The Indian pharmaceutical and healthcare industry has long been dominated by men, a trait it shares with many of its counterparts abroad. But now a big change is sweeping across this immensely technical and challenging business landscape.
A new crop of women business leaders has emerged at the top, coming up with game-changing ideas and services in some of India’s top pharma and healthcare companies. Their business acumen apart, these women have added tremendous value in shaping their organisations.
They are reinventing age-old practices and promoting diversity to meet challenges and take their companies to the top.Some like Ameera Shah of Metropolis have built the business from scratch while others like Samina Vaziralli of Cipla have been handed the reins of a 75-year-old company. But whether it is building businesses or wading through troubled waters, they have proved their mettle. They are young, but have come of agequickly. They are not afraid of taking business risks or foraying into newer businesses. They have embedded a culture of inclusive environment and pushed for HR reforms targetted at women in the DNA of their companies — whobetter than them to understand the struggles of juggling family and business. These are their stories.
Our systems have kept pace with growth: Namita Thapar 39 CFO, Emcure Pharmaceuticals
Key Accomplishment: Expanding global footprint and making five global acquisitions in the past 3-4 year
Key Challenge: Managing work-life balance. Having to earn the respect from peers who judge her as someone born with a silver spoon
In 2006, five years after she completed her MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Namita Thapar got a call from her father Satish Mehta, promoter and CEO of Emcure Pharmaceuticals, to join the family business in Pune. Thapar, a CA by qualification was then working in the healthcare sector in the US — for Glaxo and Guidant (now Abbott) in various finance roles. Emcure had by then received funding from private equity fund Blackstone and had aggressive plans to enter the US market. Mehta feltthat with his daughter’s US education and experience in the healthcare sector would add value to the business. He persuaded her and her husband to move back to India.
The move paid off. Emcure is one of the fastest growing pharmaceutical companies in India on account of launch of innovative formulations developed by its R&D and marketing strategies designed to build brands. In the last 10 years, it has grown from a Rs 500 crore company to a Rs 4,500 crore entity. “I can’t take all the credit as my brother Samit and husband Vik have added tremendous value too, but believe I have made some good changes based on my experience in the US. All three of us got a lot ofautonomy from my father to make changes,” says Thapar.
Emcure has made five large global acquisitions in the past three years. As CFO, Thapar and her team assisted the M&A team in those deals. “These strategic acquisitions have significantly expanded our global footprint,” says Thapar.
At Emcure, Thapar has brought more automation in finance, was closely involved with domestic marketing and helped make meetings more data driven (especially through sales force automation). She also worked with HR to improve critical systems such as appraisal, variable compensation andtalent identification. “I am a strong believer that as a company scales, it needs to become more process driven and develop leadership bandwidth,” she adds.
Thapar says there are plenty of reasons for more women to join the pharma sector. Functions like quality, finance, marketing, IT, regulatory are great areas for women to work, according to her.
She has launched a program called “Prerna” aimed at increasing the representation of women in the company, which has doubled to 20 per cent in the past four years. Emcure has several women in leadership roles in quality, regulatory, marketing, IT, HR and finance, says Thapar.
Despite the absence of a large number of women in the pharma manufacturing sector, Thapar says she has never felt any gender bias. But she has had to make some tough personal choices such as excusing herself from some key meetings and M&A-related travel for the sake of her two young children. “I believe if you are competent, regardless of your gender you will command respect as a professional,” she says.
You need not be right all the time: Zahabiya Khorakiwala 33 Managing Director, Wockhardt Hospitals
Key Accomplishment: Turning around the hospitals business of Wockhardt
Key Challenges: As a member of the promoter family, Khorakiwala had one foot in the door. But getting acceptance was a different ballgame. Managing worklife balance
The hospitals business of the Rs 1,200 crore Wockhardt underwent a roller-coaster ride in the past decade. If the business has finally stabilised, it is largely due to the efforts of Zahabiya Khorakiwala, the youngest of the three children of promoter Habil Khorakiwala. She entered the business in 2010 as a director, soon after she completed her postgraduation. Six months later, Khorakiwala was elevated as the managing director of Wockhardt Hospitals Ltd.
The start was anything but easy. The business was struggling — the group had just sold nine of its hospitals to theFortis Group in 2009 to reduce debt. The business was also highly technical— learning the nitty-gritty of running a hospital and dealing with medical experts demanded a lot of time and enterprise.
