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‘’I value exp erience over qualification’’

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Learning, of course, need to be a continuous process not only for better earning, but also for quality of life and healthy living. In today’s technologically evolving global and local scenario, honing and updating to keep in pace with changing times has become extremely important. In a knowledge-driven sector like life sciences and pharmaceuticals, ‘knowledge’ cannot be made obsolete by technology. Knowledge is the foundation on which technology builds and from where technology evolves. Obsolete technologies are embedded in the knowledge base. Improvements whether micro or macro, whether incremental or disruptive, teaches to overcome the weaknesses, short comings or failures of earlier technologies in the knowledge basket, which helps the progression of scientific solutions on a perpetual basis. Knowledge enrichment with new teachings, new learning and evolving innovative technologies are imperative for career progress.

Roots for re-skilling and re-training

It is indeed unfortunate that there is inadequate emphasis on re-skilling and re-training in India or even elsewhere. In the pharma industry such updating in knowledge, in all fields for professionals, is absolutely essential. Imagine the medical practitioners of yesteryears, who were compounding their medicines and not using any device beyond the stethoscope while practicing, compared to current facilities in modern hospitals. Fortunately, top hospitals and medical institutions do have programmes for re-training and skills upgradation. In the US and many other countries ‘retail pharmacy’ is the most lucrative career for pharmacists. With the current trend of harmonised enforcement of prescription of scheduled drugs and restrictions of medical profession and hopefully on medical representatives too as in the case of chemists and druggists by the Competition Commission, increasing shift to retail pharmacy and hospital pharmacy could be new doors opening up, eventually.

Turning point

After my Ph.D from National Chemicals Laboratory, Pune in the early sixties and post-doctoral stint in IIT, Powai, I joined a small scale family-owned Indian pharma company in the late 60s. Unlike many successful CEOs, I did not (have to) start from the bottom rung. But starting work in a truly small scale pharma company, provided all round training opportunities. However, I realised my weaknesses early. Being a pure research scientist, I was more of a misfit in the ground level management challenges. Realising this, I opted for two management diploma courses from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute, the premium management institute of the 70s, in operations and marketing.

However, since my opportunities in the small scale family-owned pharma company being limited, I took active role in the pharma industry association, IDMA and the government-supported export promotion council, Chemexcil (and later Pharmexcil). The long and continued association with IDMA, BDMA and Chemexcil, Pharmexcil and other public organisations helped me to understand the problems of the pharma industry and work to resolve them and provide impetus to the quality and international trade especially through promotional visits to a very large number of both developed, developing as well as least developed countries. Having actively participated in the debates and discussions on Uruguay Round, Dunkel Draft, Amendments to the (Indian) Patents Act, 1970, I was shocked to take note of two alarming trends. India had very few resource persons on Intellectual Property laws and the emerging harmonised TRIPs-based Patent law amendments including EMRs and product patents. There was an increasing demand and need for intensive participation in policy making in pharma-related IP laws. Secondly, the harmonisation and globalisation of the 90s were giving clear signals, more red in colour, for technopreneurs (I had become one by the 90s) who did not have deep pockets or were no financial wizards like Dilip Shanghvi. Taking note of these challenges, I plunged myself into a re-training and re-skilling initiative and action plan. My ex-colleague, Arun Kumar of Strides Arcolab came forward as a saviour to take over my public limited speciality chemical pharma company, Bombay Drugs & Pharmas. Self-assessment and swot analysis consequent to ‘Shiv Khera’ and Landmark Forum helped. Soon after my stint as the President of IDMA, I joined the first batch of IIPS (Institute of Intellectual Property Studies and took a Diploma in Patent Law & Practice. The exemplary facilities, that IIPS offered, helped me to learn WTO, TRIPs, various nuances of intellectual properties including International IP and patent laws. Further, the best available faculties in IIPS helped me immensely to learn the changing rules of the game. The intensity and commitment to learn (at post-60) was kindled because of the realisation that we need to re-skill ourselves with the emergence of WTO/TRIPs and the immense pressures and turbulence the nation faced.

