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Interview: Nico Gariboldi, Site Lead, Pfizer Center for Digital Innovation (CDI) in Thessaloniki, Greece

You have been at Pfizer for almost 2 decades.  Describe what makes Pfizer a unique culture and opportunity, in your opinion.

There are 4 pillars that make Pfizer and the global Center for Digital Innovation unique: the purpose to drive breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, the strong focus on innovation, the values our people share and the emphasis on learning and development.

Our colleagues work on global digital projects with an aim to bring medicines to patients faster, fuel tomorrow’s breakthrough therapies, improve patient health outcomes and patient experience.

The values of Pfizer are also deeply rooted in the Center’s culture: we lead with Courage; breakthroughs favor the bold; we believe in Excellence, we can only change patients’ lives when we are at our best; we are committed to Equity because every person deserves to be seen heard and cared for; and Joy because we take pride in our work, recognize each other and have fun.

And of course, establishing an impactful learning culture within the CDI and advancing colleagues’ skills is of utmost importance for all of us. We are focused on achieving a learner-led culture where learning is celebrated.

How did Pfizer decide to make such a significant investment in Greece?  What is it about Greece that made this investment so compelling? Has Greece met or exceeded those expectations?

Three years ago, I came to Thessaloniki with enthusiasm for our project and with optimism for its success. Greece, and Thessaloniki in particular, is a “reservoir” of talented people. There is a concentration of digital talent here, while the city has an important role as an educational center of Greece and the Balkans, with major universities and notable research centers. And of course the city’s geostrategic position allows us to maximize global collaboration and our productivity towards our goal of transforming breakthrough ideas into life-changing solutions for patients.

Today, we are in a position to proudly admit that our investment in Greece was an excellent choice. The whole effort so far not only met the expectations but exceeded them.

Pfizer announced it aims to reach 500 employees by the end of 2023, are we on track for that? And the company has received 20,000 CVs from scientists. Tell us about how CDI will help Greece turn Brain Drain into Brain Gain.

We are  on track for reaching the 500 employees target, which is amazing if you consider that only 3 years ago our target was to hire 200 people! According to a survey by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), in the period 2020-2030 the operation of the CDI will support a total 8,100 job years  over the period examined in the Greek economy overall. The direct employment associated with the activity of CDI is estimated at 3,600 job years. This means that every 1 job at CDI supports 2,3 jobs in the Greek economy overall.

So far received we have more than 20,000 CVs from high skilled professionals from Greece and abroad who want to come and work with us.  15% of our colleagues are Greek expats that have opted for the opportunity to return in Greece to work for CDI at Pfizer in Thessaloniki.

In the past you said you were really excited about the then-new collaboration of Pfizer’s Center for Digital Innovation (CDI) Innovation with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) about digital health technology. Share your thoughts about the process – and are there new things to be excited about, or is the focus the same?

CDI’s mission is to develop transformative digital solutions that advance breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. As a global center, our purpose is super-exciting itself, as we use data science and the latest digital technologies, from AI, machine learning and robotics to process automation and quantum computing, to improve patient experience and outcomes, bring medicines to patients faster and fuel tomorrow’s breakthrough therapies.  As our chief Digital officer Lidia Fonseca shares: Rather than creating a digital strategy for our business…we are creating a business strategy for a Digital World.

(CDI) in Thessaloniki is running over 200 fascinating high-tech projects (quantum computing, machine learning etc.), Is CDI thus also a magnet for/generator of startups?

I would say it works both ways: CDI’s work in these fields is definitely a magnet for start-ups, but at the same time CDI is kind of “magnetized” by the talent and ideas expressed by start-ups. That is why we invest in collaborations with the start-up ecosystem, both through open calls and through specific collaborations with the companies that stand out.

The Hellenic Initiative is very grateful for the sponsorship of Pfizer for our recent Gala, where we honored Dr. Bourla. We believe that our goals for Greece are very much aligned.  Please elaborate on how THI can support Pfizer’s efforts in Greece.

We are definitely aligned on a common goal: To support the Brain Regain for Greece. We also want to reach out to Greeks living and working abroad, in order for them to explore the opportunities to return home and work for a global leader in digital health and pharma.

Of course, there is room for further collaboration between us and we are excited to explore potential opportunities to work to attract talented human capital and also to accelerate innovation and partner with the dynamic startup ecosystem for the benefit of patients.