In the first three years, Khorakiwala spent more than two weeks every month visiting the various hospitals of the group in tier I and tier II cities such as Rajkot, Nagpur, Nashik and Navi Mumbai, among others. “I soon realised that you need not be right all the time but putting 200 per cent effort does pay off in the end,” she says.
Although Khorakiwala belonged to the promoter family, getting acceptance was turning out to be a different ballgame. The lack of a medical background made it difficult to break the ice with senior colleagues. “Whenever I travel to our hospitals, I make it a point to meet every consultant (doctor) personally and in those conversations there used to be some skepticism as I did not have a medical background. But not anymore,” she adds.
Like most women leaders, Khorakiwala too faces difficulties in managing her professional and personal life. She is the mother of an 18-month-old daughter; she drops her in daycare at 8 am and wraps up work early to pick her by 5 pm. “As a mother (working or not), you always feel guilty about something when it comes to your child. But then, you make yourchoices and do the best you can to strike the right balance. I wouldn’t want to not work either,” says Zahabiya.
The ability to do that has helped make Wockhardt Hospitals a Rs 250-crore company. Under Khorakiwala’s watch, the company isremoulding itself from providing tertiary healthcare to giving quaternary healthcare (highly specialised and not widely accessed healthcare). Zahabiya plans to capitalise on the opportunity that high healthcare cost in India coupled with low bed count offers and plans to open more specialty hospitals across the country.
The learning I got initially was equal to three MBAs: Tara Singh Vachani 29 CEO& Managing Director – Antara Senior Living
Key Accomplishment: Built the Antara business from scratch
Key Challenge: Convincing the family and the board of Max Group that homes for senior citizens was a viable business
When Tara Singh Vachani, daughter of Max India group promoter Analjit Singh, joined the family business six years ago, she was not given any special privileges that business scions are accustomed to. Instead, she had to learn the ropes of the business like any other employee.
Singh Vachani was asked to report to Rahul Khosla, a seasoned business leader and Group President of Max Ventures and Industries, for six years before she was to join the board.
It was a conscious decision to not report to her father, according to her. “To keep an arm’s length between father and daughter was for my intellectual growth as that relationship is an emotional one,” she says. “The learning I have got in these years I feel I have done three MBAs already and today I think, act, talk, walk and behave like any other CEO of the Max Group.”
Singh Vachani heads Antara Senior Living business as managing director, a 100 per cent subsidiary of Max Group that combines real estate with health and wellness. The elevation was not just ahappenstance.
Max was an established business run by professionals and Singh Vachani quickly realised it would take some time before she could earn the right to creating and running one on her own.
When she hit upon the idea of starting a company that provides an ecosystem through equipped homes for senior citizens, it was a unique and untested business area in India. Still, it took time for her to convince her father and then the board to back her idea.
“It was difficult to convince the family and the board not because I did not have the support but because of the fact that it was so nascent and the applicability of it in the Indian market was a question mark,” says Singh Vachani. She finally had to prove the viability of the business before Analjit Singh signed on.”
“To be honest, six years into the journey, I still find it challenging.”
More than Rs 750 crore has been invested in the business and Vachani expects it to be more than $1-1.5 billion business in a decade.
Work takes Singh Vachani to real estate sites, to get homes designed and supervise work. She realised she was not welcome there. The real estate sector is yet to accept a woman as a leader, according to her. “That is one place where being a woman and not a man has crossed my mind. But I have now grown comfortable to ignore it.”
Idea was to convert a doctor’s practice into an organisation: Ameera Shah 36, Managing Director, Metropolis Labs
Key Accomplishment: Building the business from scratch
Key Challenges: To bring about a shareholding change to enable control over the business and take it to the next phase of growth
Not long ago, diagnostics was a pooh-poohed part of the healthcare chain. It was not inviting for investors because neither was it deemed scalable not did it carry the commercial appeal of hospitals. Ameera Shah turned these notions on their head with Metropolis Labs. As managing director she has built the diagnostics business from scratch and made it a pan-India business in a decade and half. Unlike many other business scions,Shah wasn’t handed the reins of an already thriving business. Instead, she had the formidable task of converting her father’s dream of building a solitaryclinic into a chain of pathlabs. Metropolis now has 130 labs spanning sevencountries such as India, Sri Lanka and South Africa and is valued at more than $1 billion.
