The better the question
How do you convert a business from product-centric to customer-centric?
Herna knew she had a ground-breaking product, but it wasn’t selling itself. It was time to build customer-centricity into the DNA of her business.
As a little girl growing up in Colombia, Herna Muñoz-Galeano knew that she wanted to solve problems. She knew that one thing could help her with this ambition: technology.
Today she lives in Germany, the founder and CEO of a pioneering technology company that is at the forefront of one of the most exciting areas of science – tailoring medical treatments to the genes of individual patients. It’s a strategy that promises to transform the healthcare industry as well as patients’ lives.
Herna became an entrepreneur in the early 2000s. She had just moved to a new city with her two children and was looking for a senior tech position. With her extensive experience in innovative and complex IT projects, she was not short of options. But it was difficult to find a company who offered the flexibility she needed to combine work and family life. Undeterred, Herna came up with her own practical solution – she started her own company. In the beginning of 2014 she founded HMG Systems Engineering.
A radical breakthrough in personalized medicine
Herna’s idea came about when she noticed a gap in the health care market. “Doctors were prescribing medication based on an old paradigm,” she explains. “They were using information they get from our blood, but not using information from our genes.”
Our genes control how drugs are metabolized and vary from person to person. Herna wanted to ensure treatment would be personalized to the needs of the individual rather than a one-size-fits-all method. It would enable doctors to take three crucial steps to improve patient safety: determine an accurate dose, check the risk of side-effects and check if the patient wasn’t responding to the drug. “The challenge was to create a powerful tool that could change the way doctors prescribe medicine, so that it fits exactly to the patient’s genes” she adds.
With private funding, Herna and her team of 14 people set about developing their product: PGXperts. She was driven by a clear goal, “Our ambition - my ambition - is to fulfil a purpose, and this purpose is that everybody knows HMG as the company who does the interpretation of genes for the wellbeing of people.”
Herna succeeded in developing what she proudly describes as, “the best product in the world for personalized medication.” She also had a dedicated staff with a strong knowledge pool.
Yet leaders of fast-growth businesses can often find themselves feeling stuck. After navigating the nervous days of starting up and creating a viable business, entrepreneurs can be unsure about how to build for the long term.
The better the answer
A 7D perspective to better see the path to growth
Assessing her business against the EY 7 Drivers of Growth helped Herna align her leadership on a clear action plan.
A clear focus leads to better decision-making and firm goals
Herna was keen to involve her senior management team and decided to pick the Customer Driver for her first session with EY Partner, Susanne Dangir. They began the session by refining their view of the company. “Our focus changed from a very technical view to a market-oriented and customer-oriented vision,” Herna explains.
She found this new focus particularly helpful. “In an innovative company there are many ideas, and if you follow all those ideas then your energy is gone. So, to get this focus makes it much easier. That helped us a lot over these last six months in making decisions.”
By the end of the session, Herna says the leadership team had aligned their goals. They had more structure, a clear action plan and, she adds, “One of the most important points was making a business plan for five years.”
It also became clear that to encourage more awareness of their product they would need a marketing function. Herna now has a marketing team of four, with two students supporting them and together they have created the materials and profile to confidently approach customers with confidence
The results have been immediate: “This focus we achieved at the meetings with EY helped us to achieve two lighthouse projects - one with a big university hospital in Germany, and the other one with a big network of doctors who are using it every day and it is wonderful. And we achieved that just in six months.”
The company’s profile is also rising, “We have received some prizes. Recently, I received the Founder prize 2019 for the whole region of North Bavaria from of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.”
You need to delegate to grow
It became clear through their initial discussions that a further session on the People Driver would be beneficial. They were able to break down the role of the CEO and saw that Herna was spreading herself too thinly and taking on too many tasks, such as managing the HR function on her own.
My role as CEO has changed completely.
Having her leadership team involved was helpful as they were able to hear why it was important for them to take ownership and responsibility for certain areas. They were also able to create clearer job roles.
Michael Hußnätter, a lead consultant in Herna’s team, says, “It had a really transformative impact. It gave us a wake-up call, that we need to work on the Customer Driver. As a consequence, my role in the company shifted to address that.”
For Herna it also had a big impact, “My role as CEO has completely changed,” she says. She explains that she sometimes found it a lonely experience shouldering all the responsibility, but realized through the sessions that she didn’t need to – that she had a team willing to take ownership, “That gives me free room to think and to focus on what we need and that is customer and sales,” she adds.
She also realized that she needed to hire more people and has increased her staff by 25%. Communication has also changed significantly: “We are meeting three times a week, that distributes energy and inspiration for every single employee.”
Herna describes assessing her business against the 7 Drivers of Growth as “the best decision I could ever have taken”. Through it she has become closer to Susanne Dangir, who she values as a trusted business advisor and champion of the business. “I see Susanne as part of the future of this company,” she says. “She has been wonderful. When I had really big concerns about some decisions, I'd just call her or send an email and she was always there.”
The better the world works
Transforming patient lives through pharmacogenetics
HMG’s transformation enabled them to grow and improve the lives of thousands more patients.
A personal ambition that benefits others
Herna is proud of the growth they have achieved and believes that diversity is key to their success. From a staff of 14 they have grown to 58, with 11 different nationalities represented. Remembering her struggles to combine a technology job with young children, Herna offers flexitime and employs a high proportion of women.
Ultimately for Herna, satisfaction comes from realizing her ambition to impact patients’ lives, “The 20-year-old me would be proud to see that I achieved creating a company like this. Everybody here has one objective and that is to make a better quality of life for every patient.”