'Don't self-edit': Cipla top executive's advice for women entrepreneurs

'Don't self-edit': Cipla top executive's advice for women entrepreneurs

Samina Hamied, Executive Vice Chairperson, Cipla, speaks to Business Today about her vision and plans for the pharma company and her journey as an entrepreneur

Samina Hamied, Executive Vice Chairperson, Cipla, speaks to Business Today about her vision and plans for the pharma company Samina Hamied, Executive Vice Chairperson, Cipla, speaks to Business Today about her vision and plans for the pharma company

Global Pharma major Cipla has been making strong progress in its India business along with growth in the US and other key markets. Samina Hamied, Executive Vice Chairperson, Cipla who has won the Most Powerful Women award 2022, spoke to Business Today about her journey as an entrepreneur, her vision and plans for the company and best advice for budding businesswomen. Edited excerpts from an interview:  

Was the journey to get to where you are difficult? What challenges did you face being a woman entrepreneur?  

I joined Cipla in 2011 at a time when the company was going through a transformation. My decision to switch over from my career as an investment manager in London to my family business here in India with little to no experience in the pharmaceutical sector and that too at a critical turning point, was a massive responsibility to shoulder. But in hindsight, it has also been an immensely humbling experience. When working with a company with eight decades of rich legacy behind it, it is imperative to tread carefully. I was empowered to transform the company, but there was a learning curve. I had to build my knowledge of the sector and the company from the ground up. However, with the time I spent with strong mentors such as my uncle Dr Y K Hamied and my father Mr M K Hamied, I overcame this challenge and built my understanding of the industry and business.

I would also say another learning opportunity for me was transforming the organisation. When I joined, we decided to completely refresh our leadership model, approach to business and culture. So, a major priority was to help and hand-hold employees through the change, reassure them, alleviate apprehensions, bring everyone on the same page and take all employees forward in proper alignment.

I have always stayed true to my resolve and conviction in the bets that I have made over the years, which has pivoted Cipla towards its aspiration of becoming a major global healthcare organisation.  

What were your achievements in the last year?  

The past year has been a year of significant milestones for not only Cipla but the Indian pharma industry at large. We have been making strong progress in our India business along with growth in the US and other key markets.  

Wellness and consumer healthcare in particular are categories that we have been very bullish about – seeing how wellness has deepened in the country. Our consumer healthcare franchise, Cipla Health Ltd. (CHL) has grown rapidly in India by almost 5x in the last 3 years. The business itself has contributed 9% of global consumer franchise to overall revenues in H1FY23, and in the medium term (next 3-5 years), we hope to see this go up to 15%.  

I look back at one of my biggest career successes of foraying Cipla into the North America market through the acquisition of InvaGen and Exelan Pharmaceuticals; and I am beyond pleased to see the growth we have achieved in this market, which currently contributes to 28% of our overall revenues. Most recently, we achieved the highest-ever quarterly revenue, $195Mn through our differentiated product portfolio. We also expanded our market share through flagship respiratory and peptide franchises. We have truly grown leaps and bounds and will continue to do so with an innovative and purpose-driven approach.

Speaking of innovation, we continue to move the innovation curve by growing through areas like biosimilars, mRNAs, CAR T-cell therapy and similar categories. We recently partnered with Ethris for mRNA-based therapies and have a strong pipeline of in-licensed biosimilars which will augment our portfolio further.  

On the digitisation front, we have set up several foundational elements to drive our digitisation and automation plans right from adopting Industry 4.0 to transforming patient reach and care. We have also been reimagining field force engagements with healthcare professionals (HCPs) in global markets through virtual knowledge-sharing platforms. We are creating plants of the future and embedding a digital culture across the board. Last year our Indore Oral Solid Dosage (OSD) plant was designated by the World Economic Forum as an ‘Advanced Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Lighthouse’.

We are working on building solutions around the care continuum from easy and early diagnostics to efficient treatment and monitoring. We envision building a franchise by launching new-age diagnostic solutions fulfilling the gap of poor diagnosis in specific therapy areas. Last year we acquired stake in Achira Labs, which is engaged in the development and commercialization of point-of-care (PoC) medical test kits in India.  

