Olainfarm: People are the key to success

on March 22, 2023

This year, the biggest pharmaceutical company in the Baltic States and the industry leader in Latvia AS Olainfarm turns 50. The company has reached this estimable age in great form, but it is not resting on its laurels and is actively working on ambitious plans for the next 50 years. However, this anniversary is not only a great reason to listen to celebratory congratulations, but also an opportunity to talk about the foundations for the company’s achievements.

Key events along the long journey

It all dates back to 1968, when the foundations of three industrial giants were laid in Latvia under the auspices of the so-called five-year plan: the Inčukalns Gas Repository, Riga Hydroelectric Power Station and the Olaine Chemical Pharmaceutical Production Plant. Construction in Olaine lasted for three years. Parallel to the construction of workshops and other industrial facilities, modern purification facilities, railway tracks with several branch lines, a dry raw material warehouse complex and a large reservoir park for storing liquid raw materials entered service. On 10 October 1972, the first process synthesising medicinal raw materials began at the Olaine Production Plant.

From 1976 until the restoration of Latvia’s independence, the Olaine Chemical Pharmaceutical Production Plant was one of the largest medicinal product manufacturers in the Soviet Union – the volume of products made at the plant was sufficient to provide all the manufacturers in the Soviet bloc with active substances and semi-finished products.

An extremely successful and efficient process chain was developed at Olaine comprised of science, experimental development and mass production. Right from the outset, the company established close working relationships with 20 scientific research institutes of which the most successful was with the Latvian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Organic Synthesis.

At the same time, the company has always devoted particular attention to ecological research, protecting the surrounding environment from chemical substances and wastewater pollution. In March 1989, a Special Production Zone Ecological Laboratory was built, where the toxicological data of sewage was collected and evaluated using microorganisms. In addition, the air quality in the industrial area was studied and analysed.

During the period of transition, during the 1990s, in the aftermath of various geopolitical and economic changes, the company started to introduce innovative technologies and adopt new trading directions. In 1997, the Olaine Chemical Pharmaceutical Plant was privatised, and transformed into the Joint Stock Company Olainfarm. Valery Maligin, whose name would be indelibly linked to a new turning point in the life of this pharmaceutical giant, was appointed Chairman of the Board.

Weighing up AS Olainfarm’s journey over the past 50 years, one can safely say that the success of this pharmaceutical industry leader has been built on innovative technologies, successful cooperation with scientific centres and stringent quality requirements. However, most important of all, and without which this success story would definitely have been impossible, are people. The specialists who paved the way for scientific and industrial achievements during the 1970s. The managers who led the company into foreign markets during the 1980s. The investors who defined a new vector of production development during the 1990s. And, last but not least, the young specialists and researchers, who are currently involved in implementing the company’s ambitious plans.

A friendly team is the key to all our achievements

“Although this is hard to believe, I’ve been working for Olainfarm for 50 years.” So begins our conversation with AS Olainfarm Production Department Production Section Dispatcher Valda Dzērve. “I come from Tērvete, but all my life is linked to Olaine and Olainfarm. My current job, although it’s quite nerve-racking, is responsible and very important to the whole company. Essentially, I spend my working hours, and these are night shifts, with my work instruments: a computer, surveillance cameras and a phone. However, we also perform production plant inspections in person. The production process is considerable, and therefore anything can happen. For example, there could be a sudden power cut or other technical risks may arise. Therefore, it is necessary not only to keep track of the current situation, but also to respond quickly and clearly to unexpected events.”

In 1972, Valda Dzērve graduated from the Olaine Professional Technical School and started work as an operator in the newly built Olaine Chemical Pharmaceutical Plant’s 6th Building. This was the beginning of Olainfarm. “The whole production process evolved before my eyes,” recalls Valda. “We arrived at the plant, well-prepared, with a proper grounding in chemistry, and therefore right from the outset, we fitted the production process with no particular difficulties. I worked in the 6th Building for ten years, five of them in preparation production. Subsequently, my daughter was born, and I moved to the 4th Building, where I spent a decade working in the warehouse. I then continued my career in the 1st Building. And although the work mainly involved documentation, it was responsible and demanded a great deal of attention and concentration, as well as knowledge of the production process. After the company was reformed and I retired, I have continued to work at AS Olainfarm as a dispatcher.”

Asked to identify AS Olainfarm’s strengths, Valda Dzērve’s response is immediate. “A great deal has happened over the years,” explains this long-standing employee of Olainfarm. “But we’ve always had not just a professional, but also a tight-knit and friendly team. We always feel that we are being looked after. We’re congratulated not only on our birthdays, but also on our work anniversaries. Excursions are organised. And the team greatly appreciates this.”

Maintaining traditions

Faina Jākobsone, Head of AS Olainfarm’s Quality Department’s Responsible Person Section, who has also worked for the company for 50 years, attended secondary school in Daugavpils and upon graduation made the conscious decision to link her life to pharmacy. “I entered the Leningrad Institute of Chemistry and Pharmacy from which I graduated with a red diploma,” she says. “My specialty was a chemical technologist in the production of synthetic medicines. It was the only specialised university in the whole of the Soviet Union that prepared specialists for our production plant. In August 1972, I started work at the Olaine factory as a shift manager. Back then, it all began with the 6th Building. At that time, there were not yet any ancillary workshops, and the management was based in a small extension. At AS Olainfarm, I went through all the stages from shift, zone, plant, working process manager, through to production director. I worked in these positions for 30 years. These days, I continue to work in the structure responsible for quality control and preparing products for certification.”

Faina Jākobsone recalls that whereas the company originally made only three preparations, it now makes tens of them. “Over the years, a great deal has changed for the better,” says Faina Jākobsone. “Progress has had the greatest impact on the Quality Laboratory, computerization of all processes has helped, and technological changes are ongoing. But in my opinion, one of Olainfarm’s main achievements – from both a human and professional perspective – is our team. Right from the company’s very first days in business, we supported and helped one other. I treated the work of production operators with particular respect, because working with chemical preparations is a great responsibility and, I would go as far as saying, even a calling. Even now, the Quality Department in which I work is a tight-knit team, with which it is a pleasure to share one’s experience. It is extremely important that traditions are maintained. And this, by the way, is underlined by my grandson’s choice, who is following in my footsteps and studying to be a chemist.”

It’s all just beginning…

Despite the anniversary year, AS Olainfarm is not resting on its laurels – a development plan for the next 50 years has already been drawn up. “We are embarking on the next 50 years with ambitious plans to consolidate our positions in Western markets, significantly increasing our investment in research, development and the production of new products,” says AS Olainfarm Chairman of the Board Juris Bundulis. “Our half-century of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and knowledge of its developmental trends mean that we are ideally placed to predict which medicines will be in demand in future. Together with Latvia’s high-quality scientific base, our team of over 800 professionals and network of international cooperation partners, we are on our way to becoming a TOP 10 pharmaceutical company in Central and Eastern Europe.”

Ludmila Vēvere

Olainfarm: People are the key to success