After 10 years working in big pharmas, Lloyd Soong started his own company in 1996, largely because he saw his colleagues being taken for granted. “I didn’t want to get too comfortable,” he says. “My colleagues who had been with companies for years were sadly not treasured. I decided I wasn’t going to wait and let that happen to me.”
While working as General Manager for Guardian Pharmacy in Indonesia, Lloyd set up a buying house in Singapore. When his boss decided it could be sold off, Lloyd acquired it and changed the name to Pasture Pharma, setting the wheels in motion for the growth of his business today.
When asked what makes a good leader, Lloyd believes you need to have a clear vision and provide your team with direction. “I think you’ve got to be able to think way ahead – to visualise what’s going to happen in the future,” the CEO says. “I’m not right all the time; sometimes I get it wrong.”
There was one time, though, that Lloyd got it very right, and the past two years of the pandemic have brought that sharply into focus. In 2005, he decided to invest in face mask research and development – when people around him thought it was crazy.
“We developed one of the first masks that didn’t just filter viruses and bacteria, but also killed them upon contact with the mask.”
“They said, ‘It’s only a mask worth a few cents, why are you wasting your time?’” he recalls with a laugh. “We developed one of the first masks that didn’t just filter viruses and bacteria, but also killed them upon contact with the mask. And in 2009, we became the second company in the world whose masks the US FDA approved for public use in a pandemic. Pasture’s masks also have NIOSH N95 approval.”
Clearly, Pasture was set up for COVID-19 more than most and, in an uncannily prescient move, Lloyd had also set up the company for digitisation about nine months before lockdown, allowing staff to work remotely.
Still, Lloyd believes he has a dedicated workforce to thank for the company’s performance during the pandemic. “I’ve got a very good team of people,” he says proudly. “I mean, during the pandemic, because we were shipping a lot of masks and medical products, they were still in the office at 2am. I was in North America just before the lockdown and was liaising with them, and I felt so bad that they were in the office at two in the morning.
“I really appreciate my staff. They just know what they have to do and they do it. I’m just thankful.”
“I’m very thankful that our people don’t just work with their heads, they also work with their hearts.”
Working in the healthcare industry, Lloyd understands the human psyche more than most, and he knows where his staff’s motivation comes from. “I’m very thankful that our people don’t just work with their heads, they also work with their hearts,” he says passionately. “They know what they’re doing is helping save lives and helping the community.
“When you have a sense of wellbeing and that you’re doing something very meaningful, it becomes less stressful. I always tell my team, ‘If you find one day that you don’t enjoy it anymore and it becomes a stress and a drag, then maybe you should find somewhere else where you can be happier at work.’”
Given the past two years and the next few to come, it would be hard to find somewhere else as interesting and meaningful to work.
Despite the proliferation of mask manufacturers catering to the consumer market, it is healthcare workers that Pasture’s surgical N95 masks appeal to. Tenders from governments and hospitals are still in high demand and Lloyd expects that to continue. However, he also plans to expand in other areas. Pasture has just been appointed in Singapore to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine from CanSino, which along with Johnson & Johnson’s product is the only other single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
Another huge research and development breakthrough that will benefit cancer patients is a unique medication strip that can be placed under the tongue, for patients struggling to swallow. And noticing the rise in pets during lockdown, the company has also started a website to service pet owners with supplements and medication. “Obviously because of the pandemic people think we’re just a mask manufacturing company,” Lloyd points out. “In fact, we have a very diversified business.”
“We procure specialty products and products that are yet to be approved for patients. Sometimes products that are already approved in certain countries are still in the approval process in another country.”
When it comes to suppliers, Lloyd also explains how the head and heart both figure in partner relationships. Although he’s clearly a tough negotiator, emotions are also at play in some of the products being supplied.
“We procure specialty products and products that are yet to be approved for patients,” Lloyd explains. “Sometimes products that are already approved in certain countries are still in the approval process in another country. But cancer is cancer. If my doctor says there’s a new product that would probably help you, but you have six months to live, and it will take a year to get approved… That’s when the physicians or hospitals write to us and ask us to search for this product. We try to get it within weeks for patients, so you have to work with suppliers that are reliable, that you trust.
“We’ve been in business for 25 years and I would say perhaps 10–12 are really key suppliers. But this is also exactly what our clients want from us – they trust us so much. For us in the healthcare sector, we cannot function and operate just purely with our head. We have to work with our hearts as well. This has always been our philosophy in this company.”
And hopefully for Lloyd and Pasture, it always will be.