Thermo Fisher is classified as an essential services provider, how did you contribute to India’s response in tackling the pandemic?
Undoubtedly, we were in uncharted waters with the pandemic and there were a lot of uncertainties. What worked in our favour was the ecosystem we had built over the years. We had a multi-year relationship and engagement with the National Institute of Virology (NIV). We provided them with essential components for the development of Covid testing kits. We worked closely with regulators such as the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), and got emergency use approvals based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standard approvals of our kits. We made our kits quickly available in the market and scaled up manufacturing and supply of the kits from virtually zero to a few million in a week. India was our top priority in this process, and we worked to meet the demands in India. We worked on custom kits for India and manufactured them locally to reduce cost. We set up a manufacturing facility in Bangalore in three months and were producing a million kits per day and scaled our supply of RTPCR testing kits when India needed the most in a cost-effective way.
Thermo Fisher introduced a point-of-care test called Accula which is based on RTPCR technology and provides results in 30 minutes. This was very helpful where rapid testing was required such as in airports and hospitals. We worked with regulators to bring the gold standard of technology in testing and instruments to India. We were involved in developing the strategy for scaling up the rapid testing in India.
We have offered support to government, industry, and academic customers in the country, each working to develop and produce vaccines, therapies, and treatments for the COVID-19 virus. It was critical for us to ensure that we strategically invested in capabilities and scaled capacities to enable the Indian vaccine producers with advanced technologies like single-use bioreactors, resins, and media for upstream and downstream processes. We take pride in supporting our customers who have catered to domestic and global demand for vaccines.
As Managing Director, India, and South Asia at Thermo Fisher, have you observed any significant disruption in the healthcare space over the last two years, especially in the Asian region?
We are witnessing a lot of positive disruption in healthcare in the Asian region and digital transformation has been the biggest enabler in the process. Artificial intelligence is enabling faster and more accurate diagnosis, especially in areas like imaging and radiology. Molecular testing is emerging as a preferred diagnostic vs. traditional immunodiagnostics or clinical chemistry platform due to its accuracy. There is also a clear focus on precision medicine which will provide customised treatment based on an individual’s needs which will be a gamechanger in curing many diseases, like cancer. We expect to see a lot more innovation happening in the sector globally and as a country, we have a lot of opportunities to adapt and democratise them and benefit from it.
If you have to pick the top game-changing business plans which helped you navigate through the recent crisis, what would that be?
As an organisation, we sorted our priorities at the beginning of the crisis to effectively manage our day-to-day business. First and foremost, our objective was to ensure the safety of our workforce. We invested to provide medical aid, training on safety protocols, and upgrading our infrastructure and communication channels to provide the necessary support to our employees.
Another pressing facet was to keep our customers and stakeholders engaged. For some businesses within the company, demands were multiplying and for others the business was slow. Depending on the customer’s needs, we had to make rapid adjustments to our existing business plans and supply chain strategies. We constantly communicate with our customers and this helped them maintain their confidence in us.
Last but not least, our game plan was to dynamically adjust our approaches, cost structures, and strategies as per market conditions. We set up a factory in Bangalore within three months and scaled up our production of COVID testing kits from zero to 20 million within a span of five months. This showed our commitment and ability to adapt to the changing demands.
You have worked across multiple geographies leading critical portfolios. What does leadership mean to you in the current context and how have you evolved as a leader?
Leadership is about people. It is about teamwork and the kind of culture you nurture. Thermo Fisher has a very well-defined culture, and we call it the four “I”s – Innovation, Integrity, Involvement, and Intensity. As an organisation what we do not only impacts customers but humanity too and we strive to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner, and safer. This gives us a sense of purpose and inspires us every day to deliver better results. As a leader, I have learnt that you can achieve unbelievable results if you are purpose-driven. Leadership success comes from building a transparent, diverse, and inclusive workplace based on respect and integrity.
During the pandemic, realised the significance of increased communication with our customers and stakeholders. We were very cohesive as a team and well connected but we were navigating unchartered waters and as a leader, it was important for me to lead by example by showing up and connecting with people across all levels. This crisis invoked the empathy side of us all and we focussed more on people than on the business.
What technological breakthroughs can we anticipate from Thermo Fisher in diagnosing other virus variants quickly in the future?
Thermo Fisher focuses on innovation. Before COVID, we were one of the pioneering companies in the world to develop a diagnostic kit for Zika, Nipah, and MERS virus. We are building capabilities through embedded artificial intelligence and machine learning in our instrumentations. We are actively trying to develop newer types of tests and advance our efforts in precision medicine. Our genomics and proteomics part of the business has been working tirelessly to bring forth innovative products and diagnostic methods. We are heavily investing in our R&D segment and last year’s expenditure was $1.4 billion. We have two global R&D centres in India which focus on new products, new instruments and new technologies for our analytical instruments, lab product groups, and other divisions of the company.
Your views on how the healthcare industry must prepare for business continuity if a scenario like this ever gets repeated?
COVID has taught all of us some great lessons and business continuity planning is one of them. We learned the importance of collaborating with different agencies to work towards a common goal. The constraints and bottlenecks we faced were the lack of adequate infrastructure and people with experience in crisis management. Now we have a reference point, to begin with, and have enough global benchmarks. Investing in human resources and training them to be able to navigate through uncertainty should be a top priority for every organization when facing a crisis. We have to proactively ensure that our healthcare systems and infrastructure is upgrading appropriately and timely.
Innovation is another area in which COVID has drastically transformed. Companies are incentivising innovation and creating public/private partnerships which open up a plethora of opportunities for us to grow.
What advice do you have for young professionals to prepare and brace the future challenges?
Never stop learning – this is one rule that I live by and recommend to others. I reckon the shift towards automation and artificial intelligence will be faster in the future and make a lot of jobs redundant. It would be wise to continuously upskill yourself as the demand will change. That being said, this is a great time for youngsters to try new things and learn to innovate as we are seeing a lot of investments happening in India which will result in numerous possibilities.
My other advice would be not to underestimate the importance of interpersonal impact on human relationships. We are living in a digitised world now and our lives are driven by technology in most aspects where we tend to neglect the value of people. Always remember that the foundation of development and leadership skills is your ability to connect, inspire and motivate people, and to work effectively with people. Develop an emotional quotient and understand the importance of human interaction and developing teams no matter how tech-savvy you become.
Outside work, what are the other pursuits that keep you fuelled?
I am an enthusiastic wildlife photographer and love to capture nature through lenses. I get ample inspiration from my surroundings as I reside in Navi Mumbai, which is a treasure trove of migratory birds. I like reading and listening to music to recharge myself and enjoy running to remain active. I am a part of a running group and run a half marathon every year. I am also a devoted member of the Rotary club and I strive to do as much as I can to contribute to the social development around me.