Express Pharma

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

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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