All this while, staying true to Cipla’s core purpose – Caring for Life and ensuring access to medicines for patients across the globe.

On the organisational front, I have been focused on building a future-ready organisational framework at Cipla. We recently received the Great Place To Work recognition for the fifth consecutive year, and I believe that speaks to the passion and dedication of Ciplaites who are committed to making a difference.

How are you planning to grow your business in terms of finances, quality and substance?  

We have been progressing well on our journey towards creating the Cipla of the future — pioneering, innovative, and firmly rooted in care. Driven by an innovative and growth mindset coupled with a purpose-led approach, we are looking to transform ourselves into a digitally native organisation. Towards this, we are not only focused on onboarding talent with new skills and capabilities that weren’t traditionally part of our DNA, but also enhancing the digital learning curve of our existing pool of employees. Moreover, we are also transforming our leaders to pivot the organisation towards a digital culture.  

We will continuously evolve ourselves with the changing needs of the workplace and maintain a culture of inclusion by making every employee feel included and most importantly celebrated for their uniqueness. We have deployed several initiatives under #EqualCipla to foster a diverse and equitable environment in our organisation. We want to create an enabling environment for our women employees in the field force by giving them the flexibility to work from home twice a week under our Flexi Field Days policy.    

As the Indian pharma industry expands its global footprints, we will need to continuously invest in upgrading quality standards to keep our promise of being a high-quality and reliable supplier of medicines to the world.  I believe that we as pharma companies should enforce regulations to help us have a full scan of the excipients, chemicals, etc. that are used in most products. Such policies will help set the standard across the industry. The Indian Pharmaceutical Association (IPA) has been a pivotal force in shaping India’s healthcare and pharmaceutical ecosystem in this regard and beyond.

What message do you want to give to other businesswomen who want to succeed like you?  

I would say to never second guess yourself or the decisions you take. Don’t self-edit. We as women tend to face a constant imposter syndrome and when we are doing well, we self-doubt and this leads to self-editing. Believe in yourself and never hesitate to aspire. Apart from this, I would advise:

* Invest in talent because they become the building blocks of any business. Hire people who are better and hungrier than you but ensure that they can work well together. Over index hiring the right talent and finding ways to keep them engaged.

* Building a diverse and inclusive workforce is paramount for any company to be future-ready. These changes must start from the top and be led by example, but the best way is to think of it as evolution and not change. Involve your team in the change and make them the change agents – it is more powerful.

* It is not easy to establish work-life balance, but one should try and reach out for help whenever required. I don’t have inhibitions in asking people for help. My family and friends have always supported me by weighing in on various occasions and that has made the journey easier

* Every good leader should be conscious of EQ. IQ can be hired, but EQ is essential for leading a team.

* Identify a larger purpose that apart from profits, also positively impacts your stakeholders, the community, and the planet. Stay true to it and never compromise on your purpose.

As they say - when the going gets tough, the tough get going. How do you face tough times?

There are phases in one’s professional journey that are fraught with challenges. In a widely male-dominated world, it is easy for women to suffer from imposter syndrome and question their ability to perform their job well and live up to certain expectations. It may not be easy but do not get intimidated by the situation. Go after what you want. Every leader should have an appetite to take calculative risks; one should have the ability to read people and adapt management styles accordingly.  

Another important aspect, one must never shy away from seeking help or guidance when faced with a tough situation. I am so grateful to have navigated tough times under the guidance of strong mentors s who led by example.

What has been the turning point in your professional life?  

Being entrusted with the responsibility of leading Cipla and transforming it into a professionally managed organisation has been a career-defining moment for me. 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 and a massive responsibility.  

In 2013, I joined the management team as the ‘Head of Strategic Projects – Cipla New Ventures’. 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. Also, my consultancy background and work across two leading foreign markets helped me bring fresh insights and an external perspective to Cipla. It helped me bring a different approach to the table at the right time – when Cipla was undergoing a transition.

Published on: Mar 08, 2023, 3:28 PM IST
Posted by: Priya Raghuvanshi, Mar 08, 2023, 3:21 PM IST