector I had little knowledge about previously,” said Patr, explaining the reason why he participated in the competition. Patr joined forces with two other students at the same institution, Kelly Fung and Leen Rimawi, to form the Challenger team. They were given the task of developing a marketing plan and converting Zelisar, Novartis’ hypertension medication launched in Spain last year, into a first-line treatment solution as well as suggesting recommendations to improve the health care system in Spain.

The final presentation was held at Novartis’ headquarters in Barcelona. The team won the first runner-up position and was awarded 4,000 euros (172,000 baht). The first prize went to the Beer View Marketers team from LBS. Patr admitted that he has no background in the pharmaceutical business. Before entering the postgraduate programme, he worked in the marketing department at Toyota Motor Corporation and Procter & Gamble in Thailand. “During the competition, the time management, the teamwork and everything had to be perfect. Teamwork is crucial. I guess the most enriching aspect of the challenge was working with my friends. Achieving something is always sweeter when it is the result of group effort,” he commented. “Our team members were the youngest in the competition and none of us had had previous experience in pharmaceuticals before. This, we thought, would surely be our weakest point. That is why we called our group ‘Challenger’. It was a real challenge from the start,” Patr said.

However, he disclosed that their perceived weak point turned out to be their strength. “One of the members of the panel [of judges] told us that our proposal was very fresh, innovative and different, probably because our ideas were ‘out of the box’ and because they did not have any experience in pharmaceuticals. He was impressed because he thought we were very young,” Patr explained.

When he completes his studies in December, Patr anticipates pursuing a career in Thailand in the field of brand management in consumer products, technological products or luxury products.