Our People: Esther Vilanova

Esther Vilanova

What does it take to become head of a department at Safic-Alcan? We put the question to Esther Vilanova, who joined in April 1996 and has managed the pharmaceutical branch of Safic-Alcan España since 2018.

A family business

After studying pharmacy and nutrition, Esther Vilanova undertook an internship in a laboratory and started to doubt her career choice. That’s when her boyfriend (who would become her husband) told her about a job offer he read about in La Vanguardia a famous Spanish daily newspaper for a technical sales position in a chemical distribution company’s pharmacy and nutrition department.

This company still went by the name Isisa at the time, even though it became part of the Safic-Alcan group in 1965. Although much smaller in size, their philosophy and values remain unchanged.

“I didn’t know anything about the commercial world but I was curious, so I tried my luck and here I am.”

Over 25 years, Vilanova has witnessed many changes, especially in terms of technology. Back then, communication with customers was handled by phone and the orders placed by fax. “I was one of the first to have a professional mobile phone in my family at…27! And for a while, I even shared a computer with José Lora [member of the Executive Committee and Managing Director for the Life Sciences department at group level],” she remembers fondly.

During this period, the pharmaceutical department turnover has grown from 1.5 million euros to 35 million euros in 2022. Esther Vilanova is now head of the division and manages seven people.

A lesson in patience

”I used to visit Synthon on a regular basis because I was convinced that I had the perfect ingredient for one of their generic products. After they agreed, it took another six years to go to market but it was worth the wait!”

As Vilanova explains, it can take a long time for a product to be approved in pharmaceuticals. 

This is why she encourages her team to keep planting seeds and be patient when it comes to reaping the rewards of their long-term relationships with technicians. It is one of the lessons she learnt from José Lora, who has been her line manager for many years, and Martial Lecat, former CEO of Safic-Alcan and Chairman of the Supervisory Board at the Safic-Alcan Group, who have both continually helped her grow as a professional.

This support from the group was much appreciated, particularly in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In a few days we had to learn to work in a different way while managing a great deal of uncertainty. It was a very stressful time because we had a lot of work to do as the pharmaceutical industry was so essential.”

Two years after the beginning of the pandemic, remote work is now part of Safic-Alcan España’s daily rhythm. However, some people, including Esther Vilanova, prefer to come to the office. “It’s quieter than working from home,” she says.

Do you have a favourite industry among the ones Safic-Alcan serves?

“My favourite industry is undoubtedly pharmaceuticals. During my professional career, I have been in contact with technicians in this sector and I have seen their work and its importance first hand. I’m always very proud when we, at Safic-Alcan, are able to help them develop medicines.”

Time for recognition

As is tradition, her length of service and dedication were celebrated during the last Christmas cocktail party when Jose Lora presented her with a watch on behalf of the company.

“I’m very thankful for this recognition and proud of the huge changes we’ve seen, not just in my department, but also in Safic-Alcan España and the Safic-Alcan group. When I first joined, I felt like I was working for a local company. Today, I really feel part of a multinational company with the resources and the ambition to provide every employee with the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.”

Esther Vilanova will continue to enjoy this great working environment as Safic-Alcan continues to strengthen their position as a benchmark in the industry.

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