An organisation with a diverse talent pool not only makes for good social sense but also makes for perfect business sense
Samina Hamied, Executive Vice-Chairperson, Cipla, talks about leading from the front, building an inclusive, diverse and equitable workplace, making Cipla future-ready and more in an exclusive interview with Ashwini Prakash, Managing Partner India, Asia Pacific Lead – Pharma, Healthcare, Life Sciences and Consumer products, Stanton Chase India
You are leading Cipla from the front, was joining the family business always a plan?
Before joining Cipla, I worked at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker for almost five years across their London and New York offices. I joined the firm right after completing my Masters at the London School of Economics.
My entry into Cipla in 2011 was at a time when the company was on the cusp of change. I took a call to switch over from my career as an investment banker in London to my family business here in India. Given that I had practically no experience in the pharmaceutical sector and that Cipla was also at a critical turning point, it was a big leap to take and a massive responsibility. But I saw it differently. For me, it was an opportunity to infuse fresh thinking into the organisation and refresh the existing mindset to lead it towards future growth. In hindsight, I couldn’t have asked for a more opportune time than that.
Coming from the founding family, did you face any stereotype challenges? What was your go-to strategy?
While I was very happy to join the family business, I had apprehensions about foraying into a new domain. My first challenge was to develop a solid understanding of how pharma functioned as an industry. Consequently, I spent a lot of time with strong mentors to understand how the generics business runs.
When you are working for a company that has eight decades of legacy behind it, it is imperative to drive the organisation with a humanitarian approach to healthcare, keeping up with its legacy of caring for life and fast-forwarding its journey into the future. While I was empowered to transform the company through my position on the Board, keeping the purpose of Cipla, on which it was founded by my late grandfather Dr KA, intact, was also my priority. As a leader, having a clear-cut vision is essential. The bets that I undertook at the time may have been new to many within the system, however with conviction and a well thought through strategy it has today, led Cipla onto a new path of becoming a holistic healthcare solutions provider focused on wellness, instead of limiting ourselves to manufacturing medicines alone.
What disruptions do you foresee in Indian pharma, healthcare and life sciences sector? How is Cipla poised to ride the wave?
The pharma industry has started evolving from its current role of being seen as traditional drug manufacturers, to an industry that is focusing on being holistic healthcare providers. Going forward, one of the disruptions we see is the shift from illness to wellness wherein patients are empowered about their health needs and are transitioning to a more preventive, and curative behavioural change. Pharma companies will have to re-imagine their roles in the lives of patients and play a larger part in their lives. At Cipla, we took major steps towards growing Cipla Health into a holistic wellness player. This business has achieved an all-around play across multiple, large OTC categories. Cipla Health launched an entire range of products including hand sanitisers, surface disinfectants, face masks, etc. to cater to the increasing market demand for hygiene essentials due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The second disruption is embracing digitisation. In pharma, digitisation has not only played a crucial role in bringing about operational efficiencies and managing supplies but has also enabled more meaningful and convenient engagements with stakeholders. For instance, today pharma companies are able to reach a much wider base of doctors and patients beyond cities alone through the use of virtual engagement platforms. From a value-add point of view, we see digital as a tool that will empower each and every stakeholder in the healthcare ecosystem to actively participate along the care continuum. We recently launched an initiative ‘Healthcare Superstars’ that provides a unique virtual learning experience comprising of LIVE interactive sessions, global collaborations of, world-renowned speakers, interview and case-based learning for medical professionals.
Last but not least is access through collaborations. This pandemic is a great example of how the power of the collective has worked towards combating this crisis. Governments, public and private institutions and individuals came together and pooled in their strengths to strengthen the response to COVID-19. The pharma industry, in particular, came together in solidarity by forging global partnerships to make drugs accessible, some lending their innovations and others their manufacturing capacities and distribution networks. Cipla has been the partner of choice given our large portfolio of COVID-19 treatments through our multiple strategic partnerships with innovators such as Gilead, Roche, MSD, Eli Lilly and CSIR-IICT to provide access to life-saving treatments.
Building an inclusive, diverse and equitable workplace is on top of the agenda for most corporates today. Where do you position Cipla on this maturity curve?
Companies have a lot of scope to embrace a workplace that is not just diverse but inclusive. And this starts with inculcating a mindset shift, i.e., going beyond numbers play to bring about true equality. Gender equality and inclusiveness cannot be ensured by enhancing women representation alone but also introducing policies and initiatives that empower them within the system to effectively contribute to their roles. The right approach is to take steps towards inclusiveness. Additionally, it is equally important to nurture and chart out development for diverse talent at all levels within the organisation that will equip them to become leaders in the future. Gender diversity and inclusiveness should not be limited to the Board alone.
