A Vaidheesh

By CEO Lounge 5 years ago

Indian Companies Have The Adequate Genetic Makeup For Being Innovative

A Vaidheesh, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals’ vice president, South Asia and managing director, India, is a successful senior business leader with over 28 years of diverse experience in the healthcare and FMCG domains. He has a strong track record of leadership development and building leading brands/franchises across various categories and multi-cultural locations in the Asia-Paci c region. At GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals India, which contributes a third of the volume of GlaxoSmithKline’s global sales, Vaidheesh is leading the company for its next stage of growth. GSK India’s UK-based parent is investing £100 million in expanding the Indian arm’s manufacturing capability — it is setting up a green eld factory in Bangalore which will help it double its capacity to manufacture tablets and capsules from 12 billion to 24 billion a year. Says Vaidheesh, “It’s time for India to put together a strategic map to go beyond generic drugs manufacture and play a bigger role in drug discovery and innovation and move up the value chain.” In an interview with Amit Ranjan Rai, he discusses his plans for GSK and how innovation is likely to be the next growth driver for Indian pharma companies.

From a Bachelor of Physics and Masters in Marketing Management to a top leadership position at a global pharmaceuticals company, how do you see this journey in your life? What have been the key moments shaping this journey?

I have always looked at my future in a bundle of 3 years forward. I have ensured success in every leadership position that was presented to me. I never worried about the future. Werner Erhard significantly helped me change my view of the world. The early stage of my career played a vital role in building my future. Saibal Saha and Supratim Bose were my inspirational leaders from whom I learnt the technical aspect of running the business as well as being a caring human soul before being a leader in a corporation. I am grateful to the almighty for providing me with an opportunity to express myself and be of value to society.

What has been your vision and mission for GSK Pharmaceuticals in India? What has been your strategy to achieve this vision?

We will make a positive difference to patients and the community by being a preferred, affordable and trusted partner of choice for key stakeholders in preventive and therapeutic healthcare. We will achieve this as “one team”, upholding our GSK values to become the fastest-growing pharma multinational and the most admired company in the industry

How do you see GSK CEO, Sir Andrew Whitty’s leadership in making GSK a better organisation and company – one which is transparent, responsible and has high ethical standards?

Sir Andrew Whitty is unquestionably the best leader I have ever worked with. I really admired the way he handled a business crisis in the region and converted an adverse situation into a path-breaking new paradigm for the pharma industry. He really walked the talk every single moment pertaining to an exhibition of GSK values.

How can access to pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and healthcare in general, improve in India whose healthcare system ranks quite low? What have been the efforts at GSK Pharmaceuticals to make its products more accessible and affordable in India?

The Indian healthcare system is unique in the world and its challenges are also very peculiar. The private industry plays a big role in delivering healthcare, complementing the efforts of the government. However, we lack the systematic approach to leverage the power of private players in the healthcare ecosystem. The lack of an integrated approach in delivering care poses the challenge for measuring and tracking the outcome the way the western world do. I do believe our healthcare system has improved over time. GSK has been playing a stellar role in providing high-quality medicines/ vaccines at affordable prices. For instance, Calpol, Augmentin, Synflorix, and so on.

The Government of India unveiled its ‘Pharma Vision 2020’ aimed at making India a global leader in end-to-end drug manufacture. How do you see the current government’s efforts in this direction? What more needs to be done?

It is an excellent initiative. However, it’s time for India to put together a strategic map to go beyond generic drugs manufacture and play a bigger role in drug discovery and innovation and move up the value chain. I believe it is possible.

What according to you are the biggest forces shaping the business world today?

  • Digital technology is making disruptive changes to every aspect of our life and is shaping new business models.
  • Markets are created in cloud.
  • National sovereignty: Be local first and global later. It is a big trend.
  • Changing demographics.

What should be the priorities for companies with respect to these forces?

Companies should actively drive innovation in business models and learn to deal with the discomfort of process/systems changes. For India, the demographic dividend is a competitive advantage.

What are your views on disruption in today’s business scenario? New technologies, products and business models are fast changing the market dynamics. How should Indian companies approach disruption?

In today’s context, I support the more dynamic strategic planning processes and the need to be bold to make uncomfortable decisions. We can never come to the conclusion that we got the puzzle correct. Be prepared to reshuffle the puzzle when the new piece of input comes from the ecosystem. Being humble and willing to learn will be a competitive advantage. Evaluate every option that can bring value to the customer. Unbridled corporate ego can become a barrier to future success.

Do you think Indian pharma companies have been disruptive enough or approaching it in the way they should?

I believe that Indian companies are globally smart, quick and nimble footed. They have the adequate genetic makeup for being innovative. Few of my thoughts are:

  • Continue to focus/upgrade on globally accepted quality standards and teach the world to innovate the “fit for purpose” business model that is cost competitive.
  • May need to collaborate with multinational pharma for drug discovery. This will place Indian companies on the high end of the value chain. So much to learn from Indian IT companies.

How does one nurture such values which give emphasis to disruption and innovation within the organisation? How does GSK nurture and supports innovation and disruption within its organisation?

GSK values are the basis of entrepreneurial culture. There is a healthy balance between unrelenting focus on access to medicines across the globe versus business viability. This forces the organisation to constantly innovate the business model beyond drug discovery. Constant query on solving patient’s current and future needs across the organisation energises every employee. Congruence of employee’s values with the company is periodically evaluated through a value maturity assessment process. People are not punished for taking calculated business risks but for ethical/values erosion.

How do you see the start-up space in the pharma sector? Is GSK nurturing start-up-like units or start-ups within the company?

