Mahatma The CEO

The Mahatma probably visited a business enterprise only once in his lifetime, when he went to a chemical and pharma start-up on the eve of World War II. But he knew several businessmen like Jamnalal Bajaj, G D Birla and Dr Khwaja Hamied, whose start-up he visited. Many were impressed by his swadeshi movement and supported it arduously.

So how would the Mahatma have fared as a CEO? His body of work of nearly five decades has many clues.

When he returned from South Africa in the early 20s, he already had the credentials of a ‘political activist’, having fought for the rights of Indians living in South Africa. His leadership training had been seeded. In India, he met Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who mentored him to accept a bigger leadership role — that of ‘liberating Indians in India’. This ‘induction’ included a nationwide tour of over a year, travelling the villages where the ‘real India’ lived. He returned with a simple vision that ‘India was one and it must rule itself’. Gandhi had realised Tilak, Gokhale, Lajpat Rai and others had laid the ground in various parts of the nation. He had to only integrate these, simplify it for the masses and create a common uniform movement around it.

To build upon this vision, he came up with a very unique and differentiated strategy that had three pillars — civil disobedience, boycott of foreign goods and non-violent resistance. He had tested some of these in South Africa and saw the opportunity to leverage them. But it had no precedent — all previous movements for ‘territory’ had been based on armed resistance. The world was also in the grip of the WW-I. A good CEO must weigh his options and resources before nailing the plot down. He knew the country’s people were still fragmented. The British had been clever with their divide and rule strategy. He also knew a high moral ground had a better chance of success and it would also give time to unify the people. Gandhi made a contrarian call. It takes a CEO of considerable strength of character to go against the grain.

Gandhi brought an astounding array of brilliant people together — Nehru the dreamer and visionary, Patel the disciplined executor, Maulana the unifier, Bose an out-of-the-box renegade, to name a few. Such was his influence and belief in a culture of meritocracy that many were ‘ready and available’ to take on the governance of free India. The maxim, right man for the right job, was evident even later, when he was the only one to support the nomination of Dr Ambedkar, his fiercest adversary, to the post of India’s first law minister. Should a CEO encourage alternative views or dissent? That a leader needs the best thinkers, even if they differ, is a no brainer. What he or she chooses to do with it is important. Nehru, Patel, Bose and Jinnah were as different from one another as chalk and cheese. Some found common ground with Gandhi’s vision and went on to realise it. Some didn’t. He accepted it as the natural order of life.

How did Gandhi react to adversity? Long spells in prison were spent in writing about his experiments with truth and spinning the wheel. Both were central to staying connected with the people. When WW-II dawned, he realised it will delay independence, but like a consummate statesman, he saw an opportunity to ‘help’ the British, with a possible promise of total freedom. He even used fast unto death to bring adversaries like Ambedkar around to his way of thinking.

Creating a simple vision that all could rally around, displaying values of truth, fairness and integrity, crafting a differentiated strategy, bringing the best talent to believe in this vision, mentoring them, finding opportunity in adversity and finally delivering the audacious goal in his lifetime — a modern CEO will find many tools that could work well even today.

This article originally appeared in Business Standard.

Innoventia – Search For Disruptive Innovation in Healthcare

Keeping up with Cipla’s innovation-driven credo, happy to share one of our big initiatives towards the same. Check out Innoventia.Cipla.Com to participate & reinvent the way we deliver healthcare.

I take this opportunity to also write my thoughts on why an initiative like Innoventia is much needed in our times.

They say when data is tortured enough, it will confess to anything! This couldn’t ring truer than now- when ‘sharing’ has become a way of life, thanks to the digital takeover of our lives. Everything is under the impact of the fastest moving phenomenon in recent times: CHANGE. In fact, change is the new technology, permeating everything, especially healthcare.

We are already witnessing applications for blockchain and more uses for AI, especially in diagnosis. Analytics has become the new buzzword. In the broad sweep of AI’s current worldly ambitions, machine learning healthcare applications seem to top the list for funding. Clearly, healthcare is no longer about the passive delivery of diagnostics, drugs and infrastructure. Guess why?

Along with the diseases, patients are changing too – across the spectrum of understanding, knowledge, and management of diseases given the emerging technology canvas.

So what’s next? Innovation is the only answer – to tide this wave of life-altering times to transform the delivery of care.

Therefore, is it healthcare or tech care? A question that will perhaps be answered through the lens of innovation.

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#WorldBookDay: Books That Have Influenced My Life

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Meet Challenges Head On – Dr Ranjana Pathak To Women Leaders In The Making

My journey has been a roller coaster ride, filled with laughter and some tears. The challenges were numerous, since I started at the very bottom, this forces you to learn, understand the nuances of the job, the expectations of the organisation, and the regulators.

