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Getting the right work/life balance

Article - September 7, 2011
Chile scored highest within Latin America on the The Economist’s Quality of Life index for 2010
Chile’s financial system, healthcare network, infrastructure, competitiveness, and respect for rule of law have all combined to create a transparent and dynamic country where, quite simply, life is pretty good.

In fact, Chileans seem to combine the best of both worlds: the slower pace of life for which Latin America is famous and the go-get-’em attitude of the developed world. Chileans take time to enjoy life and spend time with family and friends (any occasion is a good enough excuse for a backyard barbecue). This was true in its more economically depressed times, and it still holds true today.

A hard working nation, Chile has recently been reaping the benefits more than ever, and now enjoys a growing economic prosperity that has enabled better health infrastructure. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit: “Rising real incomes and further upgrades to sanitary and healthcare facilities will result in a continued improvement in life expectancy and infant mortality rates, keeping Chile within the healthcare parameters of most OECD countries. The virtually universal access to safe water and sanitation is a major factor contributing to the country’s success in disease prevention in recent decades.”

Chile’s healthcare system is mixed, with the public sector providing some 70% of health services and the private sector providing the rest. One of Chile’s best private facilities is Clinica Las Condes (CLC), located in the upscale Las Condes neighborhood of Santiago.

CLC was opened in 1982 by a group of physicians whose vision was a hospital built upon excellence, quality, innovation, leadership and efficiency. This multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art clinic was the first Chilean hospital to be certified by Joint Commission International in 2007 and last year, was accredited yet again. “This shows that we maintain our quality; it’s not solely about reaching the certification, but rather about maintaining it and continually improving,” says Gonzalo Grebe, general manager of CLC.

From the outset CLC’s focus on innovation and leadership has been fruitful; the clinic has set the standard in a variety of areas and has been at the forefront of cutting-edge medical procedures in Chile. In 1990, for example, it initiated the country’s first ever laparoscopic cholecystectomy program. More recently, in 2007, the hospital incorporated the Mayo Clinic’s new method for treating prostate adenomas.

In 2010, CLC put its pioneering logistical platform into full swing when it sent its very own fully-equipped helicopter to the coast to rescue victims of the devastating earthquake in February of that year. CLC boasts an aeromedical system that allows it to quickly respond to emergencies (including skiing accidents in the nearby Andes) while providing medical attention en route back to the hospital. By the year 2013, the system will be more than double in size thanks to a US$180 million investment.

Chile’s pharmaceutical market, estimated at US$1.7 billion in 2009, is the sixth-largest in Latin America. Three local chains account for 90% of pharmaceutical retail distribution and two-thirds of total pharmacies. The competition among Chile’s pharmacies has fueled a fierce price war, resulting in more affordable medicine, especially compared with other South American countries.

“Chile is one of the countries with the widest variety of brands on the market, and I believe that being such a small country has created a culture of pro-competition,” says Roberto Belloni, general manager of Salcobrand.

Salcobrand, the second largest pharmacy chain in Chile with over a quarter of total market share, has 331 outlets spread throughout the long, coastal country with some 4,600 employees. Salcobrand (the result of a merger between Farmacias Salco and Farmacias Brand in the year 2000) has been fully owned since 2007 by Grupo Yarur (which also includes BCI Bank, BCI General Insurance, BCI Life Insurance, and various wineries). Grupo Yarur took over the shares of the pharmacy’s former owners and turned, what was a huge yet slowly fading company, around. 

“Over these years, the company has undergone a fundamental change. On one hand we unified the company policies and established a five-year vision; on the other, we focus on four areas: the community and our contribution; the customers (which is clearly the most important area, as logically we try to gain more client loyalty and market share); the shareholders; and the employees,” explains Mr. Belloni.

Ranked among Chile’s top 35 great places to work, Salcobrand is more than just a pharmaceutical chain. Aside from owning two laboratories and an extensive Recetario Magistral, or ‘Master Medicine Compendium’ – which allow it to better personalize medicines according to customers’ needs – Salcobrand is also a retail outlet for beauty and wellness products.

After last year’s earthquake Salcobrand mobilized its resources and launched the Solidarity Bracelet campaign with the Chilean Red Cross to raise money to help victims. The sale of nearly 54,000 bracelets contributed funds to supply clean water and rebuild hospitals. Salcobrand also installed temporary pharmacies alongside army camps from which it donated medicines.
Chile’s top marks for quality of life also owe a great deal to its quality of water. “When people first get access to clean water, they go from a state of absolute poverty to a dignified life,” says Joaquin Villarino, outgoing president of Aguas Andinas. “And a country with wastewater treatment services is a developed one.”

Chile’s extreme topography – the dry north versus the wet south – presents challenges to water distribution, yet the country’s urban areas enjoy nearly 100% clean water coverage, and a sewer system that reaches about 98% of the population. The entry of the private sector in hydraulic resource management just over a decade ago was a huge step forward, as investment and plans for blackwater treatment were thus facilitated.

Founded in 1969 and partially privatized in 1999, Aguas Andinas serves 6 million people in the metropolitan region of Santiago and is one of Latin America’s most important water companies. Its wastewater treatment plant is the fifth largest in the world. Boasting state-of-the-art equipment and technology, it treats 8.8 cubic meters per second. “Santiago’s water is completely decontaminated, something very few other regional capitals can claim,” says Mr. Villarino.

“In terms of water, Chile is a developed country. The levels of coverage we now have are similar to those you’ll find in European nations and in the U.S.,” he adds. 

Aguas Andinas was taken over in 1999 by Spain’s Grupo Agbar and France’s Suez, whose expertise sped things up tremendously in the Chilean company.

“Without their technological support, knowledge, human resources and access to a network of information and R&D, undoubtedly our work would not be as successful as it is today,” explains Mr. Villarino.