At Cipla, we strive to ensure that our people practices and systems are gender-inclusive. In FY 2019-20, we set up an Inclusion & Diversity Council, led by me, to give additional support to our efforts to build a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. It acts as an advisory body on all matters related to diversity and inclusion such as recruitment, leadership development, the launch of new initiatives, building a healthy work-life balance, and so forth. Maternity Leave, Paternity Leave, Adoption leave, Creche facilities, institutionalisation of POSH, initiatives like Meri Saheli (Women employees-only forum to share women related issues at the workplace), are some examples of the policies that we have in Cipla to build a more inclusive culture. We also recently extended our group Mediclaim policy to cover LGBTQ and live-in partners.
Building a diverse culture gives a competitive advantage? Your take on it, please.
An organisation with a diverse talent pool not only makes for good social sense but also makes for perfect business sense. Welcoming new thinking and developing a culture of looking at things from a fresh perspective and a refreshed lens definitely gives a competitive advantage to the company. With diverse mindsets at the table, the company can operate in an all-encompassing way rather than adopting a traditional approach to their decisions; which is necessary with the evolving times. For example, at Cipla, we are not just looking at the industry from a typical lens of how a pharma company exists. And one of the major benefits that we have seen by bringing in diverse talents, is that we have been able to evolve in our role beyond traditional notions of being a drug manufacturer.
In today’s world, talent is attracted to companies that are not just diverse but inclusive too, making these companies the ‘employer of choice’. Organisations that take that on the front foot in being inclusive and diverse are companies where employees have a sense of belonging, making them want to be a part of a company that is future-focused while having a strong sense of purpose.
What does future-ready organisation mean to you?
In my experience, a company that is ready to re-imagine their businesses to stay relevant in the evolving times, while staying true to their core purpose is a future-ready organisation. Cipla, being a part of an industry that is at the forefront of fighting the pandemic, we had to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines for COVID-19 and other illnesses despite the industry-wide challenges in raw material procurement, operations and logistics and subsequent nation-wide lockdown in India. Given the nature of the pandemic, we had to also ensure that employee health and wellbeing was not compromised in the bargain.
What helped us successfully overcome these roadblocks was the business-wide ‘Re-imagination’ exercise that was already underway at Cipla towards making our business future-ready and resilient on all fronts. As a business leader, making your core business growth drivers resilient to these changes, addressing and smoothly working past the changes while keeping the big picture in mind to secure the next leg of growth are questions we grapple with every day. For me, the answer lies in changing with the times. And therefore, the last few years at Cipla has been about embracing change, expanding and consolidating strategically, innovating, diversifying, finding the right partners, and staying alert to the latest business trends. These approaches have held us in good stead and will help us sustain our growth through the pandemic and beyond.
On the talent front, we have always welcomed individuals from diverse backgrounds with new thinking and developed a culture of looking at things beyond the traditional approach. This too adds to what forms the basis of a truly solid yet agile and future-focused organisation.
Given the tight work schedule, how do you maintain a work-life balance?
I try to allocate an equal amount of time to my family and work and treat both as equally important. It also helps me a great deal to have a strong support system both professionally and at home to help me do justice to both my roles. It is not easy to have a work-life balance when you are bearing responsibilities as a mother and as a professional. That said, maintaining a balance between work and personal life needs to happen on a daily basis. While there are some days that work takes the front foot, there are also days wherein our personal lives must be given priority. As a leader, it is imperative to understand how the two must be balanced and a conscious call needs to be taken on a day to day basis.
One should try and reach out for help whenever required. Fortunately for me, I don’t have inhibitions in asking people for help. My family and friends have always supported me by weighing in on various occasions and that has made the journey easier.
Personally, what are you passionate about and how do you pursue your interest?
I am extremely passionate about fitness. I love running as it refreshes my mind and helps me focus better, while also ensuring physical fitness. I usually aim to run at least three to four half-marathons every year. In order to gear up for these marathons. During the pandemic, I have been particular about my fitness regime as it boosts immunity. I ensure a regular exercise schedule and running on the treadmill.
What message do you have for professionals with diverse backgrounds venturing into the pharma and healthcare industry?
Drawing from my personal experience, while the industry I came from was completely different from the role and space I currently am in, it is the fresh perspective that worked in favour. What people could think is a drawback, may actually be the greatest advantage, if leveraged correctly.
To those with diverse backgrounds venturing into the pharma and healthcare industry, I’d say never be afraid to take the leap and try something new or pursue your passion. And I see a lot of young professionals doing so, which is great. Also, always be game to learn and unlearn throughout your life. An open mind will help you grow not just professionally but also personally as opposed to rigidity.