Interview with EFB President Udo J Vetter

Vetter Pharma

Could you give us a brief outline about its’ history and founding?
Within 70 years, Vetter developed from a local pharmacy in Ravensburg to a global-leading pharmaceutical solution provider in the area of injectable drugs. Today, we manufacture drugs for our large and small pharma and biotech customers, which are used to treat illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or severe rheumatoid arthritis. This success is based on a successive commitment to strategy development and implementation over the decades.

Vetter was founded in 1950 by the pharmacist and Honorary SenatorHelmut Vetter. The business started out as “Chemisch-Pharmazeutische Laboratorium Ravensburg GmbH,” which performed laboratory services, trained laboratory technicians and engaged in pharmaceutical production. The business quickly expanded, with Mr Vetter developing the Ullus® stomach medicine which went on to be sold even within the USA. In 1958, Vetter purchased his own pharmacy on Marienplatz in Ravensburg.

Throughout the 1960’s, the business developed innovative packaging for its products and increased its manufacturing of medication. Following this, Helmut Vetter developed the industrialization of the prefilled syringe which became the focus of the manufacturing portfolio in the late 70s. In 1984, our company was reorganized and renamed Vetter Pharma-Fertigung GmbH & Co. KG. Also, Vetter Pharma-Turm Inc. was founded in New Jersey, USA, evidence of the company’s international strategic orientation. In that same year, the prototype for the dual-chamber syringe Vetter Lyo-Ject® was presented worldwide.

Award picture

1990 marked the introduction of the Vetter Lyo-Ject® dual-chamber prefilled syringe. Two years later, the first robot was introduced on the aseptic production line for prefilled syringes, spearheading an automation initiative that also led to a jump in productivity. In 1994, the ground breaking for Vetter’s additional production site in Langenargen (Lake Constance) took place, with the plant being completed in September 1995.

 My father, company founder Helmut Vetter passed away on February 1, 1999, at the age of 78. He entrusted the maintenance and continuing development of his values in the company to his successors. To this day, these values remain firmly rooted in our common family strategy. His three children, Cornelia, Bianca and myself have been taking a central role in our company continuing until today to prepare the future. Since 2015, the third family generation is involved in our business operations.

In 2000, the company evolved into a full-service provider for its international customers. This new orientation included expansion of existing facilities and the building of new ones like Ravensburg Vetter Sued (RVS), as well as investments in the latest technology and quality assurance systems. On April 1, 2009, Vetter combined its sales and marketing activities under the subsidiary Vetter Pharma International GmbH to strengthen the company’s position in the international marketplace. That autumn, we inaugurated our new secondary packaging facility (VSP). A year later, the company shifted its US sales operations from Yardley, Pennsylvania to Chicago, Illinois. In 2011, the first US clinical production site, which is an expansion of Vetter Development Service began operations at the Illinois Science+Technology Park near Chicago in the Midwest of the USA. 

Building of Vetter

Further expansion sees Vetter opening sales offices in Singapore, Japan and South Korea to take advantage of the growing Asian healthcare market.

What would you say are the key values inside your business?
Our mission and purpose are to contribute to the supply of patients worldwide with life-critical medications. We do this by being a competent and reliable, high-quality partner to our pharma and biotech customers. The key values within Vetter are to serve the patient at large by being responsible, customer orientated, and innovative. Overall, as a family company we are an anchor of stability that stands for longevity and sustainability. 

Why is it important for you to keep your family inside the business?
Keeping the business within the family is vital for us so that we can ensure that our values are continued and that the business continues to act responsibly, giving back to the region and areas in which we are based. It enables us to act with the long-term in mind over decisions that may benefit the business short-term only. Today, we are a sustainable family company with a modern corporate governance structure which enables us to act as a peer to our global pharma and biotech customer base.

What succession plans do you have in place?
In our business we have a succession plan in place and, in fact, we are currently in the midst of our succession process where we are passing the business onto my son and my nephews as the third generation of the family. We have a shareholder’s agreement, so some shares have already been passed down to the third generation. Having this succession process already in place is proof of our forward-looking strategy and acting as a family business.

What do you identify as the biggest threat facing your business in the future?
Vetter is well positioned in the industry and is known as a quality leader in the field of manufacturing prefilled drug-delivery systems for complex drugs. Day-by-day our teams are working hard to prove and expand this quality reputation. With our continuous, long-term strategy process we keep our ear to the markets and to our customers with the clear desire to continue being their partner of choice by providing the necessary service portfolio.

What has been your relationship with trading in Europe and how has being a member of the EU impacted your business?
From the outset, trading within Europe has been vital for us. Despite our brand being global, we also rely on the supply chain within Europe. There are a couple of important pharma and biotech markets within Europe whose players make valuable contributions to the discovery, development and commercialization of promising new drugs. That is why Vetter also has a large customer base of major and small European (bio-)pharmaceutical companies.