“The idea was to convert a doctor’s practice into an organisation. While the technical part is very critical, alarger business needs profits, talent, distribution and organisation,” says Shah.
Shah says she never wanted to be a part of a larger organisation. She was more keen to build something of her own. In 2002, at the age of 20, she resigned from Goldman Sachs and moved back to India.
Shah has since grown Metropolis organically and inorganically by forging partnerships and joint ventures with smaller regional pathlabs across India and overseas.
Shah says she has earned her spurs the hard way. Metropolis has undergone as many as four shareholding changes. A protractedboardroom battle ensued where Shah with the help of private equity firm KKRbought back the stake held by PE fund Warburg Pincus and forced the other investor GSK Velu to sell out to PE fund Carlyle.
Thanks to her global experience, Shah did not shy away from partnering financial partners and private equity funds to grow her business. “Today, if I can access top bankers and businessmen, it is because they have seen me build the business from the scratch,” say Shah.
As a woman, she says she never faced bias or advantage. But she acknowledges there are certain nuances that only a woman can bring in while dealing with people. “There were times when I could understand from the body language of the person sitting across the table what their concerns were and how to address them,” she says. “This helped me cut deals better and forge many partnerships.”
Shah now owns 63 per cent in the company along with her father, Dr Sushil Shah. An IPO that will help the company raise Rs1,000 crore is in the works. That will give global private equity investor Carlyle a window to part exit the company
Women have extreme levels of commitment: Samina Vaziralli 37 Executive Director, Cipla
Key Accomplishment: Incubating and growing the consumers business at Cipla, steering the company into the next phase of growth.
Key Challenge: Taking forward Cipla’s powerful legacy and simultaneously ensuring that the company is notheld prisoner to a legacy or culture
Samina Vaziralli, the niece of Cipla founder YK Hamied, is credited with growing the consumers business of the 75-year-old pharma company. Now, Vaziralli has been tasked with taking Cipla to the next generation of growth. Last year, she was inducted into the board to dispel rumours that were swirling of an impending sellout.
Vaziralli has her hands full but the bigger challenge, according to her, is doing justice to the role of a daughter and a mother. “Women have many roles to play at the same time — that of a mother, wife, daughter and employee. I feel that we stretch ourselves and truly excel in each of our avatars as we showcase extreme levels of commitment,” she says.
As the mother of two, Vaziralli needs no telling of the struggles women undergo to maintain a work-life balance. In the quest to help women manage both their intense personal and professional demands, shebrought sweeping changes in the way women are taken care of in her organisation.
Cipla cut work days for women to five a week and allows them to work from home. The maternity leave in Cipla is six months. All these measures were introduced in the very first week that Vaziralli joinedCipla in 2011.
Thanks to these measures, some of the most technical departments at Cipla such as research and development and qualitycontrol are headed by women. Women constitute around 50 per cent of Cipla’sboard.
“Cipla is busting the myth that women cannot be on the technical side of business. The challenge is to earn your stripes. Up to 50 per cent of our Management Council is constituted by women; not many companies in any industry can claim thus,” says Vaziralli.
The reforms aimed at women have nothing to do with the bias Vaziralli, a graduate from London School of Economics and a former Goldman Sachs banker has faced in her career. She actually never faced bias. This, she says, is because she always had women as her bosses.
“Running a family business has its own challenges. However, I have never faced any gender bias. Biases are all about perceptions in the eye of the beholder,” she says, sitting in her sparsely decorated office in Mumbai’s upcoming business district of Lower Parel. Handwritten notes and rough sketches by her two school-going sons were spread on the desk before her.
In recent years, Cipla has built capability in the consumer healthcare brand, roped in talent, carried out inorganic transactions, made the company more agile, expanded globally, and invested more in R&D.
Vaziralli says she is aware that she has carry on a powerful legacy, but insists that she won’t be held prisoner to it. “There are challenges —to get new thinking, fresh perspectives and challenge paradigms that may have served well so far; to create value and build a longterm sustainable business,” she says.
Over the next 3-4 years, Cipla will focus on growth and execution, according to Vaziralli. “We are looking at building a speciality business as we do not want to be restricted to the generics business.”
Date: 20th July, 2016.