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Global operational challenges and developing cost-effective crisis management and business continuity programs

Merck & Co., Inc. discovers, develops, and markets a broad range of human and animal health products. It is a global research-driven pharmaceutical company that discovers, develops, and manufactures and markets vaccines and medicines to address unmet medical needs.

In the following interview, Jonathan Tetzlaff, who recently retired as Senior Director, Crisis Management & Business Continuity at Merck & Co, Inc. discusses 1:1 with Rake Narang, Editor-in-Chief of Info Security Products Guide, global operational challenges and developing cost-effective crisis management and business continuity programs.

Rake Narang: How does a multinational corporation protect its employees and its intellectual property in some of the world’s higher-risk locations?

Jonathan Tetzlaff: Employee protection is any company’s paramount concern.  That said, unless intellectual property can be protected, a company risks losing its “crown jewels” and ultimately its capability to compete.  A reasoned approach, therefore, involves performing a thorough risk analysis prior to commencing operations in challenging locations.  I recommend speaking with government contacts and coordinating with industry organizations prior to commencing operations.  The Overseas Security Advisory Council (a public-private organization created by the US Department of State) can be enormously helpful.  Risk analysis not only protects the company, it can also measurably reduce costs.  Engineering risk management into an operation from the outset is enormously less expensive than retrofitting a solution after an incident has occurred. 

Rake Narang: What types of risks pose the greatest challenges to operations globally?

Jonathan Tetzlaff: Risks vary enormously by location. In some locations, physical risks are the greatest concerns. Over my career, I’ve been involved with protecting employees in locations as varied as Angola, Algeria, Yemen, the Congo, and Papua New Guinea, among other locations.  In such operations, standard physical security measures are essential, but are only as good as the employees onsite.  Employing experienced professionals who understand the precautions and are willing to “stay within the security envelope” is essential. On a few occasions over my career with different employers, we had to send expatriates home because they were unwilling to abide by our security guidelines.  That type of behavior poses unacceptable risks not only to the employees themselves, but to the operation as a whole. 

In other locations, physical risks may be manageable but the protection of intellectual property is paramount. Good technical security practices, including end-to-end encryption, can moderate risks.  However, some exposure is unavoidable when operating in countries with world-class data interception capabilities. If a company is not willing to accept a certain level of risk, it simply can’t operate in these locations. 

Rake Narang: What factors are essential in developing cost-effective crisis management and business continuity programs?

Jonathan Tetzlaff: CM & BC programs are essential for world-class corporations, but many companies either ignore risks or over-engineer solutions.  The downside to ignoring risks is obvious.  However, many companies don’t realize the risks associated with an excessively complex or expensive CM/BC program.  Intricate programs are difficult to fund over the longer-term, and tend to be prime candidates for the “chopping block” when budgets tighten.  More to the point, complex programs tend not to be maintained or utilized in an emergency.  In my experience, key CM-BC information should be contained in a few pages.  Anything longer and people don’t use it in an actual incident or crisis.  They’re too busy to dust off a longer document, so they trust their instincts and operate independently of the program.  The key is to create and maintain a program that is streamlined, logical, and highly cost-effective. 

Company: Merck & Co., Inc.
One Merck Drive,
Whitehouse Station, NJ 08889 U.S.A.

Founded in: 1851
Products and Services: The company’s products cover a broad range of areas, including heart and respiratory health, infectious diseases, sun care and women’s health. Merck provides various health solutions through its prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, animal health, and consumer care products.
Company's Goals: At Merck, corporate responsibility is our daily commitment to discovering innovative solutions to the world’s biggest health challenges.

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