How has COVID19 impacted your business and what support do you need from the Government?
Together with our customers, we supply patients worldwide with life-critical medications. That is why temporarily interrupting our production and closing our company was never a question for us. Being classified as a system-relevant company helped us, together with our partners, to keep sensitive supply chains open and un-interrupted. In our daily operations, we tried to combine employee protection measures with system relevant production in the best-possible way. Therefore, a separate pandemic coordination group initiated and coordinated all necessary measures right from the start. This included taking care of the needs of our staff and their families, e.g. childcare topics when schools and kindergartens were immediately closed nationwide in autumn 2020.
To help our business be stable and run reliably, we also need the government to continue ensuring that our borders and the single market remain open so that our supply chains are not interrupted. This enables us, together with our partners, to continue saving lives and improve the life quality of patients around the globe.

What does sustainability mean for you as a business and is it a part of your long-term strategy?
Sustainability has been at the heart of our company for a long time. As a global operating company with a long family tradition, Vetter has a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that extends well beyond regulation. This commitment to sustainability, compliance and social responsibility is ongoing and represents the very core of what we stand for.

Already ten years ago, we increased our efforts to advance our sustainable corporate development. Work safety, health care, and environmental protection have been some of the core aspects of our company’s philosophy and remain so to this day, and also in the future. By implementing a management system for these areas we created important structures and processes. They range from the nomination of environmental management officers to modern working conditions, efficient production processes, and waste recycling. The system was successfully certified according to various subject-matter industry standards. Sustainability, climate and environmental protection are vital elements of our responsible corporate leadership. All of our German sites have been using carbon-neutral power from certified regenerative energy sources since 2014, and as of 2020, all of our German sites are carbon neutral. This achievement highlights our commitment to climate and environmental protection as an important element of our responsible corporate governance.

How has your business adapted to digitalization?
Digitalization and advancement of technology are important at Vetter, and have been since the early days. Being able to consistently and rapidly adapt to changing conditions can be quite challenging in all areas but definitely pays off at the end of the day. Therefore, one important factor is the area of digitalization, also against the background of ever-increasing regulations and greater expectations from the markets and our customers. We bundled all digitalization projects in a company-wide DIGITALIZATION program, becoming the umbrella for many individual projects, which, in turn, permitted us to make better use of synergies and to transfer knowledge between the teams in charge. Within this program, new systems and technologies along with new, adapted processes are set up and implemented. Our goal is to create efficient and effective processes geared towards the customers with the best possible production quality at all times, coupled with innovative services. In addition, the DIGITALIZATION program brought many positive changes to our company staff. Thanks to digitalized processes, new tasks were created in this manner, with new possibilities for our employees to continue their professional development.

What opportunities do you see in the future for your business?
We have consistently aligned ourselves according to the needs of the markets we serve. What this entails is always keeping an eye on the trends and changing needs. Our response to increasing competition and cost pressures within the industry has been to create ever-more efficient structures and modern manufacturing facilities, and to optimize processes on a continuous basis. By examining and implementing innovative technologies, we as a company are preparing ourselves for the future. In my opinion, planning for the long-term with foresight is the correct strategy to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Healthcare will be a driver for at least 15 more years in the future of Vetter. The demand for drugs is growing alongside the world population. Together with the aforementioned initiatives, this represents a good opportunity for further growth of our company. However, it is vital for us to continue expanding our knowledge and technical advantage in the user-friendly delivery of drugs, and to turn this into useful and profitable solutions for our customers. The prospects are good, and we as a company will prevail in the international competition.

What does the EFB Presidency mean for you?
On a European scale, approximately 75% of all active companies are family-owned businesses, employing 45% of the working population. Thus, for me, it is an honor to be the President of such an important organization for our family business community. It’s a pleasure to be able to represent so many formidable businesses from across Europe and to contribute that their excellence is recognised, respected, and protected at the highest level. I look forward to representing their interests in what is now an extremely important time for the family business community, not just with the response to the COVID-19 crisis, but also with the European Green Deal and Digitalization project at the forefront of Europe’s plans.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for EFB?
Following the responsible actions of family businesses in response to the COVID19 pandemic, there is a large opportunity for EFB to establish family businesses as the pioneers of responsible, caring and sustainable business in Europe. Through investment in the regions and by providing sustainable, long-term and secure jobs, family businesses can set an example and shape the future business landscape for Europe that is needed to establish resilient, sustainable and effective organizations.

What are your plans for the future of EFB?
Following from the relative success of EFB over 2020, I hope to oversee some great progress from the organization, and increasing the recognition of family businesses in Europe. Moreover, I’m looking forward to overseeing EFB’s relative return to the new normality, particularly with a return to physical events where we will be able to welcome in-person some of the most prominent business owners and politicians from across Europe.