Interview with Jonas Marques

“With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I became acutely aware of the importance of self-care.”

Jonas Marques Neto

With millions of Australians in lockdown and adhering to tighter COVID-19 restrictions, Jonas Marques, Senior Vice President & Cluster Head – Consumer Health in Bayer Australia and New Zealand, shares his own personal experiences and the importance of prioritising self-care, perspective and resilience during these times. 


After living and working in Brazil and Italy, you relocated to Australia and have been leading Bayer’s Consumer Health division for Australia and New Zealand for eight months now since January. How have you found settling into Australia, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Before relocating to Australia in January this year, I was leading the Consumer Health division for Bayer in Italy for almost five years. I was living and working in Milan at the height of the pandemic’s first wave, and it was then that I realized how fragile we really are as human beings. Amidst the trauma and the suffering of the global pandemic, I was hit with the critical importance of prioritizing our physical and mental health and wellbeing. 


I have been working in the healthcare industry for more than 25 years, but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I became acutely aware of the importance of self-care. So, when I was fortunate to move to Sydney with my family, I took the opportunity to change the way I live my life by focusing on self-care and physical activity. I went from practicing very little physical activity to now running, kayaking and cycling. And we know just 30 minutes of physical activity a day allows us to enjoy a wealth of benefits, from reduced risk of heart attack, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to better mood, feeling more relaxed and better sleep. 


Furthermore, knowing that self-care is about taking a holistic approach – making healthy lifestyle choices, focusing on mental wellness, and maintaining personal health with the responsible use of self-care medicines – I also make an effort to get out and enjoy nature regularly, I am eating better, and I also take Berocca® for energy, Redoxon® for immunity as well as multivitamins daily.


After eight months of being in Australia and prioritising self-care in a holistic way, I feel 10 years younger and more energized to bring our vision Health for all, Hunger for None to life, deliver more value to our consumers and customers, and to be present and involved with my family. Despite being back in lockdown again – this time in Sydney – I feel both physically and mentally stronger than ever before to face the challenges ahead.


During COVID-19, the trend towards self-care in health and wellness has gained steam, especially as millions of Australians are in lockdown. How can we best support individuals in prioritizing self-care and individual health?


With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, we are seeing people taking more responsibility for their own health care, especially when it comes to prevention and treatments for minor ailments like hay fever, for example.  However, while COVID-19 has created a greater thirst for knowledge around healthy living and self-care, we know there is a gap between people’s desire to take responsibility for their health and the knowledge and skills they have to do so. Digital transformation has meant that information is more widely available to consumers and, with that, comes the risk of misinformation.  I believe companies have a role to play in supporting health literacy through brand communications, in turn, educating consumers to drive their own health outcomes. For example, delivery of nutrition education is a key component of the Elevit® Every Beginning initiative, and Bayer is partnering with organizations around the world to ensure this education reaches mothers from all walks of life. Furthermore, companies like Bayer have a role to play in building awareness of the importance of self-care and empowering people to transform daily health for themselves and their loved ones. But of course, no one company can do it alone. Self-care promotion and health literacy requires a multi-stakeholder approach – from citizens to the healthcare industry, to healthcare professionals, the private sector and the community. 


For me personally, as a leader, I believe I have the responsibility to role-model self-care and help build awareness of the importance of practicing it, especially during these times. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day of running a business, but it’s important to also stay focused on the bigger picture. COVID-19 has brought self-care to the forefront and we need to make sure it stays that way beyond the pandemic. 


You often speak of resilience and perspective as being key factors in how you live your life each day. How are resilience and perspective impacting your ability to deal with being in lockdown? 


I believe it’s important to experience frustration and challenges, as this gives us a sense of perspective to help us deal with the difficulties we face. Coming from Brazil, where there is greater inequality, conflict and instability, I have experienced first-hand what it is like to say goodbye to your family before work in the morning, not knowing if you would be eating dinner with them in the evening. When I was a teenager, we experienced hyperinflation in Brazil where there was a 40% increase in prices overnight. My parents, who received monthly salaries, had to go to the supermarket that evening to buy 30 days’ worth of food. Emotional and psychological resilience are extremely important to face moments of crisis, to be able to return to pre-crisis quickly, and also to teach us the important role of gratitude.  


Here in Australia, it’s an advanced society where everything works – the economy, services, lifestyle. While the daily frustrations, pain and challenges are not as life-threatening to those I’ve experienced in other countries, it’s important to acknowledge that we are living in an unprecedented time right now and we must be kind and vulnerable to ourselves. The way we live our lives has changed significantly in the past 18 months, and we must recognize and respond to our needs in each moment. This can be as simple as taking a break from your desk or video calls, taking the kids for a walk or making time to prepare a nutritious meal for the family. If we each take responsibility for our own health, this can have a ripple effect in our neighborhood’s,  our cities and our states, as well as produce significant efficiencies for our health care systems.


How is Bayer supporting its employees – many of whom are in lockdown currently – in these times? 


We know that this is a very challenging time for our people in Australia and New Zealand as they juggle work, family, school closures and other uncertainties, and our focus is on supporting employees through this time. Earlier this year, Bayer introduced a fully flexible working policy to support employees, including working parents, during COVID-19 lockdowns and beyond. This policy focuses on empowering employees to navigate work and personal lives in a more flexible way. While office work is still an important connection point for collaboration and innovation, it’s about balancing collaboration with the need for flexibility and to work from home. 


And, as a science-based organization, Bayer is encouraging employees in Australia and New Zealand to get their COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with government advice to create a safe working environment for all. We are supporting our employees to get their COVID-19 vaccines by offering them additional time off to attend vaccination appointments and providing employee information sessions with our Medical Director to enable them to make their own, informed decisions regarding vaccination. 


Finally, tell us Jonas, where do you get your motivation each day?


I just live the day, in the present, to its fullest. I am clear on my life mission – to have a positive impact on people, to help people develop themselves, to explore their full potential and to find their own passion in life. I am myself; I make a lot of mistakes – I don’t shy away from that – and I say what I think. I am a passionate entrepreneur, connected to my values and this helps me to live an authentic and fulfilled life.