Mihael Solter

Mihael Solter

“We had a lot to learn from 2020”

Philip Morris Armenia has a new General Manager: Mihael Solter arrived here from Macedonia with brave vision of the future. Regional Post talked to him about the company's future after the pandemic and war. 

Interview : Areg Davtyan    Photo : Philip Morris Armenia


Mr. Solter, it must be difficult to move to the country after seven years. Tell us about your expectations from Armenia and from Philip Morris Armenia?

When I learned that Armenia will be the next country in my PMI journey, I was very excited. For me, there are many discoveries in this country. I am quite optimistic after having seen the scientific and technological progress of this country, so it’s no wonder that the third Philip Morris R&D center is located here. Imagine that there are only 3 PMI R&D centers, located in Switzerland, Singapore and Armenia. So no doubt there should be a valid and strong reason for an international company to invest in such a small country. Here in Armenia we have unique, smart and talented young scientists, who strive for new discoveries and aspire to bring change. I am pretty sure that as a multinational company with advanced experience in business and significant milestones achieved in technology, PMI can help Armenians by creating shared values together for the benefit of business and for society.

 

2020 was a tough year globally, but it was even more challenging for Armenia. Does this kind of social-economic situation affect big companies like PMI? 

Last year will remain in the memories of all of us for a long time and we will tell a lot about the challenges it has imposed. We face the challenge of COVID-19 and are afraid for ourselves, loved ones, employees and businesses. We try to see the positives in all of it and as experience shows harsher situations can be transcended. 
Our main take-away from the pandemic is the care we have developed for each other and for the environment in general. I hope that the difficulties that arise with the virus and the social-economic state have made people more aware: about the environment, about their health, and also about the way they think. I believe that people have become more empathetic, caring, and responsible during these challenging times. There is no other way to bring positive change. 
Of course the challenges of 2020 also had their impact on PMI, we turned to work-from-home regime fully, we started to care about the environment even more and made our little input to help the society by creating values and sharing challenges together with the help of various projects.

 

In an interview you once said: “Market conditions are constantly changing, therefore, never be afraid to face challenges, that’s where we learn the most.” What can we learn business wide from the past 2020?

I believe that we had a lot to learn from 2020. As the year was unusually challenging for individuals and companies alike, it challenged us to transform and to react to the changes. First, we understood that companies can be change agents – they can take the initiative and push forward, make decisions that benefit the economy and the society, transforming how we look at conventional market conditions. Moreover, this change taught us to redefine, to rethink almost all of the clichés trends. 
For 2021, businesses should start returning to the concept of “we.” The pandemic in the world (and here, coupled with the dire socio-economic situation) showed us that what we should care about the most are families, communities, employees, our friends – those who we love the most. One cannot but arrive at that conclusion after having experienced the hardships of the year we left behind. We should be able to meet these challenges and for that we need to take into consideration what we deem precious in our lives.
It is also undeniable that technology is going to play a bigger role in the future. As a technological company, PMI too is transforming and seeking ways to be more in synch with what these times require – to be comfortable with technology and find ways of how it can improve our lives for the better. At PMI, we are diligently setting this example.

 

Once you said: “I hope that in completely different conditions from those that were in the passing year, in 2021 we will continue with our intention to see the world one day without cigarette smoke.” Do you think Armenia may become one of the leaders of this non-smoke movement, or it’s too early to talk about it?


Our goal is to have 40 million smokers by 2025 switch to our smoke free products. Of course that way cannot be paved by PMI alone, therefore we expect support from regulatory bodies to make the smoke free future more likely. There are lots of studies that prove that the main cause of smoking related diseases is combustion. Science, innovation and technology have allowed the development of a new category of products that eliminate combustion or smoke. You may know these alternatives as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. I truly hope that during my time in PMI I will see countries that will stop selling cigarettes, at the same time having substitutes for the smoking society. This is what keeps me going. Regarding our dedication, we will always persist to see a world without cigarette smoke. The best choice for any adult smoker is to quit nicotine altogether. But the fact is that after so many years of anti-tobacco struggle, there are still over one billion smokers in the world and they should be encouraged to quit smoking. For that we need to invest in science, development and talent that can devise alternative products for smokers. So far PMI has invested USD 8.1 billion into the science and research of developing smoke-free products. This is also true for Armenia, where large investments in science are undertaken by our company. I absolutely believe that Armenia can become one of the top countries in its demographic of people switching from cigarettes to alternative products. However, for that, we need regulatory support and more awareness that smokers can be informed about better alternative products. 