My self-transformation, post re-skilling after 60 years was probably taken note and I was offered the post of Dean of IIPS, Hyderabad. Around the same time, I became a Registered Patent Agent as well as Registered Trade Mark agent. Distinguished pharma leaders such as from Cipla, Ipca, USV, Lyka and many others approached me for support in their patenting operations. At this juncture, the need for formal legal training was felt by me for providing quality service to our (by this time, I set up Gopakumar Nair Associates) clients. However, I was too busy initially without support of a team. Once a team of professionals was put in place, I completed LLB (IP laws) and became a Bar Council Member. Having realised the need for re-training and re-skilling in the fast paced and constantly changing legal and technological environment, our firm, Gopakumar Nair Associates, set up an in-house training facility GNA Patent Gurukul, which conducted seven batches of diploma courses in IP in Mumbai and made available IP trained professionals to pharma and allied (as well as other fields) companies. For the first time in the country (probably elsewhere too), we set up EWYL (registered trademark) programme, ‘Earn While You Learn’ which was a grand success. We formalised this programme, thereafter, in our organisation. Almost all our associates and employees have taken (continues to take) benefit of our policy of liberally allowing one and all to learn while working. Most technically qualified associates in the field of pharma, bio, electronics, engineering and others have either done LLB and LLM or are continuing their global training even now. A few are doing post-graduation such as M.Sc. in their fields. This policy has immensely helped to strengthen the skills of our organisation and the quality of service to our clients. Presently, we have started franchise operations for Patent Gurukul in other cities such as Chennai, Pune, Nasik and others. We have recently concluded a Patent Gurukul batch in Pune jointly with DY Patil group.

Passion for learning

I value experience over qualification, if the person is willing to learn on the job with passion, commitment and common sense. I have come across highly qualified ‘misfits’ who have learned only to moderately ‘earn’, with no passion. I have personally seen least educated persons with passion to learn and with commitment on the job, excelling themselves in their contribution to the organisation and value addition to themselves. If there is a ‘will to learn’, I value experience (70 per cent) over qualification (30 per cent). Unfortunately, in India, a person is valued for all the wrong reasons and hence one has to meet the ‘minimum expectations of qualification’, which the job demands. Added degrees do help to enter but not to stay put. Passion and commitment to deliver excellence is far more valuable than glamorous qualifications for moving up the career ladder. My Ph.D or other qualifications did give me a technical foundation and scientific discipline. But what I ‘learned’ (post-sixty years of age) in my current avatar, as an IP professional, through my IP practice, is multiple times valuable compared to my educational qualifications.

Tailor-made training programmes

Management course were the most popular in the 70s to 90s. Currently, specialised and focused training programmes are most valued. Training programmes need to be tailor-made to meet one’s own career and professional requirements. There is, however, no doubt that training and re-training, including on the job, is undoubtedly of immense importance in career growth and development. A SWOT analysis on oneself is strongly recommended prior to choosing the course as well as the career.

Quality excellence

In the current context, al the junior and middle level professionals in pharma and life science industry need to wake up and take note of the need for building ‘excellence’ as a way of life and culture. All eyes, all over the world are on India pharma industry, its deliveries in quality, quantity, innovation content and reputation. Lately, whether due to poor quality culture or due to sabotage in changing ownership environment, Indian pharma has received some negative attention, probably created by intent, in some cases. We need to reverse this. In pharma education, unfortunately, of late, there is too much reliance on quantity than quality. We need to shift the emphasis more intensively on ‘quality excellence’. This is all the more essential in the context of ‘Competitive Intelligence’, ‘Contextual Intelligence’ and ‘Conceptual Intelligence’ in vogue today.

Quality trainers and teachers are the need of the hour in the pharma industry. Quality and excellence should not take a back seat while focusing on quantity whether in education and training or in pharma APIs and dosage forms. India needs to perform the duties that Article 51(A) (h) of Constitution of India demands ‘to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.’

Indian professionals should constantly and continuously contribute to innovative ideas and must be in ‘open dialogue’ mode with the management in the pursuit of excellence. The pharma managements must also re-align (few visionaries are doing it already and seeing the successful results of excellence) to train and retain their resource people and keep them motivated and provide them a sense of belonging and ownership. Pharma professionals should never be tempted to fall prey for the US policy of encouraging whistle blowers. Errors or mistakes must be corrected, eliminated and ‘nipped in the bud’, rather than reserved for receiving personal rewards. We owe it to our nation and our pharma industry to make us proud as a source of excellence in pharma quality and efficacy. The new generation must position themselves for contributing this goal.

Support re-skilling ambitions

Every successful pharma management and pharma industry leader realises the need for re-training and re-skilling on the job. This is not only a good retention strategy but also a means of providing strong foundation for excellence through motivation, commitment and sense of belonging. Just like the saying that ‘conformance is cheaper than non-conformance’ in pharma, re-training or re-skilling or providing ‘earn while you learn’ or more aptly ‘learn while you earn’ should not be considered as an expense or spending, but should only be looked as an ‘investment on excellence’ which will pay rich dividends in the long term.

Gopakumar G Nair, Chief Executive Officer, Gopakumar Nair Associates

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