This job soon became a career and now a calling. I have always been driven, spent hours reading trade journals, studying books on key topics such as chromatography, the USP etc. By the way, the USP is a great book to learn from if you are in the lab. When I started my career, I was the only girl in the QC lab, it was daunting because I had zero experience, this was a challenge to overcome. For me it was a new country, working for the first time in my life, so I suppose the survival instinct kicked in. I have always been very focused. I have the drive to be the best in what I do. These two traits have enabled me to be a perennial student, keeping me in the learning mode. I never liked the status quo and always opted for harder tasks, taught courses because it would force me to learn and be challenged by pharma executives. The need to excel has been with me literally all my life which drives me to take challenges head-on.

In summary, it is my purpose, drive, doggedness, persistence and courage that have enabled me to overcome the numerous challenges that faced me and I know I am not alone! I have also been blessed with having a very supportive family, bosses and colleagues.

Challenges for women leaders

Time is the biggest challenge, the pharma industry is competitive and by nature, timeline bound. There is seldom tomorrow, everything seems to be needed yesterday, a very fast paced, exacting and demanding industry, full of challenges, some anticipated and others binding. For women, to play their classical roles in society and families becomes difficult, because of their innate nature.
Women from time immemorial have been jugglers, they must juggle the needs of their families, children, work, friends, communities etc…the list goes on and on.
Given that the number of hours is limited for all, women need to be able to prioritise the ‘must dos’, and let go of those tasks that cannot be done and will not matter in the long run, ‘take help’ from family members, friends, neighbours to be able to juggle everything on their plate.

Creating a conducive growth environment

The government can and should execute laws that are conducive for women to work, the organisations then must follow through to make the workplace environment safe. School and universities should promote science and maths so children join science rather than hanker for business degrees alone, don’t get me wrong we need those as well but I think I see a tip towards business. If there is no product, there will be no business to manage. Today’s generation wants instant gratification, the millennials are different from the baby boomer generation, their needs and tolerances are not the same. Careers in disciplines other science seem to be more popular. The pharma industry needs sharp scientists, engineers, biologists, microbiologists, physicists, computer science etc. to ensure that new drugs/devices are developed, existing drugs are made more affordable, the quality is uncompromised. This is a daunting task where the government can help in ensuring the platforms exist. The government can do a lot to make this feasible for women/ girls in urban and rural schools.

Need for regular campus placement

There are more number of science graduates coming out of universities who want to join the pharma sector. However, due to lack of job opportunities, they have to change their career goal. To address this, the pharma industry needs to be present on the campus to educate the graduates of tomorrow about the needs of humanity (need for medicines) and the need of society.

Success Mantra

To my newcomers and those that are stalwarts: Always do the right thing, be courageous, know your subject, believe in yourself, look at yourself in the mirror each morning and say—Wow, I am looking at a great piece of art that is going to make a huge difference today!!! If I can do it…You can do it better!!

This article originally appeared in Express Pharma.

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Books: A Cerebral Affair

“A Reader lives a thousand lives before dying. Those who never read live only once!”

All of us enter youth and the corporate world with the quiet confidence that we can change the world. Alas, this lasts only “until the coarse necessities of physical existence drag us from the height of thought into the mart of economic strife and gain”. Our everyday challenges – finding and then doing well in a good job, keeping up with an often fragile relationship, the heavy load of expectations from our parents and ourselves, lack of clarity on what we really want to do in life, the rat race and constant comparison with our peers – often pull us down into mediocrity. And the grand idea of being the very best we can gets quietly put aside.

So Why Read Books?

If we agree that good counsel can help us become much better, what better guide than books? Mentors and teachers can come and go and may turn out to be false Gods. Why not drink from the ageless wisdom of good books, learning from the myriad experiences of some of the best of our species?

As Durant said, “When life is bitter, or friendship slips away, or perhaps our children leave us for their own haunts and home, let us come and sit at the table with Shakespeare and Goethe…”

But What Exactly To Read?

There is a book for every mood and occasion. Choosing few recommendations is not easy (±130 million books have been written!), so let’s decide how we will choose:

  • Life-changing: Will make us wiser. That can bring fundamental changes in our thinking and attitude, answer the big Why questions.
  • Engaging and Fun: We want to grow, but also enjoy the journey. We may not have the patience (yet!) to go through deep but boring books.

Let me start with a few recommendations from my side (click each link for more recommendations and a short summary)…

(If you want more, see my blog on 100 Books To Make Us Wise).

Part of what makes a book memorable is our own life experiences that can relate to it. So look out for what appeals to you. Obviously, choose the books very carefully. Good books can be an everlasting love affair, just as bad books can be more enervating than a date gone horribly wrong.


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