 

 

Philip Morris Armenia was named a Top-employer in Armenia for a 3 years in a row. What is the secret of PMI as an employer? What makes it special for people who work there?

PMI changes to deliver an opportunity for public health – that is of a smoke-free future. We are adamant on providing a healthy, inspirational environment to every one of our employees around the world. Last year, for example, we supported our employees to transition completely to working from home as their health is of utmost importance. That is due to the hard work of our international team that comprises professional experts in science, customer science, IT, sales and much more. 
PMI is an inviting environment that has a diverse team – each voice is heard and appreciated. The contribution of each is appreciated so that they have their say in the design of the smoke-free future.
To support such an environment, our team is comprised of people of different backgrounds, social status, age, and gender. As a company that envisioned a transformation, change is greatly welcome. That is why the inclusion and collaboration of new voices, new talents that gives us new perspectives of how to better ourselves, how to make PMI a Top Employer for every employee.

 

You've been working in PMI for over 23 years. What is special about your company?

Realization of the fact that you are working in a company that spares no effort and energy to make the lives of billion smokers and people around them better is already enough to feel special. Philip Morris has changed a lot during these years, we are making history. This is the biggest shift in the history of Philip Morris International and industry, and it’s nice to be a part of something as big as this transformation. We are changing entire future of the world. What can be more special than this? Belief in our vision of building a smoke free future and helping the smokers who would otherwise continue smoking is a huge motivation to work for a company so long and never give up.

 

PMI invests a lot of money and resources in science and innovations, both globally and in Armenian particularly. From the side it may seem strange: a tobacco company and science. Why is it important for the company and for the world?

Science should be front and center in policymaking, business, and everyday life, as it can help make significant strides in our collective efforts to address the world's most pressing problems. But society has yet to embrace its fullest potential. On the other hand connection between science and economics is in many cases pronounced and if science develops, then people work, and they have where to show their abilities. It is already clear how important the development of science is for such a small country like Armenia.
As PMI is transforming into a tech company, we are starting to build a relationship with the local scientific community. I understand that for a tobacco company, investments in science sound strange, but we truly share the aspirations and the need for a professional environment of the young scientists. We understand the need to transform and the need to nurture the future. That is why we are giving scientists an opportunity to work, we create jobs, and new discoveries begin to serve as interests to the society, the scientific community, and the state. We hope that with the opportunities created, young scientists won’t leave Armenia and will continue to fight the good fight to develop the Armenian economy.
With the establishment of the center, Armenian scientists were able to exchange experience and develop scientific work in relevant fields. It already has connections with other Philip Morris research centers and laboratories, where there is a scientific community from 30 countries around the world.
Philip Morris believes that Armenia has great scientific potential. And using this potential, our country can become a unique center of technological and scientific innovations in the region.

 

Philip Morris International is a leading international company, which was certified as Top Employer Armenia 2020. Thanks to the company's experience in scientific and technological spheres, in 2017 Philip Morris signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of the RA, National Polytechnic University of Armenia and Yerevan State University, strengthening the company's goal of establishing a research center in Armenia and supporting educational and research programs, including master's degree and postgraduate studies.
Due to Armenia’s proficiency in the scientific and technological arenas PMA expressed its readiness to establish PMA R&D facility in Armenia, as well as to support educational and research programs. Within two years, PMA R&D center has provided more than 100 scholarships and grants to Master’s, PhD students and Faculty research teams in Armenia to carry their research projects in a number of directions.

 

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