Meet the expert - Olafur Ari Jonsson
Olafur Ari Jonsson is Medis’ general counsel, supporting the company with the legal advice needed to navigate the complex world of pharma. Read about his work, what motivates him from day-to-day, and the cabin with the volcano view!
Medis has a special place in my heart. I worked for a law firm in Iceland and London after qualifying as a lawyer in 2002, mainly in competition, corporate and commercial law. This also included complex dispute resolutions and litigation. However, after getting my LLM in Harvard Law School, in-house work started to interest me more, so when the opportunity to join Medis as general counsel came up in 2010 it fit like a glove! Over the years the role has changed quite a bit and I’ve had many different bosses and many business counterparts. As we know the pharmaceutical industry is a real rollercoaster of M&A, restructuring and divestments, etc. Never a dull moment! Medis has though managed to keep to its core values and partners through this all and is now a stable part of the Teva family.
I’m responsible for all legal matters to do with the company. Being that Medis has many hundreds of customers and hundreds of products, I deal with a lot of contracts every day. We actually deal with hundreds of agreements each year. Some of them are dealt with within hours, but most take some days or weeks. It depends on the complexity of the product, the client, the countries involved and the supply chain. Some of our more bespoke agreements have gone over 100 pages! Or reached version 30! But it benefits us and our clients to have a robust agreement in place that supports a long-term partnership. I am glad to say that many of our partnerships go back 15 years or more.
Working through the issues. A second part of job is dealing with the issues that can come up. Pharmaceutical development, manufacturing and distribution is a very complex business – there can be delays in getting marketing authorizations, stock supply issues, products that can’t go to market, market conditions change, products pulled off the market, etc. It can be on our side or the client’s side. Nobody is perfect! It could be that something comes up during the manufacturing and the client can’t go to market when they want. We and our manufacturing sites are always trying to do our best but we have to work out how to fix it or find ways to resolve it. This is when we come in to our own to figure out how to minimize the delay because we really feel for the client, and the importance of getting the products safely to the patients.
I like being a problem solver. Sometimes we’re under a lot of pressure with a particular problem, but we always manage to find a reasonable solution. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it takes a few years. Working towards solving the problem and finding a reasonable way forward for all parties is what engages me and motivates me.
It’s important to have the mindset of wanting to help people. It’s not enough to just look at things from the strict legal perspective. To do this job properly you have to be service-minded and keep the customer at the center of what you are doing. That’s what I see as a really important skill. I want to help my colleagues, our clients, the patients, I want to help the company and it’s about bringing it all together.
There are huge differences between countries. We work across the globe and it’s really interesting to see the different health regulations, the differences in the legal environments, culture, in how you negotiate, how you communicate. We’re lucky that we good partners on the ground who are the experts in each region. They can put their ear to the ground and feel out the situation and we rely and trust in them to help us. Sometimes I of course have to travel for in person meetings because we are at an impasse, so we literally go the extra mile, from Paris to Philadelphia, Sao Paulo to Stuttgart, and so on.
I’m very much a family man. When I’m not figuring out the legal minutiae of pharma contracts or working through an issue that has come up, I’m at home with my lovely wife and two kids. We love doing home projects, from building a movable planter from an old wood car toy that the kids had stopped using, to building a nice cabin with a view of a few volcanoes…..after all…. this is Iceland, everyone likes a nice view of some volcanoes!!