The pharma industry has been in the forefront of “start-up” attitude for decades, hence India is seen as the “pharmacy of the world”. We need to be proud of this accomplishment. In today’s context, the goalpost has changed for pharma start-ups. Regulatory, judicial and global business code of conduct requirements are quite different from the past. My advice to start-up entrepreneurs is “know your science really well” apart from knowing nance. Right from the start surround yourself with Sherpas who can guide you through the treacherous climb and avoid avalanche on your way. There is less patience with regulatory authorities nowadays.

Tell us about the digital drive within GSK? How is digital technology transforming GSK and the way it does business?

We are in the early stage of digital transformation. Digital transformation is not only about us, it is also about market readiness. The key to our success is to be future-ready with our customers and invest ahead of the curve. Our focus is currently on HCP (healthcare professional) engagement and some parts of the business model that drives value to ultimate patients.

Is big data helping revolutionise pharmaceuticals? What have been the promises and challenges of big data for pharma?

Big data will be of great value to the biopharma industry, particularly in drug discovery, patient access programme, clinical research and development of harmonised regulatory pathways. More so I believe that big data analytics can solve global medical issues and challenges. I can visualise more people living well and longer across the globe if we harness this power.

In terms of business expansion, what should be the priorities for Indian companies? Should they increase their operation overseas, particularly in emerging markets, or should they focus more on the domestic market?

Today, it is a tricky situation wherein the world is redefining the term emerging markets and developed markets. Glide path for both the markets may change at least for next 5 years. Regulatory/ quality standards for operating overseas are quite high. However, my belief is to focus on patients’ need and they are not disappearing and in fact, there is still a huge unmet need. Hence build your muscle with new capabilities on a global basis and participate con dently.

How can boards become more effective in today’s fast-changing business world?

I believe in tapping the wisdom of senior business leaders. The board plays a critical role in guiding the CEO. Board of directors is the wonderful resource for decision-making particularly at times of “dilemma” or “crossroads”.

How should companies build the workforce for future? Companies will have to become more agile and change fast to new business realities. How can CEOs ensure their teams have the adaptive quality that can handle any change?

This question will remain relevant forever. Even today, management guru Peter Drucker’s theory on leadership or Warren Buffets’ principles on investment is valid and it hasn’t changed. Fundamentally, we need to have a disciplined approach to our strategic framework and de nition of our customers and their needs. We also should be willing to get challenged on a periodic basis based the clock speed of the industry and evaluate possibilities.

How does a CEO communicate to his team that it has to become more agile?

I believe in visible leadership and to lead from the front. Every employee needs to see the agility in actions of senior management. Public recognition of employees who exhibit agility is critical. Simple messaging and over communication is a desirable element.

Companies spend a lot of money on leadership training. Does that really help in developing leaders for tomorrow? How should companies go about making leaders out of managers and employees?

Training covers a whole range of activities ranging from onboarding, basic skilling, upskilling, competency- based development, so on and so forth. For anyone in the company to do their job well, we need to constantly create awareness about their role and skill them for success as the organisational strategy changes with time. This is Training 101. However, leadership development is beyond training. We need to provide leadership situation opportunities for employees who are showing promise to develop their leadership muscles. Quite obviously leadership development programmes are deliberately designed by organisation to suit the leadership needs of the organisation.

What are some of the leadership qualities and traits that leaders must have in today’s fast-changing and disruptive business world?

  • Strong moral and ethical values — knowing true north.
  • Balance between visible and accessible versus respect for organisational structure (more so in large companies).
  • Care and concern for the people.
  • Encourage and invest in the idea of possibilities.
  • Never take your customer for granted. Nervous energy about the customer satisfaction is an asset.
  • Invest time and resources for future talent.
  • Be willing to let go short-term gains for long-term success.
  • Know your business well better than competition.

What are your thoughts on succession planning in Indian companies? How can companies improve succession planning?

Succession planning is a structured and objective approach to building talent pipeline. The output of the planning process should ideally throw up a list of potential talents who could lead the future of the organisation. This process aims to ful ll the best interests of the corporation. The challenge may happen in the promoter-driven organisation as many of them are actively involved in the operations and they are successful. This may result in decision bias and the leadership team are likely to soft- pedal their difference of opinion. One suggestion is to hire an independent agency to run the process on an annual basis to validate the decision. Wherever promoters are reasonably distant from operations and let the professional run the company, you are likely to have a lesser bias. However, suf cient checks and balances need to be placed to avoid favouritism. The succession planning process is a philosophy and every organisation has to de ne its own algorithm.

What are your passions outside of corporate life? Please share some examples of your initiatives outside corporate life.

I have always believed in equality and freedom at a base level in a society or in an institution. Right to live, basic health, food, shelter, expressing opinions and so on. I get emotionally moved when I see stark disparity. I am also aware that I can’t boil the ocean. Hence I decided to do participate in social programmes through my corporation or at an individual level. This may be in the form of money, time, my advice, and so on. For instance, supporting Nanhi Kali in Mumbai, building houses for the displaced in Cambodia, SOS Village in Pune, building toilet facilities in Nashik schools and so on. What is the biggest personal impact moment in your life?

How did it impact people (that is, family, friends, employees or society at large)?

One initiative that I passionately drove was the development of health insurance in India since 2006 as the chairman of a CII committee. It was triggered by an event that I witnessed in Mumbai. I strongly believed that leadership was essential in making every citizen in India have nancial access to quality medical care. I have made so many friends in this process who are highly quali ed and exhibited strong support to this journey. I was personally bene tted a lot in terms of gaining insights into our healthcare system. Our prime minister has made some announcement in this regard and it is ful lling for me to see the idea blossoming well.


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