Express Pharma

Global leaders bring invaluable skills, knowledge: Vishnu Channon, Stellar Search

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Troubled by regulatory authorities due to quality issues, Indian pharma companies are looking at global talent, both expat and Indian, primarily in the R&D, manufacturing and quality domains, explains Vishnu Channon, Delivery Leader – Healthcare and Lifesciences, Stellar Search

Brian Tempest was one of the earliest examples of global talent heading a key function (R&D) at a big Indian pharma company (Ranbaxy). As Indian companies grow their geographical footprint not just in sales but also the manufacturing side, they have recruited expats. For example, US nationals to head their US business. But have they also hired expats for India HQ-based roles? Has the trend picked up?

Definitely! Indian pharma majors have been quite open to the idea of hiring expats for HQ-based roles in the recent past which is clearly an emerging trend in the industry. Though I believe there is a long way to go as it’s still in an exploratory mode.

Who are the prominent examples of this trend in the recent past and today?

The most recent example is Dr Reddy’s Labs as they hired former Teva executive Erez Israeli as Chief Operating Officer and Global Head Generics & PSAI Business. Sun Pharma also hired Benny Klener as Global Head of Manufacturing Operations. Klener stayed with Sun for almost four years and moved back to Israel in 2017. Sun hired another senior leader from Teva to integrate their global supply chain operations who left last year.

What has been the average tenure of such expat postings?

It ranges between 2-4 years. In most of the cases, expats aren’t too comfortable to be based outside their home country for a longer tenure.

Which are the functional areas where Indian pharma companies look for senior level global talent?

In order to deal with cut-throat competition in the generic pharma space, companies seek innovation, continuous improvement and cost efficiencies and hence, they look at global talent primarily in the R&D, manufacturing and quality domain. Global leaders bring invaluable skills and knowledge with regards to the next generation technology, high quality standards, best practices and state-of-the-art facilities.

Most of the Indian pharma companies have been in trouble with regulatory authorities due to quality issues. Hence, it becomes extremely important for them to have excellent manufacturing and quality leadership to ensure that globally accepted quality practices are followed.

With Indian organisations aspiring to lead the global biopharmaceutical market, we also foresee the growing demand of biopharma techno-commercial experts in India.

Besides expats, we also have examples of India-origin talent who have experience overseas and then are headhunted by the top 10 Indian pharma companies for key positions. Any prominent examples and again, what drives this trend?

After spending over a decade working overseas with global pharma companies, leaders of Indian origin hone their skills to stand at par with expat talent. Recruiting Indian talent from overseas is comparatively of greater comfort for both employers as well as candidates. While being a better cultural fitment and an assurance of a longer tenure from employers perspective, candidates also have greater motivation of returning to their native place and living closer to their family, especially when they are in late 40’s/ early 50’s. In many such cases, it’s a win-win situation.

Prominent examples include Gaurav Mathur, Managing Director, Teva API India; Pradeep Sanghvi, Executive Vice President, R&D, Sun Pharma; Umang Vohra, Chief Executive Officer, Cipla; Kailash Pathak, President, Manufacturing Operations, Neuland Labs; Vishvesh Bhupathiraju, Vice President & Quality Head Biologics, DRL and Parth Sampathkumar, Associate Vice President & Head Quality Control, Biologics, Biocon . Some of them have completely relocated to India while a few travel extensively between India and US.

We also have the example of a India-origin talent heading global pharma, like Vasant (Vas) Narasimhan, who was Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer for Novartis and now is CEO. Do you see such possibilities increasing?

Absolutely. Global pharma giants like Merck, Teva, Mylan have outstanding Indian talent in their management teams which significantly increases the probability of having more Indian CEOs’ in the next few years. Other market leaders like Pfizer, GSK and BMS also have several seasoned professionals who have showcased exciting accomplishments and potential of leading a large organisation.

While their Indian peers are looking at global talent, most MNC pharma have chosen to hire Indians to head their India operations. Beyond the rationale that local talent would understand the local market pressures better, do you think there are other considerations?

For most pharma MNCs, overall India and South Asia operations are predominantly managed by home grown leaders with well rounded and recognised experience of working across geographies. They have deep-rooted understanding of systems and processes, policies and culture of the organisation. The scale and size of technical operations of MNC peers is relatively smaller than the Indian companies, their facilities are highly automated and also very closely overseen by the regional/ global teams.

Do you see this trend, of hiring Western talent for key positions, in pharma companies of other nations, like China, Japan, etc?

It’s a rising trend in pharma companies across Korea, China and other South Eastern countries.

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