Lord Pinching of Maxwell House meets Greek Goddess, Pf cover girl and Leo Pharma legend, Antonia Moutafis, for another caffeine-laced study of the human condition.
I turn off the M5 in Bristol, alight from my vehicle and take custody of two comfortable armchairs, in the lounge area of a famous franchise hotel. I’m confident that Antonia will recognise me; after all, she studied Modern Greek, and knows an Adonis when she sees one. Sure enough, the beaming smile from April’s sacred cover advances towards me without hesitation.
Don’t I know you?
Yes, you keep seeing me on the front of magazines!
When did you find out you were on the front cover of Pf?
My friend, a fellow rep, texted me really early on a Saturday morning and said, ‘have you seen it?’ Then I received my copy and thought, ‘Oh my goodness!’ After that, people in the marketing department started emailing me, saying they’d seen me.
What was it like picking up your Medical Representative UK, Pf Award?
It’s all such a blur. It was so exciting and my heart was racing. For a week I was asking myself, ‘did that actually happen?’
Tell me about your Greek odyssey
I’m half Greek and my dad, who has his own upholstery company, still lives in Greece. I’ve always spoken Greek since I was a child, so I really wanted to return and discover more about the language. I studied at the University of Birmingham for a degree in Modern Greek, which included an amazing year at the University of Athens. It was great because there were people from all over Europe on the course and everyday would be a new adventure; visiting museums and going on boat trips. I also learnt about the classics, Eastern Mediterranean history, modern literature and film.
Was it very different studying in Greece compared to England?
I went over there in 2004 and it was one of the most politically turbulent years for Greek students, because the government were trying to privatise higher education. University had always been free, so everyday outside the houses of parliament there would be students protesting and throwing Molotov cocktails, while the police were letting off tear gas. We’d just be standing there, taking photos!
Tell me about the origins of your excellent name
In Greece daughters are named after their father’s mother, so my Greek grandmother is Antonia and, consequently, I’ve got four other cousins, all called Antonia Moutafis!
Where does your work ethic come from?
My sister, Francesca, and I were brought up in England by my lovely mother and grandmother, who instilled in us the importance of work and not being spoilt. From a young age I was waitressing and, before I went to university, worked in customer service during my gap year. I also continued at the same company during the holidays and this work experience gave me a real advantage after I graduated.
Modern Greek to pharma is quite a transition, how did it happen?
After getting my degree, my mother suggested that I write directly to companies saying, ‘I want to work for you’. One of them was GR Lane Health Products, in Gloucester, and they gave me a position as an export account manager. I was selling Olbas Oil and Kalms Tablets to the global market, including Greece, which was my biggest account, and also managing all the distributers. I did that for a couple of years, but then I spoke to a friend of mine who worked for Lundbeck. He said, ‘you should work in pharma, it’s a great job; you manage your own diary, you’ve got a budget and targets and it’s like running your own business’. As a result, I went to Chase, the recruitment agent and they put me forward for a position with Leo Pharma, covering Bristol and South Glos. I met Angus, my boss, who’s an absolute inspiration, and after a second interview, got the job.
What’s your approach to work?
I’m very passionate, enthusiastic and career-driven. My success comes from believing in what I’m doing, working incredibly hard and putting my heart into it. What’s the point in doing something just to pay the bills? It’s an incredible privilege to enter an industry where you’re changing people’s lives and I’m very proud of that.
Do you enjoy the buzz of Bristol?
I cover one of the most challenging areas in the UK, but I am living proof that if you keep going, grow a thick skin, and be yourself, without doing the pushy sales thing, it’s amazing where you can get. I have some brilliant relationships with surgeries in the area and they will even contact me to come and see them [rather than the other way round]. People give up too easily; if you are determined enough you will get the results.
What does the company do to help staff reach those performance levels?
Leo has a superb sales model called ‘Connect 4’. It emphasises that the whole sales structure is around having credibility, connecting curiously, a rapport with clients and being natural. It’s about your connections; with GPs, and the products you’re selling. You get so many people who come into a historically difficult region and never come back because one receptionist says ‘no’, but we’re encouraged to be genuine, and that can change perceptions very quickly.
It sounds like you’re impressed by how the company views you and your colleagues
Leo Pharma invest in you as a person and have values that I can relate to. The sales model allows you to be an individual and, importantly, prove that the pharma sales stereotype is untrue. My wonderful colleagues and I are on the phone constantly, supporting each other, providing feedback and sharing ideas.
Also, there aren’t many companies who are foundations and plough all their profits into new treatments, and research and development.
What products do you specialise in?
I sell Dovobet gel which treats body and scalp psoriasis, and we’ve just launched, Picato. When it comes to things like psoriasis, acne and eczema, because it is unlikely to kill you, it is sometimes not taken very seriously and, yet, there are huge psychological factors in terms of how society judges skin conditions. I had a friend with long hair and she used Dovobet gel, on her flaking scalp. It is not tarry and smelly like traditional treatments, and it worked, allowing her to wear what she wanted and restoring her confidence. That is why I am so passionate about these fantastic products; they transform people’s lives. I see part of my job as helping people function; go to the gym, go on a date or go swimming, without being prejudiced. The thing about psoriasis is that we could all wake up with it tomorrow.
How did your knowledge of these products help you to claim the Pf Award?
When I delivered my presentation, I told the truth about what I do, and demonstrated how I had used creative thinking in my role. For example, in Bristol, there is a real need for dermatological education and we set up a series of meetings in the community, attended by GPs and consultants. They were a great way of improving the focus on dermatology and raising awareness.
Did you relish being in the spotlight?
I loved the assessment day. It was great a great experience and I got to meet lots of interesting people. As I was getting marked my competitive side really emerged and I was very motivated during my sales pitches and presentations.
What are you ambitions?
I’d like to carry on enjoying what I’m doing, keep learning, develop my skills and, above all, retain my passion.
What do you do to achieve the golden challis of work/life balance?
I enjoy going to the gym, beach volleyball and playing tennis. My favourite stroke is the smash, naturally. I also love spending time with friends and family. We’ve got a lovely house on the tiny Greek Island of Cyclades. It’s my ultimate escapism. In August there’s about 2000 people, and in winter, 200. There are a couple of bars, a few supermarkets and only one road. When we go there we literally just walk, swim, drink and read. All you can do is relax.
Sounds blissful, Antonia.